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How To Train A Horse To Tie – Part 3

By Jeffrey Rolo

We have already discussed the importance of desensitization as well as some desensitization techniques in the first part of How To Train A Horse To Tie, and in the second part of the series we covered some of the basic equipment we'll use as well as the initial step in the horse tying process. So now we're ready to continue.

Step Two – Lateral Yielding

This step works almost exactly like step one, except that instead of asking the horse to yield straight ahead of him, we're going to have him yield laterally (to the side). With the lead in your left hand, pull his head towards you while you step towards his left hip. You're looking for him to disengage his hindquarters to the left, whereby his back legs cross each other as he shifts his body around sharply in an attempt to keep up with and focus on you.

If you find that he's resisting your request you can use your right hand to push his flanks away from you. Between pushing and approaching his flank while simultaneously pulling his head with your left hand, eventually he will disengage the hindquarters.

Once he does, release the pressure and praise him. Then repeat the process on both sides so that he learns to disengage to the left and the right.

These exercises will help your horse understand that he can also laterally yield to pressure when tied.

Step Three – Wrapping A Post Or Ring

Now that your horse has been trained to yield to direct pressure on the lead, we're going to start transitioning to tying a horse down. Replace your standard lead with a long length of rope. Since there will be significant friction in this step, nylon rope may serve you best since it's more "slippery."

To prepare for this step you want to place your horse inside a round pen or riding arena while you stand outside. You're holding the length of rope that is tied to his halter, and you're both facing each other with the fence between you. Now let's get started.

You don't want your horse to be directly up to the fence when you begin this exercise, because he needs room to move forward when he yields, so if he's too close to the fence then back him up some. Now that he's positioned properly, take the rope and wrap it around a post or round pen bar once so that when you pull on the rope, the fence will serve as a "middle man."

[Important: Make sure the post or bar cannot be pulled down or out of the ground if your horse bolts backwards – not only will this ruin your property, it will make your horse's panic far worse. Whatever base you use for this exercise must be sturdy, and if you feel it's at risk of giving way at any time during the process, release the rope so the base doesn't break.]

What this is doing is giving your horse a sense of friction when you apply pressure – it's not a clean yank like he experienced earlier. Apply some light pressure to the rope and see how he reacts. If he pulls back against the pressure too hard, give him a bit of rope and see if he regains his confidence. Then reel him in and try again.

Ultimately your goal is to get him to yield and step forward when he feels pressure on the rope, but don't hurt yourself if he panics and becomes too strong for you. This is why he's inside the round pen or arena during this exercise; this way if you need to release the pressure and let him back up, or even let go of the lead entirely (which hopefully can be avoided – if your horse panics this badly, you may have progressed too quickly), you won't have a runaway horse on your hands.

All horses will react differently and learn at various paces, so it's entirely possible that your horse will yield to the pressure immediately. If so, great! But don't worry if he's nervous initially… this is an entirely new sensation for him. Before he was meeting clean pressure that released itself immediately the moment he stepped forward. Now he's experiencing a firmer pressure and friction by the post/bar, and he may initially consider engaging his normal "flight" instinct since a fence stands between him and you (thus the fence is to "blame" for his captivity).

If you've taken things slow and your horse isn't on the spooky side, he should react to the light pressure fairly well after any initial nerves have run their course. You want your horse to either stand comfortably against the light pressure you initially supply, or preferably yield to it by walking towards the fence to remove it. Once he does this, instantly release the pressure, approach him, and congratulate him. Then loosen the rope and make him back up from the fence, and perform the exercise again, this time staying back for a few minutes before approaching. Approach, congratulate him, and then increase the time a bit more until you have him to the point where he can stand patiently while "tied" for around 5-6 minutes at a time.

In the prior exercises your pressure was in the form of tugging until he yields. This pressure is more like drawing a line; there should be no pressure beyond the initial request if he moves forward. Your role is more that of a fence post than a handler in this exercise. The only difference is that you can give your horse some additional rope if he starts panicking too much.

This is the same basic concept as the earlier building blocks, except that this time your horse is yielding towards a fence/obstruction rather than yielding to open space or his handler. He's also eventually standing for minutes at a time without you "resetting" the process, and as long as he spends those minutes patiently yielding to the "line" you've drawn initially, he'll feel no pressure. Once he backs up too far, he'll meet pressure. Same as a post or a fence.

There is a similar alternative to this exercise that you can use in place of the previous one (or even as a supplement) if you don't have a post or round pen bar handy. Attach an O ring to your horse's stall (or any sturdy wall at the barn, really) and string the rope through the ring. Give yourself a bit of distance from your horse and proceed to pull the rope. Once the horse yields towards the ring/wall, release the pressure, reward, and perform the exercise again.

Once you've finished this step, you can congratulate both you and your horse for making good progress; you are almost ready to take things home in the next article about training a horse to tie.

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