Whether you're working with an uneducated youngster or an older horse who's broken a few ties in his day, it's relatively simple and safe to teach an animal to stand tied even when confronted with sudden disturbances.
Before embarking on an educational program, however, consider your horse's age and level of training. A foal that is younger than six months lacks the emotional stability to handle such a lesson and his physical immaturity could lead to injury if he fights the tether. As a matter of fact, any horse under a year old requires special attention and handling for tie training. It's best to wait until your student reaches middle or late adolescence--18 months to 2 years--to be sure that he will receive maximum benefits with minimal chance of harm.
Your work will be easier, and your horse will learn faster, if he has already been taught to lead before you try to teach him to tie. Once you've convinced him that he must yield to pressure on the lead shank and halt when you say "whoa," the tying process becomes a simple extension of his earlier lessons in obedience and trust in his handler.
When you're sure the time is right to teach your horse to tie, find a suitable spot for his lesson. You'll need a solid, fixed object, firmly rooted to the ground, to serve as your hitching post. A telephone pole or a thick tree trunk works well as long as it has no projections within your horse's reach. A fence post, however, may not be anchored well enough to the ground. Never tie your pupil to an unhitched horse trailer--without the additional weight and stability of a tow vehicle, the trailer can easily roll over onto your horse if he fights the restraint. Ditto for fence boards and stall grills that can be pulled loose by 1,000 pounds of struggling horseflesh. If you think your horse might be able to move your intended tie post, hook your tractor up to it and try to drive off. If the pole budges, then it's likely your horse will be able to move it as well.
In addition, clean the training grounds of any potential hazards, such as downed branches, large stones, or protruding objects. Also choose firm and dry footing. For your own safety, wear a helmet and make sure you have an escape route at all times. You'll also need to have on hand
- an all-nylon halter, with the webbing at least an inch and a half wide, strong stitching and solid brass or steel buckles that won't break if the horse struggles.
- Soft nylon rope, either a half - or five-eighths inch in diameter and strong enough to withstand 4,000 pounds of pressure, available in hardware, mountaineering or boating-supply stores. The amount of rope you'll need, as well as the addition of any quick-release "panic" snaps, will depend upon the method you decide to use.
- A sharp jackknife in case you need to quickly free your horse in an emergency.
- Gloves to guard against rope burns should you have to intercede with your horse's lesson.
- Leg wraps, bell boots and perhaps a poll guard to protect your horse against self-inflicted injury.
Before starting your horse's tie schooling, spend a few days familiarizing him with the process and the environment you'll use. Have an assistant hold your pupil next to the snubbing post as you groom and tack up, all the time lavishing the horse with praise whenever he stands quietly.
Excerpted from an article that first appeared in the December 1991 issue of EQUUS magazine.