How To Train A Horse To Tie – Part 2By Jeffrey Rolo
In the first part of the series How To Train A Horse To Tie we learned why training a horse to tie is so important, and covered some of the preliminary desensitization steps that a horse should undergo before he starts getting tied. Now we're ready to start teaching his head and body to yield to pressure. (This article will not cover the blocker tie ring method of training a horse to tie, so check out the linked article if you would like to learn more about that option.)
Hopefully by now you have taught your horse to lead; if you haven't, I would suggest mastering that process first. Why? First, some of the techniques you use to train a horse to tie are similar to those which you used when teaching him to lead, so by teaching him to lead properly you've given him a head start in this step. Secondly, and more importantly, this stage of training will be much easier if your horse already trusts both you and your requests. Basic round pen training, leading exercises and groundwork establishes this bond of trust so that, when you ask your horse to do something unnatural (such as stand in place when tied), he will be more comfortable with the requests and gain strength by your presence.
Now that your horse is desensitized, skilled in the art of being led, and trusts in your authority, it's time to work on yielding to pressure. Depending on how quickly your horse picked up on lead training, it's possible you already went through similar exercises, but we'll assume that your horse was a quick learner and never required pressure to yield during lead training.
There are various techniques people use when training a horse to yield, so I won't cover them all or pick favorites. My personal style revolves around doing the basics – no fuss, no muss, no fancy games. Just basic trust building exercises with minimal tools.
Regarding equipment, for these steps I will usually use a flat nylon halter and a lengthy, comfortable rope lead. Some handlers believe that a flat halter is too gentle when teaching a horse to yield because a horse can "lean into" the halter's pressure without much discomfort at all. Since a rope halter bites into the horse more when pressure is applied, the horse will become more responsive and yield easier.
There's some truth to that; a rope halter generally will make a horse more responsive. But if a horse panics or fights the pressure, a rope halter can also become painful and possibly even bruise the face. I'd rather work at a slower, more comfortable pace than artificially speed up the process with a rope halter. I want my horse to yield because he's at ease with the process, not because he feels yielding is the lesser of two evils. The harsher the process, the more tense the horse.
That's not to say that using a rope halter would be completely out of line; in the end it comes down to preference. I don't mind rope halters, and I'd swap one out if a horse was fighting a nylon halter too aggressively. I simply prefer to take the path of least resistance, and ramp up the pressure from there if necessary. As long as you know how to use a rope halter properly, go with that if you prefer them.
Step One – Basic Yielding
Stand directly in front of your horse and pull on the lead hard enough that there is a nagging pressure, but not so hard that you're straining yourself or your horse's neck muscles. Don't tug on the lead in uneven bursts either, just maintain a steady pressure.
Once your horse steps forward, release the pressure immediately. Immediate release is important because the whole point of this exercise is to teach your horse that when he yields to pressure, that pressure goes away.
You can permit your horse to approach you all the way, or you can ask him to stop and approach him instead. Give him a good pet, verbally praise his good behavior, then step back and make him stand in place facing you.
(Side note: Whether you choose to allow your horse to approach you, or you choose to walk to your horse, make sure that you are the one choosing. A horse should not approach your personal space unless you have given consent to do so. Lazy horses will often attempt to approach the handler because it temporarily prevents him from working. The handler, delighted with how "friendly" the horse is, often pauses the lesson to socialize instead of maintains control.)
There you have it; step one is complete. Piece of cake, right? You pull, the horse yields, you release – it's as simple as that. Although this may seem like a baby step, what we're doing is teaching the horse that when his head feels pressure and/or resistance, he should move towards it rather than away from it to make the pressure go away. Remember, a horse's first instinct is to flee, so we're mentally reprogramming him not to flee the pressure, but rather to approach it.
Repeat this exercise a few times until your horse has it down to a science. Every horse is an individual, so it's impossible to say how long your horse will take to yield immediately on a consistent basis, but it shouldn't take too long at all if you've already performed groundwork with him in the past.
Now that we've selected our horse tack and finished the first step of the process, let's continue training our horse to tie.