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How to Put a Lead Rope on a Horse

Stephanie is a graduate Pony Clubber and has been riding and caring for horses since she was five years old.

Putting a lead rope on a horse is one of the most basic practices of horse care, but also one of the most important. How you approach the horse can set the tone for your ride and is also vital in establishing a healthy relationship between you and your horse.

1. Safely Approach the Horse

Body Language

Horses are extremely sensitive to body language. As you approach a horse, your body language must be confident and assertive without appearing threatening. A skittish horse may be difficult to catch if you appear predator-like.

Confident body language:

  • stand upright,
  • keep your chest lifted
  • and chin up,
  • look at the horse, but not directly into the horse's eyes.

It's also important to read the horse's body language. If the horse

  • lays his ears back against his head,
  • bares his teeth,
  • turns his hind end to you,
  • or cocks his back leg,

leave the situation immediately and ask a trusted, knowledgeable horse care professional for help.

The shaded areas indicates the horse's blind spots.

The shaded areas indicates the horse's blind spots.

Beware of Blind Spots

Our eyes are placed in the front of our heads—proof that long ago, we were predators who hunted for prey and needed to focus on our prey. A horse's eyes are placed much wider apart, on the sides of his head, so that he can see predators coming from almost every angle. But there are some areas where the horse cannot see, and it is important to understand these blind spots so that we can approach him without startling him (a startled horse may kick).

1. Never approach a horse from behind. This is perhaps the most common nugget of information that non-horse owners know, and it is important because the horse cannot see directly behind him. Anyone standing near the horse's hindquarters is in prime kicking range.

2. Never approach a horse directly from the front. The horse has another blind spot in the front of his head. It makes many horses uncomfortable to be approached in this way.

How to Approach a Horse in a Stall

Horses are meant to live in wide open fields where they can see predators coming and can easily run away from them. If the horse is confined in a stall, there is nowhere for him to run, and if the horse feels threatened or cornered, he will be more likely to respond in a dangerous, aggressive manner.

1. Before opening the door of the stall, speak to the horse to alert him to your presence. Once you have his attention, open the stall door enough for you to enter.

  • Always leave the stall door open so that you can make a quick exit.
  • However, don't leave the door wide open because the horse may decide that he wants to take himself out of the stall, and then you have to chase down a loose horse.
  • Never let the horse come between you and the stall door.

2. Approach the horse confidently. If you are near the horse's flank or barrel, place your hand on his side as you approach his head. Using body language and firm pressure on the horse's side or chest, maneuver the horse so that you can stand along the horse's left side without allowing the horse to come between you and the exit.

How to Approach a Horse in Field

Approaching a horse in the pasture or a field can sometimes be more difficult than approaching a horse in the stall because the horse can easily run away from you if he doesn't want to be caught.

  1. Walk into the pasture confidently,
  2. Do not come towards the horse at any of his blind spots. Approach the horse at his shoulder.
  3. If you get near enough to put the lead rope on, do it without hesitation.
  4. Always close the gate so that the horse cannot leave the pasture on his own.
  5. If the horse keeps moving away from you, never run after the horse. You will get tired much quicker than he! This is also predator-like behavior, and the horse could perceive you as a threat.
  6. One way to catch a difficult horse is to bring treats to bribe the horse with, but never give the horse the treat until you already have the lead rope attached. Many horses will figure out that they can take the treat and then turn just out of your reach.

However, if the horse is turned out with other horses, bringing food into the pasture could cause a very dangerous situation. Be extremely careful not to let yourself get in the mix. Horses will play and fight with each other regardless of where you are standing, so don't get in the way!

How to Approach a Skittish Horse

Sometimes it is difficult to catch a horse at pasture. Practice going to the pasture regularly to visit and pat your horse without catching him.

Tips to approaching a nervous or skittish horse:

  • Never look your horse directly in the eye.
  • Approach a shy, nervous horse indirectly—pretend that you are walking towards something else, or perhaps another horse in the pasture.
  • Keep your shoulders turned diagonally to the horse, not squared directly toward the horse.
  • Sit in the pasture and read a book until the horse approaches you.
  • If you know anyone with experience with "Join Up" training, ask them to help you use some simple join up techniques in the pasture The join up is a method developed by Monty Roberts, usually associated with breaking a young horse, but can be employed at any stage in the horse's training process. It is an extremely effective way to gain your horse's trust.

Attaching the Lead Rope to the Halter

The halter has several places where a snap could be attached, but unless you are putting the chain over your horse's nose (see below), you will only use one of them. Only attach the lead rope to the very bottom ring beneath the horse's chin. This placement gives you the best control.

Types of Lead Ropes

There are two main parts to a lead rope: the method of attachment and the material of which the rope is made. Some materials and attachments are stronger than others, but many people believe that an unbreakable lead rope is a safety hazard.

A young horse should be taught to give to pressure,

  • but if the horse panics, he will pull against whatever constrains him until the constraint breaks or the horse injures himself.
  • If a horse escapes from his handler, the dangling lead rope poses a safety hazard; it could be tangled in something, or the horse could step on the lead as he is running and hurt himself.

Types of Attachments


Bolt Snap

Easiest snap to open. Will break if the horse panics.

Some people feel that the bolt snap bends or breaks too easily and inconveniently.

Bull Snap

Much stronger than the bolt clip.

More difficult to open than the bolt clip. The bull snap's strength could be a safety hazard if it does not break in an emergency.

Safety Release

Is quickly and easily detached from the halter.

More difficult to attach. Some people feel as though the safety latch releases too easily.

Bolt snap

Bolt snap

Common Materials



Won't burn your hands if the horse pulls. Will break in an emergency.

Holds dirt and moisture. Easily unravels and frays.


