How to tie up your horse

Tying up a horse incorrectly risks serious injury to the horse’s neck and back if it spooks and can’t get free. Horses need special training when it comes to tying up, says Kim Dyson.

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Your horse must know how to turn and face you when you enter a stable or paddock. When you walk, your horse needs to want to follow you. It must yield to the pressure of the lead rope. That is, when you pull on the lead rope gently your horse must move towards you to release the pressure. When these basic foundation skills have been mastered you’re ready to teach your horse to tie up. And once you’ve done this, you’ll be able to tie it up anywhere without worrying that it will violently try to break free, risking injury. You’ll need: a well-fitting leather halter; a soft cotton lead rope; a lariat or lunge line; and a solid fence post.

Step one
Work in a lunge ring. Put on the head collar and clip the lunge line to the ring below the chin. Reinforce the basics of restraint by instructing your horse to yield to lateral pressure while lunging at a trot. Repeat at a gentle canter. The faster gait will excite your horse, so if it is going to resist pressure and pull back, this is when it will happen. If it does, simply command it to trot by and gently pull on the lariat or lunge line to slow the motion. Then gradually work up to a canter. Once your horse is obedient on both reins, you’re ready for step two.

Step two
Encourage your horse to yield to pressure from behind. This will teach it to stop in response to backward pressure – a cue you’ll use when you lead the horse to the pole and instruct it to stop. Send it out on a circle to trot. As it moves, place yourself about 4m behind it with your rope extended along its right side. At first, your horse may bend its neck and head to the side.

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Let the rope out. Apply gentle pressure and say “whoa” to stop your horse. Then turn to it, commanding it to yield and turn its body to look at you. When your horse obeys, reward by releasing the pressure. Repeat until only the slightest pressure results in the horse facing you. Repeat at a canter.

Your horse must associate the pressure with the rope and eventually the pole, not you. It needs to move towards the pressure. Photo by Kim Dyson.

Step three
Now instruct it to bend away from you in response to pressure applied from the opposite side. It’s important that the horse doesn’t associate you with the pressure, as when it is tied the pressure will come from the post. Turn your horse to face the centre of the ring. Stand opposite the right hip (out of kicking range), pass the rope along the left side of its neck and diagonally over its back towards the right hip. Now steadily apply pressure on the rope until the horse turns its head to the left – away from you. Immediately reward by releasing the pressure. (Initially it may turn to face you as in step two.)

Step four
You’re now ready to tie your horse. Lead your horse to the post, so it is standing perpendicular to it about 4m away. Run the rope around the post once, level with the withers (the ideal tying height). Now position yourself opposite the right hip and extend the rope until the horse steps towards the pressure. If it pulls back on the rope you need to release the rope, then repeat steps two and three. The second your horse takes a step closer to the post, release the pressure as reward. When it consistently takes steps forward on the slightest pressure, switch sides and repeat.

Step five
Encourage your horse to move away from you, stop and bend towards the pressure, and step forward to relieve the pressure. This manoeuvre will simulate being tied to a pole.

Step six
When you and your horse can perform the side-switching sequence perfectly, tie it to the pole with a lead rope. First remove the lariat and snap on the lead rope. Lead it to the post, then loosely wrap the lead rope around it a few times, at eye level. Avoid too much slack. Allow it to stand for a few seconds, then release the rope and reward. Work up to a few minutes at a time over a few days. When it seems comfortable, unwrap the lead rope and tie with a slipknot. You now have a horse that is safe to tie up.

Contact Kim Dyson on 082 888 6511 or at [email protected]. Please state ‘Horse therapy’ in the subject line of your email.