One of the first horses I rode when I was just learning how to ride was a cute little gelding named Cimarron. After our lesson, I was expected to untack him and walk him around until he was cooled down. I would take off all of his tack, then ask him to walk around with me in the arena without any halter. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it- I knew he would follow me around, and he did.
When I was older and finally was able to get my own horse, I would walk around the arena and my horses would follow me without my needing a halter and lead rope. At that point, having my horse follow me didn’t have any fancy terminology- she just followed me.
What is Companion Walking?
Today, social media, marketing and branding have created a term for a horse following you around: companion walking. Essentially, you are using your body language to ask your horse to follow you. What I didn’t understand when I was 11 years old, and what I still didn’t understand when I got my first horse was that I was inherently using using my body language to ask the horse to follow me. It wasn’t until I started teaching ground work to people that I had to break down exactly what I do when walking with the horse to get him to follow me.
Many people want the relationship that exists between a horse and human during companion walking, but they are not consistent in their body language with their horse, or their horse doesn’t understand what it is you are asking. Some horses are just shut down and are not interested in forming that bond with a human. In that case, you can create a situation where you ask the horse to follow you with your body, and if he doesn’t, you can gently use the lead rope to pull on his neck and get him to come to you. It’s not ideal, but the goal is to have him start paying attention to you even when the halter is off. Eventually, he should start to pay more attention to your body language and move with you, as opposed to waiting for light tug of the lead rope. This will start building that relationship, and ultimately you should be able to work with your horse on the ground without any rope or halter (obviously in a safe setting).
The Next Step in Companion Walking
When your horse follows you consistently, and you can trust that he will start and stop with you (without knocking you over), you can start on more complicated turns into his space or away from him. You can jog or even run around the arena and have your horse follow you. You can even take your companion walking to the next level and work on horse agility.