Today’s article is brought to you by 4* eventer Victoria Madsen who currently lives in France. Check out her website here: www.madsen-equestrian.com
Leading a horse from another ridden one has long been a technique used in hunting yards to get in the required road work during short daylight hours, and in polo yards is done yet more impressively with up to 4 other horses led off one ridden one! As hunting and eventing have drifted apart somewhat over the last decade, and eventers have concentrated more on their “arena-based” disciplines of dressage and show-jumping, has the ride and lead combo lost its relevance? And more importantly is it just not safe to do anymore?
As already mentioned the primary benefit of riding and leading is the time-saving factor. If you have two hours in which to do two horses they can both have a proper groom and a decent hack of at least an hour in that time, whereas should you ride them separately you will be hard pushed to give each horse more than 45 minutes ridden work. Other, secondary benefits I have found, include giving confidence to a nervous horse, particularly if like myself you are not able to hack out often with other riders, and also being able to work a horse who cannot wear a saddle for a temporary reason, yet is fit to work.
Belgian international 4* rider Lara De Liederkerke has long been a fan of riding and leading during her normal fitness hacks, as she has to box up to her local woods anyway, and in this way can halve the time needed to give her horses a decent workout. It’s not for everyone though: top class young horse producer and international eventer Laura Shears-Jackson doesn’t do it after some bad experiences. “My last attempt was working on a polo yard when I was 17 I think, riding and leading 2 on each side (so 5 in total!!). One spooked, they all buggered off and took themselves back home from the gallops! Luckily all was ok but it was rather scary! Also I do just prefer to ride them so I can gauge how they feel fitness-wise, and the roads round me are too fast and full of idiots as I’m near Jaguar Land Rover HQ, and they use my lanes as a cut-through to thrash around their cars. ”
So how do you work out if it’s for you? There’s no hard and fast rule, it’s not for everyone or every horse, and I must admit that during a four year period when my hacking was great, but bordered by the Brussels’ Ring Road, I didn’t do it, not even once. I just felt the risk of dropping the led horse and it taking off was too great. For that matter I’m not actually sure if some insurance companies might not take a dim view of a horse that was involved in an accident whilst being led from a ridden horse. I don’t do it with every horse either – ideally they both need to be fairly unflappable, particularly the ridden one, as the led one will take its lead from him or her. The led one must have good basic manners about leading, and as a pairing it helps if they are well-matched in their paces, particularly their walks. It also helps if they don’t hate each other and will avoid your knee getting bitten periodically!
Please bear in mind these pictures are of me in France – hence the led horse being on my right! Obviously UK-based riders will have the led horse on their left, so that the rider is always between the led horse and any traffic. Getting on is probably one of the trickiest bits, especially if your charges are of a mind to play with each other! If possible get someone to hand you the led horse after you’re on. If not, I find placing the reins of the led horse in my left hand, with the reins of the horse I’m getting on, and keeping him parallel to the one I’m mounting is easiest. Make your life easy – do as much girth tightening as is comfortably possible beforehand, and make sure your stirrups etc are all how you want them before you’re juggling loads of reins! Some other precautions I take include over-reach boots all round on the ridden horse in case the led one steps on him, and doing up the throat lash of the led one a hole tighter than normal just in case I end up inadvertently trying to pull the bridle over his head. One hunting yard I worked on liked to pop a chifney on over a headcollar, then clip the lead rope to the normal headcollar ring and the chifney one. Whilst this simplifies how much you are holding on to I don’t think it does a well-schooled horse’s mouth much good. I like to keep the led horse’s head level with a point between my knee and the ridden horse’s point of shoulder, too far forward and they can start racing, too far back and you will be dragged round by the one behind.
Other basic precautions I take include avoiding rush hour, wearing gloves, and not (intentionally) cantering. I also don’t use ride and lead hacks to explore new paths or fields, I stick to routes I know well! At the end of the day it is up to each rider to evaluate their surroundings and their horses to see if it is something that can be of use to them. I would also suggest double checking with the owners of your horses just to check they are ok with it, an owner could well be miffed if they were not consulted and an accident happens, as some do feel it is an unnecessary risk. You could of course point out the cost of hiring extra, competent, staff! I feel it is a useful skill, and who knows, I’d like to think that should the occasion ever arise I’d be able to emulate the magnificent lap of honour Ian Stark did at Badminton in 1989 after finishing 4th and 5th with his two fantastic greys, Murphy Himself and Glenburnie…… One can dream!