No matter which method of tie training you decide to use on your horse, his response will be similar. Typically, he will stand quietly for a few moments, then begin testing the tether. Most horses offer only token resistance when they realize they’re on the losing end of a battle, but if your student falls to the ground as he fights, be ready to release the tie and urge him back to his feet so you can repeat the process. Although it may be hard to recognize in the midst of a full-fledged struggle, the more disobedient the horse is during the initial stages of tie training, the more useful the experience will be when he encounters other restraint methods in the future.
If your horse doesn’t test the hitch on his own, compel him to by waving an open umbrella or some other unfamiliar object in front of him until he starts pulling back. Once he hits the end of the rope, however, stop startling him–to continue would needlessly distract him from the teaching effect and can lead to violent reactions.
In most cases, a horse will spend less than a minute fighting the restraint before he concludes that it’s easier to stand relaxed. If your pupil’s struggles continue for more than four or five minutes, give him a break and consider the reason behind such a reaction. It’s possible that the horse is experiencing real pain, caused by anything from soreness to a slipped and overly tight knot. If you’re ever in any doubt about your technique or your animal’s response to the training, consult a professional before continuing.
End your first session as soon as your student shows a sign of understanding by moving forward in response to the pull. Then gradually increase your demands until your horse is standing quietly for 20 minutes.
Once he has learned the basics, start asking for more. Presenting him with backfiring cars, blowing paper and any other form of mayhem he may experience in day-to-day life will help to ensure he will face up to most anything he might encounter. Once you’re confident in his abilities, you can start using a regular halter and tie rope whenever he needs to be tethered.
Even after your horse has passed these more advanced lessons, however, make sure your trust doesn’t extend beyond what’s reasonable. The one time you hitch your mount using just his breakable leather reins may also be the one time he decides to retest the sturdiness of his tie, and once he learns he can break free you may have to begin his tie training anew. If you must at some point tether your horse to a fence board or other movable object, use something that will break before the post gives way. It’s far better to have to chase your horse and review tying lessons that for him to panic and risk injury by dragging a post about.
But as long as you’re systematic in your approach and never resort to bad habits, a few shorts tie-training sessions can prove to be a longer-term investment. For no matter what situation arises, you can then count on Ol’ Red to stand tied like a trooper.
Excerpted from an article that first appeared in the December 1991 issue of EQUUS Magazine.