by Marilyn Munzert
One of the most common horse-related problems is horses that pull back when tied. As with anything else that involves horses, there are several ways to help a horse through this situation. Several different ways will be effective. I wanted to find a way that is effective and that is a good deal for the horse.
There are many reasons a horse might pull back. Something might legitimately scare him and he’s trying to run away, he might be claustrophobic when he feels the pressure from the halter on his poll, he might not have been taught to give to pressure from the halter, he may have been napping and startled himself when he woke up… the list goes on and on.
I found a method that really doesn’t concentrate on the tying aspect, but more on helping the horse understand how to follow the feel of the lead rope and what to do with his feet when he’s worried.
The basic communication down the lead rope to the horse must be in place before ever going to the fence to tie him. He should be able to be sent out on a circle at a walk, trot and canter. He needs to be able to step his inside hind foot in front of and across his outside hind. He needs to be able to bring his front end through and begin a circle in the opposite direction, then repeat the exercise in both directions. He must move correctly, following the feel that is being presented down the lead rope, to make his transitions smoothly. The primary objective is to get the understanding through to the horse that the lead rope should go through his mind all the way to his feet.
Quality equipment leads to better feel. A rope halter and a 12 to 15 foot lead rope along with a flag or stick and string are tools used to teach the horse feel. Once the horse has the understanding through the lead rope, it is time to approach the fence.
A stout fence that is solid for at least 4 feet from the ground up, with a metal pole to wrap the lead rope on, diminishes the possibility of the horse getting a leg caught in the fence.
Begin by standing on the same side of the fence as the horse and having someone experienced on the other side of the fence to hold the lead rope. Take two wraps around the pipe of the fence and hand the end of the lead rope to the person on the other side of the fence. Pay attention to how the lead rope is wrapped, so that it doesn’t inadvertently make itself into a half-hitch knot. You may need to feed slack to the horse.
There should be 2 to 3 feet of rope between the horse and the fence to start with. Too short and he won’t be able to move, too long and he might step over the rope.
Step back behind the horse and get him to look at you. Ask him with the flag to move his hindquarters toward the fence, than ask him for a step forward. Pay attention and be ready to move quickly to help the horse find the step forward. You’ll want to be paying attention and not end up with your flag in his face when he moves his hindquarters over. You might inadvertently push him backward. Get into position quickly to help him find the correct answer: Find the end of the lead rope, move the hindquarters over, step forward.
As soon as the horse gives that step forward, back off and take the pressure away! Then give him a few seconds to think about it. Now pass behind him and do the same thing from the other side.
You are working to accomplish several things here. You are looking for the horse to 1. Feel the end of the lead rope, 2. Yield his hindquarters properly, 3. Step forward, 4. Allow you to move through the blind spot directly behind him, switching eyes calmly, 5. Find the end of the lead rope in a productive manner, and 6. Realize that backing up is not an option.
If a horse tries to pull backward, your helper will keep a little tension on the lead rope while feeding line out. You should be hustling to get behind the horse to encourage him to step forward. Try to not let him hit the end of the line hard, so there’s nothing for him to pull back against. When he steps forward, there is immediate release of all pressure on the halter and all pressure from you. As he steps forward, the helper allows the horse to feel the release, but then immediately pulls the slack back up so the horse doesn’t get a foot caught in the rope.
Once the horse begins to get the hang of what you are asking and his movements are smooth, ask the helper to take up a little slack from the lead. You want the horse to find the end of the lead rope, move his hindquarters over and step forward, doing the dance again.
Do this again and again until the horse is understanding and moving smoothly and softly. Notice improvements in his posture — the roundness of his body, the elevation of his head, the rhythm of his breathing and his overall expression.
When you are sure the horse understands what to do with his feet when he feels the end of the lead rope as he’s tied, give him a short rest and a brief pet.
Now it is time to change up the rhythm of your body. Try flapping the flag around wildly, jump up and down, throw your hat in the air, hoot and holler, skip, or walk in a jerking fashion, all the while making sure you can get into position quickly to help keep the horse from pulling backward. Any time the horse begins to respond correctly, take all pressure off and let him rest. The real key is for the horse to figure out what to do with his feet when he’s worried.
Before long, it won’t matter what kind of commotion is going on around the horse. He’ll calmly find the end of the lead rope, step his hindquarters over and step forward. Ideally you’d want to have several sessions with the horse, quitting when he’s understanding and moving properly.
Use good judgment when you start to tie your horse in different places. Be sure to set him up for success. You might ride the horse and tie him after he’s tired, instead of taking him fresh from a stall, when he’s raring to go, and tying him. It’s easier for him to stand if he is already wanting to rest. You might tie him by taking a few wraps around a post, instead of tying him hard and fast, until he’s had plenty of good experiences under his belt.
Horses, which have had the habit of pulling back, might need additional sessions in order to further bury their old bad habit. There are no quick fixes, and no miracle cures that will be 100 percent foolproof. But this method can help lots of horses and their owners.
All tied up
by Marilyn Munzert