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How to Choose Horse Lead Ropes

A lead rope (together with a headcollar) is the piece of tack that you will use most often with your horse. From leading your horse when you're taking him from place to place to tying him up when you groom him and tack him up. There are various styles of lead ropes on the market, and all have their benefits. Some are designed for everyday use whilst others have more specialised uses. Horse lead ropes are normally twisted or plaited/woven rope and should be around six feet long but are available in longer lengths. Lead lines are flat (usually made from leather or webbing) and tend to be shorter.

Leather leads

Leather leads look smart and can be useful for leading your horse in a show ring. However, they're not nearly as comfortable to hold as a rope lead, and they're harder to tie too. Keep in mind, if you're thinking of getting leather lead lines, that they'll take some maintenance to keep them supple and looking their best.

Cotton rope lead

In my humble opinion, the most useful horse leads are those that are manufactured from rope. Especially fabric such as cotton which some find is softer on the hands and less likely to cause rope burn. This is important as you may not be wearing gloves every single time you use the rope. Although cotton can fray and soak up more moisture than the nylon versions. If it's intended for everyday use, you're unlikely to need a chain on the rope. Chains can prove useful when loading an unwilling or stubborn horse, or you want a greater level of control.

A thick rope with a strong snap at the end of it is the most practical style. Snaps that have a trigger that you pull downwards tend to be safer than those that spring open and shut. It's a good idea to avoid those ropes that are stiff or have a prickly feel to them. Yes they are strong for tying, but you risk getting rope burn should your horse pull back as you're leading him.

Nylon horse lead ropes

Horse lead ropes are also manufactured from nylon or 'poly'. Some people find these nylon leads can give worse rope burns than the cotton versions. However, they are very durable, strong and can last longer than cotton lead ropes. Nylon lead ropes may also be more resilient to chewing. They are great value for money and also available in a wide range of colours and styles.

A nylon lead line with a chain may be useful if your horse is likely to be very strong or difficult. The chain shouldn't be any longer than around 24 inches. This allows it to be put over your horse’s nose and then will reach up to the cheek ring on the head collar. The head collar will be more stable, and less likely to slide to the side when you pull on the lead. Chains shorter in length are not so practical. Care should always be taken when using a lead chain with your horse.

What is a leather popper?

Occasionally you may see horse lead ropes with thin leather straps at the end. This is a leather popper and is used by more experienced handlers when a horse is misbehaving. The leather touches / flicks the horse when the handler uses the end of the lead rope and helps to get the horse's attention.

Lead rope length

When deciding on the lead rope length you should consider the size of your horse or pony. It's best to avoid lead ropes that are too long and might drag on the floor and get trodden on. However, you want enough length to be able to get a good grip on the lead rope and have enough to hang on to if your horse pulls away.

When walking a horse with a lead rope, remember never to wrap the rope around your hand. If the horse pulls away the rope can tighten around your hand and cause injury.


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