Should You Use A Blocker Tie Ring With Your Horse?By Jeffrey Rolo
The blocker tie ring, invented by accomplished horseman Ted Blocker, is a tool designed to "tie" a horse while still allowing the lead rope some slack if a horse panics or sits back. Since the horse can pull some rope through the blocker tie ring, he won't meet the unyielding resistance of a traditional tie-down, and as a result he may feel less claustrophobic or constrained, will settle down and regain his wits/confidence quicker, and will be less prone to injury.
(Side note: The blocker tie ring is often referred to as an Aussie tie ring since famed Australian horse trainer Clinton Anderson is a strong advocate of them.)
So this makes a blocker tie ring the perfect tying tool for all horses, right? Well… not so fast. Although the blocker tie ring can be a fantastic tool, like many tools, it's not necessarily one-size-fits-all.
First, how does it work? The blocker tie ring is similar to a belt buckle; it's a metal ring with a prong in the center. The handler will take the lead rope and form a bight, then feed that bight through the metal ring. Once the bight is fed through, the prong is snapped up in the center of the bight, thereby causing the rope to "loop around" the prong.
Without permanently anchoring the lead rope, a horse can conceivably pull the entirety of the rope's length through the blocker tie ring and escape the tie. The blocker tie ring is designed to discourage indefinite pulling back since the device causes friction/resistance as the rope is pulled through, so hopefully the horse will give up before he escapes. These levels of resistance can be modified based on the type of rope you use (some materials and thicknesses will create more friction), or by taking the loose end of the lead rope and looping it over the prong a second time. So blocker tie rings are fairly flexible and customizable.
Many people prefer the use of a blocker tie ring when training their horse to tie since it allows a nervous horse to pull some slack through the ring, thereby lessening panic reactions. I think blocker tie rings can be a perfectly valid tool for training purposes, but I prefer a more hands-on approach to teaching a horse to yield to pressure and tie. Blocker tie rings can easily be added into my basic process, though, so if you think they better suit you during the training process, by all means use them.
When training a horse, be sure you're observing the horse and lead rope's length during the process. If your horse pulls back, wait until he stops struggling (as long as he doesn't try and pull the entirety of the rope's length through the ring), then reset the length of the rope and try again. Over time your horse should pull back lesser distances, and eventually stop fighting the rope altogether.
If your horse is particularly explosive, or learns that sitting back and yanking the length of the rope through the tie ring will lead to freedom, it's probably not a good idea to use this tool. Sure, you can increase the friction of the rope, or try and anchor the lead rope such that the entirety of the rope can't be drawn through the tie ring, but eventually you get to the point where a blocker tie ring can instead encourage bad behavior since it does allow that slack.
It's similar to a quick-release knot or breakaway halter – the added safety and flexibility are great for many horses, but once a horse learns that they can easily undo the knot or snap a breakaway, you'll have a hard time putting the genie back into the bottle; your horse will repeatedly attempt to do the same in the future. The slack a blocker tie ring provides is great at first, but once your horse starts abusing the privilege it's time to get a little firmer and take matters into your own hands.
So if your horse is new to the whole thing, or a bit nervous, a blocker tie ring may serve you well. If your horse fights it too hard, I would check out How To Train A Horse To Tie and try those methods instead.
Handlers will also use blocker tie rings in place of cross ties or directly tying horses to a post, trailer, etc. Again, if your horse is well-behaved, this can work very well, but blocker tie rings should be considered a step up from ground tying. If you leave an untrained or naughty horse unattended on a blocker tie ring, when you return you may find you have a runaway on your hands. I would recommend using a blocker tie ring only when you're actively tending to your horse. If you need to leave your horse tied unattended, I'd go with a traditional tie.
I approve of the concept behind the blocker tie ring, and although I don't use them too often myself, I can understand why many horsemen do. It's a gentle training or tying method that allows a horse a bit of added freedom. But I would caution you that while such tools can be helpful, they should never replace the basic fundamentals of natural horsemanship, nor should they deemphasize the critical importance of regular horse/handler interaction. Added safety measures are fantastic, but they also tend to require a better trained horse since they are more susceptible to a horse's bad behavior and/or abuse. Don't allow your tools to become crutches, because crutches can only provide support; they cannot provide the solid foundation you and your horse requires.