Lately there’s been a photograph circulating on the Internet that makes me cringe every time I see it. Having been a horsewoman most of my life, I can state that one of the cardinal rules is never tie a horse to something that could move. I guess people think it is kind of cute and funny that such a big, powerful animal is so dumb that it assumes it can’t move if it’s tied to a chair. Horses are trusting, gentle animals. They are often more than willing to oblige what is asked of them, until something triggers their flight instinct. A loud noise, sudden movement, even leaves blowing on a windy day might be enough. A horse is a prey animal. I don’t care how well trained it is. If something spooks it, it will pull back. If the object it’s tied to follows it, it will assume that it’s being chased.
I’ve heard about and witnessed injuries (physical and psychological) from many similar incidents. Just recently a friend told me that a boarder at his stable tied her horse to a trampoline. A trampoline? Really? The subsequent damage to the horse and the trampoline was blamed on the property owner for leaving a trampoline where someone might tie a horse to it. (Forehead slap.) I knew another woman who, when she bought her first horse, tied her to a swing set. Aside from severe lacerations, the mare was never able to stand tied again. She had an overwhelming fear of being tied that couldn’t be trained out of her.
If a horse has been well trained, it will stop pulling back or will move forward, and then relax when it meets resistance. I won’t go into the details of how to train a horse to stand tied, but it’s obviously important. In addition to standing tied, I trained my horses to ground tie (stand still and wait with the rope dropped to the ground or over its back) or to stand with a rope thrown over a post. I usually didn’t bother tying them unless they were wiggly or if we were somewhere that if they did pull back they could run away, such as a trailhead or an event.
I hope that if even one person takes this to heart, I can help prevent a train wreck. Please. Please, please, please don’t assume that an animal is so well trained that it would never pull back while attached to a piece of lawn furniture (or rear view mirror or bumper or fence rail or anything that can’t resist several hundreds of pounds of pressure). This goes for any livestock, large or small. They are powerful and don’t always play by our rules. A prey animal’s first instinct is to run if it feels threatened. Unless it’s been trained to stand tied, it is definitely going to feel threatened because it can’t escape if it feels the need to do so.
If you have stories or experiences on the subject, please share.