Training ~ Tying From Above ("Printer Friendly" version of this page)
is an old Mexican Vaquero technique that you can use to teach your horse how to
move its feet, disengage the hindquarters, learn patience, how to relax,
and how to follow a feel. The great part about this technique is that the horse
actually teaches itself how to do these things.
The Vaquero's used to tie their horses up high to a stout branch in an oak tree. They would leave enough slack in the lead so that the horse could move around, but couldn't step over the lead rope. The horse would learn to move it's feet correctly on it's own. If you have ever high lined your horse in the back country or tied them to a branch from above, you've done this, but you probably didn't realize it.
We learned this technique from Bruce Hall who spent a lot of time with us working on the equipment and safety aspects of tying from above. What originally got us interested in this was a story that Bruce was telling about how he used to tie his horse when he was working fences in the Okanogan backcountry on the Washington/Canada border. He told us how he would stop for lunch and being a bit lazy, he would tie the end of his mecate reins up into the branches of a tree. When he got off his horse, he noticed that his horse was disengaging the hindquarters and searching for the spot in the rope where he had the most slack to relax his head. This got us to thinking about how to incorporate it into our training program. One day when Bruce was over, we got out some rope and set up a high line between the posts in our arena. We hooked up a horse and started to watch. Sure enough, the horse did exactly what Bruce said he would. He would start to walk out and get to the end of the rope, disengage his hindquarters and go a different direction. It almost looked like the horse was training himself.
With Bruce's help, we made a permanent tie by stringing the rope through the trusses in the roof of our arena. We attached the rope to a pulley that could be pulled out of the way when we aren't doing this excercise with a horse. This works well for us because it rains a bit in our area and we can use the equipment any time we want without having to spend time setting up high lines or stringing ropes. Since building this equipment, we have worked with every one of our horses and incorporate tying from above into our training program. The things that your horse can learn from this technique can be taught in other ways, but you can accelerate their learning by using it. It's like moving your horse up a few grades in school almost instantly.
Setting up your equipment
You need an open area that has at least a 20 foot circle free of objects on the ground. There are a couple of ways that you can set up your equipment. If you have a high line, stretch it between two solid objects; trees, horse trailers, etc. preferably 8-10 (and at least 7) feet of the ground. If you have an arena or structure available with solid trusses that would potentially support the weight of a horse, you can use this too. The best set up that I have seen was two old telephone poles set about 60 feet apart with a wire cable running between them, twelve feet off the ground. This allowed 3 horses to be hooked up and "trained" at one time.
We used 60 feet of half inch double braid rope attatched to the trusses in our arena by a pulley system. This was a costly solution (about $150 in materials) but we plan on using this equipment with many horses. And, if you consider what your horse gets out of it versus what you have to put into it -- you don't need to be an economist to see the cost benefit.
You must leave enough slack in the rope for the horse to relax it's head, but not enough that they could get a foot over the rope. You may have to experiment with the right amount of rope for tying. We usually hook up the horse, get them to yield at the poll and see where this "magic spot" is and leave enough slack so that the horse can go there if they are directly under the rope. You are better off to have a bit less slack at first, just in case things don't go exactly as you expect.
Whatever you do, don't leave the horse tied up high headed in an unnatural position. We have seen people high line their horses where they had their heads tied up so they couldn't relax. This would not be a productive with this training excercise.
At a minimum, you need a rope halter, 12 foot lead rope and a very sturdy support to tie the rope to. We use a snap on the end of our rope so that we can release the horse quickly if something were to go wrong. There are some important things to consider before you attempt this. You must have a very sturdy structure to tie to. You may want to use a high line stretched between two trees. This is probably the safest way to do this. I always test the support and rope by swinging from it. If it won't support my weight, it won't hold up to a horse pulling back on it.
This is really amazing to watch. On their own, the horse will learn to move it's feet under them. This is the foundation for yielding to you and disengaging the hindquarters for a single rein stop. So many good things happen with this technique that it's almost like winning the horse training lottery! If there ever was a secret horse training method that any horse could benefit from almost instantly, this is it. The bad news is that you can't just run out and tie your horse to the roof of your barn without setting things up correctly and safely for the horse -- it may cost you some time and money.
