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Tying A Horse To A Tree: More Steps To Make The Process Safer

By Jeffrey Rolo

In the first part of this series we started our look at how to take a somewhat hazardous process, tying a horse to a tree to break him, and make it as safe a process as possible. Now we'll continue this discussion and learn some more tactics that will make the exercise more productive.

(Note: If you're not absolutely certain this is necessary for your horse, make sure you read Extreme Cases: Help, My Horse Won't Tie first, because this process is NOT natural horsemanship, and is NOT the recommended way to follow when training a horse to tie.)

Bungee Cords Are For Cars, Not Horses

Sometimes handlers are tempted to use a bungee cord in place of a strong rope. The theory is that a bungee cord will "give" a bit when a horse pulls back, before snapping back into place. This helps lessen the force/momentum when a horse snaps his head back suddenly and thereby lessens the chances of a neck injury. It's the difference between unrestricted movement until you suddenly smash into the "wall" (a pure rope), and restricted movement that resists enough to lessen momentum while simultaneously preventing the "wall effect."

The theory is sound, but the tool is dangerous. Bungee cords are NOT strong enough to resist the full weight of a horse, at least over a sustained period of time. And what would happen if a bungee cord snapped while your horse was pulling back? It would cause an unexpected and sudden INCREASE in the horse's momentum, potentially causing your horse to flip over and seriously injure himself. Not to mention that the snapped rubber of the cord can fling back and smack your horse's head.

Although those that advocate bungee cords have the best wishes of the horse in mind (decreasing the chance of injury), they are inadvertently playing with fire… and if the bungee cord snaps, at BEST there will be a runaway horse. At worst, the bungee cord will encourage an injury that may otherwise have been prevented.

But fear not, because we can use the same theory behind the bungee cord by using another tool instead…

Use An Inner Tube

Wrap an inner tube (not all tires use them – particularly car ties – but the inner tube is a tube within a tire that holds the air) around the tree limb, tree base or tying post, whichever you're using. I'd recommend wrapping it around the post at least twice. When you tie your horse to the tree, instead of tying the rope directly to the tree, you'll tie it to the inner tube instead.

This inner tube will serve as a buffer between the tree and the rope, providing a bit of "give" when a horse snaps his head and/or weight back. It's the same concept as the bungee cord above, except that it's a lot sturdier.

Do not use a bicycle inner tube. Although strong, if your horse fights against it strongly over a prolonged period of time, it could snap. I'd recommend going with a truck or a tractor inner tube since you'll want the strongest tube you can get if you use this tool.

Use Clear Surroundings

Not only should the tree or post be firm enough to resist your horse's pressure, but the ground should be as safe and accommodating a possible. Use a grassy or a sandy area – you don't want any debris on the floor (such as broken glass), nor do you want exposed tree roots.

Initial Expectations

If you've used this process because your horse was completely unresponsive to natural horsemanship training techniques, then expect a fight. Your horse is likely going to pull back, shift left and right, trip over himself, sit back, or fall outright. It won't be pretty, but it's a part of the process, so ignore it and move on. Yes, your horse could scrape himself up a bit, or potentially give himself a serious injury, but you chose the "make or break" exercise, so now it's time to let fate (and your horse) decide how things turn out. Now you know why I strongly advised against this process unless absolutely necessary in the preceding articles.

Once your horse tires himself out he'll likely start standing peacefully. Sometimes one eruption is all it'll take to convince your horse to stand, other times your horse may gather his energy and give it a few more rounds down the road.

You will be leaving your horse tied to the tree for a couple days at a minimum – some horsemen leave the horse tied to the same spot for up to a week. As such, obviously you'll need to provide food and water, and since the horse won't be able to lie down or reach the floor if you've used the proper rope lengths, you'll need to hang both to the tree so your horse can access them.

I recommend hanging a water bucket while foregoing a grain bucket. If you want to feed your horse grain, you can always manually hold the grain bucket later once your horse has calmed down. Hanging a hay bag should be considered a must. Not only is it easy to attach to a tree, but it's essential to keep your horse healthy and occupied. Remember… he can't graze, and horses aren't meant to spend days on end without regular grazing. Always use a hay bag, and be sure to refill it as necessary.

Don't attach the water bucket or hay bag until several hours later or until your horse has stopped resisting the rope. When your horse is "fighting for his life/freedom," the last thing he'll be thinking about is the food and water, so the presence of a bucket or hay bag will simply serve as obstructions. Wait for him to calm down, then provide for his dietary needs.

If all goes well, a couple days later your horse will have learned that resisting the rope is futile. Just remember that you won the battle using "blunt force," which is more tenuous than practical and prolonged training. Maybe your horse will never fight the rope again, or maybe he will if he sees a more serious threat than the tie. You're better off now than you were, but I'd not consider the job complete. Go back to the fundamentals of natural horsemanship and try to work on trust and authority, because this exercise didn't accomplish either.

Should I Spook My Horse?

Some handlers believe that they should spook their horse fiercely during this exercise, doing all in their power to scare the horse and make him fight the rope. I disagree.

Look, desensitization is certainly a necessary step, and yes, once your horse has calmed down you should slowly up the ante and try to convince your horse to yield even in the presence of "spooky" noise, objects or movements. But be sensible about it – you don't want to outright panic your horse.

The point of desensitization is to slowly convince a horse that a perceived threat isn't actually a threat at all. You need to slowly take your horse outside of his comfort zone, but your goal should not be to overload his system with panic. Not only is it dangerous and abusive, it's also not nearly as productive.

So by all means desensitize your horse once he's taken to being tied, but don't go overboard. You're trying to reassure him that perceived threats are actually safe; you're not trying to scare him so badly that he panics or freezes, because by doing so all you've managed to do is reaffirm that the perceived threat was very real.

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