Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Fixing Horses Who Pull Back

In the last 10 months or so, I have witnessed several horses who have pulled back from being tied hard and fast either breaking a lead rope snap, or having their feet go out underneath themselves and even pulling neck and back muscles in one case.

In one incident a young women who billed herself as a horse trainer tied her mare right next to my gelding. Her horse was not sacked out on being hard tied, especially in a strange arena, and soon pulled back getting that threatening pressure on her poll (behind the head) breaking the lead line snap. The young woman tied on the lead line and proceeded to lunge her horse thinking that if she gets tired or loses some energy she will be better. The way she went about lunging that horse just reinforced that mare's level of anxiety. Then the woman re-tied her horse, hard and fast, to a 30 foot gate that was on a wheel. Well, the horse pulled back again, this time pulling that gate on the wheel herself...repeating the process of pulling back, the gate chasing her, then pulling back again, and the gate chasing her, etc. I started walking over to the horse with the intent of disengaging her back end, while the young woman ran to a position between the horse and the gate, further spooking the horse who pulled back again slamming the gate into the back of the woman in a process that repeated itself until the horse paused long enough so the woman could get the lead rope untied. Then to make things worse for that mare, and likely in a fit of embarrassment and anger, the woman she started jerking on the lead rope yelling at her horse. All this could have been avoided if she had her horse good at tying in the first place,......oh yeah,..........and not tying to a gate!

One of the worst cases I saw was a horse being tied with a lead rope and a chain around the horse's nose. While the pressure, when pulling back, is on the horse's poll, if the horse get's his head up or has his feet go out from underneath him, substantial damage on the nose can occur. While I have used nose chains in the past, I won't ever use them again. I cringe when I see them and if I have a horse that can't be handled without a nose chain, well, I don't need to handle him then.

I have also had riders and their horses at my place asking for a pen for their horse as their horse won't stand tied. I always think "why don't they stand tied? Kind of minimizes what you can do and where you can go, now doesn't it?" I've had horses like that, and I've worked with the horse through most of the issues because I had to. And even if they are hobble broke, I'd still want my horses to be able to stand tied.

Horses are not born ready to tie. They must be taught this, or more appropriately they must have the time to learn that standing tied is a good deal - it's a resting spot. But all horses can be spooked and if spooked, can pull back, and if hard tied, will get that overwhelming pressure on their poll from either a webbing halter or a rope halter. This causes many of them to panic and pull back harder usually breaking a lead line snap, and if on a lead line tied into a rope halter, they can break a rope halter. This can be particular bad if inside a hard roofed trailer where the sudden release of a broken lead can send their head into the roof - and in some cases kill or badly hurt the horse.

17 years ago or so, in what later became my Functional Tie Ring (FTR), I started using a friction device in order to provide a measured friction release for a horse pulling back, with the lead line being fed by the horse's body weight through a ring. There have sure been some funny moments when a horse of mine, that was hooked through the tie ring on a 25 foot line continually pulled back while turning in a circle and ended up wrapping the lead line around his legs two or three times - unconcerned about the rope wrapping him up, it did not deter him from biting the value stems off two trailer tires. He stood for being wrapped up as I had sacked him out on ropes around his feet, hocks and legs....and was able to get him to lead with a rope around any foot.

So now days, while I occasionally hard tie a horse, I use the FTR when grooming, saddling or unsaddling, trailering someplace, and, I use cross ties with FTR's when I have horses on the shoeing stand or wash rack. But I only use the FTR when I have sacked that horse out on pulling back so they can learn they don't have to pull back or if they pull back, a pause in pulling back will give them that release from pressure, primarily on their poll, then they quit pulling back.  Boy, that's a mouthful.  

I'll hookup a lead line with the FTR, ensuring the halter is properly fitted and the lead line does not have much slack in it (to minimize the jerk when the horse pulls back initially). Then I'll back away then re-approach the horse with some stimulus such as a flag to get the horse to pull back so he finds a release when there is a pause in pulling back.  It's important to cease the spooking stimulus when the horse stops pulling back.  This is his reward.  Then I'll give him a break, rubbing on him, and when he is ready I'll cinch the lead rope back up and doing it all over again. Each time, the horse will react less and if done repeatedly, again giving a break and rubbing in between, the horse will eventually not pull back at all, or maybe just a slight head toss. This whole process may take 5 minutes or it may take 15 minutes. I can't remember a horse ever not getting a profound reduction in his pulling back behavior ever taking more than that.

In the video below I have a older horse, a pony really, who was left with us and has not been handled much in the past several years. His first encounter with the FTR was when we pushed the record button on the video camera. I had no idea on how he would do when tied with the FTR and given some horse spooking stimulus.

There are many tie rings on the market. The Clinton Anderson tie ring is a good tool as well, I just like my FTR better because you don't have to use a swing arm to keep the rope in place. If someone doesn't want to buy any particular tie ring, I'm sure an alike device can be fashioned and you may even save a few bucks. Make sure the rope you are using feeds easily through whatever tie ring you are using.

I hope this helps some of you.  I caution you if/when you try this.  Go slow. You can always increase the pressure, incrementally as needed. Better yet to get some help from someone who has done this before.  And it is always better to take all day getting it done as opposed to trying to get it done on some arbitrary time schedule and end up getting you or your horse hurt.  Don't do that. Please!

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