As the owner or manager of a farm or stable, you must do everything you can to ensure the people and horses under your supervision and care are safe. One of the most critical daily aspects of horse care is ensuring animals and people are safe when horses are tied up whatever reason. In this article we will discuss safe tying practices that you can put in place through a three-step program: designate safe tying locations, publicize tying rules and enforce those rules for every horse.
Where to Tie
As we know, horses must stand in one place and be secured for grooming, tacking up, bathing, shoeing and veterinary treatments. Ideally, your barn includes grooming stalls or wash racks where most horses can stand safely in cross-ties. However, you probably house more horses than you have grooming stalls, so survey your barn for alternate tying sites that you can feel good about your clients using safely.
Look for areas that include:
- a nonslip surface, so the horse stands on secure footing;
- sufficient space for a person to handle a horse safely;
- safe distance from other tied horses and any stable equipment;
- convenient access, yet out of traffic lanes;
- confinement within the barn’s perimeter fencing in case a horse gets loose.
Specify safe places to tie horses by installing tie rings at suitable sites: on fence posts (deeply rooted and sturdy), outside walls of buildings or in barn aisles (single tie or crossties). Anchor all tie rings at or near the height of the eye of a typical horse; crosstie rings can be higher.
Depending on traffic, decide if you allow people to tie horses to fence rails, whether inside or outside pens or arenas. The safest fence rail is one that that is strong and firmly in place, such as a steel pipe, welded or threaded tightly in place.
At some barns, boarders expect to tie their horses to their trailers to groom or tack up. An unhitched trailer used for this purpose should be stabilized with wheel chocks to prevent the trailer from rolling if the horse pulls back.
Plan ahead for weather conditions. In winter, people and horses will crowd together under shelter. In summer, everyone will crave shaded spots. In these conditions, you might opt for clients to prepare horses in their stalls. If so, install a tie ring in each stall.
Rules of Tying
Communicate your policy on safe tying both in writing and verbally. Add your site descriptions to your posted rules, and remind people where they are allowed to tie horses. With a large number of horses, you might need to establish time limits for grooming stalls so everyone can share the space.
When you observe tied horses, you may realize the need to instruct people in safe tying practices. Remind them about safety release knots (slip knots) and the proper length of the tie rope. And remind them never to tie a horse by or to its bridle—only halters.
Determine your policy on unattended horses that are tied. How long—if ever—may a handler leave a horse tied and out of that person's eyesight? A quick potty break? An hour between classes?
Consider supplying tie ropes at your most-used tying sites. You can reduce risks when you ensure the tie ropes are in good condition and equipped with panic snaps. You also avoid problems with knots, either those that don’t stay tied or those that don’t release in an emergency.
If your barn has crossties, they’re most likely your property. Buy the right lengths to span your aisle or grooming stalls. Stretchy crossties will extend if a horse “fights” the crosstie.
You might want to test each new horse arriving in your barn in order to rate his risk when tied. Evaluate whether or not he’s truly halter-broke. A halter-broke horse has learned to give to pressure against his head—nose, chin, jaw and poll. Whether you tie him fast (solid) to a post, fence rail or crossties, he’ll stand without testing the tie rope. Whether he’s tied for two minutes or two hours, he remains in place with the rope slack.
An unpredictable horse is one that’s less than 100% halter-broke. He might stand tied, or he might throw a fit if startled or resisting pressure.
Watch a handler leading a horse that is new to your stable to rate his manners on the lead. Take his lead, and act like you’re a post—apply pressure downward to see his reaction. Raise your hand to the horse’s eye level, move the lead to the left, and pull; then repeat to the right. If the horse readily gives to pressure, then test him on a single tie. Observe him for five minutes to see if he stands or pulls. Next, try him on the crossties.
Your barn might include horses with preferences for single tie or crossties. A horse might stand more comfortably in a certain place, but every handler must remember that horse's quirk.
What if a horse won’t stand tied? You have three choices:
- allow him to remain in your barn, with a “no tie” label on his record;
- let him stay with the notice that he must be trained to stand tied within a certain amount of time; or
- decide not to allow any “won’t tie” animal on your property. A no-tie horse means someone must hold his lead rope every time he’s handled—which includes vet and farrier work—or he must stand confined in an enclosed washrack or chute.
Whatever your decision, for the safety of all of your clients and the horses in your care, it behooves you to have steadfast rules about how and where horses can safely be tied.