Tying a horse for saddling is a commonly practiced convenience. With the horse tied, your hands are free. Your trips in and out of the tack room (or trailer) for gear are easier to make. And you spend less effort keeping track of the horse. There are occasions, however, when holding the lead rope–instead of tying it–offers advantages.
With the young horse – By “staying connected” through the lead rope, your major means of communicating with the horse is maintained. This can be especially important to a young horse still new to the saddling routine.
With the lead rope in your hand, the back and forth exchange of information between you and the horse can continue. In this way, you are better able to “support” the horse should he become concerned, troubled, or startled. You can easily direct his attention back to you or allow him to move his feet to defuse his angst, should he show the need. By providing this support, you help the horse become more confident, comfortable, and secure in your relationship.
With the fidgety horse – Having hold of the lead rope allows you to better address the habits of a fidgety horse. For example, you are able to work on having him remain “centered,” head and neck aligned about wither height, feet still. If he moves a foot without being asked, through the lead rope you direct him to move that foot back to where it was. If he looks off, you use the lead rope to bring his head and neck back in align with his body. If he paws, you direct him to put weight on the pawing foot–which ever foot that may be at any given time.
Yes, a fidgety horse will keep you busy fixing at first. But through the lead rope, you are able to address his movements and provide structure. Think of the time spent as an investment in helping him learn to stand centered, content, and quiet later on when tied.
To test your skills – You can use holding the lead while saddling as an opportunity to test you and your horse’s communication skills. As you go about getting equipment out of your tack room or trailer, the horse must keep track of you as well as wait on you. When you step inside, he must move forward to stay close. While you are gathering your gear, he must wait. When you emerge with your hands full, he must step back out of the way.
In other words, the horse needs to “feel” of you through the lead–and respond accordingly. Saddling is simply another opportunity for you to test and polish your communication skills as you strengthen your relationship.