How to Tie a Horse

The key objectives when tying a horse are:

  • Security. The knot should be secure; even if the horse pulls or bites at it, it should not come undone.
  • Horse Safety. The horse should not become entangled in the lead or otherwise injure itself
  • People Safety. Avoiding injury when tying or untying a horse. In particular, it should be possible to quickly and safely untie a horse which is frightened or panicing.

Tie Point

Choose wisely when deciding what to tie your horse to. A securely mounted wall bracket is usually the best choice, with a tall post (which is both strong and securely fixed to the ground) a good second choice. To avoid common errors and the associated problems:

  • Tie the horse to something which it cannot move or pull over. Remember that a horse is very powerful and can move an object that several people would be unable to move, especially if the horse is frightened or determined. Always ask yourself what would happened if the horse threw all its strength and half a ton of weight against a tie point (would it hold?). For example, tying a horse to a vertical wooden support beam can be dangerous as the horse may be able to pull the beam sideways, causing whatever is being supported (e.g. the roof) to fall down on the horse and any people who happen to be under it. Likewise, tying a horse to a vehicle bumper or tail gate is a common error (the horse may either move the vehicle or break the item it is tied to).
  • Tie the horse to something which it cannot break. Items which a horse can break are unsuitable. A common mistake is tying a horse to a fence rail, which is easily broken, so a fence post should be used instead. Even then, fence posts are often not strong enough (especially in the case of old wooden posts) or may not be sufficiently secured in the ground to resist repeated pulls by a horse.
  • Tie the horse to something which it cannot injure itself on. Any item which can come loose or break may subsequently injure the horse. Likely, any item which could injure the horse if it ran into it (e.g. a metal feeder) is unsuitable. For this reason a solid wall is generally the best tie point as a horse will not normally run into a wall but may run into items which are shorter than its eye level. Also, the tie point should not have overhanging items (e.g. a low roof) which the horse can injure itself on if it rears up.

Tie Height

Ideally, the tie point should be at about the same height as the horse's back. Higher tie points are uncomfortable for a horse as a horse normally will lower its head often (horses in the wild will have their heads near the ground most of the day as they eat grass). Low tie points are dangerous as it makes it easy for the horse to get a leg over the lead or get its head stuck under the lead, which can cause injury and may result in the horse panicing when it realises that it is tangled in the lead.

 Quick Release

In the event of a problem (e.g. panicing horse, fire, horse tangled in lead), it should be possible to quickly release the horse. Options include:

  • A lead with a panic snap (see . These leads have a sliding mechanism where they attach to the halter (or briddle), simply pull on the mechanism and the lead comes off. This has the advantage that the horse can be quickly released but has the disadvantage that the lead is no longer attached to the horse so you have nothing to hold it by (except the halter or briddle).
  • A quick release knot. Simply pull on the rope end at the right point and the know comes undone. When this has the advantage over a panic snap in that one still had control of the horse through an attached lead, it is possible for a horse to pulling on the knot with its teeth to possibly undo the knot (unlikely, but possible).
  • Knife. Carry a sharp pocket knife with you, so that if all else fails, you can cut the lead.

Lead

The lead should be strong, of good quality and undamaged in order to be able to resist the horse pulling on it forceably and repeatedly. This applies to the rope portion, the metal attachment point and the connection between the two.

Rope knots can bind, with the result that they are difficult to undo, when the horse pulls on the lead. Binding is less common and less severe with round ropes and thick ropes. If your horse tends to pull, resulting in knot binds, consider investing in a thick, round rope. Natural materials (e.g. cotton) are also less likely to bind that artifical materials (e.g. nylon).

A common mistake is leaving too much lead between the horse and the tie point. This allows the horse to become entangled in the lead. In particular, the combination of a long lead and a low tie point often result in the horse putting a leg over the lead and subsequently injuring itself. In some cases, when the horse becomes tangled in the lead, it then panics, causing further injury and making it difficult for people to untie it (see above section on Quick Release, to minimise the risk of being unable to release a paniced horse).

The lead length should be enough that the horse can turn its head, but not enough that it can get a leg over the lead. A horse which is tied high can have a longer lead than a horse which is tied low, as a low tie position makes it more likely that the horse will get a leg over the lead.

 Halter or Briddle

A chain is only as good as its weakest link. Consequently, the tie point, lead and halter must all be secure in order for the horse to be securely tied. A halter (or briddle) which is weak, broken or improperly fitted (e.g. too loose) may break or come off the horse. Ensure that you have a good quality halter, in good repair and properly adjusted to fit the horse.

Never tie a horse using briddle reins, use a lead instead.

In general, a horse should only be tied wearing a halter, not when wearing a briddle. The reason for this is that most briddles contain elements (e.g. the bit) which can cause injury to the horse if it pulls excessively. Although there are a few specialist briddles that do not have this drawback, the majority of briddles are not suitable for use when tying up.

Company

Horses are more settled when they have company, being less likely to pull on their ropes or injure themselves through panic. Consequently, tying up two or more horses where they are close enough to see each other (but far enough away that they will not fight or injure each other) is better than leaving a horse tied up on its own.

It is also best to have a person nearby, not only to provide company to the horse and thereby keep it calm, but also to take any required action (e.g. undo the horse if it becomes tangled in its lead).

Breakable Ties

Some horse handlers recommend that instead of tying the lead onto the tie-up point, the lead should be attached to the tie-up point using a strong but breakable material (e.g. baling twine). The reason for this is that baling twine is strong enough to hold a horse under normal circumstances but will break if the horse pulls on it violently (e.g. if panicing). The advantage of a breakable tie-up is that it reduces the risk of injury to the horse. If the horse is in an enclosed and save area (e.g. pen or other fenced in area), this is probably a good idea. However, if the horse is not in an enclosed area, then one must consider the risk to people (e.g. if it runs onto a road) in the event that it breaks free. Consequently, the use of breakable ties should be used only in situations where the horse running free poses minimal risk to the horse and in particular to people. Aside from the safety issues, one should also be aware of the legal liability issues associated with a horse running free, in the event is causes injury or property damage.

Summary

  • Tie your horse to something that it cannot move, break or pull over
  • Ensure that there is nothing behind the horse that could injure it if it moved backwards, and nothing in front that could poke or injure it if it moved forward
  • The tie point should be about the height of the horse's back
  • The horse should have about 60cm (2 feet) of lead, so that it can move but not become entangled
  • Preferably tie the horse where it close enough to other horses that it has company but sufficiently separated (by distance, wall or fence) that they cannot injure each other. It is adviseable that there is someone nearby who can watch for problems and take approopriate action if neccessary.
  • Use a strong lead, in good condition. Likewise, the halter (or bridle) should be strong, in good condition and properly fitter.
  • A quick release lead is preferable. If possible, have a sharp knife handy in case you have to cut a lead. The ability to quickly free a horse is important to its safety and the safety of nearby people.