Question: My 11 year old gelding has picked up a bad habit. He is pulling back on his halter when tied, almost breaking the halter. I have to quickly release my knot. This is new, he never did this before, just stood quietly being tied. I just give up after awhile and give in.
Answer from April Reeves: Assuming your horse had good manners from the start, he may not be as difficult as some horses can be. Let’s start with knowing the horse use to tie before.
Purchase a rope halter if you don’t have one, as they will increase the sensitivity and teach the horse to come off pressure faster. Traditional web halters teach horses to lean and resist, as their pressure points are wider. Make sure your lead rope is at least 12 feet long.
What you don’t want to do is tie him up snug to something right away, as he will pull, and could do permanent damage to his neck and back. Again, our advantage is that the horse was good at being tied prior to this problem.
This exercise will help remind him that he once came forward on pressure. With the rope halter on and a long lead, stand away from him and apply pressure to ask him to come to you. Continue the pressure until he moves forward. The minute he comes forward, drop all pressure and pulling immediately. However, if he pulls back from this, keep a tight steady pressure on the rope until he releases. Then begin to add additional pressure by pulling on the rope with more force. Keep the pressure steady; don’t release and retry. If your arms get tired, I wrap the rope behind my butt and lean on it. I have had to do this for almost ½ an hour once.
Again, once he releases and moves forward, drop all pressure and pulling. The lesson is in your release, more so than his, as that is his reward and his discovery. After each time he comes forward, let the lead rope rest on the ground in front of him and just hold the other end quietly (reason for long lead line). This will be the beginning stage of training for ground tying. Although you have the other end, he feels the line on the ground and is not aware you are holding him. He may stand quietly to think about this situation. Let him soak it in.
Your job is to keep up the pressure to get him to come forward if he resists, and don’t quit, even if it takes 15 to 20 minutes. The second you get a forward release drop the rope like a hot potato, even if it is just a small release. Humans think horses responses are small, but to the horse, it’s a very big deal.
Over the course of 3 or so days of this, and he is coming off all pressure without hesitation, explosion or resistance, you may try to tie him again with the rope halter. Do invest in this piece of equipment, as it will not work as well without it. Web halters create resistance with their lack of intentional direction and direct pressure.
Make sure he is tied to something that won’t break or pull out, and that you have a quick release knot with one hand on the end, just in case. Tie him fairly high up so he won’t get a leg over the rope. If he does fight don’t untie him unless he looks as if he is going to get into trouble. Once he releases from the fight, let him stand and think about it. Do not speak or come up to him. This is his lesson alone. He must take responsibility for his pain now. Once he has had 30 seconds to think, untie him and lead him around, with lots of pats and praise. Then repeat each part over again, until he stands tied without resistance.
From your question, a large part of his resistance has also come from your giving up. Horses do take enormous amounts of patience and time, and without that dedication from you, results will never happen. I’m not being mean, I’m just telling you the way it is.