3 Positions for hand walking your horse (and when each is most appropriate)

Walking with your horse can be fun, therapeutic and, when done correctly, a very effective training tool. Read on to find out three key positions for hand-walking a horse and when each position is most appropriate. 

What is positioning during hand-walking? 

In our Oils for Horses courses, we talk about walking with your horse specific to certain goals or issues you may be experiencing. 

So today we'll discuss positioning while hand walking. Specifically, by positioning we mean where you are when you walk with your horse in relation to his body
People lead horses from many different angles and positions, and there is usually a good reason for each. 

1. Hip to shoulder

If you are in the show ring, as Amanda was before her 10th birthday, and in a lead line class, you are hip to shoulder with your horse. That means your hip is at the horse's shoulder. 

In this case, you're showcasing the horse or pony. This is the best way to show neck lines, head carriage, and movement. Not only are you walking at the horse's shoulder, you also want your horse to look and be very alert. 
Some classes that Amanda has attended, there seemed to be a fine line between being alert and out of control. The goal is for the horse to be very alert and 'showy' without the whole thing going out of control. 

Generally, this is not the type of walking you should be doing unless your goal is to enter the show ring.

2. Ahead of the horse

You often see people leading by walking completely in front of the horse. This is great if you are traversing difficult terrain in the back country. 
Navigating a goat path at 9000 feet or leading your horse down a twisty steep path is far safer when the horse follows closely but without touching you. That loving nudge could cause you to lose your footing so distance is essential in this case.

Also, some horses naturally follow behind you when you lead them, especially when they're tired from a long day's ride or if you've spent some time working on foot in the ring with them. In this 11 second video, five year old Kramer follows Daniela around without a lead line after she completed a series of stopping and turning exercises with him. 


In most circumstances, we recommend leading your horse with your hip at his head. A low head carriage is also a sign of a relaxed horse and this is a great goal for increasing the bond and his trust in you as a strong leader. 

Some of the benefits of having the hip to head walking position:

  • it's easy to change directions quickly and smoothly
  • you are better able to assess the horse's head carriage to see if he is relaxed or stressed
  • great position for taking firm control of the horse's feet (through location of his head) if he gets frightened
  • an optimal location for communication
  • it makes it easy to walk more than one horse at once. Amanda used to walk four horses at a time consistently with the hip to head position
  • transfers nicely to leading a horse from horseback, again maintaining the hip to head position while riding. There is less chance of injury to you or the horses when traveling in this manner. 

Keep your goal in mind

It's important to know what your goal is when working with your horse, and the pros and cons of the choice you're making. 

You won’t win a ribbon if your horse is following behind like a little duck in the show ring (see the video above).  And if you have a near to prancing horse hip to shoulder on that narrow path in the bush you will earn more than a couple scratches, muddy knees and hands. 

Know your goals and choose your path. The best question you can often ask when being presented with a course of action is to ask WHY it needs to be done that way. Then you know if it is the right choice for you and your horse. 

Lastly, choose your lead position with intention. It's not up to the horse to decide where he gets to walk relative to your body. Give clear but kind signals to show him what's expected so that he can relax and fulfill your request. 

Do you have an interesting experience hand-walking a horse? Share your story in the comments section below. 

Otherwise, happy walking!

With love,

Amanda and Daniela 
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