Monday, 22 February 2021

Tying

 Sophie is, unfortunately, one of *those* horses. The ones who don't reliably tie. At some point her younger self probably got scared, pulled back, and got free. She's smart and I suspect it's now forever there as an option to try if she's scared (or frustrated) enough.

I've had a couple of horses like that. I suspect we probably all have owned or needed to manage one at some point. Then there's the flip side, the Bridgets of the world who would probably stand tied forever if that's how you left them, because it would never occur to them there is any other option.


Thinks she is tied, will therefore stand at this tree until the end of time.

The old school approach with the trickier ones used to be to just tie them, leave them, and let them figure it out. I actually know someone whose horse died that way. The poor horse stuggled a while before anyone could get him free and his death was not the result of just one 'unlucky' injury. So, count me as someone who would never try that.

My go to method with Sophie is to loop (rather than tie) the rope so there is resistance when she pulls back, but it doesn't catch. Normally she stops as soon as the rope gives a little, so there is no dramatic exit or anything like that, just me coming back to rewrap a foot or two of the rope again. Those blocker tie rings accomplish the same. I've had success cross tying where there is a wall behind them too to discourage that option (like in a wash or grooming bay). 


Ropes looped around posts - an imperfect solution but it seems to work.

I also always leave her with a hay net or something else to keep her busy (she likes playing with the end of the rope or a brush (or really anything) and I let her - I want the experience to be fun and positive rather than stressful and looking for a reason to leave.

I also spend a little bit of time getting her to lower her head and give to pressure every day. Every time I put her halter on, I use it often when she wants to giraffe and be distracted, sometimes just to clip or trim her bridle path. It's a handy thing for them to know. She's a smart cookie, and it's been a long time since there's been any drama, but I'm not kidding myself that I've really solved anything - I'm just managing it until the next time her instincts take over.


Bridget looks so offended, but you can see the broken snaffle bit someone attached to the post as a cheaper version of the blocker ties you can buy.

When I see an article or video on teaching a horse to tie I'm all over it. I'd love to find a fail safe solution.

However, there was an incident here a while ago that got me thinking harder. It could have gone so, so, wrong. It kept me up at night for a while after, just in disbelief that everyone was OK. I feel nauseous just thinking it out now. As is the way, I also spent a good chunk of time wondering what I could do to keep myself and my horses safe in the same situation.

The (short, edited, version) of the story: Where I board, someone inexperienced tied a horse to some round pen panels. He pulled back and brought the whole series of panels with him. He ended up on top of and tangled in them, with a small kid, assorted saddle stands, saddles and gear, all now pinned underneath both the panels and the panicking horse. The whole mess got dragged over to two other horses who were tied at the barn(and now also trying to get out of there and kicking at the whole disaster behind them, one falling over in her attempt to get free) Only one of the three horses were tied with a quick release knot (which someone luckily was able to safely get to). None had any kind of gear that would have allowed them to break away - one was even tied in a rope halter. I have no idea how that little girl is OK (she was right under the horse for a bit), how the horses didn't break legs or worse, or honestly how anyone trying to help untangle the whole mess while it was happening (to get the little girl out) walked away unscathed. I was on a different part of the property and heard kids screaming and just arrived in time to get one of the horses tied at the barn out of the way and that felt sketchy enough.

I don't think I need to go into crazy detail on all the things that shouldn't have happened there. I doubt anyone reading this blog needs a safety PSA on tying horses properly.





It did get me thinking that I'm not sure there's any situation where I'd feel comfortable tying a horse where they couldn't potentially break away and leave if needed. So if I own one that knows they can take advantage of that, well I guess that's just life and I manage it as best I can. Quick release knots are fine and all, but it means you've got to be close enough and able to get to the end of the rope to pull it loose. Not so safe for you if there is one panicking pony, let alone a few of them.

