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Extreme Cases: Help, My Horse Won't Tie!

By Jeffrey Rolo

What happens when no matter what you do, your horse refuses to tie? First, take a deep breath and evaluate your current situation with a clear mind. Frustration quickly mounts when a horse disregards our requests or behaves in an unsafe manner, and this frustration can lead to extreme perceptions of such occurrences. Relatively small issues can appear to be significant, and even extreme, when passion and frustration overrules calmness and clarity.

How long have you been struggling with your horse? Do you know your horse's history? What possible reasons may he have to resist being tied? Does your horse truly trust you, or does he just honor basic requests out of convenience and habit? Have you truly gone back to the basics and tried to train your horse to tie in a step-by-step, fluid basis? Or did you assume that training a horse to tie is as simple as typing him to a post or attaching him to cross-ties and expecting him to stand patiently?

One mistake horsemen often make is trying to rush the process. Tying would seem to be an easy enough process, so we don't lay down the proper groundwork necessary to assure our horse that being constricted with a tie-down isn't the end of the world. No matter how simple tying would seem to us, understand: being tied is not easy for a horse to accept – it goes against their very nature. Horses are prey animals, and as such they do not want to be confined.

If you are unsure whether you have truly covered all the necessary bases when attempting to train your horse to tie, I recommend checking out the series How To Train A Horse To Tie. But what happens when that process doesn't work?

First and foremost, such extreme cases are rare in my opinion. How rare? Of all the countless horses I've trained, bred, purchased and sold, I have never owned a horse that wasn't responsive to the standard training procedures. Sure, some are quicker learners than others, but with enough patience and cool, firm instruction, all horses I've worked with learned to tie safely.

So don't rush things, and don't take shortcuts. Build a bond of trust with your horse, and over time you should be able to make progress. You and your horse's progress may not move as quickly as you would like, but baby steps over a longer period are better than "shock treatment" designed to accelerate the process.

What happens if you own one of those rarities: a horse that is particularly sour, stubborn, or psychologically scarred? You have a tough choice to make. You can either continue working on the confidence building/training process in hopes of someday making a breakthrough, you can consider cutting your losses and seeking an easier horse, you can attempt to use a blocker tie ring to train your horse to yield to a tie, or you can consider a fairly common shock treatment.

(There is a fourth option, of course – seeking the assistance of a professional trainer. But before you hand your horse over to anyone else for training, make sure you know which methods they will use to train your horse.)

Before I describe the shock treatment, understand that it is literally a make or break exercise. Your horse will be faced with an unyielding hurdle (usually a tree), and both his instincts and fears will be shattered by the futility of the situation (thereby allegedly learning that his initial fears were unfounded), or he will injure himself while trying to escape. Sound distasteful? Good… it should. Again, we're talking about forcing only the most extreme cases to accept being tied. You should never opt to use extreme measures flippantly. I consider this a last resort, and a result I have luckily never needed to use despite having owned some pretty darn stubborn horses in the past.

I focused so much time emphasizing patience and careful evaluation of the severity of your horse's problem because the shock treatment (tying a horse to a tree) I'm about to outline should never be used carelessly or unnecessarily. It's a risky process to begin with, but if you do it improperly the risks of serious injury are magnified.

So now that you've done a bit of soul searching and have concluded that there is no other alternative than to make or break your horse, let's move on and learn how to train a horse to tie via a tree or unyielding pole.

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