Imagine your horse tied by his reins to the top fence board at your neighbor’s farm. You rode over for a visit and are only planning to step into her house for a quick glass of tea. You figure your horse will be fine for the 10 minutes you’re there. Suddenly, a gust of wind blows, and from out of nowhere a plastic shopping bag bounces by behind your horse’s back.
As well trained as your horse is, the bag is just too much for him to handle. He frantically pulls back on the reins with all his weight. In the span of a second or two, he has ripped the top fence board off the post. Then he takes off in a panicked gallop down your neighbor’s driveway.
You really don’t want to imagine the rest of this story, but the same ending occurs all too often in the equine world. The board “chases” the horse wherever he goes until it either comes loose or injures him severely.
This scenario can happen whenever you tie your horse to an object that isn’t secure enough to prevent him from pulling it loose should he become frightened.
This article will help you to understand why many objects that people use to tie and restrain horses are just not safe and can cause severe injury, if not death. In fact, many of these objects are so unsafe that tying to them may put you at risk for injury as well, if your horse panics while tied.
All Tied Up
• Horses are creatures of flight:
whenever they become frightened, they choose to flee rather than fight.
• The average horse weighs between 800 and 1,200 pounds, but can easily exert twice that much force when panicked.
• Train your horse to move toward pressure rather than pull away.
• Before you tie your horse to anything, exercise common sense.
Fright & Flight
Whenever you tie your horse, keep in mind that he’s a creature of flight. All horses are hardwired to flee a scary situation, an instinct that helps them survive in the wild.
When frightened, your horse can easily become panicked, causing him to rely on instinct and disregard the fact that he might be tied hard and fast to an object.
An average horse weighs between 800 and 1,200 pounds. He can easily exert twice that much force when he panics and throws his entire body weight into pulling back against whatever object he’s tied to.
Even things that we can’t foresee may cause a horse to panic when tied firmly to an object. Something as seemingly minute as a horsefly bite can create a flight response in a horse. It’s truly not in a horse’s best interest to be restrained, but amazingly, he can adapt quite well to the idea with good training and common sense on his handler’s part.
To teach your horse not to pull back when tied, first train him to move toward pressure rather than pull away. The Lyons method of teaching this training technique is fairly involved and can’t be fully explained here. For more information, go to www.myhorse.com/perfecthorse. From here you can search for the article “How to Tie a Horse,” and you can also watch a 2-part video clip with John Lyons on this subject by clicking on videos
Here are some common-sense things to watch for as you prepare to tie your horse.
• Tie your horse with approximately an arm’s length of lead between him and the object you’re tying to. This is generally enough slack for him to move his head and neck for comfort and to be able to free his air passages of debris, but not enough slack that he can get his head under the lead rope or catch a foot.
• When tying overhead, such as to a picket line or highline, be sure the rope that runs from horse to picket line hangs approximately 12 to 18 inches from the ground (any lower, your horse can get a leg over it).
• Tie to the object-such as a hitching rail or tree-at a height between your horse’s chest and shoulder or higher (any lower and your horse is at risk for severe neck and shoulder strain if he pulls back).
• Learn to tie a quick-release knot, and drop the tail of the rope through your last loop to keep your horse from untying himself.
• Keep in mind that your horse can open a bolt snap simply by rubbing on it.
Safe & Secure
It’s your responsibility to secure your horse to objects that are solid and safe. Use only good-quality halters and lead ropes-never tie him with his bridle reins. If something panics your tied horse while he’s bridled, he’ll most likely break the bridle reins and, in the process, may possibly tear up his mouth with the bit.
Of course, even the best-made halter or lead may break in your horse’s panic to get away from something that scares him. And this option actually is preferable to him breaking the object he’s tied to and taking it with him. At least he won’t have the added danger of dragging along a board, gate, or other potentially dangerous object.
You might not be able to judge at a glance whether an object will hold your horse in a panicked reaction. However, you can avoid common mistakes with common sense.
