A horse that can ground-tie is a convenient, valuable asset on any ranch.
I hate when I can’t find something that I swear I just set down for a second. It’s like the universe is working against me, having a joke at my expense. I find myself often saying, “I swear, it was just here!” I don’t like it when it’s something small, like a printed piece of paper, or a coffee. I hate it when it’s something necessary, like car keys or a wallet. But I’m absolutely humiliated when the vanishing item is my horse.
There have been many instances where I needed to complete a small task, or grab something inside of a tack room, only to come out expecting a friendly striped face and seeing, instead, my equine’s tail headed in the other direction. One time it even happened to me during my trail course at a versatility show. The task was to dismount, leave my horse standing, grab a bucket, shake it, set it down and remount my statuesque horse. Unfortunately, as soon as I walked, my gelding lovingly followed me (and although I was flattered, it resulted in a major point deduction). I vowed not to let it happen again, whether I was in a judged situation or not.
So the learning process began. Now realize, I’m not coming at this subject from a training perspective. I’m sure that there are many different ways to teach a horse how to ground-tie and I’m not claiming to have any or all of the answers. I simply used a method of teaching my horse to stand still when I walked away from him by having a long lead rope and increasing pressure when he would step to me. I would wiggle my rope and make him uncomfortable if he moved his feet. When he would rock his feet back and stand still with some space between us, I would stop moving my rope.
I didn’t care if he had to work at it. In fact, I was always happy when he would try the wrong answer by moving. I would just try to help him learn by putting him in a bit of an uncomfortable spot until he would stand, well mannered. It was fun to watch him struggle and then eventually improve. Some people like to tie the word “whoa” to their ground-tie training, but I haven’t done that. Others like to drop a rein to signal to the horse to stand still, but again, I just wanted him to stand whether I said whoa or not and leave my reins in place. It was amazing how quickly my horse caught onto it. I started out with three or four steps from him, and it wasn’t long before I could walk across the arena, pick up that darn bucket, shake it and my horse wouldn’t budge.
Ground-tying is awesome when performing a task that requires your horse to stay close by, such as doctoring cattle, stepping off when riding outside, or having to fix a broken wire on a fence. It’s fantastic in competition as well, as it’s often found in trail classes and comes in really handy in certain ranch rodeo events. Heck, even if you are just booting up your pony before a run, it’s great to have her stand still. But it’s also a fun exercise to teach your horse to be more disciplined and stay focused on what you, his rider and teacher, are doing.
I’m not going to claim that all of my horses can do it, but I’m certainly going to try to remember to take them all through the process at some point in their training. It’s challenging, fun and kind of impressive when they get really good at it.
Yep, I’m occasionally going to leave my coffee cup on the wheel well. Certainly, once in a great while, my keys will be hiding in a forgotten pocket and frustration will set in. But you can bet that I’ll try my best to make sure my horse is always right where I left him (especially when there’s a scorecard involved)!