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Don’t consider yourself a horse trainer — just a rider? Wonder why you need horsemanship training tools? You just want to ride, compete, rodeo, or whatever discipline you’re into, right? Well….the truth is, every single time you interact with your horse, you are teaching him something (i.e. training), whether good or bad. So you might as well have the right stuff so you have less trouble. Here are what I consider the…
Essential Horsemanship Training Tools
Don’t worry, this is actually a pretty short list, AND it doesn’t matter what type of rider you are, what sport or discipline you like, or what kind of horse you have. These horsemanship training tools are the very basic things you would use day in and day out. They aren’t only for special circumstances, or when you’re doing your training exercises.
I’m also going to warn you, there’s no BLING or anything fancy going on here. Of course you can bling anything up, but to me, the simple basics are the best. I’m just not one who cares whether I look like I’m going to a fashion show or being judged when I play with my horse. So my training tools are nothing fancy.
I am going to include links to the products I use and recommend, just because, well, you know… Besides including them in each section, I’ll list them all at the end as well if you missed anything. These are certainly not the only options, but I wanted to be sure you could find what I was talking about online. And yes, they are affiliate links so if you use one to buy something, I make a few bucks — woo hoo!
I know a lot of people just use a piece of equipment because someone told them they should, or because someone they know uses it, etc. I’m going to explain the WHY behind all of this, so let’s get started.
I hope we’re all agreed you must have a halter if you own a horse. Of all the specialized horsemanship training tools available, I don’t believe I’ve ever run across someone who didn’t own a halter. Please let me know if you have — that would really be something!
Although, now that I’ve said that, I got to thinking that you really COULD get away without a halter if you and your horse were so “together” that you never had to worry about him leaving — and I do catch mine all the time without a halter, but we’ll ponder that at a later time.
If you haven’t been introduced to the natural horsemanship world yet, I’m sure you think a halter is nothing more than the contraption you put on the horse’s head so you can keep him with you, lead him around, and tie him up. And since horses are very large critters, you probably believe the bigger, bulkier, thicker, stronger the better when it comes to a halter. And of course it needs to be color coordinated with your favorite outfit, saddle pad, and boots. Am I getting warm?
Don’t be afraid to admit it — I was right there with you in the “normal” world before I got educated.
In the natural horsemanship world, we use what is commonly referred to as a horseman’s rope halter. I do remember my grandfather having a “rope” halter when I was a child, but it was nothing like the ones I use now.
The rope halter we use now need to be thin, lightweight, soft but strong, and have a couple of important features. I’ll explain why all this is important:
Thin, Lightweight, Soft
We basically want the horse to feel like there is nothing on his head. Remember, we’re working towards a partnership where your horse wants to be with you and is not being held there by force. A heavy web or leather halter is like having a heavy hat on your head. Try it sometime — lay the top section of a heavy web halter over the top of your head. Then lay a rope halter up there. HUGE difference!
The thinness of the braided rope is also an important feature. Again, we want the horse to feel practically nothing until we ask him to do something. In a way, this is more polite, and it certainly makes the horse less dull.
Do this: take the flat of your hand and press down on the top of your head. No biggie, right? Comfortable, not annoying, doesn’t hurt, etc. Now take just ONE FINGER and lay it across the top of your head and push. A little more uncomfortable, right? You’d rather that didn’t stay there all day I bet.
This is what happens when you use a wide flat web halter on your horse. He can pull on that thing all day. It’s like a harness almost. I’ve seen horses dragging people all over the place at the end of a rope attached to a web halter. (A little off topic — also why harnesses on dogs make absolutely no sense if you’re trying to make them not pull….but that’s a rant for another day.)
The difference with the thin rope halter is that when you “activate” it by pulling on the lead rope, the horse “notices” almost instantly and responds. Now, obviously I’m not implying this is a Magic Halter that by merely putting one on your horse he will behave. However, you’ve got his attention, and when you learn the other horsemanship techniques we’ll be talking about, you will see a major difference. I promise.
These halter are also very strong, even though they don’t look it. They should be made out of yachting braid. This is a double or triple woven braid around a core. They are what’s used on boats (duh, I know). And, yes, you tie the horse up with this halter, no matter how “untyable” (is that a word?) he is.
True story: When I went to watch my first beginning natural horsemanship clinic many moons ago, and I saw them take everyone’s web halters away from them and make them use this TINY rope thing, I thought they were nuts. I even went up to the instructor during a break and asked that surely you don’t use this thing to tie up a horse — it’s just for doing this natural stuff right? What a dummy.
Well, ever since I’ve been practicing natural horsemanship – – since the 90s, there hasn’t been one web halter on the place. These rope halters are what I consider probably the most important and useful horsemanship training tool ever. I still own several of the very first ones I bought. They don’t wear out, break, and have no hardware to rust and corrode. I’ve had every size from foal to draft practically. Although you don’t really need an EXACT size.
See those knots on the noseband? There are only two, not an entire row across the horse’s nose from one side to another. There is also no big blingy leather noseband on this halter. The knots are not decoration, they are there for a reason. Those two knots sit where there is a nerve running down the side of the horse’s face (one on each side). When you “activate” the halter and ask the horse to move, they make it easy for him to respond correctly.
The Lead Rope
The next most important horsemanship training tool you need after a halter is some sort of device that will help your horse come when you want to take him somewhere, or just communicate in general what you’d like him to do. Therefore….the lead rope.