I guess that means I just keep on keeping on with Sophie. She knows she can pull back and get away, I know she can pull back and (eventually) get away, but maybe we just keep our truce where she knows a good pony stays where they're put. If she does pull back, we have a deal where I won't make her feel trapped. Fingers crossed, she's been very honest about our little arrangement so far. It will be a bit to manage it properly outside our bubble (thinking of events where there is no stabling and everyone ties to the trailer, especially) but I can't be alone in this.


Enjoys pretending to be wild and fierce, is actually quite civilized

How well do your horses tie? Do you have any tips or tricks to reform the ones that pull back?



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32 comments

  1. OMG. I have tying nightmares. I have yet to resolve my issues either.

    Subi used to tie prior to owning him and the girl leasing him sort of let him get into trouble way too much and well... yeah. He cross ties if there is something behind him, but I don't trust it and I don't have cross ties... Honestly, I just don't tie him at this point. I tried for years to fix it and it just never worked. He got REALLY GOOD ground tying to the point that I could walk into the tack room at one barn and grab my saddle and come back and he'd still be there, but... no tying.

    Batt was awful as well (I am NOT the common denominator as I acquired horses with these issues). The cowboy I worked with on hauling even said that his issue probably was part of the reason he struggled so much with loading (confinement and all that). He was never as good with ground tying though. He was tied in the lesson program and then got picked on while tied and over time just... NO MORE. Then if was fear of crowding and an escalation of issues. Obviously I can't work on this. He was fine on cross ties though he preferred a wall behind him where he could see what was going on in front of him. He'd hang out like that for hours if you let him.

    Nay Nay? I think he ties... He ties in the trailer. He cross ties without issues. I haven't actually tied him but he's an ex-racehorse. He was tied in his stall on the track. I should probably actually tie him somewhere, but he's probably grab his lead, start chewing on it, and accidentally let himself free...

    Jiminy has never been cross tied, but will tie for hours. To the trailer. Or a tree. Not that this has happened.

    I'm not much help as I haven't fixed this issue...

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    1. I don’t know anyone that’s really fixed the issue once it’s there. I’m starting to feel like they’re either honest enough to stay where we put them, or they’re not. I suspect they all learn escape is an option at some point ;)

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  2. Katai is good in that she’s doesn’t hurt herself and still has never actually gotten free. Bad in that any little thing happens and she’ll pull back. The blocker tie ring concept didn’t work for us because she would rear and spin over and over and over again until she worked herself loose. She does stand tied safely and happily 90% of the time but that 10% feels sketchy

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    1. I feel like this is Sophie too. 90% happy to stand, but once she decides she’s too confined she’s not going to quit until she’s loose.

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  3. Sullivan is a mostly reformed, violent halter puller. The thing I've had the most luck with is high tying. I tied him above head height and he couldn't get the leverage to sit back and thrash like he preferred.

    Now he's 90% reliable to tie to my trailer, but I still always tie him to bailer twine or a tie blocker ring

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    1. I was just discussing setting up a high tying option at the barn again tonight! I’ve used it before camping and yeah, it totally stops her being able to get enough leverage. She’s mostly reformed at this point too, but honestly I don’t think I’d be confident tying her to a trailer at a busy venue yet. Maybe once she has more miles and new places aren’t quite so exciting.. Thanks for the baling twine reminder - I’m going to add some loops for everyone at the commonly used tie spots at the barn.

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    2. Something to keep in mind is you don't want to use a full strand of bailing twine - it's a lot stronger and takes a lot more to break than people think.

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  4. Annie, as I’m sure you know, can be a right butt to tie. Admittedly, I did the “tie them for hours” thing and I can honestly say it helped marginally. Sometimes she’s rock solid and other times she’s not - usually the common denominator is if it’s a new place or she was trailered there with buddies and now her buddies are gone. She knows she can’t get free, esp bc I do tie her in a rope halter, but she’ll kick out, paw, and hop on her front and back feet.

    I definitely did not want Maizey to have the same issues (Altho Annie’s were there before I bought her) so I introduced tying ASAP and made it a very rewarding place. She’s pretty rock solid.

