Teaching a horse to stand tied on cross-ties, or any other type of tie-down, is a very valuable lesson. Every horse should not only be trained to stand tied well enough to behave while you are there, but also to learn how to stand quietly when you are away. The most common reasons for this are when we walk away to go to the tack room or to our car to get equipment, or even more helpful…when there is an emergency and you need to immediately leave your horse for several minutes.
A horse who is properly halterbroke will automatically stand tied the very first time you tie him, if he doesn’t…you have not completely halterbroke him. Why? The pressure that is applied to the halter whether leading or standing tied, is the same type of pressure and on the same areas of the face. If the horse has not been properly trained to give to pressure on the halter (halterbreaking), then he will not safely stand tied.
What is halterbreaking?
Halterbreaking is teaching a horse to give to pressure on his halter. The horse should be taught to give to pressure in all directions: left, right, forward, back, up and down! A properly halterbroke horse will perform these actions on command immediately and consistently, 100% of the time.
My horse is halterbroke, but why does he still break the cross-ties?
Your horse has NOT been properly halterbroke. He has not been taught to give to pressure in all 6 directions, at different amounts of pressure 100% of the time. If he was, he would have no problem standing tied. A horse that is properly halterbroke will never pull against pressure on his halter, even when startled.
I have never tied my horse, but the previous owner told me she doesn’t cross-tie.
How do I know if she’s ready to stand tied?
I have outlined 2 exercises below that you can use to test your horse. If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the exercises below, you must re-train your horse to be properly halterbroke.
This exercise is designed to tell you whether your horse has been trained to give to pressure on the top of his head. (This is the area that pressure is applied to when a horse is pulling back on the cross-ties). Hold your horse’s lead rope about 4 inches from his chin, and apply even pressure straight down (towards the ground). Does he raise his head or pull back at first, or do nothing at all? If yes, he’s not properly halterbroke. If no, continue to step 2.
This exercise is similar to the one above, but it will also tell you whether or not your horse will give to pressure when he is startled or surprised. Hold your horse’s lead rope about 4 inches from his chin, and apply a quick, steady pressure downwards. This pressure should be fairly hard. Does he raise his head or pull back at first, or do nothing at all? If he gives to pressure and lowers his head, continue to step 3.
Repeat steps 1 and 2, but with pressure pulling forward on the halter. If he easily gives to the pressure, then continue to step 4.
Repeat steps 1 and 2, but with pressure pulling backward (toward the horse’s chest) on the halter. If he easily gives to the pressure, then he should be fine to put on the cross-ties.
Repeat these exercises in every direction: left, right, forward, back, up and down. If, at any time your horse becomes uneasy, raises his head, pulls back or rears, you must go back to halterbreaking basics.
You’ll need to “sack-out” your horse
In addition to the exercises above, you’ll need to “sack-out” your horse. Your horse will need to be consistent with giving to pressure on the halter even when there are distractions. Start in a calm, quiet environment when beginning to teach your horse to give to pressure. Once he is 100% consistent, begin to slowly introduce distractions. The distractions you introduce should challenge your horse’s sight and hearing, but should not be so distracting that he no longer listens correctly to your requests on the halter.
Try adding a dog in the aisle, or people and other horses walking past you. Ask a friend to stand at a comfortable distance and make strange or loud noises. Never increase the distraction level past your horse’s comfort zone. Wait until he is 100% comfortable with the current level of distraction before you increase the distractions. Soon, you’ll have a horse who gives to pressure on the halter 100% consistently even when he is in a very distracting environment.
For the care of your horse
Please read “Sensitizing and Desensitizing” and “The Patience Game” before you continue to “Halterbreaking Basics“. Halterbreaking basics builds on those first two articles, if you do not read and understand them, you probably not be able to halterbreak your horse properly.
If, after applying those lessons properly, you are still feeling a little afraid or worrisome about tying your horse for the first time, you can try using crossties or a trailer tie that is equipped with a quick-release snap. If your horse panicks, you can pull the quick-release snap to release him, preventing any injury.
If the horse continues to pull and/or rear while tied, this means the halterbreaking basics have not been applied correctly. The horse is still not properly halterbroke. If you have difficulty following the instructions in these articles exactly, you may need to seek private lessons from a professional trainer.