This week we're going to be a discussion of rope safety. This week's segment is lead rope safety, specifically how to deal with a stepped on lead rope. We've all been there. Pony is quietly grazing with their nose buried in the grass when they take a step forward onto their lead rope. They try to lift their head, feel trapped, and panic. It makes sense: they're prey animals, and having their head trapped close to the ground typically meant becoming someone else's dinner. Unfortunately, the bolting/thrashing response they would usually respond with can cause serious injury where people/halters/ropes/fences are involved.
So how do you avoid this? Obviously paying attention to your lead rope is important, but what happens if they get loose with one on? You have to teach your horse how to properly respond to a "stuck" lead rope. Do NOT use a breakaway halter in this process, as the release will only encourage them to continue with the bolting/thrashing in the future.
Step 1: Backing while grazing. Stand by your horse's barrel and allow them to graze. Every one in a while when they step forward, you stay in place right by their side and don't lengthen the rope. They will feel the pressure on their face, and most horses will either take a step backwards or turn towards you. We want them to take a step backwards calmly, and preferably with a low head, so click and treat when they give a good effort on this. Eventually you want your horse to feel the pressure, then calmly step back without trying to lift their head. One step is typically enough in these situations.
Step 2: Use two ropes. So now your horse understands how to back off when they feel you apply pressure to their halter, but what happens if they CANT lift their head. It is possible to do this on your own, but I recommend having a helper. Clip two ropes onto your horse's halter and hold one by their side as in the previous exercise. Lay the other one horizontally out a few feet in front of your horse, then allow them to graze. When they step on the rope, allow them to feel it (perhaps cluck to lift their head a bit), then ask for the back up you taught previously. Done right, the horse should calmly back and step off the rope.
Step 3: Wean off the "help". Eventually, you want your horse to be able to step backwards off of the rope on their own. As you can see here, Sid stepped on his rope, remained calm, and just backed up off of it. It actually took me about 4 tries to get this picture as it's so smooth, quick and automatic for him now.
Like I said above, paying attention and keeping your rope in order around your horse should be your first priority, but preparing your horse for the worst can prevent serious injury. As always, comments and questions are welcome, but rudeness will simply be removed. Thanks!