How To Train A Horse To Tie – Part 1By Jeffrey Rolo
Sometimes horsemen seeking to learn how to tie a horse make the mistake of underestimating the unnatural stress that such confinement brings to their equine partner. The human mind sees standing in place as a simple task; one that requires little effort or learning. It might be boring, but it's simple.
The reality is that horses are claustrophobic, and when their movement is hampered or their surroundings tightened, their first instinct will be to flee. Since being tied to an unyielding base prevents a successful flight, their mind enters "panic mode" and they fight against the tie even harder, often leading to falling, thrashing, injury, or even in unfortunate and rarer cases, death.
For this reason, it's equally important to learn how to train a horse to tie as it is to follow the standard best tying practices. Tying a horse should be part of every horse's basic groundwork, and if your horse hasn't gone through an extensive training and desensitization program, the time to work on it is now; not down the road when you actually will need to tie your horse.
Most horsemen that practice natural horsemanship will share a common mindset and certain commonalities (as with virtually all areas of horse training), their specific techniques may vary. Not all horsemen are alike, nor are all horses, so although it is a good idea to read various horsemen's thoughts on the subject, ultimately remember that no single size will fit all. Use exercises that best suit your style and preferences, as well as the preferences of your horse.
There are two goals to keep in mind when you train a horse to tie: desensitization and yielding to pressure. Since the desensitization side of things is the easiest to cover, let's start there.
Desensitizing The Horse
All horses should go through a very extensive desensitization process, whereby they learn to accept touch upon sensitive areas of their body, learn to overcome a fear of water, learn to handle outside stimuli such as loud tractors, fleeting cars, darting animals, and much more. We're not going to look at all the elements of a desensitization program here since the focus is on training a horse to tie.
Technically a horse that is tied properly won't need to worry about the rope brushing against his leg; the tie should be about level with the horse's head, and it should be tied tightly enough such that no slack will go lower than the upper chest region. This is to prevent a horse from accidentally stepping on the lead or getting his leg caught in it.
That being said, you should get your horse comfortable with the sensation of a lead rubbing or slapping against his legs as he moves. Why? Because although we hope it will never happen, sometimes a horse does break free (whether out of panic or simple defiance), and a runaway horse can be difficult to catch, especially if the runaway horse is panicked.
If a horse is not comfortable with the sensation of a lead dragging along the floor with him as he runs, the feeling of it striking his legs as he runs can cause him to panic further, which prolongs and amplifies the severity of the situation. So although being desensitized to the sensation won't necessarily stop a runaway horse, it can help get him back into control of his mental state quicker.
When training your horse you want to be very careful. First have your horse stand still and simply drag and/or swing the lead against and around his legs (loosely!) while you assure him that everything is fine. He may fidget, step away or tense up initially, so just take things slow and use plenty of verbal praise and stroking along the withers.
Once your horse is comfortable with standing while a lead rests against his chest and legs, start making him walk while the lead hangs from his halter. We want him to get accustomed to the feeling of a hanging lead dangling during movement.
Make sure the lead line doesn't reach the floor as he's moving – cut the length of a cheap lead line a bit if you need to, then reserve that shortened lead line for training purposes. I like to see it go no lower than the knees. The reason for this is we don't want your horse accidentally stepping on the lead line as he's moving, because it may sharply yank his head down and cause him to panic.
If a runaway horse breaks from his tie, chances are good the rope or lead hanging from his halter may drag on the actual floor. The above desensitization step isn't to suggest that a hanging lead is a good thing or that this is to be encouraged. The desensitization just eliminates one more thing that can go wrong (panicking over the foreign sensation) in the case of an unexpected runaway.
Again, I want to stress that full body and situational desensitization is necessary, so don't take any shortcuts and focus purely on the above exercises. These just relate to preparing a horse to tie.
We're off to a good start, so now it's time to start getting down to business and teach your horse to yield to pressure or resistance in part two of training a horse to tie.