This article addresses hobbling a horse by his two front legs.
Everything to do with horses has the potential for deadly danger. You must use your own judgment. The
author is not responsible for injury or damage arising from the reader’s horsemanship practices.
My approach develops your ability to be present with your horse, to support him through stress and
make him right. You will become more confident as well.
Your horse is helpless when he is hobbled. I do not recommend EVER leaving a hobbled horse
Use the right equipment or do not do this at all. No matter how good your preparation, he may
struggle. With the wrong equipment it only takes a little struggle to skin your horse’s pasterns. And it only
takes a little skinning to make pain which causes fear. Better to remove the hobbles than for him to get
skinned up. His struggle only points up weaknesses in how you prepared him. Go back to previous
lessons and patch up those holes where they are little and manageable. Don’t be stubborn.
For a fascinating alternative approach to hobbling , research Leslie Desmond, international
“horsemanship through feel” clinician.
For the first stages work in the round pen with a fat soft rope, such as a twelve-foot training lead, and no
other restraint (i.e, no halter). First your horse has to be completely ok with ropes touching, wrapping
around, and guiding his feet. Do not resist him if he must flee. Remember, he is never wrong. And he runs
beautifully. Give him that freedom, as much as he needs. Extend from your heart towards him until he
comes back to you (i.e., “joins up”).
Progress to picking up and placing any foot in any direction, with a soft fat rope looped around his leg.
Do not do this with a lariat or any kind of closed loop. There is no timeline for this.
To prepare for the next step, study a pair of twisted-rope hobbles. You will use your training lead in that
fashion. If it does not already have one, splice a big eyelet into one end. Google “how to splice” or
take your rope to a boating store for help. Practice around a post, making a loop that passes through
the eyelet in a quick-release knot. Make sure to use a quick-release knot that releases completely,
rather than a knot wherein the bight remains through the eyelet like a lariat honda. Pay careful
attention to what kind of pull releases your knot. If your rope gets hung up in the knot before it pops out,
you need to plan for that delay when training your horse.
Still working in the round pen, halter your horse just in case you need to help him. Use a separate lead
rope on his halter from the one you hobble with. From a safe position pass your hobbling rope around his
far pastern, twist the rope around itself 3-4 times, and bring the eyelet end in front of his closer leg. The
long bight passes behind his closer leg. Make the quick-release knot you practiced. Both legs should be
wrapped just snugly enough that he cannot casually pull his feet free, and the distance between the
legs should allow for a natural square stance. Keep hold of both ropes.
Now, before he knows what’s up, pull on the end until the closer leg is free and the rope drops to the
ground around his far leg. Praise and reward, praise and reward. Reapply the hobbles, freeing them
before your horse recognizes the restriction. Flood him with praise and reward.
Next, keep the hobbles on for a few moments. Let him feel their restriction, and immediately remove
them. Praise and reward. Do not worry about teaching him he can struggle free. This is not about
submission to restraint. He will only learn to fight restraint if, through stubbornness, you delay releasing
him. Rather, this is about showing him that what he though might be a problem, is not a problem. Do
this many times.
When you’re ready, comes the next step. One of the times when he moves his foot to get free, do not
pull the release. Expecting the release, he will not immediately panic but instead will question whether
this time he’ll be allright. Watch as two conflicting emotions alternately flicker in his eyes, fear of
helplessness, and the optimism you built in during the last stage. Just when optimism is ascendant, pull
the release. Flood him with praise. As you repeat this step, you and your horse are both learning to be
comfortable with uncertainty. Continue practicing this over and over, setting up for this uncertainty, as
long as the uncertainty lasts. Sooner or later the uncertainty will drop away and your horse will nod off
when you hobble him.
Take the time—days or weeks—to repeat all stages. Practice in different places and situations.
Remember, if it looks like trouble is coming, free your horse. This is your self-discipline. Other horsemen
may disagree with your timing. They don’t have to live with the consequences. And it’ll be a thousand
times easier to repair your training if he sustains no injury or fear.
For the last step with your twisted-rope quick-release hobbles, work your horse, then hobble him in the
arena. I like to hang the tail of my quick release over the saddle horn where it’s handy. Go work
another horse in the same arena. Do not overextend yourself—do work that allows you to maintain
awareness of both horses. Look for that uncertain look to start coming up in the hobbled horse. Go
rescue him quick. Work him lightly while the other guy gets a break, then hobble again. Can you see
that hobbling gains positive associations? And the second horse will have an ideal lesson plan because
of the many breaks.
Now you can shop for a pair of real hobbles and carry them on your saddle. But carry an excellent
sharp knife and keep that lead with the eyelet handy too. Your new hobbles will look real sexy hanging
on your saddle, but buckles or buttons cannot release nearly as quickly. Any situation you want to
practice hobbling, weigh very carefully whether you’ll need your quick-release option or your knife. If
you’re 95% sure you can use your new hobbles, that’s not good enough. Use the rope.
Finally, avoid temptation. If you forgot your training rope, and want to hobble your horse, become
instantly alert to your warring impulses and desires, and separate them from the actual situation, to
clearly foresee the outcome.
In this practice, you will raise very little dust. It’ll look easy-- your friends probably will not even notice you
are undergoing this training. You and your horse learn to be comfortable with uncertainty. Some folks
call this emotional control or embracing the present moment. Your horse learns trust. You learn to be
trustworthy. You will learn to accurately predict outcomes and to take responsibility for them. That’s a
lot of bang for your buck.