How to Teach a Horse to Ground Tie

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GROUND TIE

("Originally appeared in Horse & Rider magazine with photos - use your imagination.")

  2008 Cherry Hill   Copyright Information

     You have come to a gate that can't be opened from horseback so you dismount, hope that Blaze stays put, and begin wrestling with the latch.  But before you can say "begeezers" Blaze has yanked up a mouthful of grass, stepped on a rein, jerked his head sky high snapping the leather, and spooked himself into trotting off and leaving you stranded.  Although teaching a horse to ground tie is not difficult, you can not expect your horse to stay put by just wishing it so - you must formally train him.

     I'm going to describe the method I use to teach all of my horses to ground tie.  Your success will depend on how thoroughly you cover each step with your horse.  You can increase the chances for smooth sessions by acknowledging and dealing with the four culprits that commonly undermine a horse's ground tying lessons:  flies, grass, surprises, and imbalance.

     If flies are bad enough to cause your horse to stomp or want to move off, either use repellant or postpone ground tying lessons to non-fly season.  Regarding the presence of grass, hold lessons in non-grass areas until the idea of ground tying is firmly established with your horse.  Once you move to grassy areas, realize that if your horse puts his head down to graze, it will be natural for him to take a step forward, then another, then another.  You must require your horse to keep his head up when he is ground tied.  Although you can't control sudden surprises associated with wind, barn cats, or wild animals, you can prepare your horse to deal with them by exposing him to a wide variety of experiences and taking him through a thorough sacking out program.  And finally, ensure that your horse is able to stand still by making sure he is in a comfortable, balanced position when you ask him to ground tie.  If you drop the reins when he is all spraddled out, he is going to have to take a step or two to balance himself and this diminishes the "absolutely still"  concept you are trying to develop in him.  Now that we have the ground rules established, lets get on to ground tying.

     1.  I begin by reviewing hobbling using strong, safe, figure-8 training hobbles.  I work in my 66 foot diameter round pen.  Using a 25 foot rope, I remind my horse that she must stand still and keep her head up.  If she lowers her head, I send a wave through the rope which pops her under the jaw and causes her to bring her head back up.  I walk around her in a circle on the end of the long rope for several minutes.

     2a.  Then I replace the long rope with a lead rope and drop the rope on the ground under her head.  I say "whoa" as I step away from her and then I walk around the pen for several minutes.

     2b.  I remove the hobbles and stay by the mare's side for a moment until she realizes the hobbles are off.  That way, if she moves a foot, I can correct her via the halter and put her foot back exactly where it was.  Then I say "whoa" and leave her in the middle of the round pen for several more minutes while I walk around her or lean on the rail behind her.  The lessons in the round pen should be repeated until the horse stands still for at least five minutes.

     3.  Next, I tack up my mare and move to my 100 x 200 arena where I set her up relatively square in the center of the arena, hobble her, drop the reins under her head, and say "whoa" as I leave her.  At first I stay within ten or fifteen feet or so of her so I can get to her quickly if there is a problem.  Since I plan to have her stand for five minutes or more, I gradually work father away from her busying myself with moving cones, picking up stones, or pulling weeds.

     4.  Then I remove the hobbles and again tell the mare "whoa".  I take my time hanging the hobbles on the rear rigging ring of the saddle so that I am nearby when my horse realizes that she is no longer hobbled.  If necessary, I correct her, then I resume my arena puttering, staying close at first and increasing my radius from the mare.  If she walks away, I quietly take her back to the exact starting place, set her up square, and say "whoa", this time a little more emphatically but not louder.  Some horses may require a review with the hobbles several more times in the arena.

     5.  Once I feel the essential connection has been made, and that may take over a week's worth of lessons in the round pen and arena, I begin testing and strengthening my mare.  I use all possible opportunities to increase her ground tying reliability.  Here I am asking her to stand still while I repeatedly open and close a gate.  If at any time she would have started to move, I could have quickly closed the gate to block her exit or reached her if she tried to move away.

     6.  When I am out riding the mare, I make up reasons to dismount and fiddle with something on the saddle.  I make sure the mare is standing square, and always leave her head with the command "whoa" although now I am saying it so quietly that only she and I can hear it.  Here, even though her attention is elsewhere, she still gets a good grade because she hasn't moved a tad and her head is up.  Every different setting and set of circumstances that I can expose my mare to strengthens the lesson in her mind.

     7.  Now she's ready for the final test.  The question is, when I get done fixing the lower strand of this fence, will my mare and my fencing kit still be where I left them?  You betcha.  But you'll notice that I routinely carry my training hobbles on my saddle because even the best of horses sometimes require a reminder such as after a deer suddenly bounds out of nowhere.  You've probably noticed that the mare is not eating grass.  It's not that she wouldn't love to grab a mouthful, but she has learned that ground tying is a formal lesson and that to get full credit, she must keep her head up.

 

  2008 Cherry Hill   Copyright Information

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