A Mental Tonic

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

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.

12 thoughts on “A Mental Tonic”

  1. I agree completely, on hobbles. Every horse I train is broke to hobbles when it leaves my place. I also hobble break all my foals, so that if they ever get into wire, they wont fight and get cut up.

  2. Hi I too like the hobbles. Never had done it befor, but has seen horse that are. Thank you very mcuh.
    Kathy H.

  3. Good article and quite helpful. I’ve always wanted to learn the best way to teach a horse to hobble. Now I can start teaching! Thanks

  4. Hi!
    A very good article. I have also wanted to learn my horse to accept hobbles to create a good diciplin but she, a grand daugther to Smart Chic Olena, is bought as a six year old and I´m afraid that is too late for this method??
    Thanks from Sweden

  5. Hey Anders-
    No horse is too old to learn hobbles, it just may take 2-3 more tries before they figure out that their bags of tricks to avoid restraint isn’t working with the hobbles. Keep a lead rope on them like he said until you know their not gonna go buckin’ off down the arena, or scaring both of you doing something stupid. It is a great way to introduce patience and relaxation to one who fidgets and won’t stand tied. Mine are like horse statues with hobbles on and I love it. Sometimes I just hobble to dress them and don’t even tie them, once they know their not supposed to move its great. It also allows you to drop the halter and have the entire face to brush and bridle without worry that they will split on you.

    Just remember to take them off before you mount up, I forgot one time and my friends all laughed because all I could get from my gelding was a lifted front foot and them he’d put it back in place. I guess it was quite a picture… E>)

    Juniper Hills, (Southern) CA

  6. Be careful when hobbling the 1st time not to stand directly in front of the horse. I’ve seen several actually strike out with both front feet to get loose from whatever is restraining them.

  7. I had a recent “adventure” when my mare got loose while on a picnic and ran off. It ended just fine but I would like to teach her to accept hobbles so that next time we go on a picnic she can graze while I have my lunch without having to hold onto a lead the whole time. Would this be a different type of hobble, maybe with some more slack so the horse can take short steps?
    Thanks, Rachel

  8. I have taught many to hobble, and it is the handiest thing you can do. I have read about hobbling in a few publications, some say to put the hobbles down around the pastern and some say up above, both claim that is for safety reasons. I have always put my hobbles below the pastern and never had a problem, what is the difference?

  9. We hobble break every horse we own. Nothing bothers me more than a horse who impatietly paws in the trailer or at the hitchin post. Pawing can wear on their shoes too. But we do teach our horses that they can move (one step at a time) so that we can turn them out to graze when we go on pack rides. I really like the hobbles that Wil Howe uses. They don’t stretch like many of the other leather figure eight hobbles do.

  10. I recently purchased a 4 year old green broke filly. She has been “trained” to hobble but will hop from place to place. How do I reteach her to stand still and not hop?

  11. many hobble broke horses “hop” from place to place. some never do, but only take little baby steps to get around. the difference is the conditions under which they have been hobbled.
    some people, like some of the posts above, hobble to keep their horse immobile. they have never turned their hobbled horses out on grass.
    others, myself included, hobble to keep horses within decent distance of camp. these horses are SUPPOSED to move around, to graze. most of them do little hops, eat everything they can reach, then take another hop. sounds to me that is what your filly was trained to do. in such a case, you may never get the “hop” out of her.
    however, most hobble broke horses, put in a pen, or on dirt, have no reason to move, and so will just stand still.
    i hope that helps a bit.

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