Horses that won’t tie are a pain. At the slightest provocation, they’ll pull back, struggling violently against the pressure the halter exerts on their polls. In the worst case, they can injure themselves or their handlers. In the least, they ruin good equipment.
Pulling back has been difficult to cure…until now. The Blocker tie ring now available on the market is the closest thing I’ve ever found to a genuine quickfix for a horse-related problem. It works by eliminating the very thing that causes a horse to panic and pull back that trapped feeling.
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How the ring works is consistent with basic equine nature. As a prey species, horses are a “flight or fight” animal. When frightened, their first choice is to flee. If a tie rope makes that impossible, they’ll fight against the rope. The pressure exerted by the halter adds to their fear, and the reacting side of their brain tells them to get away from that pressure?now!
Their struggle, in other words, is just as violent as it would be if they were trying to escape the clutch of a lion.
By contrast, when a horse tied to a tie ring is startled and pulls against the rope, it gives a little, without turning the horse free. As the horse steps back from where he’s tied, he feels less fear, and so stops. When he does, the pressure on his poll vanishes, rewarding him instantly and reinforcing the message that he has nothing to fear from the rope or being tied. At that point you can pull the rope back through the ring to its original length.
The tie ring works better than bungee cords, rubber tires and inner tubes, or twine. Bungee cords have some “give,” but they continue to exert pressure on the poll after the horse has reached the end of the stretch and stopped, so there’s no built- in reward. The same is true of a horse tied to a tire or tube.
Tying to a piece of breakable twine assures that a panicked horse won’t hurt himself, but it automatically sets him free. This teaches the horse that pulling back is useful (“I got away!”), rather than unnecessary (the message of the tie ring).
I’ll show you how to tie to a tie ring, and how to teach your horse he has nothing to fear from standing tied. You’ll do this by mildly startling him, inviting him to retreat. The moment he stops moving away (in response to discovering that he’s not “trapped” by the rope), you’ll discontinue the startling motions/sounds and praise him, bringing him back up to the tie position.
If you aren’t comfortable startling your horse, no problem. The tie ring will still work on its own over time to convince him he has nothing to fear of being tied. Then, as long as you always use the tie ring (I have one at every tie spot on my place, inside and outside my trailer, and extras for travel), you’ll never have a tying problem. (Chances are, you’d also be able to tie your horse solidly, but why would you when there’s a better, safer way?)
1. Take your haltered horse to the tie ring, and secure the lead in the ring as shown (see inset). (For this training exercise, we’re using the lowest degree of “hold.” Package instructions with the tie ring explain alternative ways to wrap the rope for additional hold.)
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2. Now, approach your horse and, by raising your arms and/or using your voice in a rhythmic way, give him a reason to step back from the fence. Keep “spooking” him gently in this fashion…
3. …until your horse stops moving away. When he does, immediately lower your arms (as I’m about to do here) and
switch to a praising, reassuring voice. This shows him that even if some- thing does startle him while he’s tied, it’s no reason to panic.
4. Then, continue to praise your horse as you pull the slack back through the ring, encouraging him to step forward.
5. Once he’s back at the fence, rub him enthusiastically to rein- force the message that standing quietly is a good, safe thing for him to do. Repeat the sequence from the other side.
6. To reinforce the tying-is-safe message, use the excess lead to do routine desensitizing while your horse is secured with the ring. Here I’m desensitizing my horse about the head by tossing the line gently around his neck. If it causes him to step back, once again he’ll discover he’s not trapped and there’s nothing to fear.
To Get the Most From This Lesson
Follow the instructions that come with the tie ring (available at various retail outlets and my Web site for about $20) to mount it in a safe location, at about the height of your horse’s eye.
Outfit your horse in a halter with a lead that’s at least 14 feet long. (It needs to be long enough to enable him to move away until he feels safe, without pulling the rope all the way out of the ring.)