How to pick a lead rope for your horse.


Years ago, I would have said “color” is the way to decide what type of lead rope to buy. Now, I’m a bit more scientific in how I pick a lead rope. I want the best bang for my buck, but I also want something safe. And also, why did I write this?


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Fabric and materials


  • Thick and long cotton used to be my go to, but I found that the cotton would sometimes fail at the buckle end of things. But, the thickness is nice to hold, and even springing for a new cotton lead rope every few years is not a big deal.



This cotton bad boy, a few years old, is just starting to fray a bit near the buckle.


  • Now I like a long nylon lead rope, I have had one for almost 8 years and it’s just about the best. The nylon tends to be slickery and stay together pretty well! However, I hear stories about nasty rope burns with nylon. I wear gloves a lot, even in summer, so any risk of burn is almost gone.


  • Leather lead lines are super as well, but not as easy to maintain. You still need to clean and condition the leather, and leather lead lines are classy to have at shows. Many have their own stud chain attached, which you may or may not love and/or need.


  • There are also lead lines made from ribbon-like material, and you could even make your own from enough bailing twine if you needed to. These are so handy when the ends have that fringe, like the end of your childhood bike’s handlebars.


lead ropes of various lengths

Pick your length.


How long should your horse’s lead rope be?


  • With regard to the length of the lead line, I prefer longer to shorter. While short lead ropes may not puddle on the ground when your horse is in the cross ties, a short lead rope will put you at the end of that rope super fast if your horse becomes a magical flying kite. Flying magical kites often have legs that punch around and I want to be far away from that, not three feet or less with a short lead rope.


  • With a long lead rope, you will have to hold the excess in your left hand, not looped of course. But, you will have the ability to swat your horse’s butt or shoulders to ask him to move forward or away from you with the lead rope tail that’s in your left hand. You also have the ability to separate your horse from yourself if he suddenly becomes foolish and flails around.


A few other thoughts on lead ropes:


  • To knot at the end debate: Knot the end of your lead rope if you want a little more to grab onto. Just know that a knotted lead rope can be tricky to untangle or slide through something in an emergency. For the most part, this should be a non-issue as ropes should be tied or clipped to things that can break in the event of an emergency.


purple lead rope with knotted end

I like a knot, may people don’t.



lead rope with knot

You can always put a knot about 10 inches from the buckle as a reminder to put your hand there.


  • I personally don’t mind a knot at the end of my horse’s lead rope. Some folks want that knot to stop the lead rope from being pulled through their hands, my thought on that is “Let go!” to avoid rope burn and other potentially dangerous things that can happen to you. If I even suspect a horse is going to be a dork and pull away from me, I carry a whip while wearing gloves.




buckles that do not quick release

The buckle on the left is easier to handle with your thumb – therefore a bit safer!


How do you pick a lead rope? It’s totally OK if you say by color.


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