The major requirements for a natural horsemanship lead rope are:
- proper material
- proper hardware
- proper length
Lead Rope Material
Your lead rope needs to be made out of the same yachting braid as the halter, only in a larger diameter. Usually they are around a half inch thick, or 9/16″. They need to have a leather popper on the tail end. (More on that later.)
Again, this material is so sturdy you’ll have the ropes for a long time. I still have some of the first ones I bought. They are a great investment. They can get wet and don’t puff up like a cotton rope. They can be washed in the washing machine. Another very important feature is this type of rope has some LIFE to it.
What does that mean? You want a rope that doesn’t just lay there when you try to communicate with your horse. You can send a “wave” of energy down the rope, you can swing it and it doesn’t just float in the air or flop to the ground. When you use it there is “life”, and when you stop, it STOPS….and I mean right now. No cotton or weird funky braided rope will do this.
Lead Rope Hardware
Safety is #1 with me when it comes to horsemanship. Let’s face it, horses can find more ways to get themselves, and you, into trouble that you can imagine. For that reason, all my lead ropes have a panic snap on them. If my horse is tied up and panics, pulls back, falls down and is “hanging” by his halter, I want to be able to extricate him ASAP.
You will not be able to open a trigger snap or a bull snap in this situation. You probably won’t be able to untie the halter either if he’s leaning on it. So save yourself and your horse some misery and use panic snaps. I happen to like the twist snap shown here. You can also use the type where you pull down on a “sleeve” and the top releases. These are normally found on something like a trailer tie.
You’ll notice the rope pictured has no snap at all. Only a few places offer a lead rope with a panic snap already attached. I’ll give you those resources as well. With this type of rope pictured, you’ll need to add your own hardware.
I’m certainly no doomsday person, but I do believe in planning for what COULD happen, and then being glad when it doesn’t. I’d rather do that than regret not having the simple little tool that could’ve made a difference between life and death.
And, frankly I find bull snaps a real pain to operate anyway. But to each his own.
Lead Rope Length
Now I’m only talking about our standard every day lead rope here. We do use ropes of different lengths for different tasks in our horsemanship training. But I’ll address that later.
The minimum length of a safe lead rope is 12 feet. That may sound really long to you, but hear me out.
Most “normal” lead ropes are anywhere from 6 to 8 feet. Although, thankfully, I’m seeing less and less short lead ropes. When we owned our tack shop we had to carry a few for “those people”, but most manufacturers were catching on.
Anyway, the reason for the 12 foot lead rope is, again, safety. Your horse is approximately 6 feet long, give or take, nose to tail. You need to be able to get completely away from him, and out of the “kick zone”. That just can’t happen on a 6-foot rope.
Remember, we’re talking about horsemanship training tools, not just something that would work in a pinch to lead and tie your horse. So with this in mind, read on…
Give Him Space
Without going into too much detail — yet — you must understand that when your horse gets anxious, nervous, spooks, etc., he is going to NEED to move his feet. You will not be able to stop him from moving, and if you want him to calm down quickly, you don’t want to stop him from moving. This is their in-bred natural reaction. So if you have old Dobbin on the end of a 6-foot rope, he has no space to move around much without either jumping on to of you, or turning and putting his butt in your face, which will probably get you kicked…..I’m sure you can imagine all the scenarios.
But a 12-foot lead rope allows him to move all he wants (short of running away), and you can safely stand calmly in one place, allowing him to move around you far enough away not to get into trouble. For this reason, I own no ropes shorter than 12 feet, and haven’t for many years. You will learn how to handle this extra rope, and all the things you can do with it. Eventually it will feel totally normal, and those short ropes will seem like kiddie toys to you.
Funny thing — when my farrier comes, if he needs to grab a rope, he always grabs on of my long ropes and foregoes his little short ones….go figure.
Wow, this post is getting longer than I had planned. Luckily we only have one more horsemanship training tool that I consider totally essential:
Training Stick with String
First of all, this is NOT a whip, or something use to beat or scare the horse with — it is a training aid. That doesn’t mean we never touch the horse with it, but it’s used in a specific way, if used correctly.
So you have probably noticed that your horse has a LONG body, and you have a TALL body. We need to be able to easily communicate to all parts of his body in an effective manner. So this stick and string are merely the tool we use so that we can seem as long as our horse.
The important features of your training stick and string are:
- The stick should be 4 feet long (they do make kid-sized sticks)
- It should have a comfortable grip (like a golf club) on one end
- It should be made out of a strong yet flexible material, like fiberglass.
- There should be a leather loop on the end of the stick, that is NOT attached with screws or any hardware.
- The string is 6 feet long
- It has a spliced loop on one end and a little leather popper on the other
- The string is made of — you guessed it — yachting braid, about the same diameter as the halter, or maybe a pinch larger
We are going to learn to do SO MUCH with these tools, your head will swim. They have become like a part of my body to me. I always have at least one of each of them within reach when I’m around a horse. They are in the barn, the trailer, the garage……
Here are those links to the tools I’ve mentioned:
Rope Halter 10 colors, 11 sizes
Lead Ropes from Knottygirlz.com or Horseropeconnection.com have panic snaps.
Amazon has only ropes with a loop and no hardware, and you’ll have to add the hardware of your choice.
Amazon brass twist panic snaps