Last time, we talked about teaching a young horse to tie. It takes time and patience, progressing only a little every day to give her gradual experience.

“Snubbing” a young horse to a post is exactly the wrong way to teach tying because it boosts her natural fear of confinement. A prey animal’s means of survival—determined by her brain—is to be able to flee at any time. Why not work with the horse’s brain instead of against it? Keep the experience pleasant and build tying time slowly. You’ll get better results and a stronger bond in the long run.

Like single tie rings or rails, cross-ties should be set high in their supports. They should also be just long enough to allow the horse to move her head a few inches to the left or right, but not much more than that. Too tight, and the ties will feel confining and encourage struggle. Too loose, and you have no control over the horse’s sudden movements. If your horse can turn her head and touch your arm fastening the girth, the cross-ties are too long. Your horse could get tangled in them.

After verifying that my new three-year-old Dutch warmblood True will tie with one rope, we practice with cross-ties. I leave the lead rope draped over his neck and attach only one cross-tie at a time.

After a few days, when the horse is accustomed to this and shows no concern, I attach the second cross-tie. If the barn is especially busy, or I anticipate some kind of ruckus outside, I revert to one cross tie temporarily.

Only after several weeks do I remove the lead rope. That way, I can unsnap the ties quickly and still have a lead rope available when something scary happens. (We’ll discuss in a later post the new guy who came up swinging a live weed whacker toward the barn…)

You might wonder why I’m fussy about testing and practicing various moves rather than simply carrying them out. One reason is to avoid physical injury to the horse. But another is that I do not want a new horse, and especially a new young horse, to have bad psychological experiences. Each one affects her over the long term, reducing her trust in me, making her more fearful of human interaction, and slowing the entire training process.

Enough bad experiences will occur in a horse’s life that cannot be helped. Let’s reduce the risk of as many others as possible.

Related reading:

Brain-Based Horsemanship is a weekly column that chronicles Janet Jones, PhD, and her journey with True, a Dutch Warmblood she trained from age three using neuroscience best practices. Read more about brain-based training in Jones’ award winning book Horse Brain, Human Brain.