Tying is a crucial skill that every horse should learn.
Tying is an essential skill for grooming, tacking up, and when the vet, physiotherapist or farrier come to work on your horse.
Tying your horse refers to the act of securing your horse to a stationary object, such as a hitching post, rail, or a designated tie-up area.
It is a common practice to prevent the horse from wandering off or causing harm to itself or others while it is not being ridden or supervised.
In my opinion, tying up is also a social skill, so you should train your horses to tie alongside other horses without causing a disruption (see some example images below):
These are some of the different types of tying that you’ll hear spoken about around horses:
- Single-tying refers to tying the horse to a single fixed point using a lead rope. This can be done with a quick-release knot or other secure tying methods. It is often used when you need to briefly secure the horse, such as when mounting, taking a short break on the trail, or for temporary purposes.
- Cross-tying involves securing the horse between two tie points using two separate lead ropes. It is commonly used in grooming areas, wash racks, and stables to keep the horse safely in place during various tasks.
- High-tying involves securing the horse to a tie point higher than its head level. This method is used when it’s necessary to limit the horse’s ability to move its head too much.
- Ground-tying is a training technique where the horse is taught to stand quietly without being physically tied to anything. The horse learns to remain in place until given a specific cue to move. Ground-tying is valuable for situations where you need the horse to stay put without a physical tie or when you’re dismounted but want the horse to remain stationary.
- Trailer-tying is when you secure the horse inside a horse trailer using either cross-ties or single ties. Proper trailer-tying is essential to ensure the horse’s safety during transportation.
- Picket line tying, also known as picketing, is used during camping or trail riding. First you tie a picket line; a long length of rope stretched between two trees, and then you secure multiple horses along the picket line. Each horse is tied to the picket line with its own lead rope, allowing them to move along the line.
The key to teaching your horse to tie up successfully.
Time, patience and repetition.
Tying is a skill your horse learns through repetition and practise.
You can’t tie up a horse that rarely ever gets tied up and then be surprised when it won’t stand nicely.
The key to successfully teaching your horse to tie up is to do it when your horse doesn’t have excess energy and when you have enough time to approach the training without rush.
You want to teach your horse that being tied up means getting to relax.
This is why it’s important to not take your horse straight out of a stall and tying it up right away.
A lot of horses are over-fed and under-exercised, leading to them having a lot of extra energy and nowhere constructive to channel it.
If your horse is restless when you take him out of his stall, he’s probably going to be channelling his extra energy into all sorts of mischief like playing with the rope, tack or fixed furnishings.
He might also start chewing on things, pawing the ground and rearing (which leads to a whole other type of problem) to alleviate his frustration.
Young horses are curious and tend to lick and explore their surroundings a lot, which isn’t something I generally worry about unless it becomes destructive.
Most of them grow out of it and don’t do it because they’re restless (unless you haven’t trained them to tie yet).
Especially in the early stages of teaching your horse to tie, I find it’s a good idea to first do some groundwork, expend some of the horse’s energy, and then tie him up for a rest.
It’s an easy way to get him to associate being tied up with being allowed to just chill (this same method works wonders with trailering, too).
If your horse is also really excited about what’s going to happen next, getting rid of that nervous energy before tying up is a good way to prevent damage and injuries.
If a horse is coming from the pasture, or is mainly pastured as opposed to stabled, I find that it’s easier to train tying straight out of the gate without having to spend that initial time getting rid of excess energy.
In my experience being in the pasture and being with the herd produces a much calmer, less stressed horse than one which is mostly stabled and isolated.
This also means that the horse brings a calm and focused mind with him when it’s time to work (his “thinking brain”), rather than a bored and over-excited mind (his “reactive brain”).
An easy way to train tying up daily.
Since tying up is a skill your horse needs to practise, even if your horse isn’t being ridden or driven, taking time out of the day to practise tying up is a good way to give your horse some mental exercise.
Even pasture pets need to come in for regular grooming, vet checks and farrier visits.
