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Tying A Horse To A Tree: Making An Unsafe Training Process Safer

By Jeffrey Rolo

Before training your horse to tie by tying him to a tree (or a similar unyielding object), I first encourage you to check out the series How To Train A Horse To Tie, which outlines gentle natural horsemanship techniques that I believe all horsemen should use. If you believe your horse is unresponsive towards those core fundamentals, check out Extreme Cases: Help, My Horse Won't Tie, because that article will provide you a checklist to determine if this final step is really the one for you.

Now that I've tried to discourage you from using this procedure, let's cover the process. In a nutshell, the handler ties a horse to a tree using an unbreakable halter and rope, then leaves the horse there for days (visiting often enough to offer food and water, of course). The horse will likely attempt to fight the rope initially, and may even resist it fiercely enough that it causes him to fall or hurt himself. That's part of the process: the goal is for the horse to eventually "learn" that he cannot fight the rope, so resistance is futile.

Again, while this "make or break" mentality CAN work, it should never be used in place of first trying to teach a horse to automatically yield to pressure. The tree process is blunt, lacks finesse, and doesn't necessarily create a better horse in the end. You haven't increased his trust for you, his respect for your authority, or his confidence in being tied at most you've convinced him that fighting a rope is futile; a lesson that he may or may not retain later on down the road.

If you're adamant about going down this route, keep the following notes in mind, because they will improve your horse's odds of coming out of the process without injury or negative unintended results.

Rope Halters Are The Enemy Use Nylon

There's certainly a time and a place to use a rope halter, but this training exercise surely isn't it. If your horse fights against his binding forcefully, the rope halter can bite into his face strongly, causing serious discomfort, abrasions, or potentially deeper wounds depending on the level of resistance. This discomfort can cause a horse to further fight the tie, rather than calm down and regain his senses.

Use a strong, flat nylon halter that does not include a breakaway strap, leather browband, or weak buckle. It should be able to retain your horse as firmly as a rope halter, just without the same severity as rope. Also make sure you select a halter that fits properly, as it'll lessen the shifting around the face if your horse resists the tie.

The Rope Should Be A Proper Height And Length

When you tie your horse to the tree, try to select a tree which has an unbreakable limb several feet off the ground (a minimum of 6 feet, but preferably 7-8). If a limb isn't available, find another way to secure your tie around that point. As far as length goes, shoot for around 2-3 feet in length from halter to tree. Since most of us don't carry a tape measure around regularly, just stretch your arm out and touch the tree that's a good approximate length to work from.

Why the above height and length recommendations?

First, you don't want the rope to touch the floor, where a horse can easily step on the rope or get it caught up in his legs. This will force the horse to stand up as he rests and sleeps, but better to be inconvenienced by being forced to stand all the time than it is to break a leg.

As far as the length of the rope is concerned, you don't want to sandwich your horse's face against the tree, but at the same time you don't want too much excessive length either. First, too much length allows the rope to droop lower to the floor, but equally important, too much length gives the horse more "thrust" when he snaps his head back while fighting the rope. The more momentum he can gain by pulling back, the higher the chance of injury. As such, limiting the length limits his ability to gain momentum, hopefully saving him from neck injury.

Should bungee cords be used in place of rope? What about an inner tube? How do you feed and water a horse during this process? We'll learn the answers to these questions and more in our conclusion to this article: Tying A Horse To A Tree: More Ways To Make The Process Safer.

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