Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society

Teaching Horses to Tie Using the Trees of Knowledge

Teaching Horses to Tie Using the Trees of Knowledge

By Ryan Skinner (trainer/farrier) and Ann Pawlak (editor/writer)

When I work with rescued horses from BEHS, I never know what to expect so I start them all the same way.  I call my method the “Trees of Knowledge.”  When teaching a horse to tie, I have to be in charge of letting the horse loose as a reward for standing tied. 

Basically, I hang a rope line between two trees and tie the horse to it.  The trees have to be far enough apart so the horse can’t bang against either of them.  I use a regular roper’s rope that has some stretch to it, make a loop in the middle to attach the lead rope, and hang it several feet above horse head height with some slack in it.  Placing the rope above a branch on each tree will keep it from sliding down.  Leaving the slack allows the horse to move around a little instead of panicking at being tightly restrained.  Hanging the line high gives the horse less to pull against.  Then I run the horse’s lead rope through the loop and fasten it loosely.  I leave enough slack in the lead rope so the horse’s head is in its normal relaxed position.  Too much slack means the horse might get a leg over the lead rope (train wreck), and too little slack means the horse won’t be able to stand comfortably.  While the horse is tied, I clean stalls or work nearby in case there’s a problem.  To resist being tied, horses do things like pull (“set”) back or paw the ground.  How long the horse must stand tied depends on the horse.  I leave it tied until it has been standing relaxed for a while.  Then I release it.  I repeat the lesson several times to make sure the horse understands.

I prefer to use a rope halter – the one-piece kind that is both halter and lead rope – because it teaches a horse that it can’t escape by slipping out of the halter or breaking the lead rope or halter.  Trimming a horse for a Pony Club member once, I put it in cross ties, turned away to get my tools, turned back and saw the horse was walking away.  It had learned to break its breakaway halter and do whatever it pleased.  On lead ropes, brass snaps and the ring attaching the snap to the rope are fairly easy for a panicked or stubborn horse to break when it sets back.  A smart horse can learn how to slide its head out of a loose halter. 

In cross ties, make sure the end with the quick release snap is attached to a post, not to the horse’s halter, so you can reach the snap if the horse panics.  If the snap is clipped to the halter, you might get hurt trying to reach it.  I carry two sharp knives and have used them to free struggling horses.

For a mare and foal, I tie the mare as described above and then tie the foal beside her.  With momma nearby, the foal learns tying is a normal thing.  Sometimes foals get tired and lie down, and I go over and stand them up again.

What can you do if you don’t have two usable trees?  If you have a tree with a good-sized hanging branch, you can loop a rope over it and tie the horse to that rope.  The branch should have enough bounce to provide gentle resistance.  I used a truck tire inner tube tied to a tree for a while.  That worked, but the rubber rotted, and I had to keep replacing it.  Using a bunge cord worries me because, if a horse sets back and stretches the cord too far, the cord will break and the hook can snap back and hit the horse’s eye.

Whatever you do, the important things to remember is that you want to be safe and to be able to let the horse loose as a reward for standing tied.  You’re in charge!