Rope handling wisdom

How to handle a rope correctly? There a different approaches. As I've announced some weeks ago, here comes a post about ropes. I'll discuss the techniques recommended by Pat Parelli and Buck Brannaman and I'll cover the quality of a good rope
There are horseman like Pat Parelli who wants you to just let go of the rope when playing with your horse, no matter how long the rope is. There are others like Buck Brannaman who put emphasis on having your rope nicely coiled and sorted in your hands. Sounds like a huge difference to me.
Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages. With the end rope just falling to the ground, you don‘t have an unsorted bunch in your hand. You don‘t focus on the rope when you should be focussing on you horse. You are less likely to twist the rope around your hand or wrist which can become dangerous. It sounds reasonable for someone who hasn‘t dealt with longer ropes a lot. Still, I see the following problems: Your rope will end up covered in dirt. Even worse: When the sand or ground of the arena is wet, you‘ll have it rolled and dusted like a Wiener schnitzel. That is not only quite ugly to touch, but a sandy rope also easily turns into sandpaper when your horse tries to take off and you need to grip firmly. You‘ll wish you‘d wear gloves. Another disadvantage: Though you are less likely to get tangled with your hands you still need to watch your feet. Coils also build on the ground and you don‘t want to step in them. So If you decide to have the end of your rope on the ground make sure you‘ll throw it out so it lies flat in a line not all coiled up

My old rope halter plus reins. You can
use them together but the combination
is not ideal communication wise.
Photo: Nadja
I personally started out as a believer of the rope on the ground techniques. It‘s just simpler in the beginning. At the moment I am developping more into a rope in hand keeper - still struggling with the coils. But the dirty rope experience (and I also happened to drag it through horse poop) has kind of healed me from letting my rope down on the ground.
I‘d recommend to try and start having your rope in order right from the start so you don‘t have to change your habits. But if handling horse and rope at the same time is too much, don‘t be ashamed to let go of the end of the rope.

General aspects of a good rope

Here in Germany, light, short cotton ropes are pretty popular - combined with big halters. They might be good to tie your horse but they drive me crazy when leading. They tend to be quite flexibel and stretch easily - which ruins communication right from the start. Additionally they lenghten with time and are usually so light and thin that they can easily wrap around your horses feet (I speak from experience here). In general they are too short and useless when you need some drift, plus when exposed to rain and water, they soak like a sponge. Useless as well. So I highly recommend to not overuse them. 
I prefer the heavier quality in a rope, made of yachting braid, that have life (meaning a core in another material) and are stiff enough to communicate a feel or pressure if necessary. They don‘t lenghten (not even after years in use), often feature a leather popper at one end (which can be useful sometimes), and though they are not waterproof, they don‘t turn into a sponge when exposed to water. Plus: They are not light and flexible enough to seriously cut your horse‘s legs if he gets tangled in them.   
I started working with ropes that featured a metal hook but I found them too heavy on the horse's nose. Now I am using a rope that I can simply tie into the halter. It works perfectly and I am quite happy. 


  1. You know, I never thought much about ropes before. Thanks for the post!

    1. You are welcome. Took me some time to figure out what I wanted in a rope :)