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How To Tie A Horse Up Safely Part 1

By Jeffrey Rolo

Knowing how to tie a horse in a safe manner is a skill that all horsemen must possess, because a sloppy effort can easily lead to property damage, or worse, serious mental and/or physical injury to your equine companion. Horses have even been killed by their injuries when they panicked while tied up, so I can't emphasize strongly enough how necessary it is to avoid shortcuts or haphazard tie-downs. So with that caution in mind, let's cover some of the general guidelines that will teach us how to tie up a horse safely and effectively.

Training Comes Before Tying

Standing in place might seem so simple that even the village idiot can understand the concept, but remember that horses are not human. Horses are free-spirited and claustrophobic, so they won't take well to their movement being constricted, and their first instinct will be to fight the line limiting their freedom.

As such, the safety guidelines included within this article will only get you so far. While certainly important, they are designed to supplement a horse's training, not replace it. Until you train a horse to tie, do not tie him down (especially while unsupervised!).

Desensitize Your Horse

Since desensitization exercises should be a part of any training program, technically this falls into the preceding statement regarding training. Regardless, it bears special mention since often desensitization is one of training exercises most frequently looked over when a handler starts getting lazy.

Before you tie a horse it is important that you train your horse to yield to pressure, as well as desensitize him to the feeling of a lead line slapping or rubbing against his leg as he walks/runs just in case your horse escapes the tie-down. A panicked horse is hard enough to calm down without getting increasingly freaked out by the sensation of a loose rope slapping against his leg.

Keep His Head Up

When you tie a horse, you want to place the knot at about head level, if not a bit higher. The reason for this is that you do not want the rope to droop low enough that a horse could potentially get his leg caught in the rope, or worse, step on it. This is how injuries occur.

How Long Will You Tie Your Horse?

Sometimes horse owners break the above rule indirectly by intentionally leaving a lot of slack in the line so that a horse can lower his head to the ground and munch on some grass or hay while waiting. This may make sense with an extremely well-trained and desensitized horse in rare circumstances (such as if you're out camping and must tie a horse down for the night), it's a very bad practice in general.

It's a good idea to tie a horse to a post/fence/base closer rather than further for two reasons:

  1. As mentioned earlier, the higher the slack of the rope, the less of a chance there is for your horse's leg to get caught up in it. I would not let slack go lower than the upper chest region for temporary tie-downs.

  2. The shorter the rope, the less "thrust" your horse can get if he pulls back. You want to minimize the backwards momentum a defiant or panicked horse can achieve, because the harder he can pull back, the more chance there is of injuring himself or the property.

Yes, it's somewhat true that an idle mind is the devil's playground, and a bored horse can quickly become a fussy or resistant horse, but ultimately you need to teach your horse to stand patiently whether he likes it or not. Bribery and distraction with food, while effective, can all too quickly become a crutch.

In the next part of How To Tie A Horse, we will look at the use of breakaways and quick release knots, a serious mistake that too many amateur horsemen commit, and more.

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