There are many reasons to teach your horse how to safely ground tie. It can help your horse learn the importance of standing still even when he’s tied up. But it can also help him better stand still when you go to mount up or put him next to a mounting block.
In ranch trail events it’s common to see ground tying as an obstacle within the pattern. If your horse doesn’t like to stand still when you take a step or two away from him, you’re going to end up with some penalties and will be essentially leaving easy points on the table. Scoring varies depending on the association you’re competing in; you could just get hit with a maneuver penalty if your horse moves or you could get points taken off for every step your horse takes, with three or more steps being a five-point penalty.
When you first start teaching a horse to ground tie, start with a halter and a lead rope. In a ranch trail class, you’re obviously going to have your horse tacked up and using a bridle with reins. But by using a halter and a lead rope, you are less likely to find yourself in an accident if your horse runs off and you have to go catch him.
You’ll also want to start in an enclosed space. If your horse is flighty and more sensitive, you might even start in a smaller space like a round pen to avoid having to chase your horse around a large arena.
Lead your horse to an open part of the arena and halt. Before you step away from your horse you need to disconnect with him. If you stop your horse and then immediately turn toward him to walk away, he’s going to follow you and assume that you want him to continue going with you.
Instead, fully ask him to stop and then reinforce that stop with the word “whoa.” Then you will take a step back from him and start the process of disconnecting with him so he continues to stands still and you can walk a circle around him.
Feel free to touch your horse at the beginning of this exercise. In a class, you can’t touch him, but I find that it can be comforting for a horse if you still have some kind of connection with him as you move away from him. As you begin to walk around your horse, continue to rub on him and reinforce the word “whoa.”
Walk a circle around your horse before taking another step away from him. If he stands still after the completion of that circle around him, you can take a step back from him and start the process over again. You can continue to pet and rub on him, if your hand is still able to reach him, but be sure to keep reinforcing the stop with your voice.
It’s important to do this drill in an enclosed area, like an arena, so that if your horse does decide to walk away from you, it’s not a big deal. Safely grab your lead rope and move on to the next step.
Back your horse up in a large circle until you end up in the same spot you started. You should have a nice tempo to your walk to keep his feet moving, and when you finally stop, give him a pet to let him know what he did was correct.
When you back him up, you don’t want to intimidate him or scare him, you just want to break away the connection. Do this every time your horse moves or walks away from where you’re standing. Eventually he’ll realize that it’s a lot easier to stand still where you want him to than it is to back circles around the arena.
Start the process over by walking around your horse and petting him as you move around. At the completion of each circle, take another step back before walking around him again. Eventually he’ll start to understand that when you say “whoa” and walk away from him, he needs to stay put.
Remember, teaching a new skill set to a horse (even on the ground) takes time. It doesn’t need to be perfect the first time you practice ground tying. Build on it a little bit day by day until he’s confident in what you’re asking him to do.