Safe ways of tying up your horse


tying-tie-up1If you own a horse, or even spend time around one, eventually you’ll need to tie him to something, writes Michelle Staples.

We all take tying up for granted. We’ve done it a thousand times. We brush our horses, saddle them, clean their feet, and enter them in shows where they spend hours attached to the side of our trailers. We attach them to cross-ties in barns and wash racks. We tie them to posts, and hitching rails, trees, and almost anything we think is stable and strong. Throw the lead rope around something, and your horse will stay. Or will he?

Time and again you see horses tied in an unsafe way, and the horse gets into trouble; sometimes injuring himself to the point of death; sometimes injuring others around him.

Here are some simple rules to review that will keep your horse out of trouble.

  • Attach the horse at about the level of his withers or eye-level. This way if he pulls, he is less likely to hurt himself. The rope should be tied so it doesn’t dangle low enough to be stepped over but not be so high or tight that the horse’s head is restricted. Two to three feet is about right for a horse; less for a pony.
  • Tie to secure objects such as a telephone pole (without a supporting “guy” wire), wall, hitching post, tree, or a trailer that is secured by attachment to a vehicle. Inspect wooden tie posts regularly for damage and rotting below the soil surface. If the object is vertical and smooth, and there is danger of the rope slipping, take an extra wrap around the object.


  • Do NOT tie to objects below the horse’s eye level, such as a log on the ground, door handle, chair, hitch, the tailgate of your truck, or anything else that isn’t securely anchored, such as an unsecured trailer, wire fence, loose fence post, or fence rail.
  • If the horse is to be tied in the same area for an extended period, food and water should be within reach and the area should be protected from the elements.
  • If you tie your horse “fast” (secure; he can’t pull away) and he panics, he will hurt himself and anyone around him. Use a “quick release knot“.
    • A quick release knot.
      A quick release knot.A "marlinspike". A “marlinspike”.

      Run the end of the rope over the object. Twist it to form a loop with the end underneath. Form a bend in the end of the rope and pass it through the twist and push down to the object. For a more secure knot, add more loops, passing each new loop through the previous loop. Pull the free end, and the knot falls apart. If you have a “Houdini Horse” who can untie ropes you can pass the end of the rope through the last loop to secure it.

  • A handy tool to keep in your grooming box is a “Marlinspike”. In emergencies, use the blade to cut a rope or halter. The spike can be used to loosen overly tight knots.
  • For horses who have developed a habit of pulling back, tie a rope around the object and tie your “quick release” to the rope instead of the object. Then, when your horse throws his full weight on the rope, you can easily cut the rope to release him.
  • Never tie by the bridle, either using the reins or tying the bit. If the horse struggles he could severely injure his mouth. This practice is just plain cruel. To tie a bridled horse, slip a halter over the bridle and tie with a lead rope attached to the halter.
  • Cross-ties should be attached at eye level and be long enough so the snaps meet in the center. Use quick-release snaps at the ends of the ties. Chains are more durable than rope, but also more dangerous if the horse panics and pulls them out of the wall.

Horse safety specialist Michelle Staples is the author of Save Your Horse! A Horse Owner’s Guide to Large Animal Rescue.

First published on on February 22, 2008.

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