The Savvy Station

The Why and How of Horse Hobbles

bis Pat Parelli auf Jun 19, 2024

The Why and How of Horse Hobbles

One of my favorite songs is by Gene Autry, Don't Fence Me In. One of the lines says, "I don't like hobbles, and I don't like fences. Don't fence me in." Why would somebody ever want to hobble a horse? This is an interesting question. Well, I'm here to tell you that hobbling a horse about nine out of ten times does not impede their forward movement completely. I've found horses with hobbles out five miles away in the mountains. They learn to pick up their front end and can actually canter with hobbles. So why do we do it? 

First of all, let's look at it from a behaviorist’s point of view. Horses are born skeptics, cowards, claustrophobics, and panic-aholics by nature in various degrees.  One of the saddest things that any of us will ever see is when our favorite horse, the love of our life, gets their leg caught in a barbed wire fence and panics. 

Their instincts tell them to panic. I've witnessed this for over four decades first hand and have had other horsemen share with me how important this concept is. Hobbling and the preparation for hobbling are things that can help horses learn not to panic when their legs get caught, how to follow a feel, and how to think their way out of a claustrophobic situation. 

One of my firsthand experiences with this happened one day when I couldn't find one of my horses. She was out in the pasture with her foot caught in a wire fence, and she wasn’t panicked. She must have been there for hours because there was lots of manure. She knew just to stay still. She had only the smallest scratch you can imagine because of the hobble preparation. I know that preparation saved her foot and maybe her life. 

The other reason that we might want to hobble a horse is to impede their forward movement. There are several ways to hobble, which we won't get into here. You can hobble one leg, two legs, three legs, or even four legs, but that's not the point. The point is that if you're in a camping situation, hobbling your horse can give you a good chance that they will still be in the same county when you wake up. 

Remember here at Parelli, that prior and proper preparation prevents p-poor performance.  So what are the preparations for hobbling? 

Well, you might take your 22-foot rope and take the snap off of it, make a noose out of it and put it around one foot and lead your horse around by one leg.  Teach your horse in a stall or a small corral how to have that leg taken away out in front and then take it up to his elbow, bending it backward like you might for picking out his feet.

Then you can take the leg with the hoof raised and wrap the rope around his forearm with his foot up next to his elbow three times and just let him learn how to move his leg back and forth. He might panic a bit, but the rope will come right off, and just keep doing that until he finally learns that it's better to hurry up and stand still than panic. Remember to do each of the front legs! This is a really good preparation skill for horses. 

Then you can wind the rope around both legs so that when he is grazing and moves, he realizes that he's got to move with little teeny tiny steps. After you've done this and the horse doesn't have any negative or violent reactions, then it may be a good time to hobble your horse. 

If it is done correctly and with savvy, I have never seen any negative side effects to hobbling a horse. That being said, it’s because we are using communication, understanding, and psychology instead of mechanics, fear, and intimidation. If we use hobbles to force a horse into a situation, that's subjugation. That's a whole different conversation, which I refuse to have. Love, language, and leadership in equal doses are what keep it natural.

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