Teaching your horse to tie up

The art of teaching your horse to stand tied up in any environment and wait for you is a valuable skill in your horse journey.  I meet a lot of people in my travels who are frustrated that their horses won’t stand tied up to a fence/float/trailer when we hold our horse training clinics. There is no easy fix, no special tie up ring, no magic halter to fix these tie up issues. The only way I have ever overcome tie up issues is through consistency and some times not even tying the horse up at all.  Let me explain.

If your horse pulls back, paws the ground or is just very unsettled when tied up, you will understand how frustrating this can become.  As with all horse training there are foundational steps that help build the confidence in your horse to stand and wait tied up.  To work on getting my horse calm to stand and wait starts not at the fence, but away from the fence.  I first teach my horses that when the lead rope hits the ground as pictured below, its their opportunity to rest (emphasis on the word ‘their’ opportunity).  This is what I mean when I say ‘ground tied’. What I feel our horses need is to be shown that it is their choice to stand still and rest, then they learn to enjoy it (not by forcing them).  In all of my interactions with horses on the ground the lead rope is my direct line of communication. When I have direct contact with my horses lead rope we are talking.  When the lead rope is slack and laying on the ground, we are essentially not talking. I first play with this exercise by letting the lead rope hit the ground and rewarding my horse for being calm and standing still.  Once this part of the game is perfected I then begin to challenge my horse and work with obstacles.  I use the same principals on a tarp, block or target and allow my horse the opportunity to rest when they stand on the obstacle.  I often stand on the obstacle and move my horses feet away at a lunge, around the obstacle.  When I step off the obstacle, I offer my horse the opportunity to hop on the obstacle and rest.  Most horses that I have done this training with can’t wait to stand on the obstacle and rest.  I reward my horses through physical touch and patting them when they choose to stand on the object and wait.  I even unsaddle them on the object or give them some other sign they are in the right place and allowed to rest. A similar cue I apply when my horses wait on the obstacles is that the lead rope hits the ground, signalling the same as the previous ground tie exercises.

To rectify any tie up issues at the fence/post or rail, I revert back to the ground tie exercises and then move on to the obstacle work.  To reintroduce the tie up point, I don’t actually tie them up in the first instance.  As you are probably aware, horses don’t forget good and bad experiences and situations.  If a horse has pulled back, flipped over or hurt itself when tied up, they will not forget that experience.  If you are dealing with this kind of horse, we need to take our time and show them that being tied up is actually a great place to be.  A process that has worked for me is where I first just loop the lead rope over the fence and then stand within a 5m range of my horse, waiting at the fence. If you horse does walk off or lean towards you, just put the them back in the desired location loop the lead rope over the fence and give them a pat and walk back to your original position.  Repeat as many times as necessary until you find a good place to quit for the day. This is particularly helpful for the more anxious horse and young horses. If you complete this everyday that you work with your horse, it becomes a ritual for them, often after a wash or hose off.  I believe your horse is seeking comfort and you can offer that comfort to them through showing them they are not alone when tied up in the first phases.  When you tie them up and just walk off, they panic and pull back. At first, try to show them that they are not alone, they can simply wait with the lead rope hanging over the rail and you won’t leave them. I often stand there and take a phone call and wait a few minutes. Once I see a sign of relaxation (licking, chewing, resting back leg, softening of body, etc) I will go a get them and walk them back to the paddock.  

To fix any tie up issues I always start with this process, by simply teaching the horse to rest at the target (fence/post).  I don’t believe that special knots or tie up points fix tie up issues, I think firstly we need to address the panic or anxious behaviour, away from the tie up point.  Once this ritual is learnt and refined, I will be confident to tie them up and can trust that I have completed the initial steps well and that the horse will be confident too.  Obviously, like anything, this is not fool proof and some other measures may be needed to correct the issue long term, depending on individual circumstances. I find that if we focus on having our horse relaxed in the ground tie & obstacle work, it contributes to building a foundation that allows your horse to relax when tied up.  

I hope this helps in some way!



Justin Colquhoun

Hi There! I’m Justin Colquhoun. I founded Elite Horsemanship out of a dream to make real and effective horsemanship available to anyone at any level in the horse industry.