Not to mention that I personally don’t think it’s healthy for a horse to not have a job.
Even a pasture pet or retired horse spending most of his time out in the pasture with the herd, should be given small jobs, but I digress.
Every time you finish a workout – when your horse is tired and doesn’t have excess energy to spend on chewing on things or pawing the ground – is a good opportunity to practise tying up.
After you’ve completed your cool down, simply tie your horse up and let him stand for a while.
If he’s sweaty, you can untack him and let him stand quietly for a while to relax after his workout. This will also give your horse the opportunity to reflect on the new things he’s learned during your session, giving his mind some quiet time to process all the input.
Once your horse learns how to stand quietly and relax – aka treating being tied up like he gets to throw back in a hammock and take a nap – you can add grooming and offering a hay net and some water (though these should not be a necessity to get your horse to stand quietly, rather things that enforce the pleasantness of the activity itself).
It’s good to teach your horse to tie up in many different ways.
While single tying is the quick and easy way to tie up your horse, if you train him right, it won’t matter where or with what you tie him up.
Knowing how to be tied up with different methods and in different locations will only make life easier for you and your horse when you need him to have these skills.
Vets, farriers and bodyworkers who come to work with your horse – especially if your horse is unfamiliar with them – will often want the horse to be in cross-ties as it limits how much the horse can move around and reduces the risk of injury.
Teaching your horse to cross-tie is a straightforward process.
But it requires patience and consistency as you want to make sure your horse knows to stand still in the cross-ties and not panic or pull.
Here are the steps to follow when teaching your horse to cross-tie:
- Start with a quiet and calm horse. The first step is to ensure that your horse is relaxed and comfortable in his surroundings. Work off excess energy beforehand.
- Introduce the location and ropes. Next, introduce your horse to the location and ropes that you will be using to cross-tie with. If your horse is unsure of the location, lead him to the cross-ties and then walk away. Lead him back and stay a little longer this time. Keeping an eye on his stress-signals will tell you where his threshold of discomfort is, and it’s your goal to move that threshold a bit with every pass until your horse is comfortable.
- Secure the ropes. Once your horse is comfortable with the location and the ropes, it’s time to secure them. Take one rope and attach it to a sturdy tie ring or post on one side of the horse, ensuring that the rope is not too tight or too loose. Repeat the process with the other rope on the opposite side of the horse.
- Stand with your horse. Once the ropes are secured, stand with your horse and watch his reaction. If he becomes nervous or agitated, repeat the previous steps. Once your horse is calm, treating the cross-ties as a vacation where he’s not asked to do anything but relax, you can begin grooming and tacking up. In the beginning, you can also only do nice things at the cross-ties if your horse is nervous, so groom and scratch him, offer some hay, but don’t do anything that indicates you’re going to make him work. Once he gets more comfortable, you can progress further with tacking up etc.
- Practice regularly. The more you practice cross-tying, the more comfortable your horse will become. Gradually increase the amount of time that you leave your horse cross-tied, ensuring that you are always nearby to monitor his behaviour. Eventually, you can practise leaving your horse’s line of sight (yet staying nearby) and ensuring that he remains calm even without being able to see you.
A note on hobbling.
Hobbling should only be done by people with previous experience and on horses trained to hobble to prevent injury to the horse.
Hobbling is a tying technique that’s used when you want to give the horse free roam but prevent it from running off too far or fast.
This is typically used while camping or on long trail rides.
Hobbles can be made out of leather or nylon and consists of two loops or straps that are fastened around the horse’s front or back legs.
When properly applied, the hobbles allow the horse to walk slowly or but prevent it from trotting, galloping, or escaping quickly.
When I lived in Spain as a child, it was very common to see hobbled horses in the countryside.
They were let out by their owners in the morning to roam and graze with their hobbles on, and they returned back to the stable in the evening to spend the night indoors or in a paddock.
