(From Clare's article archives, Circa 2010-2015)
In my opinion, the most important thing about leading a horse is that your horse's shoulder stays at your shoulder at all times.
I do not agree with most of the cowboys and Natural Horsemanship enthusiasts,
that your horse should stay behind you when they are led, and this is the reason why:
When a horse is walking behind you, you have no way of reading what they are thinking about: if they are scared, or angry, frustrated, or high and exuberant.
There is no way to know when your horse is going to jump on top of you,
or to try to run you over.
I think that making a horse walk behind you is a submissiveness game
that some people believe in.
The thinking is: if your horse is submissive to you, than they must walk behind you.
I think, not only is this hogwash, but it is potentially
dangerous to you and your horse as well.
***Case in point***
A woman brought her horse in to my barn for rehabilitation.
He was a very nice, very athletic, big, black warmblood gelding.
Three times, in two days, that horse ran his owner over, knocking her out of the way, pulling the leadrope from her hands, and galloping free around the arena until he could be caught.
The culprit, in these mishaps, was the woman having been taught to
keep her horse behind her when she was leading him.
Both times that he got away, he had rushed up and over her from behind.
Because she couldn't see it coming, she could not prepare herself to correct him and to
'back him off,' or get him under control.
Since her horse was rehabbing, he was extra high, and sillier than he
probably would have been otherwise.
But, regardless, getting loose could have disastrous consequences for any horse, especially one that is being rehabbed.
The horse could have been hurt and the owner could have been hurt, and any other horse and rider that happened to have been in the arena at the same time could have been hurt as well.
After the third time he got away, I asked if I could take him, and I showed her how, if she kept her horse's shoulder at her shoulder, she could 'read' what he was going to do, and be able to correct it and control it, before the horse's behavior was out of control.
If you keep your horse at your shoulder, you can read their potential behavior from their expressions, their ears, and their eyes.
You can observe if your horse is high, lazy, grouchy, affectionate, or even uncomfortable in their body, or lame.
If your horse is going to rush forward, or pull you to grass, or stop and baulk, or rear, or buck, you will be able to react and correct your horse quickly and effectively if you have them at your shoulder.