    Spud is pretty solid too. He is 99% good but that 1% is him deciding to rear randomly. Never pulls back, but will give a rear or two for whatever reason.

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    1. Sophie does sound like Annie! She’s got so much better, but like Annie, came with some interesting behaviours.

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  5. That does sound like a super sketchy and scary situation! Very glad everyone got out of it alive!

    Honestly, I do essentially subscribe to the old school approach on tying. I mean I always make sure I am tying to something safe and solid, I always use a quick release knot (are there really people who don't? I think that is the most shocking part of your story!) and I always supervise a horse while tied until I know they are trustworthy, but I do tie and I don't use anything breakaway with the exception of when hauling. In fact, with a horse who pulls I will use a rope halter with a tied on lead rope so there is no hardware to break (though I do have knife handy and the quick release knot to let them loose if needed). My experience is that a horse that pulls and gets free will learn that pulling is a means of escape and revert back to it. I will make sure a horse knows the basics of giving to pressure and that they aren't going to freak out when they feel halter pressure, but ultimately I let them learn themselves that pulling while tied doesn't get them anywhere and that is ultimately how I have gotten horses to pull less.

    I realize that this approach can seem a little harsh but I think there are a number of emergency situations where it can save a horse if they realize that once there is pressure they need to stay still and not pull against it e.g. caught in fence, tangled in reins, etc.

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    1. Agreed. If I had a younger horse I’d be sure to try to teach them pulling is not an option. S came knowing it is, and while she’s never gotten away while I’ve had her, she will try now and then. I wouldn’t tie her in a rope halter because I’m too worried she’d do damage to herself. She’s managed to hurt herself (big friction “burn” on her poll) in a regular nylon one and it scared me.

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  6. Sometimes horse safety stuff just isn’t as intuitive as we think, even for experienced horse people. I just had to explain to a friend I hauled to a dressage clinic that you must never tie a horse inside the trailer without securing the butt bar. She was thinking about keeping him in place while she ran around the back, not what would happen if he pulled back and panicked. Stuff like that just isn’t always as obvious as we think - that’s why professional guidance is so so so important.

    Anyway Stacy Westfall has a video in her Jac series on YouTube about how she teaches a young horse to give to pressure in preparation for learning to tie.

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    1. Thanks! I’ll check that out.
      I‘ve spent some time scouting new barns, because the lack of basic safety knowledge makes me nervous to be around, even on the periphery. Everyone needs to learn somehow, but there is no supervision or lesson program here.

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    2. Totally agree - growing up we always used to have me stand at the horse's head to get locked in with them (slant load) and then I tie and crawl under and out. I assumed that everyone did this. Last year a friend hauled Dante and I somewhere and she's had horse's her whole life, her parents had horses their whole lives and I got Dante into their trailer, asked if I was good, they said yep, secured horse and went to go under and the slant wasn't closed and he tried to leave. While I could be mad at them, I had to be mad at myself for working under an assumption. Better to assume no one knows anything when your horses safety is involved.

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  7. Wow - that sounds like a scary incident at the barn. Glad the kid and the horses weren't hurt. Tying is such a tricky thing. I've had a couple of incidents myself - one accident that turned a good tier into a horse that freaked out and pulled randomly in the cross ties. Not fun. I've been fairly lucky since then and all of mine currently tie really well. I am super careful about what I tie to though. I wouldn't tie even my mini to a round pen panel...

    I'm feeling a little nervous about teaching my new foal to tie - going to hunt down some videos on giving to pressure to start!

