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Video of the Month

Teaching a Horse to Hobble by Weaver Leather/Ken McNabb

Hobble Train Your Horse

EquiMed Staff - 04/25/2017 + Craig Cameron/Ken McNabb

Acceptance of hobbles not only teaches the horse patience and to remain in one place, but it also can quite literally save a horse's limb or life if the horse becomes caught in a barbed wire fence or other situation where too much movement may cause disastrous damage.

When a horse understands restraints and yielding to pressure rather than resisting and pulling against it, he might survive a life or limb-threatening experience. In addition, teaching your horse to accept being hobbled has advantages when you are unable to tie or restrain your horse in other ways such as when you are out on a treeless trail.

Decide whether you want your horse to stand still with the hobbles or learn to move for grazing.  Bridle horsemen and ranchers want a horse that won’t move with hobbles and that are basically ground tied, which can take up to a year to fully instill.

Horses that learn to move around with hobbles are more apt to be quite mobile. If that suits you for grazing, make sure you don’t lose them on trail/camp.

Horse trainers recommend the following conditions and considerations for successfully training your horse to accept hobbles:

  • Work on hobble training in a safe enclosed space with soft level footing and no obstacles.
  • Start hobbling lessons when your horse is tired rather than fresh.
  • Take things slowly and include every step for safety and acceptance.
  • Make sure your horse is physically fit, so he's less likely to incur injury.
  • Stay alert and out of harm's way as your horse adapts to the hobbles.
  • Keep a pocket knife handy in case of emergency; use it only if you can do so without endangering yourself.

When training a horse to accept hobbles, a chance exists for injury to both horse and trainer. Be sure to stay alert, since some horses will lose their balance and might fall over or jump or rear when they discover their feet are tied.

5 Steps in training your horse to accept hobbles:

Step 1 - Desensitize your horse's legs and feet:

Handling the feet and lower limbs is an important part of training a horse.

If not trained as a foal, an older horse can be taught to accept handling of feet and lower limbs by gentle use of a training stick, a soft cotton rope, pieces of cloth, brushing and the use of sprayed water to get the horse used to having feet and lower legs touched and handled.

Gently touching and rubbing the horse's lower legs and feet without the horse flinching or moving away is the first step toward successfully training the horse to accept hobbles.

Step 2 - Teach the horse to give to pressure without panic: (Prepare for hobbles) Take the fear away from the horse (Craig Cameron)

To teach the horse to give, he uses an exercise he calls "leading by the front leg." Using a thick, soft cotton rope, Clint catches a front leg starting behind the knee and moving under the horse's fetlock. The leg is in no way tied or trapped. If the horse gets scared, Clint can release him by simply letting go of one end of the rope. 

With the leg caught, he then applies pressure, pulling the leg forward and asking the horse to take a step. Once the horse lifts the hoof, relax the pressure. When the horse does take a step, Clint releases the pressure and praises the horse. He does this exercise with both front legs until he can lead the horse anywhere he wants to go.

Craig Cameron uses a soft lariat loop around the pastern, and applies light pressure as he leads the horse with the lead rope. As the horse begins to lift its foot, release pressure and apply again as the foot needs to lift with the next stride. Do from both sides. He also practices lifting the foot with the rope while the horse is standing, then progresses to putting the foot rope around the saddle horn and lifting the foot. Be sure to be well away from the horse as it moves trying to “find” its foot and struggles a little. You may need to drop the lead rope while keeping the foot lifted.  As soon as the horse yields to the pressure and stops, release the pressure (Good training to prevent injury if caught in wire).

Hobbling up one front leg. This step is a progression from leading the horse by his front leg. He buckles a single hobble to one front pastern and clips a rope to the hobble. Clint then practices leading with the front leg, this time with the hobble rather than his long rope. In addition to asking the horse to step forward, Clint picks up the leg with the pressure of the hobble, teaching the horse to give to pressure backwards, too. He repeats this exercise on both front legs.

Next, Clint hobbles one front leg up, connecting the pastern to the forearm. He chooses this method rather than hobbling both front legs together. In his experience, horses with both front legs hobbled are more likely to fall forward, banging up their knees or faces, or injuring their necks. With this one-leg method, the horse is more likely to rock his weight backwards and stay on his feet, he says.

To further protect the horse and keep the opposite front leg from colliding with the hobbled leg, Clint applies a shipping boot over the free knee. For safety reasons, he applies the shipping boot before he puts the hobble on his horse.

Once the hobble is on and the leg is folded, Clint steps away from the horse and holds the end of the lead rope. Now his job is to stay out of the horse's way as he realizes his leg is hobbled. He also makes sure the horse can't step on, or over, the lead rope. Most horses will move around, so don't be surprised if the horse struggles or jumps. Clint makes sure he's well out of the way and only approaches the horse if he knows the animal is done moving. "You'd be surprised how quick a horse can move on three legs," he observes.

If the foundation training is good, the horse shouldn't struggle for too long. Every horse is different, of course, and Clint stays calm and waits for the horse to relax. He then repeats the process on the opposite front leg.  This is great training for trimming, shoeing & doctoring a foot.

Step 3 - Select the appropriate hobbles for your horse

The best and most comfortable hobbles for horses are made of heavy soft cotton, leather, woven nylon or neoprene, and often are padded or figure 8. Start by not having the hobbles too tight and not too close together. Allow some space between the front feet.

Step 5 - Applying the hobbles

With the horse in an enclosed paddock or corral area with soft dirt or grass underfoot, stand on one side of the horse and apply hobbles. Stay to one side, never stand in front of him. 

Ask the horse to take a step to discover the hobbles. Most horses will struggle when first feeling the effects of the hobbles and often will lose their balance and fall to their knees.  Don’t get excited, just talk calmly and allow the horse to get to its feet and stand. Praise and pet, but give time to allow to think it over.  Ask again, and wait for the response (move) and yield (stop). At some point, ask the horse to take a step backwards to get used to the feel.

You can even drop the lead and walk around the horse, rubbing & talking. Then walk away. If the horse tries to follow, raise your hand, Whoa. Teach him not to follow you to instill ground tying. You can also do some flag/sacking out all around the horse while it stands to teach it to just stand (CC). (Ken McNabb, Weaver Leather)  Ask the horse to back a step to discover that his feet are “tied”.  This rocks his weight onto his hindquarters and helps avoid a nose dive or lunging forward. As soon as the horse feels pressure from the hobble, stop and allow to think about it. Ask again and release.  After pausing again, disengage the hindquarters by pivoting on the front feet and stepping the hind around.  One step at a time is fine for a start as the horse adjusts its balance and gets used to the feel. Continue around in a 180, then go to the other side and repeat in the opposite direction.  Allow to stand for a few minutes, even dropping the lead rope and walking away.

Repeat hobbling your horse for short periods of time until he calmly accepts the pressure and lowered mobility of being hobbled. Always be calm and patient when hobbling your horse. As the herd leader, it is your job to show him that it is no big deal - just another experience in the daily life of horse and herd leader.

Once your horse begins to accept being hobbled, make it a practice to hobble him for short periods of time while he is grazing, out on the trail, getting ready for grooming or a visit from the farrier or veterinarian.

This practice will add another dimension to your relationship with your horse, and who knows, may save the horse's limb or life if ever he becomes entwined in barbed wire or another situation where yielding to pressure prevents injury or harm.

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