The Cowboy Training
Horses to Lead Using a Reata
Twister Heller, horse trainer from Congress, Arizona believes
the easiest and most humane way to teach a horse to lead is
by using a braided rawhide reata to make a cowboy training halter
and using the technique he outlines below. This method
can be used on horses that have never been handled, baby colts,
mules, spoiled horses--any animal that you want to teach to
lead or to lead better.
Twister recommends that the cowboy
training halter be used on an animal that is familiar with a
regular halter. So, for a horse that does not yet know
how to lead, the first day Twister will use a normal halter
and a butt rope. (A butt rope is a long lead rope run
around the horse's rear and run back through the halter.)
He will work with the horse with this set-up for about 15 minutes
a day for two days. Then he will work with the reata halter
for about 15 minutes a day the next couple of days. By
the end of the fourth day a horse should follow you anywhere
you choose to go.
Twister likes to use a rawhide reata for
his cowboy halters because he says that a reata "renders" (loosens)
more easily than other types of lariat rope. A new and
springy reata will render and loosen up by itself and give a
horse slack when the horse comes forward. You may use
another type of rope, but be sure that the rope is stiff and
will loosen easily to offer a horse immediate relief from pressure
when the horse cooperates.
To put the
cowboy halter on the horse:
First, choose an uncluttered
area with plenty of room to work.
on photos to see enlarged views)
1. Put a loop
of the reata around the horse's neck.
Then take a coil of reata and drop it under the jaw and
then up over the nose.
Take a second coil and loop it under and over the nose
again, placing the second coil over the top and above the first
coil on the front of the nose.
Render the first coil out. Pull it up over the
second coil and up over the top of the head and ears until the
reata coil rests around the neck directly behind the ears with
the first loop.
One thing to be careful
about : keep the coils of the reata out of the horse's
eye. Keep the nose coil down and square across the nose.
(click on photos to see enlarged
Twister likes to put the reata on this way
because if it slips off the horse's nose, you still have a loop
around his neck. This way also renders a little better.
There are other ways to put it on, but the rope can come off
and the horse will be turned loose.
The cowboy halter works by applying pressure
on the nerves of the poll, nose, the side of the face and under
the jaw, as does bridle, bit, or conventional halter.
Be sure you do not force the horse to follow, just outlast
the horse when you put pressure on the reata. Start gently,
and increase pressure just to the point where you will get a
Then every time that you pull, make it just
tough enough so that the horse responds; yet, the horse does
not fight you. If you pull on the reata and the horse
tries to fight it any, just go with the horse until he responds.
If he gets to going backwards, just go with him. Pretty soon
the horse will take a step forward with the pressure of the
he does, stop, loosen all the coils on the nose and head. Then
rub where all the pressure points are --where the reata sits
behind the ears, where it touches on the side of the face. It
is very important that you let the horse know that when he comes
forward he gets slack in the reata and relief from pressure.
After the horse begins following, challenge him a little.
Ask him to follow you through harder areas. The two-year-old
colt in these pictures had never had the cowboy halter on before.
Twister really likes the cowboy training halter made from a
reata because even when a person is halter breaking baby colts,
you can teach the horse to go easily and willingly wherever
you go. They will follow you willingly through too narrow
a gate, into a barn, a trailer, or through scary or uncomfortable
terrain. A colt or spoiled horse will quickly respond
and lead like a well-trained, well-behaved horse, because they
respect the reata. When horses
become slow to lead or refuse to lead into a horse trailer,
you can tune them up with the cowboy training halter.
Twister has done this with wild colts that
had never been caught before. He led them with a halter
& butt rope for a couple of days. On the 3rd
day, he introduced them to the reata halter. On the fourth
day, he led the colts through rocks & obstacles.
Often times, the first thing that happens
when you start training a horse is that the horse doesn't want
to be lead because the horse knows that when you catch them
they have to go to work. They do not want to lead up to
the saddle-up place, round corral, horse trailer, etc.
This cowboy halter will make the horse respect pressure and
pretty soon when you pull on the lead rope a little bit they
will lead right up at a trot. When they come up correctly,
respond in a positive way. Be sure you loosen the reata
up and show them "Yes, that is what I want!" If the rope
does not give enough, loosen it by hand. Remember that
you can use any kind of a rope as long as you loosen it.
Make sure it loosens up. The biggest key is to pet & rub
the pressure points where the reata tightens. Soon when
the horse feels the reata begin to close up he will follow without
waiting for the reata to tighten. After a couple of days
of this practice, if your horse is responding well, you can
test him by leading him through a narrow gate opening.
The cowboy halter can help horses with trailer
loading and learning to lead well for a pack string. Twister
has trained show horses to position correctly for halter classes
using the cowboy halter instead of a regular halter and whip.
In addition, the cowboy halter can aid even a well-broke horse
get through dangerous, but necessary places. Twister tells
of a time when he had to go down a steep boulder strewn mountain
side. He was in a very rough place riding after cattle.
No one knew where he was. He took off his bridle, fashioned
a cowboy halter out of his catch rope, and led his mount down
the hillside to safety. The horse would never have led
by the bridle reins. He says he would still be there without
the cowboy halter.
This method of teaching to lead using
the cowboy halter is not nearly so severe as tying a horse up
solidly when they are green-broke. The horse will learn
to lead better and to go where you want. One caution:
Never tie a horse up solidly with this rig. The
principle is that you are not forcing them, you are teaching
them. If you tie a horse up with the cowboy halter there
is no way for the horse to get relief if they want to fight
the cowboy halter. Once the horse is leading with this
cowboy halter, the horse will stand better tied with a regular
halter and not want to fight it. They will probably not
even tighten the rope by the second application. When
you are leading a horse, as you speed up they will too.
Twister teaches all his horses to stand tied
up. That teaches them patience. However, if you
tie a young horse up solidly with any halter and he fights a
lot, there is no way to get relief when he hits the end of the
rope. The horse can get sore around the head or injure
its neck. Twister believes tying a horse solidly is much
harsher than the cowboy halter, where you can give the horse
instant relief when it cooperates, outlasting the horse, rather
than forcing it. Pretty soon the horse steps forward.
Then you can loosen the rope and the horse learns something
positive. This way, the horse learns to respect pressure
from a rope or halter, and will become a better all around horse.