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    1. I had a pony as a kid you couldn’t tie...even just looping her lead rope over the stall door she’d start shaking and sweating. I feel like it’s a really common thing for them to have some negative experiences with.
      Your foal will be fine though, I feel like it is such an advantage to be able to have them at such a young age and do things right from the start

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  8. I have the same issue with my young horse. At some point she learned that she could pull back while tied and break free, probably because I almost always use a breakaway halter. I think the first time she learned it was from a legitimate spook, but now I feel that I can't 100% trust her to be tied unattended. I tried the whole rope halter and let her learn thing, but she ended up spooking herself at the trailer, and freaked out so hard that I couldn't get the quick release knot undone before she broke the lead rope. This is part of the reason why I actually just purchased a 2+1 trailer, as I go to a lot of shows where we tie to the trailer. This way I can put her in the box if I need to leave and trust that she can't get loose or hurt herself. There's really no easy solution that I've found, so I just learn to deal with it and always keep half an eye on her when she's tied somewhere. Funnily enough she's fine in cross ties, but I don't usually leave her unattended in those either.

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    1. I like the trailer idea. I'd imagine that's also good peace of mind if you're travelling - you've always got a safe spot with enough space for her for a few hours if you need to stop or are delayed.

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  9. My barn set me up with a double solid tie in my horse’s stall. When he was young he would be tied an hour a day, several days a week. Sometimes I would be grooming him, sometimes it was just about his developing patience. He has gotten spooked in the washstall (where he also ties) and on the crossties, but I can usually growl him forward into the pressure or save him from whatever is scaring him. Its never fool proof, but it is very practical to have a horse that ties. Always best to start them on this journey when they are weaned.

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    1. I miss having crossties and a proper wash/grooming area. We're pretty rustic here - there's a post and rail outdoor by an old barn we all use and my current set up is a paddock with a 3 sided shelter. I actually dragged Sophie along to a show once and left her at my coach's for a bit so she could practice being in a stall in a real barn and having baths in a wash rack while she was little - our amenities here are almost amusingly basic at the moment.

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  10. You're using mugwump's tying method: ) Bridget really won't drop her head and graze if she thinks she's tied? Your caption had me LOL.

    I think people need to really seriously think about the details you've covered here. If someone says, "I'm always nearby, supervising" they don't realize that it takes half a second for a horse to flip over. Panic snaps cannot be safely reached on halters (did you know the typical German lead rope uses a panic snap? WHY?) I've had slip knots tighten during panic, no hope of saving the rope. Rick Gore posted a YouTube video of a dead horse hanging by its halter that had caught on the stall door latch, it really made me think about leaving even a leather halter on my horse (R Gore is annoying and so extreme he believes a horse can get its halter stuck on a *human* and cause an accident.) I'm fond of Hamilton halters but I've seen horses try to break them and fail, and that's scary.

    Panels revolutionized horse keeping but I think of them as horse killers. A fellow blogger lost a foal who stuck its head in the panel. In ridecamp I saw a horse run by with an entire panel around its neck. Warwick Schiller had a video about a horse who "may never fully recover" from banging its leg on a panel. Another horse hit its hoof on the panel while lunging and lost the entire hoof capsule (horn).

    Tying high to a wall seems to be the safest way for me. Tying to an overhead tree branch, not quite as much. Once while camping the overhead branch a mare was tied to broke. She ran off with the branch and they didn't find her until the next day. High-tying (between two trailers or trailer/tree) always worked well but I bet others have their horror stories.

    I know I'm just repeating what you said but I think it's so important for people to re-evaluate their habits.

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    1. I have a method? Just went and looked and yes! Thank you for that, I actually feel better knowing what I'm doing comes 'trainer approved' by someone as intelligent as her and might one day lead to tying not being an issue for S.
      Yes, B will stand for an eternity wherever you leave her. I tell her to stay when she first tries to follow me away, and it works. I didn't spend any time or effort training her to do that, but she makes me look like I know what I'm doing (sometimes, at least, lol) She won't stay there forever, but a good 20 minutes or so, longer if she's feeling lazy. Very handy when you've got to use the washroom or set jumps :)
      Agreed, I have yet to find a knot that's reliable in any situation and I'm really not interested in climbing in next to a panicking animal to release the knot anyway - unless it's truly a last resort.
      Round pen panels give me nightmares now. If I ever have them on my own property they'll be anchored and probably have welded mesh the horses can't get legs or heads through.