This reminds me of how livestock has historically been kept in the archipelago. Because the animals were on an island, the growing fields were the ones that got fenced in, and the livestock was given free roam.
If an animal found its way into a properly fenced field, it was the livestock owner who paid damages. If a growing field was poorly or not fenced at all, the livestock owner wasn’t liable for any damage.
It’s important to note that hobbling should be done with caution and only by experienced horse handlers who understand the technique well.
Improperly applied hobbles or using them on a horse that is not accustomed to them can lead to injuries, accidents, and distress for the horse.
Horses must be carefully introduced to hobbles through proper training, and not all horses will adapt well to this method.
As with any method involving horse handling, the safety and well-being of the horse and people handling the horse should always be the top priority.
If you are unfamiliar with hobbling or have concerns about its use, it’s best to seek guidance from a professional horse trainer or experienced horse person before attempting it.
Take the time to teach your horse properly and you might save his life one day.
One of the basic tenets of animal training, is to train with a variety of tasks and train often.
Preparing for the worst case scenario is an essential part of being a horse-owner.
Having your horse being used to being tied up in different places with different methods will make life so much easier the day you desperately need him to have that skill but don’t have time to teach him.
For instance, going with your horse to the horse hospital for the first time can be nerve-wracking even when you don’t have an urgent emergency.
The new sights and smells can spook even a typically calm horse.
Having things like tying up in different ways and trailer loading down pat on that day, can make the difference between being able to treat your horse and having to put him down because he poses a safety hazard to those who would help him.
When you take the time to train your horse that being tied down is like a holiday, you’re well on your way to having a horse that will cooperate in many kinds of situations.
Teach your horse that elsewhere means work – if he doesn’t stand still when tied up, it means more groundwork and he has to move his feet – but as soon as he gets tied up, it means he can just relax because you’re not going to ask anything of him.
Remember: horses learn from release of pressure.
And not asking anything of him when tied up, is precisely that: release of pressure.
When you can see that your horse visibly settles down to relax when he gets tied up, drops his head, relaxes his ears, maybe gives a sigh or cocks a leg, you know that you’re doing something right.
I recommend using a safety tie ring for all horses.
A safety tie ring or a quick-release tie, is a plastic or metal buckle that will allow you to tie your horse without tying any knots.
The genius of the safety tie ring, is that it will help your horse learn to tie automatically.
If you tie your horse solidly, in a way where the rope has no give in case he pulls back on the rope, your horse will pull and thrash until he breaks the rope, the halter, or whatever he’s tied to. And when that pressure releases as a result of a solid point breaking, he learns that he should pull when tied down if he wants to avoid being tied down at all.
When your horse pulls back in a safety tie or quick-release ring, the rope doesn’t catch but slides through instead, giving your horse slack in the rope. This release of pressure will teach your horse that pulling back does not release him from being tied, and so he will neither develop the bad habits nor get any facial nerve damage from constant, hard pulling.
This knotless method of tying your horse will also allow him to still be in possession of his flight instinct (he will feel reassured that he has the option to escape in case of danger) and when the rope offers no resistance (which only makes him feel trapped and fight harder) your horse will realise that his flight reaction has been fulfilled and he will choose to stop instead (making it his idea to stand there and be tied instead of running off).
You can buy quick-release tie rings (sometimes also called slide-release or sliding tie rings) from lots of horse tack shops and trainers. You can also go to the hardware store, get some supplies, and make your own.
You can construct your own system, or simply get a carabiner with a swivel and use it “upside down” (using the carabiner loop for the rope, and the swivel loop for the clip).
The most important thing is that you can loop the rope around the tie ring’s neck in a way that allows the rope to slide through. This also makes it easy for you to adjust the rope to the length you want it and to pull it back into place in case your horse does pull on it.
My personal favourites are the plastic safety ties. They’re lighter than the metal rings and clips, and I can easily carry several in my pocket without being weighed down. The best thing would be to have the safety rings at every tying station at the stable, but it never hurts to have a few extra.