Horse Training

A Mental Tonic

December 29, 2008

Hobbling is a good way to get your horse to accept restraint.

By horse trainer Mehl Lawson

On the ranch, when cowboys need to dismount and leave their horses for a while, they hobble their mounts. Hobbling is a practical, handy piece of training that any horse can benefit from.

Hobbling is a good mental tonic for a horse – it teaches him to accept confinement and control, and not panic with things around his feet. In the process of going through being hobble-broke, a horse gets to where he accepts being roped and having his feet picked up with a rope. He learns to accept restraint of any type and finds out it isn’t going to hurt him.

When I was showing, I had a few horses that would stand at the horse trailer and dig. Hobbling a horse that digs really cuts that nervous habit way down – they might still dig a little bit, but not nearly as bad. The hobbling discourages them enough that eventually they just give it up.

When hobble training a horse, I keep safety first. Take your time and be patient with your horse because too many things can go south in a hurry.

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I hobble train a young horse before I introduce the saddle for the first time. I like it when a young horse accepts something new – he never fights much of anything at that young age. Hobbling also teaches him to stand a little quieter when you put that saddle on the first time.

  1. I like to start hobble training in a round pen because if he gets scared and tries to run off, he’s not going to go very far. If it’s a 2-year-old colt that isn’t broke to ride, I longe him and get him pretty tired so he doesn’t have any excuse to play. With an older horse, I go ahead and school him under saddle, then move to the hobble training.
  2. Before I put the hobbles on, I put a rope around one foot. I do this with all four feet, then I start tightening that rope and pulling up until he lifts his foot. Normally, a horse will fuss around a little bit with a rope on his foot … the main thing is to be careful with him and the rope and take your time with him. He might run with it a little bit so keep a little tension on the rope so he doesn’t get tangled up. It won’t be long before he settles down.
  3. Then I loosely tie him to the fence – just wrap the lead rope around a post and not tie him real hard, in case he gets scared and pulls back.
  4. Put the hobbles on the horse’s front legs (scroll down to learn how). Once I get them on, I’ll push the horse over a little bit so he has to take a step and so he’ll feel that there is something on his legs. Again, the horse might balk at the hobbles, but take your time with him, and he should settle down pretty quickly.
  5. Then I start rubbing my coiled lariat all over him. It’s kind of combining sacking out and the hobble breaking. Then, I uncoil my rope and rub a loop or two all over the horse, then just throw it over his back and shake it a little bit. From there, I’ll start swinging a loop and toss across his back. Eventually, I’ll toss it around his head.
  6. After just one or two days, I’ll go into the round pen, hobble him and let him stand out in the middle of the pen. At this point, he can’t walk off.
  7. I get my rope and start throwing big loops on him, always being careful not to hit him someplace that scares him.
  8. The third day, I hobble the horse in the middle of the round pen and remove his bridle or halter. I want to see if he’ll just stand there. I rub around on him a little bit with my rope and then start tossing some loops around him.

Once my horse is good with the hobbles, I’ll back off and not hobble him after every ride. Then, it’s just a matter of giving him a refresher course every now and then.

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Hobbling 101

Expert tack maker Dennis Moreland tells you how to put hobbles on your horse.

I prefer a Figure 8 hobble – that’s the shape it makes when it’s on a horse’s legs. It’s made of real soft 1-inch latigo leather and has two stainless steel rings. I like the 1-inch rather than the 1½-inch hobbles because the buckle gets too big on the wider hobbles. On hobbles that are narrower, the buckle is too small.

Don’t buy nylon hobbles. The nylon is very abrasive and will cut a horse’s legs. Also, look for hobbles on which the leather strap is short – 6 inches or less – between the two rings. If the leather strap is too long, a horse can actually walk with the hobbles, and you are defeating your purpose.

I also like a set of hobbles that has a long tail. Sure, when it’s on the horse, you’re going to have a lot of tail hanging, but if you have a colt that is squirming, you can buckle one of the first holes and gradually tighten it as the colt settles down.

Putting a set of hobbles on a horse is fairly simple:

  1. Starting with the right front leg, wrap the end of the hobble strap clockwise around the leg and lace it through the first metal ring.
  2. Lace the strap through the second ring.
  3. Run the strap behind the left front leg.
  4. Buckle the strap.