Is more durable than other materials.

Will not break in an emergency. Will burn your hands if the horse pulls.


More professional. Will break in an emergency.

Requires care and maintenance.

Other Lead Rope Variables


Lead ropes of all materials are available in different lengths. The standard length is about 9–12 ft., but you may find shorter or longer ropes.

  • A rope shorter than 7 ft. can be dangerous. If the horse spooks or begins to misbehave there is no room for you to move a safe distance from the horse without letting go of the lead.
  • A longer rope is preferred by trail riders who might tie the horse often or by those who practice natural horsemanship and do ground work exercises.
  • However, a long rope may be more dangerous for inexperienced horse handlers. The leader needs to stay an appropriate distance from the horse, not let the rope dangle on the ground where she can trip on it, and remember to never loop the lead rope around his hand-- all of which can be more difficult with a longer rope.


Some lead ropes have a chain between the snap and the rest of the rope. You could simply treat a lead rope with a chain as a regular lead rope, or you could string the chain over the horse's nose or under his chin to gain better control over a misbehaving horse.


Some lead lines have a leather strip at the end of rope. An experienced handler may flick a misbehaving horse with the end of the lead rope, and the pop of the leather usually gains the horse's attention.

Leather lead rope with a chain. Appropriate for horse shows because it looks professional and, used properly, the chain can provide the handler with extra control over the horse.

Leather lead rope with a chain. Appropriate for horse shows because it looks professional and, used properly, the chain can provide the handler with extra control over the horse.

Using a Lead Rope With a Chain or Shank

Only experienced horse handlers should use a lead rope with a chain. A chain over the horse's nose or below the horse's chin should never replace proper leading and training. When used improperly, the handler can damage the horse's nose or chin. The handler can also hurt his or her hand by holding directly on to the chain.

When to Use a Lead Rope With a Chain

Over time, the horse will become desensitized to the chain, and it will no longer be effective, so it should not be used often. There are some situations when the horse is distracted and can misbehave, such as at a horse show. This is an appropriate situation in which to use the chain, because it will better command the horse's attention and respect.

How to Use a Lead Rope With a Chain

Stallion chain is used on horses of all sexes.

  1. Thread the chain from the lower left ring of the halter.
  2. Wrap the chain once around the top of the noseband.
  3. Thread it through the lower right ring of the halter.
  4. And clip the lead to the upper right ring of the halter so that the halter won't slide into the horse's eye when pressure is applied.

Under the Chin

For a stronger effect, the chain can run under the chin (this often causes horses to raise their heads and sometimes to rear if used improperly):

  1. Thread the chain through the lower left ring of the halter.
  2. Bring it underneath the chin.
  3. Thread it through the lower right ring of the halter.
  4. Bring the chain back down beneath the chin and attach it back to the chain of the lead rope.

I have also seen people wrap the chain over the horse's nose and beneath his chin, and put the chain across the horse's gums for even more control.

This beautiful young horse is at a show for the first time, and is very excited by the new smells and sights. Her handler has put the chain around the horse's nose to better keep the horse's attention.

This beautiful young horse is at a show for the first time, and is very excited by the new smells and sights. Her handler has put the chain around the horse's nose to better keep the horse's attention.

Works Referenced

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Barry from Southeastern USA on May 09, 2018:

Outstanding advice.

I use this with my horses, without a chain.

Evelia Veronica Rivera from Bridgeport, CT on July 21, 2014:

Great info

Stephanie Giguere (author) from Worcester, MA on March 05, 2013:

Thank you GlimmerTwinFan and kittythedreamer!

Good luck volunteering NatalieD, I hope you enjoy it!

ReverieMarie-- I'm so happy to hear that I have the pony club approval! I was a pony clubber for a number of years. There is definitely "a right way, wrong way, and a pony club way," but as I mature I appreciate more and more the solid foundation that Pony Club has given me. I am still adding to this Hub, and I will think about adding a section on halters. Thanks for the advice!

ReverieMarie from Tuscaloosa, Alabama on March 04, 2013:

Great hub! It would definitely be "Pony Club approved". Maybe consider adding different types of halters (grooming, regular, rope) and materials of halters (leather, nylon, breakaway piece).

Kitty Fields from Summerland on March 04, 2013:

Amazing hub on putting a lead rope on a horse and properly approaching a horse. I am a big horse lover myself, I used to have horses when I was younger. My mom taught all of this to me then, and you are right on! Voted up, useful, and awesome.

NatalieD from Fort Worth, texas on March 04, 2013:

Super helpful hub! So cool this was the feature article because I start volunteering with horses TODAY!! And the more info, the better:) Thanks so much!

Claudia Porter on March 04, 2013:

Coming back to say congrats on your HOTD! This is a great hub!

Stephanie Giguere (author) from Worcester, MA on March 04, 2013:

Thank you all so much! I'm very excited that this has gained the approval of another horse person Unlearner, that is the true test!

Jo from Isle of Wight UK on March 04, 2013:

I have grown up with horses, and find your article to be really informative and well written. Well done for being featured.

CZCZCZ from Oregon on March 04, 2013:

Very interesting hub. I never knew that so much went into the process of getting a rope on a horse. Was fun to learn something new, very well designed hub!

Stephanie Giguere (author) from Worcester, MA on February 21, 2013:

Thank you both! I spent a lot of time on this hub, and I have more to add to it. I just had to move on and finish 7 more hubs before the end of the month... Keep an eye out for updates on this hub!

Claudia Porter on February 21, 2013:

Nice hub sgiguere - I love the layout and tables. I'm not really a horse person although I love to watch them and pet them. You really have some great information in this hub.

Eiddwen from Wales on February 21, 2013:

An interesting hub and thank you for sharing.I now look forward to many more by you.