Dear Jessica, I'd really like to have a short, cotton lead rope, just for leading horses in/out of a pasture, walking into a trailer, holding for farrier, etc. Never to be used for tying, so I'd like just a short, maybe 4 or 5 feet, so that if the horse were to spook and get loose, there wouldn't be 10' of rope wrapping around its legs. Since I can't find the short lengths, I am going to just purchase a 10' and cut it off. But is there any safety logic that prevents a shorter length from being available in the tack stores/shops?
If you go to a tack shop that caters to the show trade, you may be able to purchase lead lines that are specifically designed for in-hand showing in the ring, and those special-purpose lines may be as short as 7'. For normal purposes, though - leading a horse from the pasture, holding it for the vet or farrier, etc. - the standard 10' length is much more useful and versatile.
Yes, there's some safety logic to the longer ropes. It's generally better to have a little too much length than not enough. With a conventional leadrope, the person leading the horse can - WITHOUT PUTTING PRESSURE ON THE LEAD - easily maintain a double grip on the rope (if you're leading from the left: right hand 6"-8" below the horse's chin, left hand holding the rest of the leadrope in folds). This allows you quite a lot of leeway - not only can you use the rope to tie the horse if you need to do that, but if something startles the horse (dog? truck brakes? a load of snow falling off the barn roof?) and it leaps sideways or rears, or throws its head up and runs backwards out of the trailer, you won't have to choose between letting the horse go (loose horse!) or hurting your arm or shoulder. You may need to let go with your right hand, but you'll still be connected to the horse by the rest of the rope in your left hand - and you won't be forced, as you would be with a short rope, to put continual pressure on the horse's head. Startled horses tend to calm down MUCH more quickly if they are (a) still connected to the human, and (b) able to move around a little bit. The conventional 10' leadrope lets YOU determine how much - if any - pressure to apply, even if your horse is mid-startle - which is why it's a useful and versatile tool.
Some people prefer longer ropes - packers, for instance, often make their own 11' leadropes, and 12' or 15' leadropes are very popular with riders who follow "natural horsemanship". Again, a longer lead rope gives you more options - you can be right up next to the horse, or several feet from the horse, and wherever you are, you can have as much slack as you want in the rope. You can deal with a "spook"- and if you need to, you can tie the horse safely.
If you're working with a head-shy or difficult new horse, and you'd like a short length of rope just for ease in catching a horse, you can fasten a one- or two-foot length of soft rope or twine to the horse's turnout halter, use it to catch the horse, and then attach the real leadrope whenever you want to lead the horse. But don't be afraid of letting a horse get loose with a longer leadrope. A 10' rope isn't necessarily more dangerous. If the horse startles and you drop the rope, the horse may run off bucking and kicking, but at some point, the horse will step on the rope, and at that point, he will stop. Some people do this on purpose, to teach the horse to respect the leadrope without developing any fear of the human - a horse loose in a round pen, arena, or field, wearing a halter and leadrope, will step on the rope periodically and first teach himself, then remind himself, that pressure on the halter from the rope means "stop and stand".
Just as a 10' rope isn't necessarily dangerous, a 2' rope isn't necessarily safer. In fact, a short rope fastened to the halter is far more likely to be dangerous to a bucking, leaping horse because an active, agitated horse can cause a short rope to whip around and hit a bystander - or the face of the horse itself! The end of a rope can injure a horse's eye very badly, and that sort of damage doesn't teach anyone, horse or human, a useful lesson. It's better to use a conventional 10' rope, and if the horse startles and bucks away from you, just allow it to step on the leadrope, bring itself up short, and realize that pressure means STOP. A 10' rope isn't likely to get wrapped around a horse's legs, unless you're dealing with a miniature horse. The only times I've ever seen a horse's leg caught in a lead rope have been those times when someone tied the horse too long and it stepped over the rope and turned. That's dangerous, but the solution is very simple: Tie safely, so that the horse can lower its head comfortably and breathe, but can't step over the rope. Don't use a longe line for leading or tying a horse (a horse COULD manage to get 30' or 35' of rope or webbing wrapped around its legs), don't use any lead rope that has a loop tied into the end of it (if yours has a loop, untie it!), and always use cotton in preference to nylon. When a tight rope slides through a human hand or across a horse's leg, a cotton rope will cause much less damage than a nylon one.
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