Understanding Horses Part 7: Yielding to Pressure

I'm going to start discussing ground manners by talking about a 2-year-old colt from Arkansas who hadn't been handled much. He wasn't mean, he was just uneducated.

I use a rope halter to give me a little more leverage and "bite" if the horse pulls back. In fact, when I buy the rope halters that have two ropes over the poll, I cut one off. The two ropes make it too easy for the horse to pull back against it. The rope halter encourages the horse to release himself if he doesn't like the pressure. If he doesn't like the feel, all he has to do is give, and away goes the pressure.

The rope halter concept is great. It's real easy to tie a rope halter correctly. If you tie it over rather than under, it doesn't work. Tie it under rather than over, and it won't tighten up or get loose if the horse pulls on it.

With my Arkansas colt, for example, I put a little pressure on this colt's head and nose to the side to get him to yield. When he does, I immediately release the pressure and let him stand. Then, in a bit, I do it again. A little pressure until he yields, then I release immediately and let him relax. Put a little pressure on, turn him loose. I want this colt to yield to pressure and follow his nose. I do not want to just pull on the halter. He doesn't have to move his feet yet. If I can control his head and nose now, I can control his feet later.

If I try to pull on this colt straight forward, he's not going to yield. He's bigger than me and stronger than me, and I don't want him to know he can out-pull me.

Another good thing about teaching a horse to yield to pressure is that he learns to yield to all kinds of pressure. I can put a lead rope around this horse's pastern and put pressure on it and turn it loose when he raises his foot. In 10 to 15 minutes, I could lead him all over the pasture doing that with any foot.

It's kind of a "gee whiz" thing when people see it, but it's simply obedience and response to pressure.

That exercise will also teach a horse not to panic if he steps on his lead rope or if he gets caught up in a fence. He's not going to tear himself up. He'll just yield until someone comes and lets him go.

Horses need to learn to yield to pressure and not fight restraint.

This Arkansas horse has never had his feet trimmed. I wouldn't ask my farrier to get under this horse and take a chance of getting his head kicked off. So, I use my lead rope around his pastern and pick up the hind foot. I let him put it down as soon as he yields. Then, I gradually ask him to hold it up longer and longer until he keeps it up, and until I let him put it down. This is a nice horse, but he's not exceptional; almost any horse should be able to do this. I'll do this to all four feet and lead him on all four feet before I let anyone get down there close to them.

Rope-leading on the feet does a whole lot of things. Mostly it prepares the horse for the farrier or veterinarian or anyone who has to work with his feet. It's safe because you don't have your hands or face down there, so you reduce the risk of getting pawed or kicked.

Again, the goal is to teach him to not fight pressure or restraint. "When I pull, go with me." It's not pulling on his leg that teaches him anything, it's releasing that teaches him something. He doesn't like me pulling on his leg, and he wants to figure out how to make me stop. When he yields, the pressure goes away. He gets what he wants, and I get what I want.


Tying is so important. It's important to tie a horse withers-height or higher. Never tie a horse lower than the highest point of its withers. The higher, the better, but you don't want to "hang" him where he's uncomfortable.

I don't tie a horse with a slip knot. I usually find if you do that and leave the horse unattended, he'll untie himself and be wandering around when you come back. I use my own knot. It might have a name: two wraps around the post. It won't tighten up if the horse pulls back, and the horse won't untie it.

If a horse knows he's tied and understands what that means, you can get a lot more done. For example, with this Arkansas colt, he knows that being tied means he's not going anywhere, so I can try other things. I was fooling with his ears. He didn't like it much, but he knew he was tied and wasn't going anywhere, so that allowed me to be persistent until he figured out that it wasn't so bad.

More Pressure

When you teach a horse to yield to pressure, make sure you teach him to put his head down. Pull down on lead and push down on poll. The minute he drops his head, I go with him and take the pressure away. This is just more yield to pressure. Most horses will throw their heads up and fight you at first, but just be persistent. Get them to learn to do it with barely any pressure.

The practical value with this is if you are short person and have a Warmblood that doesn't want to be bridled, you get the step stool or you don't ride. If I want to put a bridle on him or clip his ears, I've got something to make him put his head down. It's just part of the yielding.

I'm teaching him two things at once. I want him to lower his head if I ask him to put his head down by pushing his poll, and I want him to lower his head if I pull down on the lead rope. Being tied teaches him he can step forward or lower his head and release the pressure. They teach themselves that.

Then do the same thing on other side. Anything I do on a horse, when I do it on the left, I spend an equal amount of time on the right. When I step to the right and he acts like he's never seen a human being before, I don't get mad. That's the way horses are. I don't know why. If you teach it on the left, you've got to start all over and teach it on the right.

Next month, more on pressure from the ground, round-pen work, mounting, and a "pushy" example.

By Andy Anderson, DVM, with Kimberly S. Brown

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