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Safely Tying Horses, Mary Hamilton



crosstieWhat is the safest way to tie your horse?   By Mary Hamilton

Tying your horse is something you do on a daily basis. How much thought do you give to doing it safely? Tying is an unnatural act for your horse. It eliminates his ability to flee from danger. His primary instinct when startled is “move your feet, run for your life!” Maybe you have seen a tied horse get scared. They panic and struggle against the rope, desperate to get free and flee the danger. A horse in this state can injure him- self or you. That’s why it’s so important to consider safety every time you tie your horse and to train your horse to stand quietly when tied.”

“Where to Tie” –  “Always tie to a post or object that will not break or come loose if the horse pulls back. If you tie to a fence rail and it breaks, your panicked horse will be dragging a moving fence rail behind him and will panic even more. Ideally, you want your rope to break rather than the item your horse is tied to.”  “Before tying your horse, look over the place you plan to tie your horse. Look for potential hazards that could injure your horse? Things like, sharp edges, barbed wire, dangling ropes, machinery, a hoof pick lying on the aisle or another horse within kicking distance. Remove the hazards you see or choose a different place to tie your horse. No one wants their horse injured so take the extra effort to look for potential dangers.”

“Cross Ties” –  “Cross ties are used in barn alleyways and aisles. The safest way to tie your horse in cross ties is to use panic snaps (sometimes called quick release snaps) and   a   loop of twine on each side. In an emergency if the panic snap is rusty and fails the twine breaks releasing the frightened horse.”   “Attach the ties at a safe height, about the level of your horse’s back to the side rings of a well fitted halter. Tie your horse loose enough that he can stand with a natural head position and is able to move his head from side to side. This prevents your horse from feeling trapped and claustrophobic. If the cross ties are too long and low, your horse could step over them and become entangled.”

“Don’t leave a tied horse unattended. If your horse gets frightened the best option is to release the tie and allow him to move his feet if he needs to.   The other day, I was grooming my new four-year-old Clydesdale/Paint, “Fergus”. He was tied in cross ties in the barn aisle. As I brushed, I noticed his body tense. He raised his head to look down the aisle. This was the first meeting of Fergus and “Willimena”, the 200-pound potbelly pig. Willimenia grunted and lumbered our way down the barn aisle looking for spilled grain or other available snacks. I quickly released the panic snaps of the cross ties and clipped a lead rope on Fergus to prevent a situation where he might panic while tied. I let him move his feet as he met Willemia the pig. Tragedy avoided.”

“If another horse needs to pass down the aisle while your horse is cross tied, detach one cross tie and move your horse sideways away from the other horse to allow it safe passing. Move your horse back in position and reattach your cross tie. Don’t lift up the cross tie and try to have the horse walk underneath the tie.”

“Tying to a Trailer or Post” –  “For safety use a quick release knot so your horse can be quickly untied if you have a problem. The rope should be attached approximately chest high. Tie your horse with enough slack that he can move his head and hold it in a natural position. If your horse can graze while tied, he is tied too long. Tied too long, your horse could get a leg caught over the lead rope or his head stuck under the rope and panic.”

“Never tie using your bridle. If your horse pulls back, the bit can slice his tongue in two causing serious injury. All good cowboys know when you are working around horses, a knife in your pocket can be a handy tool to have. Especially if your horse gets into trouble and you need to cut him free.”  “Even the calmest horse can spook when the unexpected happens. A scared horse struggling to flee can hurt you or itself. Be ever vigilant in your safety practices, even with something as routine as tying your horse.”

ABOUT MARY HAMIILTON:  Mary is a Mounted Police instructor and a fully insured ARICP riding instructor. She devotes her creative energy to developing customized training programs to improve show ring performance, mount obedience and despooking trail horses utilizing training methods used in training police horses. Visit her website:

[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 2, Issue 7.]


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