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If Your Horse Won't Tie

Updated on March 6, 2013


Bandit is an old Quarter Horse-ish mare, now well into her twenties or possibly thirties. She has spent many years as a popular school horse and is now semi-retired. She gives pony rides and helps children learn how to groom and tack up.

Bandit, however, has a problem. She cannot be tied up. No matter how it's done or what the circumstances, she panics and breaks halters and lead ropes. Her behavior is outright dangerous. In this case, though, there could be a reason. Bandit also has several fused vertebrae in her neck. Most likely, she was tied incorrectly at some point, tried to get free and fractured her neck. She was one of the lucky ones - she lived. Now she leads a perfectly happy life...never tied up.

Most cases of 'won't tie' are not nearly as severe as Bandit's and can be fixed. However, it's worth remembering that it is possible to manage and work around the behavior if you have one that won't tie...perhaps for a good reason.

Always Tie Correctly

The horse in the photo is not, actually, tied what I would consider correctly - some sort of breakaway should always be used to help prevent injuries like Bandit's. However, in this case, I'd give a pass as the horse is hitched in the middle of the wilderness and it escaping would be a bad thing. (Not that that particular horse would have gone anywhere...she's a sweetheart).

There are two ways to do a breakaway. The first is to use a leather or 'breakaway' halter. A breakaway halter is a nylon halter with a leather crown piece. The second is a breakaway between the lead rope and what the horse is tied to. Two strands of baling twine work very well for this. Rope and all nylon halters will not break before your horse's neck does should something go wrong and the horse panic.

Horses should be tied with a slip knot so they can easily and quickly be untied if necessary. Some horses, however, will learn to pull the end of the slip knot and untie themselves. If your horse does this, just tuck the tip of the rope back through the loop - that will stop most of them. (If you have Houdini in equine form, good luck. I know one pony whom they won't leave tied up because he's worked out how to jerk his head at a specific angle comes the halter!)

Helping Your Horse Learn To Tie

Some people are proponents of tying a horse to a big tree with no breakaway and letting it fight it out.

I am absolutely against fact, it could well be what happened to Bandit. Another popular method is to tie the horse using an old inner tube. This has a lot of give in it and can make some horses relax. Other horses hate it.

The best way to handle things is to start by making sure your horse gives to pressure. The horse needs to learn that the pressure goes away when they relax and stand next to whatever they are tied to. Work on making the horse lead correctly, without pulling or hanging back. Some people also suggest putting the horse on a lunge line and encouraging it to step towards you with steady pressure on the line.

Ground Tying

I believe every horse should be taught to ground tie. This rather strange term is best explained to the non-horse person as "stay."

A horse that can ground tie can be left standing in the corner of an arena while you set up jumps, or wait for you on the trail while you pick up a dropped item or, shall we say, "water a tree."

If you have a horse that is very hard to tie, teaching it to ground tie will have two benefits. First, it will reduce the number of incidents in which you have to tie the horse up. A horse that ground ties can often be tacked up and groomed without being tied.

To teach to ground tie, take the horse into a round pen, small arena or small paddock with a closed gate. Put the horse where you want him, then drop the lead rope and take a couple of steps away. If he moves, put him back exactly where you had him. When he realizes that he is to stay there, reward him.

Gradually increase the length of time and the distance. Once he stands quietly ground tied, then start stopping during rides, getting off, and making him stand.

It's possible to get around and work with an incorrigible non-tyer this way.

If They Absolutely Have To Tie

If you have a horse that really won't tie and is dangerous if you try it, but they have to be tied up, what can you do?

First of all, it may be possible to have somebody to hold the horse instead. Having to hold your horse for the farrier is annoying, but less so than many things. I always recommend having somebody hold the horse for veterinary treatment.

It is possible, also, to haul a horse that won't tie if you have an open stock trailer or 'box' style trailer. (Ironically, some horses that won't tie outside will tie fine in a trailer. I knew one pony, however, who tied fine anywhere but the trailer - when in the trailer, he would untie himself during the trip. I think he did it out of boredom).

If there is absolutely no way around tying the horse, then consider administering a mild sedative or adding calming herbs to a feed about an hour before.


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    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 5 years ago from Orange, Texas

      Our horses were never any good at ground tying - they always wanted to go when the trailride was moving! lol However, when everyone stopped, we didn't have any trouble tying them. We tied them at the halter above neck level and we never had any problems with them.

      Good hub with some good advice. Voted up.

    • Nettlemere profile image

      Nettlemere 5 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      I probably should have done something instead of just working round it, none the less, I had some good times with him and he lived out his retirement with me.

    • jenniferrpovey profile image

      jenniferrpovey 5 years ago

      Not tying can often be fixed. Rearing up, however, is dangerous...I would recommend anyone in a similar situation seek the advice of a trainer before they or the horse gets hurt.

    • Nettlemere profile image

      Nettlemere 5 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      I could have used your advice with my old horse. He would rear up and break away if tied - once or twice I was dangling by from the head collar whilst he did it. I wish now I'd had a go at ground tieing. I used to tack him up in his stable and he sometimes moved about a bit which could be slow things down.