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How To Tie A Horse Safely – Part 2

By Jeffrey Rolo

In the first part of How To Tie A Horse Up Safely we touched upon some of the preparations necessary before tying a horse for the first time, as well as head placement and specifically where to tie, so now we're ready to continue our look at how to tie a horse.

Breakaways And Quick Release Knots

There are pros and cons to both breakaways as well as quick-release knots. I won't cover breakaways here since the article Tying A Horse Down: Should I Use A Breakaway has already covered the topic.

Let's assume that you will not be using a breakaway when tying a horse – should you use a quick release knot instead? In general, yes… but not always.

(A quick release knot is a knot that is designed to be inescapable when a horse pulls back on the rope tied to his halter, but can instantly be undone when the handler pulls the tail of the knot. There is no untying to be done.)

I think every horseman should know how to tie some form of quick release knot (and we will look at how to tie a quick release knot elsewhere), but keep in mind that they are not suited for all horses. Some horses are simply too smart for their own good, and if they discover that by biting and tugging the tail/release of the knot that they can instantly unravel it… well… kiss the quick release knot goodbye. Luckily such horses aren't *too* common, but I've owned my share of "safe crackers" before that delighted in escaping various latches and such. Quick release knots would have been child's play for a couple of them.

Know Your Surroundings

Check the integrity of the fence or post you'll be tying your horse to. You don't want your horse yanking an unstable fence plank (or whatever other base you tied him to) with him as he pulls back, because the item could seriously injure him as it smacks against his legs when your horse runs around, making matters far worse.

If tying a horse to a trailer, make sure the trailer is hitched to a vehicle. A horse that pulls strongly enough can actually flip an unsecured trailer, which creates a very perilous situation. The same holds true for any movable object, really… horses shouldn't be tied to any item that can potentially be pulled, moved, flipped or broken.

Additionally, make sure there are no nails, glass shards or other dangerous debris on the ground anywhere near where your horse will be tied. Also try to ensure there are no low-lying branches from a nearby tree, or shrubs/bushes, that can poke, entangle or panic your horse.

A good tying area should be clear and clean.

If He Panics, Make Sure You Don't

No matter how well-trained your horse, you should always be prepared for the unexpected. Sometimes a horse will panic or fight a tie when you least expect it, and in such cases the best thing you can do is retain a calm head.

If your horse sits back, thrashes or even falls to the floor, don't race over and frantically try to release your horse. If you can reach a quick-release knot safely, go for it, but the last thing you want to do is place yourself in harm's way by getting too close to an extremely heavy and agitated animal.

The sight of a fallen or panicking horse can be a scary sight for any horse owner, but you only make matters worse when you too become visibly nervous and/or take hasty action. Your already nervous horse will feed off your anxiety and become even worse! Instead, do the opposite of what your instincts will probably shout at you: stand calmly, speak in a soothing manner, and wait for your horse to regain his composure.

Although there's always a chance of a horse injuring himself when fighting a tie, know that your intercession may not prevent it, and may instead only further add to his anxiety and place you at risk too. Exude calmness and rational thought – that will be far more reassuring to a horse than an equally panicky owner.

Don't Tie The Reins!

Way too many amateur horsemen make the mistake of trying to tie a bridled horse to a post or fence via the reins, and unless you're using a bitless bridle, you're playing with fire if you do. Not only are reins a weak, lousy choice for a tie-down, but the bit can do serious damage to your horse's mouth if he panics and/or pulls back sharply.

If you need to dismount a bridled horse and temporarily tie him, I strongly recommend slipping a halter over his bridled head if one is handy, and then tie him via the halter. Don't let the reins drop to the floor if you do this (you don't want your horse accidentally stepping on them and yanking the bit downwards). Tie the reins together over the horse's neck tightly enough that the reins' slack cannot get caught in the legs. Don't tie the reins to a saddle horn or the stirrups since your horse might fight the constriction and damage his mouth with the bit in the process. By tying the reins together over the neck, it keeps them out of the way while also allowing them to slide up and down his neck as his head moves slightly.

Now with that having being said, I would advise against tying a bridled horse entirely. Sure, it's a pain in the neck to remove and then re-bridle a horse when you need to run into the tack room for just a few minutes, but I prefer not to keep a bridle on when it's not actively being used. It leaves one less things that could potentially go wrong.

Finally, remember that simply knowing how to tie a horse isn't enough… you and your horse must practice and train before you need to rely on those tying skills. Don't wait until the last minute to get comfortable tying a horse (or expecting your horse to be comfortable with the unnatural process) – train your horse to tie early and frequently.

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