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  11. Oh, re: slip knots.... There is a modified slip knot that apparently is much safer because the rope does not have to go completely through whatever you've tied to. I wish I remembered what it's called, and how to do it. Maybe someone here can tell me?

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    1. Oh shoot, I know what you're talking about, a clinician showed me that one once, if it's the one where you put a loop over from the center of the lead and pass another loop through. I used it for a week then *poof* my brain forgot how to do it. I just tried googling it with no luck but incidentally learned the one I use is called a bank robber's knot which sounds really bad ass :)

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    2. Right, you recall it too, but I'm not sure which knot that is. 2 loops, though, that sounds right.

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  12. Not tying reliably is one of the most frustrating issues you can deal with, especially when there is actual fear involved on the horse's part. It's something I frequently get hired for and it can be so scary and dangerous to fix, no matter how careful you are.

    As for the round pen incident... that got my heart rate up!! Yikes. I saw a woman tacking a horse up in a "stall" made of round pen panels at an endurance ride once. It's a pretty common set up, but in this case the woman tied the horse to the panels. Horse panicked and bolted, dragging the pen with him with her sandwiched in between the panels. I thought for sure I was watching this woman die, and there was nothing anyone could really do to help her. Miraculously, everyone walked away with nothing worse than some superficial cuts, but that image has stuck with me. These days, I like my round pens built into the ground whenever possible. I DEFINITELY would not tie a horse to anything that isn't solid or without a breakaway option.

    Last year, one of my former students had her horse tied to a fence post while she bathed him. I wasn't there. Older, dead quiet, beginner safe horse. Experienced horse person. Something went wrong and he pulled back. Halter didn't break. Rope didn't break. Post broke. He galloped around the barn yard in a panic and the post impaled him and eviscerated him. Needless to say, he didn't make it and his owner was completely traumatized.

    Ugh. So much can go wrong with tying.

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    1. Before this, it would have never occurred to me anyone would think it's safe to tie to a panel or not have a breakaway option. I'm sorry you saw that - the feeling of helplessness where you're sure you're watching someone die and there's nothing you can do? I don't ever want to have that again. The story with the fence post is so sad.

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    2. Dom, if people know in general that you never tie a horse to a gate, why on earth would someone hard-tie a horse to a ridecamp temporary panel paddock? Good heavens. I often wonder how many horses in Europe just take off with the tiny trailer behind them because they're built "as flimsy as American houses" (sigh). You know of a hitching post that KILLED a horse? I believe it. As you said, either make them solid or make the halter/rope break. It is very, very difficult to build a hitching post that will not break, IMHO. Safer to go with option #2.

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  13. Tying is weird, tying is frustrating. I've now owned 2 unreliable horses (Carlos and Dante) we fixed Carlos because he had the type of personality who could be fixed. Ramone had the personality that he would just stay and didn't care, and Dante has waffled between being good, but his #1 instinct when freaked out is to leave and that is one not easily dealt with.

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    1. I had one once that just did it because she was bored or wanted to leave and we fixed it. S is more like Dante -something scares her and she feels trapped and panics. She'll stand and fidget when tied, and she'll stand quietly...my gut says the pulling back really has nothing to do with patience (or lack of) and it's more fear based.

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    2. T, "bored" - omg in Wuppertal where I boarded Mag, there was a Connemara mare who pulled back simply because she didn't want to be tied. She never left. But every single time they tied her up, she leaned back, broke the crappy German lead rope snap (a panic snap), and then stood there patiently. As if proud. "Yup, I could leave, but I don't care to." The owner was exasperated and kept buying new halters and I honestly think in that case the mare should have been tied hard to show her to quit with the nonsense. But it wasn't my beloved horse, so I cannot judge.

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  14. I always tie to twine.
    I've seen the old bit on a hitching post once, how is that supposed to work?

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