By Frank J. Buchman
Most horses are not taught to be hobbled.
However, teaching a horse hobbling can be low-stress with long-lasting benefits when done methodically and safely.
That’s according to trainer Bryan Neubert with years of horse experience using them to work cattle in wide-open spaces.
Hobbling a horse makes it comfortable with the restraint when he uses them for ranch work. Hobbling prepares the horse to stand for a farrier, and makes handling the horse’s legs and feet easier.
While Neubert trains most young horses to hobbles, but whether young or old, he uses the same method.
When I work on big ranches there is seldom anywhere to tie a horse,” Neubert said. “The only way to leave a horse is to hobble it, so that has become a standard procedure.”
Training a horse to hobbles helps it learn to yield instead of have a defensive frame of mind, Neubert continued.
Still there is a systematic method starting with soft leather hobbles, a long rope and the horse on soft ground. Each session lasts about 15 minutes, depending on the horse’s mindset.
Typically, the first hobbling lesson is after the horse has been ridden. In the middle of a corral, Neubert stands the same direction as the horse and starts rubbing the front legs.
“I am on the left side of the horse. I don’t want to bend over and get kicked if the horse isn’t used to being handled,” Neubert said. “I run my hand down the horse’s leg and if it stands, I attach the hobbles to the right foreleg.”
Standing on the left but attaching the right first allows Neubert to keep feet close together for hooking the hobbles.
“I put the hobble high on the cannon bone, right under the knee,” Neubert said. “Hobbles must have plenty of holes to adjust to different horses’ sizes.”
Once Neubert applies the right hobble, if the horse is accepting pressure, he attaches the left side. Then Neubert steps back and to the side of the horse, never in front, in case it jumps.
It is natural for the horse to struggle when first restrained. “That makes a horse insecure because it can’t spread its feet,” Neubert said. “Some will try to take off; others will come toward you looking for a friend. Sometimes they will run backward and can turn over if not given plenty of slack in the rope.”
The horse might fall down. “Don’t just stand there when the horse is struggling, but don’t try to outrun a horse in hobbles,” Neubert said. “The rope is necessary to control the horse’s speed.
“I don’t want a horse to figure out how to travel pretty good hobbled,” Neubert said. “I come to this whole thing as a cowboy, and I want to keep that horse where I last saw him.”
“I rub on the horse console it when standing still,” Neubert said. “Once the horse wants to stand and decides it can live with the hobbles, I may call it a day.”
When Neubert starts to trust a horse to stand hobbled, he will add a distraction to the situation with another horse.
“Usually, the hobbled horse tries to follow before understanding it is easier to stay put,” Neubert said. “A hobbled horse will be more secure with other hobbled horses, so I will try it in a group.”
One thing Neubert doesn’t do is let the hobbled horse graze. If the horse grazes the area nearby, it will start to travel to better grass.
When a horse is hobble-broke, Neubert wants the horse ready to head out in a hurry. So he leaves the bridle on, reins tied up to the saddle horn, and the horse hobbled to stand.
“If a horse is broke to hobble, it is less apt to pull its foot hard when caught in a fence,” Neubert said. “No matter what the horse’s job will be, hobbling helps.”
Training a horse to hobbles can be low-stress with long-lasting benefits when done methodically and safely.