Panic-Free Hobbling Lessons for Your Horse

Hobbling is the act of fastening two of the horse's legs together with a short length of rope, leather, or chain in order to impede forward motion. Hobbles are used by trail riders who want their horses to stay put close to camp and trainers who want their horses to stand still or not struggle against pressure on their legs.

How Will Hobbling Help You?
Hobbling is the act of fastening two of the horse’s legs together with a short length of rope, leather, or chain in order to impede forward motion. Hobbles are used by trail riders who want their horses to stay put close to camp and trainers who want their horses to stand still or not struggle against pressure on their legs.

Set Up for Safety and Success!

  • Work on hobble training in a safe space with good footing and no obstacles.
  • Start hobbling lessons when your horse is tired rather than fresh.
  • Take things slowly and include every step for safety and acceptance.
  • Make sure your horse is physically fit, so he’s less likely to incur injury.
  • Stay alert and out of harm’s way as your horse adapts to the hobbles.
  • Keep a pocket knife handy in case of emergency; use it only if you can do so without endangering yourself.

To the uninitiated, hobble training can seem a little scary. And the truth is, there’s a possibility that a horse could get injured if the training process goes wrong. However, in most cases, the benefits of teaching a horse to hobble outweigh the potential hazards-if you approach it correctly.

“You must decide if you’re willing to risk a small chance of injury to your horse in order to greatly reduce possible serious injuries, such as those acquired from getting legs caught in wire,” Clint says.

Keeping Your Horse Safe
Clint has some pretty cut-and-dried rules for keeping a horse safe during hobble training. The first is giving the horse enough time to adapt to the process. “I generally like to spend a week or two preparing the horse before introducing hobbles,” he says. “I’m looking to help the horse get relaxed with the learning process.

He also wants the horse physically fit, meaning the animal has good muscle tone and strength to minimize the risk of soft-tissue injury. He spends time every day sacking out the horse with ropes, saddle blankets, flags, and feed sacks-anything he can think of to make the horse confident when encountering new objects.

This time spent conditioning and desensitizing the horse also gives Clint insight into how the horse might react-either negatively or positively-when put under pressure.

Once Clint is convinced the horse is ready for hobbling, he selects a safe place with good, soft footing and no obstacles. The horse needs plenty of space to move around without bumping into fences, barrels, or jump standards, or stepping on rocks or sticks.

“When I begin the hobbling process, I want to choose a time when the horse is in a relaxed frame of mind, perhaps at the end of a normal workout,” he says.

Due to the possibility of injury, swelling, or soreness, however minor, Clint also recommends not hobbling a horse for the first time right before a horse show, trail ride, or event.

Hobbling Step by Step
The following are Clint’s exercises to help the horse through the hobbling process. He repeats each step on both sides of the horse, and doesn’t move to a new exercise until the horse is completely comfortable with the current step.

“Remember, the handler is always trying to support the horse and give him security, while allowing the horse to figure out the correct decision-standing still,” Clint says. “Go as slowly as your horse needs, be patient, and remember that any time a horse is restrained it is possible he will panic. If you don’t have much experience with horses or have never gone through this process before, I suggest getting someone with hobble experience to help you.”

Leading by the front leg. Clint wants the horse to give to pressure on his legs rather than struggle or panic. To teach the horse to give, he uses an exercise he calls “leading by the front leg.” Using a thick, soft cotton rope, Clint catches a front leg starting behind the knee and moving under the horse’s fetlock. The leg is in no way tied or trapped. If the horse gets scared, Clint can release him by simply letting go of one end of the rope.

With the leg caught, he then applies pressure, pulling the leg forward and asking the horse to take a step. When the horse does take a step, Clint releases the pressure and praises the horse. He does this exercise with both front legs until he can lead the horse anywhere he wants to go.

Hobbling up one front leg. This step is a progression from leading the horse by his front leg. He buckles a single hobble to one front pastern and clips a rope to the hobble. Clint then practices leading with the front leg, this time with the hobble rather than his long rope. In addition to asking the horse to step forward, Clint picks up the leg with the pressure of the hobble, teaching the horse to give to pressure backwards, too. He repeats this exercise on both front legs.

Next, Clint hobbles one front leg up, connecting the pastern to the forearm. He chooses this method rather than hobbling both front legs together. In his experience, horses with both front legs hobbled are more likely to fall forward, banging up their knees or faces, or injuring their necks. With this one-leg method, the horse is more likely to rock his weight backwards and stay on his feet, he says.

To further protect the horse and keep the opposite front leg from colliding with the hobbled leg, Clint applies a shipping boot over the free knee. For safety reasons, he applies the shipping boot before he puts the hobble on his horse.

Once the hobble is on and the leg is folded, Clint steps away from the horse and holds the end of the lead rope. Now his job is to stay out of the horse’s way as he realizes his leg is hobbled. He also makes sure the horse can’t step on, or over, the lead rope. Most horses will move around, so don’t be surprised if the horse struggles or jumps. Clint makes sure he’s well out of the way and only approaches the horse if he knows the animal is done moving. “You’d be surprised how quick a horse can move on three legs,” he observes.

If the foundation training is good, the horse shouldn’t struggle for too long. Every horse is different, of course, and Clint stays calm and waits for the horse to relax. He then repeats the process on the opposite front leg.

Sideline hobbles. Next, Clint works on hobbling a front leg to the horse’s corresponding rear leg. This teaches the horse to accept being restricted in his forward movement without causing him to fall on his face. For this step, Clint hobbles the front leg first, and then the rear leg. Because slipping a hobble could be dangerous and confusing to the horse at this point in the training, Clint snugs up the back hobble using a piece of twine so it doesn’t come off. He again backs away and lets the horse figure out that he is hobbled. “If the horse doesn’t move on his own, in a smooth and patient way, I encourage him to move so he can feel the restriction of the sideline hobbles,” Clint says.

Repeat this step on both sides until the horse is totally relaxed.

Three-way hobbling. When the horse is comfortable with the sideline hobbles, Clint carefully adds the hobbles to both front legs and one rear leg. Again, he stays out of the horse’s way and lets the horse explore. The horse soon realizes he’s hobbled and will decide to stand still.

If the horse remains relaxed and complacent, his training is on the right track. With additional hobbling practice in other safe settings, your horse will gain confidence with having his movement restricted, and you’ll be able to determine when your horse is ready for hobbling out on the trail. And the next time he gets a leg stuck in the fence, he’ll be less likely to panic and better prepared to stand still and wait for help.

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