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How to Safely Tie Up a Horse

How to Safely Tie Up a Horse

How to Safely Tie Up a Horse

Preparations for Tying - Part 1

We believe that it is important that horses are taught how to understand being tied up.  It is not in the horse’s nature to have their movement restricted, especially by being connected to something solid by a rope attached to their head. If a horse is startled and goes to move then pulls back against the head collar or halter and feels trapped, panic can ensue and injuries can occur.

It is the horse’s nature as a prey animal that uses flight as its defence, to pull back if feeling restricted unless they have been taught a different response; that is to yield towards a feel, rather than pull back against it.

It is usually best to check how a horse responds to following a feel first before tying them. Initially, you can teach follow a feel by slowly applying pressure on the lead rope to invite the horse towards you and gradually increase the pressure. As soon as the horse steps towards you release the pressure then repeat. Pressure motivates, however, it’s the release that teaches.

Then check the horse can follow a feel to the right and left while keeping your feet still. This is to check it’s the feel they are following, rather than the body movement. We think this is important as when tying to a solid object like a wall, there is no movement or person to follow, only the feel from the rope attached to the wall.

Once the horse understands this, you can progress to running a long rope through a ring on the wall and holding the end while standing away from the ring.  Then ask him to follow the feel towards the wall rather than towards you. Until you are sure the horse really understands this in a variety of circumstances we would also use this as our method of ‘pre-tying’.  For example, asking him to stand to be groomed while the rope is passed through the ring and the tail end back to our hand. You can then move around and groom him and he feels like he is tied.  But unlike actually being tied, you can manage the rope and so can allow the horse some movement to drift backwards if he gets worried.  However, you wouldn’t release the rope pressure until he stepped forward off the pressure towards the tie ring.

Preparations for Tying - Part 1 by Sally Brett, Everyday Horsemanship

Preparations for Tying - Part 2

Once you are happy the horse understands to follow the feel of the rope towards the tie ring and isn’t concerned by the feel,  then you know he is safe to tie. However, because horses are instinctual and even the best-educated horse could get startled and pull back, we generally use a type of ‘friction tie’. This allows drift backwards if the horse gets startled (thus reducing the potential for panic at being trapped), but the horse only gets a full release when they come forward off the pressure. The type we use is the Blocker Tie.

Traditionally baler twine or quick-release loops are commonly used to prevent injury in the case of a pullback. While these may reduce the risk of injury compared to tying directly to the wall, they also give a sudden release when the horse pulls back and it’s the release teaches! So we prefer to teach our horse to understand how to yield to pressure and then use a friction tie.

Some years ago it was shared with us to have the tie point as high as possible, and at least always higher than the horse’s withers. This prevents the horse from putting his strength and weight into pulling back because they will have less leverage, and therefore will have less force to pull back if startled. Also, tie them at a length where they can have their head comfortably at normal resting height, but short enough that they can’t lower their head very far, thus reducing the likelihood of getting a front leg over the rope.

Preparations for tying - Part 3

Things to consider before tying:-

We don’t tie up unless the horse has been educated to understand the feel of being tied and to understand how to yield to pressure.

We don’t tie up unless we are sure the horse is mentally & emotionally ready to stand still. See ‘Developing the standstill blog and FB post  by Sally Brett, Everyday Horsemanship

Tying up a horse that mentally or emotionally can’t stand still just means the horse would be swinging around from a pivot point, possibly pawing the ground too because their foot movement is restricted and the probability of pulling back is also more likely. We therefore might initially do ‘standing still practice’ at the end of a training session. This is when the horse is more mentally relaxed and after they have moved their feet, so they are more apt to be able to stand still.

We tie to a point higher than the horse’s withers, and at a length that means the horse can’t easily get their front leg over the rope.

We never tie to gates or anything that could come loose like a fence rail as this could cause an accident if they pull back, pull the gate or fence rail free & panic as they now believe the loose item attached to their rope is ‘chasing them’.  Always tie to something solid, and then use a friction tie as the contact point to allow drift in case they are startled.

Before we tie up, check the area is safe with no protruding objects to injure the horse, or to get the rope or halter caught on e.g., hinges, door bolts, and protrusions on trailers or lorries etc.

If we are going to do something that we think may concern the horse for example clipping, washing legs, having a farrier or saddling a green horse then we would not tie them. We would hold the rope to allow them to drift. Once we’re happy they are relaxed and understanding the procedure we would use a friction tie to tie them.

We are mindful about tying somewhere where the horse may be unsettled and therefore more likely to get startled or on adrenaline. For example a different tie-up place like a wash box, a time when other horses are coming past or leaving; or at a different venue like a show-ground.

We consider being tied and patience standing still while tied, to be an education. These are important in their own right, but also as an ingredient for safe travelling. As part of a horse’s education, we like to gradually increase the time expected for them to be tied up.

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