How Do I Teach My Horse to Tie?

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Hitching Post

Q: A month ago, my horse spooked while she was tied, she pulled back, broke her breakaway halter and got loose. After that, I put a panic clip on the tie, the kind that slides when they pull back. Since the initial episode, she has now pulled back three more times. Are the breakaway halters and panic snaps contributing to her pulling back and how do I cure it?

A: When your mare pulled back the first time she learned a hard lesson – being tied takes away her flight response. She continues to pull back because she associates being tied with being in danger. You can help her regain her confidence by teaching her that she is safe and can release the pressure anytime she wants to. Until then, take a take a break from hard-tying to avoid reinforcing your horse’s pulling-back behavior.

Instead hold the lead in your hand while you groom and saddle your horse. Give her plenty of slack and allow her to move her feet anytime she gets nervous before gently guiding her back to her original position. Ask her to stay still only as long as she’s able and praise any effort.

Then move on to teaching her to yield to halter pressure. Using a flat nylon halter, stand alongside your horse’s head and lightly grasp the lead close to the clip with your hand directly below the chin ring. With little more than the weight of your arm, apply downward pressure and wait for your horse to respond. When she lowers her head or shows any sign of relaxing, completely release the pressure and praise her. Work toward having her lower her head easily and consistently with a lightest touch.

Build on this lesson by periodically asking your horse to drop her head while you lead her. Remember to be patient. Horses learn best when they think things through and problem solve. Once she’s softly and willingly yielding to pressure while standing and walking, ask her to step forward when she feels pressure from the front. In an open area position yourself several feet in front of your horse. Turn away from her slightly (facing her square on is intimidating and will make her reluctant to come forward). Then put 50% downward and 50% forward pressure on the lead. If she locks up or pulls back, increase the downward angle of the pressure until you find a position that’s comfortable for her.

Once she consistently yields to forward pressure without tension or resistance, she’s ready for fake tying. Find a spot where you can thread a long lead or longe line through a ring or around a post. It should be higher than your horse’s head and the rope should slide through easily. Hold the tail end of the lead while you ask your mare to stand as though she’s tied for just a few moments. Praise her and then walk her away. Brief sessions will keep the experience positive and reduce her anxiety. A loss in confidence could lead to a setback, but don’t worry if she tests her limits at some point. Just let her back up as far as she wants while maintaining slight tension on the rope – the tie ring or post itself will provide some friction. Then once she stops, keep the tension in place until she releases it by stepping forward, and celebrate your success. Try hard-tying your horse again once she has proven she can consistently and calmly release pressure when she feels tension on the line.

Get more tips on this topic from the experts:
Train Your Foal to Tie Safely
Clinton Anderson: Train Your Horse to Tie

Dale Rudin is a CHA-certified riding instructor and clinician with a mindful and balanced approach to horsemanship and riding. www.un-naturalhorsemanship.com.


This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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