Knot to be Overlooked: Tying Horses Safely

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Whether you’re traveling, trail riding, or tying to tack up, standing tied is an essential skill your horse should have. However, standing quietly while tied is a skill trained into horses from lots of tying experience, it does not happen automatically. By nature, horses resist confinement, like to move, and don’t want to stay in one place. I will break down the way I prefer to tie in the trailer and on the trail – and how to keep your horse safe and calm during the process.

When you’re on the trail, prepare your horse to be tied in an unfamiliar location. Photo courtesy of Julie Goodnight.

Build the Foundation

Your horse will not learn to stand tied on his own, or overnight. This is a skill you must teach him and help him to understand. To do so, you will need to have patience as well. There are many avenues to teach a horse to stand tied quietly.

“The patience post” is a tried-and-true method of tying young horses for periods of time each day. If you opt for this route, make sure that your horse is comfortable and supervise him during this exercise. If possible, keep him in the vicinity of other, calm horses. This will help him learn that standing tied is a resting place, and he must wait patiently.

Tying your horse in an area where he can watch the activity around him will also allow help in the desensitizing process.

In the Trailer

Unfortunately, it’s true that there are many hazards that exist in the trailer, when traveling. We want to minimize the risk as much as possible, so take special precautions to keep your horse safe in the trailer, and on the road.

I always tie a horse in the trailer to prevent him from trying to turn around. This can result in him getting stuck in an awkward situation, that might cause panic. It also limits the amount that he can move and walk around. When a horse is loose in the trailer, the trailer will rock and roll as the horse turns around. This can cause swaying, fishtailing, and can throw your trailer off balance.

When the horses are tied in one place and I feel the trailer rock and roll, I will stop and check, knowing that a horse may have fallen. To be safe when tying in the trailer, I use a safe-clip, which makes hooking them in quick and easy. You can adjust the length of the lead rope to fit the trailer tie-ring. It also allows for a slow-release should the horse panic pull and can help get you out of a sticky situation safely.

Wherever your horse is tied, take time to determine if it’s a safe location. Photo courtesy of Julie Goodnight.

Be Aware

There are times you might need to tie your horse on the trail, and trust that he will stand there quietly. The time to prepare your horse for this task is at home, well before you need to utilize this skill. You might be tempted to tie your horse to a tree; however, I recommend against this. Never tie to trees when out on the trail. It is harmful to the environment and horses can damage trees. Instead, use a highline to tie horses. Get the right equipment and learn how to do it right. (Tip: see CHA’s Trail Guide Manual).

Along the same vein, if you must tie your horse to a fence, be intentional with where you do this. Never tie to the rail of a fence—always tie to the post. Preferably a post sunk in about three feet of concrete. Take time to examine the post that you’re using, to ensure it isn’t broken off or weak. If you tie to a rail, the horse may pull back and pull the rail free, then be running loose with a board swinging at him as he runs. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Many people use cross-ties in a barn setting, and this is fine. But be aware that cross-ties can be dangerous for a horse that is unaccustomed to them. As with anything, introduce your horse slowly to this new element, and take time to build the foundation to keep him safe. If cross-ties are used, you should have a breakaway built into each side, in case the horse falls down. I prefer to straight tie my horses, so that they can relax and move their head a little. 

Again, a horse that stands tied patiently is a horse that has had the practice. Take the time to teach your horse this skill and be patient. And before you tie your horse to something, consider the different scenarios that could take place – and think ahead to keep him safe.

[Read more from Julie about her de-spooking process]

Trainer and clinician Julie Goodnight, Poncha Springs, Colorado,hosts RFD-TV’s, Horse Master. Her book Goodnight’s Guide to Great Trail Riding is available at Learn more about Julie’s program and training methods at

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