When sizing up the object and location where you’re considering tying, ask yourself these questions:
1. Is the object set firmly into the ground, or can it move?
2. If it’s a post, is it a minimum of 4 to 6 inches in diameter?
3. If it’s a tree, is it a minimum of 8 inches in diameter and mature?
4. Is the object secured with bolts, or is it only nailed on (as with the top post of a hitch rail or fence board)?
5. If tying to a trailer, is the trailer hooked to a vehicle?
6. When tying to a trailer, are all trailer doors closed and handles/latches more than four feet away from the point where you tie the horse?
7. Is the area clean and free of debris or slippery footing?
8. Overall, does the object appear stout enough to handle a horse exerting thousands of pounds of strain on it?
Also make sure that your tying-up location does not include the following:
9. An object that is a gate, stall door, or railing that might move.
10. Sharp or otherwise protruding objects anywhere near the object you plan to tie to.
Checklist In’s and Out’s
Any object that isn’t set firmly into the ground stands a good chance of being moved by a panicky horse. Even a 4-inch post that’s set 3 feet deep could potentially be broken by a horse who is pulling back. Make sure the object you tie to is stout enough and set deeply into the ground.
Never tie to gates, doors, or railings. Gates or doors will move as your horse moves, and won’t hold up if he should panic and pull back. The odds that a horse will pull a gate or stall door off its hinges in a panic are great-and he may end up with it attached to him, causing further panic and enormous risk of injury.
Tying to a board or top rail that’s only nailed on also will rarely hold a panicked horse, even if he’s not pulling hard. Always tie to objects that are bolted through. Many manufacturers design hardware that bolts into a post or wall for tying straight on or even cross-tying. These objects tend to hold up well under normal use, but can be pulled out of the wall or post by a horse in a panic.
When tying to a regular horse trailer, it’s safest if the trailer is hooked up to a vehicle. Many of the larger gooseneck trailers with living quarters can weigh up to 15,000 pounds, and it would be rare that a horse would be able to move this much weight. But it’s safer to tie him to a bumper-pull trailer or a lighter gooseneck trailer only when it’s hooked to a tow vehicle. Don’t underestimate the strength of your frightened horse. Panicked, he could be capable of pulling over a two-horse bumper-pull trailer on top of himself.
When tying to a trailer, the lead rope can also become hooked over or under an open door or latch. When the back doors are left open and your horse has enough slack in the lead rope to get his head under it and get caught up, he’ll inevitably panic when he tries to raise his head.
The same goes for protruding door handles and latches. Close the back doors of your trailer, and make sure window and door latches are fastened.
And just in case the occasion arises, never ever tie your horse to an automobile door handle, tailgate cable, bumper, or any part of a truck or car. Any of these objects can easily come off the vehicle and injure him, as well as freeing him to run off in a panic.
Choose an area to tie in that’s free of sharp or protruding objects. If your horse should panic while tied, anything he can bang into will only intensify his fear and increase his chance of becoming injured. Be certain the area is free of clutter or debris, so he has room to move around and not feel trapped.
Slippery footing-such as wet mats or concrete-can create a dangerous tying situation. If your horse loses traction when he pulls back on an object he’s tied to, he increases his chances of falling and injuring his neck, back, hocks, or haunches. Unfortunately horses have even been known to break their necks if they lose their footing on a slippery surface as they pull back while tied.
Fit to Be Tied
Don’t overlook the importance of a safely tied horse. Good training and secure, stout equipment goes a long way toward ensuring his safe experience while tied firmly to an object.
The next time you’re on a trail ride or stop at a friend’s place for a break, be certain the equipment you use and the object you plan to tie to is hefty enough to hold your horse in a panic. Breaking loose is preferable to dragging a scary object with him, but you really don’t want your horse loose where he’s at risk for injury or death.
Use common sense and safe equipment when tying your horse, and he’ll be happy to stand tied as long as you wish.