Once the horse learns that they are tied, you can sit back and watch the learning happen. The horse will eventually start to move around under the rope. The horse has a few options for movement;
Forward, backward, and lateral movement are severely restricted by the rope, and most horses aren't going to walk around in circle too long. Because of the nature of the way the rope is tied, the horse will naturally move by disengaging either the front end or hindquarters. This teaches the horse that in order to move its feet, it is going to have to yield. Some horses get "stuck" when you first hook them up to the rope. In this case, we liven up the training session with a flag. The horse has no choice but to move. And in order to move it has to move it's feet, he quickly finds that he can only go so far forward and backward. This is where the learning starts.
The horse will eventually flip the rope up and over his head. He'll yield to the rope on both the front and hindquarters. The horse will learn to switch directions on the rope. To do this they must either yield the front or rear feet. You will see that this is exactly the same movement that you are asking for when you ask for a shoulder yield, eye yield, or hindquarters yield. The only difference is that the horse is doing it on their own. Now a little common sense will tell you that if the horse can do something on it's own, you should be able to recreate this movement by asking correctly. The foundation will be there for you to build on.
Over some time, you'll notice that the horse will move it's feet softly and begin to know where his feet are and what to do with them. This is a huge thing with many horses. The ability to move their feet correctly and softly is something that can take months. You could do this in the saddle or on the ground. But this is basically "foolproof", almost anyone regardless of their training abilities can watch a horse work on it's own. While not everyone has the ability to work a horse in the saddle or on the ground correctly.
One of the best things that this is going to do for your horse is teach him to follow a feel all on his own. If you look at the rope youll notice that the place that the horse gets the most slack is directly under the rope. The horse will naturally gravitate to this point after time because this is where the horse gets the "best deal" the most slack equals the best relaxed position to keep their head. The horse will follow the feel of the rope to get this best deal on its own. We like to show them where the good deal is at first by yielding the poll directly under the rope.
The horse will begin to look for the slack in the rope and will eventually find the spot directly below the rope is where they can relax. The best part of this is that you don't really have to do anything and it's relatively safe for the horse too. About the only thing you have to watch for is if your horse rears and can get a leg over the lead. Although, this is highly unlikely if you set up your tools correctly.
You have to let the horse work out being tied from above on their own. Your responsibility is to sit back, relax and make sure that the horse stays out of trouble. The horse has a lot of things working for him right from the start. Unlike being tied to a solid object, the horse doesnt learn to pull back. Pulling back will not get the horse anywhere. And, if the horse does fall down, it wont get hurt like it can in the cross ties or tied to a solid object like a hitching post. This is a very safe option for both you and the horse to learn about the basic foundation of groundwork.
This is one of my favorite training tools because I get to sit in a lawn chair and watch my horse learn.
If you want your horse to learn to stand quietly on its own. Or you are having problems with your horse in the cross ties, this is a good first step in teaching. There is no where for the horse to go and there's not much choice but to learn a little patience.
We have a Morgan mare that was real "uptight" when we got her, she couldn't stand still for 20 seconds before she was pacing. This was a "free" horse that was given to us because of her many bad habits. This horse never learned to relax and just stand still. She was thirteen years old when we started working with her. Her previous owners used her in the show ring. She was ridden with spurs, a "french roller" bit and tied down with a martingale. This horse was really screwed up, she didn't know how to move her feet, yield, or relax, and she had absolutely no patience. She's still not a perfect horse, but after tying her from above and working with her on the ground -- at least she can stand still, move her feet and disengage her hindquarters. We are well on our way to having a good horse.
We start this exercise with each horse for about 10 minutes at a time. Once they look relaxed and comfortable, we'll leave them hooked up for about 20 minutes then move up to a couple of hours. We gradually work up to 8-10 hours. This may sound like a lot of time, but we are using this to work towards a number of things. In addition to the things stated previously, we want our horses to be conditioned for high lining in the backcountry. We plan on sleeping at least 8 hours so we figure our horses need to learn to be tied at least that long!