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How To Train A Horse To Tie – Part 4

By Jeffrey Rolo

In the first part of this series we discussed some desensitization exercises that should be performed to prepare a horse for tying. Next we taught our horse a basic yielding exercise, followed by more advanced techniques designed to make your horse yield to a rope. We're not ready to take this project home.


Before advancing to the final steps, you will want to perform the previous exercises around various areas of the stable. Why? Because horses by nature tend to learn or accept very specific scenarios, whereas humans learn overall concepts. For example, if you ran a human through the above exercises, the human would understand that you're training him to yield. When you run your horse through it, you're training him to yield to pressure in that particular area.

This is why sometimes a horse may regularly spook when he passes an item to his left, but he may not blink an eye when he passes that same item from the other direction. To us it's the same darn object (we're judging the overall picture/concept), but to the horse they are two different scenarios; one from each direction (he's judging the extreme specifics).

So when you train a horse, it's best to train him in multiple areas so that he slowly becomes desensitized to various surroundings and adopts the overall concepts, rather than focuses on the specific details of a particular time or place.

Step Four – Raise The Ante

Now that your horse is becoming accustomed to yielding to pressure rather than pulling away from it, we're going to introduce some desensitization into the picture while he's yielding. This will naturally be much easier if you have a partner, so that you can focus on holding the rope while your partner works on the desensitization.

The setup will be exactly the same as the prior step, except that now your partner is going to move around the horse, perhaps make some noise, perhaps rattle a plastic bag… the same types of actions you would see during the desensitization stage. The handler should start slow and increase pressure slowly over time. The goal isn't to make a horse panic or scare him; it's to show him that the unexpected can occur while tied, so that hopefully he won't go nuts if something spooks him when he's tied later on down the road.

Aside from desensitization exercises, your handler can also approach the flanks in an effort to make your horse move laterally left and right while he's "tied" to the fence. Get him used to shifting his directions depending on the direction another object, horse or human is approaching.

Again, this step isn't about scaring or dominating your horse, but rather showing your horse how to move away from a perceived threat or approaching object while still yielding to the rope.

Step Five – Tie Him Up

By now your horse has learned to embrace rather than fight pressure, yield laterally as well as forward, and not flip out if something unexpected occurs or approaches him while he's tied to a post. So now you're ready to take the training wheels off and tie your horse to a post for real.

I strongly suggest tying him inside of an arena for the first few times since you don't want a runaway horse if something goes wrong. Additionally, I would recommend the use of a quick release knot so that if your horse starts panicking, you can quickly sprint to the fence/post and tug him free. I don't recommend that you use a breakaway at this point, because although a strong argument can be made about the merits of using a breakaway when tying a horse, this is NOT the stage to do so. Once a horse learns he can escape a breakaway by pulling back, you'll have one heck of a time keeping him tied in the future. For now he should find the rope to be unyielding when he pulls back (unless you pull the emergency cord by disengaging the quick release knot).

When you tie him for the first time, you can stand with him inside the ring or wait outside the ring. Sometimes it's advantageous to stand inside initially since if he starts panicking you can quickly try and settle him down with reassurances, but if you elect to do this make sure you are situationally-aware at all times; you don't want to get trapped between the fence and your horse if he panics.

If he appears calm, move further away while he stands tied. You want to observe him initially so you can release him if things go too far south, but you slowly want to distance yourself since doing so removes you as a security blanket. He needs to eventually get comfortable being tied up when you're not around.

Your goal is to eventually reach the point where your presence is no longer required at all – you can be completely out of his eyesight and he'll still stand quietly. Once you've reached this point, congratulations! You've taught your horse to stand.

Now go and tie him in other areas around the barn so that he gets comfortable with the overall process, rather than the specific post/area.

Final Notes

Most of the time this is a gradual and painless process as long as you have invested enough time to build a trusting relationship with your horse. The more he trusts you, the more receptive he will be to these steps. If your horse appears too uncomfortable, you may either be progressing him too quickly, or you may not have built up the appropriate trust levels yet.

Although uncommon, there are horses that will be very hard nuts to crack. Some are just fiercely independent and may always be tempted to fight a tie-down, or some might be particularly spooky. Just try and be patient, keep working the basics, and over time these issues will usually resolve themselves.

As I mentioned at the start of this series, there are various techniques a horseman can use during this process, and I didn't cover them all since I wanted to share core concepts that anyone can use while avoiding writing an entire book on the topic. Don't feel you must follow my recommendations to the letter – like all areas of natural horsemanship, I encourage you to experiment a bit once you understand the core concepts behind what is being attempted. If you prefer the use of a blocker tie ring, for example, then modify the above concepts with the use of one.

Some horsemen shun the above method and instead resort to the old-fashioned "let them fight it out" tying technique – tying a horse to a tree and leaving him there to fight for days until he discovers that he cannot escape and thus grudgingly accepts the captivity. Obviously that's not my style, so I didn't cover it in this series. In extreme and seemingly hopeless cases, it can be a horseman's last resort, but luckily not too many cases need come to that.

If you find that your horse is an extreme case, you can read more about that technique in the article Extreme Cases: Help, My Horse Won't Tie!

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