At some point, you’ll probably want to crosstie your horse. Maybe you’re installing a set of ties in your own barn, or you plan to haul your horse to a training facility where crossties are the only option for containing your critter. People like to crosstie horses because it keeps the horse centered in an aisleway or work space, providing easy access to both sides of the horse for grooming and saddling. While horses tend to like crossties less than being tied by a single rope, they do readily adjust.
Learning to crosstie is a valuable part of a horse’s well-rounded education. Like learning to load in a trailer or wear a saddle, crosstying is just another lesson your horse should learn.
That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy. Crosstying, like many of the things we teach our horses, does have a risk for going wrong, instilling fear or bad behaviors in an otherwise good horse. And just like regular tying lessons, the crossties can lead to scary situations if done improperly. Here, learn how to teach your horse to crosstie while keeping your horse, your helper, and yourself safe.
Before your horse is ready for the crossties, he must have some basic manners and skills. First, he should know how to quietly stand tied for extended periods of time-try 30 minutes or more. This means no pulling back or pawing when he’s tied to a hitching rail, tie ring, horse trailer, or post.
He must also understand and respond to halter pressure and give to it readily when you’re leading him in-hand and when he is tied. Finally, your horse needs to have a firm, verbal “whoa” cue, which tells him to stand still and stop moving his feet.
If he doesn’t meet these prerequisites, you have some work to do before putting him in crossties. Practice your head-down, leading, and tying lessons before proceeding, making sure he’s ready for crosstying before you get started.
Keeping Crossties Safe
- Make sure your horse gives to halter pressure and stands tied before you ask him to crosstie.
- Instill a good, verbal “whoa” cue in your horse, so he knows to stop moving his feet when you ask.
- Situate your crossties over non-slip footing, such as rubber mats or dirt.
- Use quick-release snaps and panic straps to make sure your horse can get free in a bind.
- Enlist the help of a friend to stand at your horse’s head when you’re ready to put him in the ties.
- Take as much time as necessary to train your horse to crossties. A bad experience could lead to dangerous behaviors in the future.
A traditional crosstie setup has two ties attached to facing walls, one on each side. The ends of the ties have snaps, which fasten to your horse’s halter on each cheek piece. The result is a horse held in place by two lines.
Before you train your horse to crosstie, you need to make sure you have a safe place to tie him. Situate your crossties over a non-slip floor, such as rubber mats or dirt. Slick surfaces, such as concrete or stone, can create a dangerous situation if your horse pulls back in the crossties and loses his footing. Also clear the crosstie area of any obstacles or potential hazards, such as shovels, brooms, brush, or barn equipment.
Next, you’ll want to make sure that the crosstie eyebolts are attached to something structurally sound, such as support studs or beams. You don’t want your horse to yank the barn down if he gets startled and pulls back in the ties!
The bolts should attach to the wall or post at a distance higher than the withers of your tallest horse. This will help ensure that your horse doesn’t yank the ties out of the wall if he rears or pulls back.
The ties themselves should consist of a non-elastic tether of some kind, whether you prefer cotton or nylon. Cut the ties just long enough that, when attached to the eye bolts, the crosstie snaps barely touch each other in the middle. This length will prevent your horse from getting tangled up or turned around in the crossties.
The crossties should also have quick-release snaps or panic straps of some kind, which will release in an emergency if the horse pulls back or struggles in the crossties. You may even want quick-release snaps on each end of the ties, or a combination of quick-release snaps at the halter end and panic straps at the eyebolts, for extra insurance.
Once you have a safe set of ties situated in your barn, you can begin training your horse to crosstie. Start slowly by simply standing your horse in the crosstie area. If he’s met the prerequisites set for this lesson, he should understand a firm “whoa” when you ask him to keep his feet still and his attention focused on you.
Step 1: With one hand on the lead rope, go ahead and brush your horse’s neck and shoulders-you want him to associate the space with grooming and to feel relaxed in the crosstie area. He also has to learn to stand still, even if you aren’t standing in a leading position.
Step 2: This is where a helper comes in handy. Standing your horse in the crosstie area, ask your helper to hold the lead rope as you move around your horse. He needs to get used to you leaving his head and moving around his body. If he moves, stop him with a “whoa” and move him back into place.
Step 3: Once your horse is comfortable with this arrangement, go ahead and hook up the crossties to the cheek rings of the halter. And remember, you always want both crossties attached to the horse. Leaving one undone allows the horse to move around and could set him up for a dangerous situation, such as turning around or getting his leg stuck over the crosstie.
Step 4: With your horse in the crossties and a lead rope still attached to his halter, ask him to step forward until he feels the pressure on his halter, and tell him “whoa.” He needs to get comfortable with the idea that he’s tethered in place and can’t go forward. Next, ask him to back until he again feels pressure on the halter, then say “whoa” and stop him. Give him lots of praise when he stops. Center him back in the ties, not too far forward or too far back, and stay standing at his head.
Step 5: At this point, if your horse seems comfortable with the lesson so far, ask your helper to move back to your horse’s head and hold the lead rope while you move around his body. Your horse might try to crane his neck to see you, so your helper can keep him facing forward and give him a feeling of security. As your horse becomes more confident in the crossties, you can ask your helper to take the lead rope off and step out of the way. Then you can work toward completely removing your helper.
Soon your horse will quietly stand in the crossties by himself, and you can start extending the time you require him to stand patiently. Ideally he’ll stand in the crossties for as long as he’ll stay tied to a post or rail. Just take the process slowly, and give him as much or as little support as he needs.
Each horse is different. Some figure out the crossties fast and think being cross-tied is no big deal. Other horses get concerned about not having a post or person at their heads. The key, no matter your horse’s personality, is to give him a good experience from the beginning and keep the crossties a positive place.