Hobble training teaches a horse to give to pressure, not to freak out when caught/cast/trapped and to wait to be rescued (patience!). It desensitizes your horses legs to being confined or trapped.
If you’ve ever had a horse get caught up in wire, step into a wooden pallet, roll and get cast under a fence or gate or become entangled in a rope or other containment system you no doubt have seen first hand that horses can and will find ways to get into trouble. How they handle it can often be attributed to how the horse has been trained.
Hobble training is something that I have done on every single one of my endurance horses before taking them to an endurance ride. It has really paid off too. I have posted blog posts on this topic before because I do feel so strongly that hobble training should be included in the basic training for any endurance horse. If you haven’t already, please read this post on preparing a horse for hobble training, and this post on some personal examples on when hobble training paid off.
JUST WHAT IS HOBBLING, EXACTLY?
Hobbles are often used by trail riders and packers who want their horses to stay close to camp as well as by trainers who want their horses to learn to stand without struggling and to learn to not fight against pressure on their legs.
Once a horse learns the ever important lesson of giving to pressure, so many situations that could have turned into a wreck often end up being a non-problem. Hobble training sets the stage for the rest of the training basics that I’ll be covering.
There is always a chance of an injury occurring during the training process. I feel that the risk is much higher of having a much more serious injury occur should your horse panic after getting entangled in barbed wire while you are trail riding, should your horse not have any of this training.
- Get an experienced horse person to help you the first few times out.
- Work on hobble training in a safe space with good 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.
- Keep your body and face away from the front of your horse when installing or removing hobbles.
- Stay alert and out of harm’s way, no matter how experienced you are horses can be unpredictable.
- Keep a pocket knife handy in case of emergency; use it only if you can do so without endangering yourself.
- Wear gloves at least for the first few sessions, and consider a helmet as well (you can never be too safe).
Begin by applying the first hobble to your horse’s pastern. At this point you may wish to repeat some of the earlier basic exercises and pick up your horse leg with the hobbles.
Be sure to take time to reassure your horse as you proceed. Your horse should be calm and not fearful. If he is, spend more time doing the exercises I mentioned previously.
Now apply the hobble to the second leg. It is very important that you don’t put your face in front of your horse’s front legs. Doing so would make you extremely vulnerable to getting a black eye, or worse. Stay to the side, and if need be walk around to the opposite leg before applying the second hobble.
At this point, I usually like to remove the lead rope from my horse and move out of the area. If you do choose to leave the lead rope attached, wrap it around your horse’s neck and tie it so that it won’t be dragging on the ground. I choose to move out of the way rather than hold the horse, since your horse may hop and lose his balance it is much safer not to be close enough to become part of a wreck. Some may choose to stay and hold the horse – if so, be quick on your toes!
What happens next, is entirely up to your horse. I have seen some horses stand and not move from the first hobble session, and I have seen horses that hop like a rabbit at high speed around the arena. Others may fight against the hobbles and appear to be in a panic. This can be frightening to both your and your horse especially if you have not experienced this before. While this may be alarming to experience remember that this reaction is how your horse could have reacted to something in a public place (such as getting caught in something).
For your safety, your horse’s safety as well as the public it is all well and good that your horse is having to deal with this situation NOW, in a safe and controlled environment. Make sure you are well out of harms way – if possible leave the fenced in area that your horse is in and watch from a safe distance.
Give your horse a couple of minutes to get used to the idea of wearing the hobbles. Repeat the exercise often enough so that it becomes routine for your horse. Your horse will in turn, learn to trust you, view you as his leader and become calmer when being handled — all in addition to the valuable lessons of learning not to panic, giving to pressure and waiting to be rescued.
One you are sure that your horse is going to stay put, return with your assistant and reattach the lead rope. Now remove the hobbles, undoing one side at a time. Reassure your horse. Some horses may be reluctant to move at first after the hobbles have been removed, so lead for a few steps before turning your horse out.
Most horses will stand quietly in hobbles by the third or fourth session. If a horse is reacting more strongly then keep doing reinforcement lessons every week (or more) until they do accept being hobbled quietly and without any drama. I like to do a once a year reinforcement lesson on all of my horses. Remember to stay calm and reassuring to your horse during this entire process. Hobbles the way I use them are meant to teach horses important and possibly life saving lessons, not as a way to abuse them.
I have used photos of my own horses – Chief (grey) and Bo (bay) to illustrate how to hobble. My horses are both very well trained in this regard and that is why you may notice that I don’t follow all of my own recommendations for safety. Like for example, I’m not wearing gloves, and nobody is holding Bo when I applied his hobbles. Do as I say, not as I do, okay? I don’t want anybody getting hurt!
Disclaimer: These lessons I am covering are meant to be for endurance horses or for horses that travel that already have some training and conditioning base on them. They reflect my experience and opinions and are not guaranteed to be effective in the hands of others nor are they meant to be the only method or means of training a horse in order to accomplish the same things. Working with horses can be incredibly risky and dangerous. You should only try these methods with proper supervision or assistance from an experienced trainer or horse person that you trust, and at your own risk. If you have any questions or comments feel free to email me or comment in my blog. Happy trails, Karen