We have discussed the importance of good ground manners for a young horse. Now it’s time to expand on those ground manners a bit. Teaching a horse to tie is a building block that will make both routine activities and the first ride less complicated. This is something (like ground manners) that a horse can learn at a very young age or can be taught later in life. That being said, the sooner you can teach them these skills, the easier. As horses get older, they learn habits and get set in them (not unlike people). Breaking those undesirable habits is tougher as the animal matures. The good news is that if you start with the ground manners, and the animal respects you before teaching them to tie, the lesson should go pretty smoothly.
There are many reasons why teaching a horse to tie is beneficial. From a breaking standpoint, the discipline and patience this task instills in a young horse will make future training easier. Additionally, if an animal is taught not to struggle in a controlled and safe setting, they tend to be less likely to fight if ever tangled in a fence or other dangerous situation. Furthermore, if there is the potential that you and your new mount are planning on spending quality time alone once he is broke, you will undoubtedly find that being able to confidently tie him up will be invaluable.
Horses that can’t be tied are a management challenge from multiple standpoints. Whether you are at a show, on a trail, or even at home, the barrage of broken halters, snaps, lead ropes and wits can become impossible to tolerate. These horses can prove to be a safety hazard and often trigger other horses to spook. Remember, horses are herd animals. If one ?spooks? (i.e. pulls back while tied), often times others will follow suit even if they don’t know exactly what is so frightening. They assume that they just haven’t seen the scary thing that spooked the first horse and that it’s in their best interest to flee as well. Finally, your farrier, veterinarian, and other equine professionals will thank you for taking the time to teach the animal to stand patiently while tied.
So how do we go about this? Well, as with anything, there are a multitude of methods to accomplish this; none of which is better or worse than another. I will say, however, I am a big proponent of safety. Both horse AND handler need to be kept as safe as possible while tackling this task. I wouldn?t suggest trying to tie a horse that was not already comfortable with a halter and capable of being led around with little effort. It is essential that the animal already understand how to give to the pressure a halter puts on the pole and comprehends that pulling on the lead means that he is supposed to move forward. Remember that from your horse’s perspective, when you tie him up, he is trapped. Their instinct tells them that when danger (a trap for example) presents itself, they should either run or fight. Since their head is essentially stuck to something solid, they are going to fight. This is why it is imperative that the horse is already familiar with a halter and the expectations associated with the pressure it exerts.
There are several methods to teach a horse to tie ranging from using a tire to just tying them up and letting him or her fight it out and everything in between. I am not here to tell you which is more or less effective, but I will say again that the safety of you and the animal is paramount during the process. You want to make sure to protect yourself from the horse if it begins to struggle and you need to do your best to protect the horse from injury as well. It is best to tackle this lesson somewhere where the footing is good. Try to avoid rocky, paved, or slippery areas. If a horse begins to struggle, you don’t want them to slip and fall or cut the backs of their legs on rocky ground. Also, make sure that whatever you are tying them to is secure and solid because you don’t want it to break or come out of the ground during a potential struggle. Finally, make sure you work on this skill in an enclosed area. Should your horse get loose during the process, you want to make sure they are contained in a pen or arena.
Whatever method you choose, take things slowly. Give the horse time to adjust to the situation and realize that the ?trap? won?t hurt him. Viewing this situation from your horse’s perspective will help you maintain your patience and help you avoid taking their resistance personally. Remember, they are not fighting YOU, but rather the situation. Make sure safety is your first concern and don’t forget to assess the surroundings prior to starting this lesson. Once you teach a young horse to stand tied, you are one step closer to having a lasting relationship that will benefit both of you for a long time.