By Raye Lochert
Training your horse to hobble is easier than most people think; the hard part is the preparation. Take your time in preparation, making sure your horse has his groundwork done. They should be able to lead well and give to the feel of the halter. They should also be able to go forward, back up, and turn left and right. Furthermore, they should be able to spook in place; in other words, you should be able to startle your horse without it fleeing. Flapping bags, tarps, twirling ropes and loud noises are just some of the things your horse should be able to accept without fleeing. Most importantly, your horse should accept ropes around their legs. If your horse is comfortable with all these things, you are ready to move on to the next part of preparing your horse for hobbles.
Always start with a cotton rope, progressing to cotton training hobbles. You should only use leather hobbles once the training is done. Using a soft cotton rope, desensitize your horse to the rope around its legs. With a halter on your horse, loop the rope around your horse’s left front leg and "saw" it up and down the leg. Ask your horse to take a step and repeat. You should be able to do this easily with all four legs. Always stand at an angle from your horse, never directly in front or behind. If your horse panics, drop the rope and start over.
Next, ask the horse to take a step using the rope around its leg. Loop the rope around the horse's pastern and lift. When the horse lifts its foot, release the pressure, allowing him to put it down. Again, if the horse struggles and panics, don’t push it - drop the rope. Once you can lead it around using the rope around its pasterns, you can move on to the next step. You want the horse to follow the feel of the pull freely and calmly. At this point, people tend to make the mistake of moving on too soon. Take your time and set your horse up for success. The preparation can take days and sometimes longer.
Next apply a pair of cotton hobbles to your horse. Using the halter, ask it to take a small step. Never let go of the lead rope, as you are there now to help the horse. When it takes the first step, it may stumble. That’s okay, just step back, let it find its way, and reassure it. Do not let your horse get away as it may learn to run in the hobbles, which is counterproductive. Try to keep it slow, quiet and under control the best you can. Praise your horse every time it stands still and ask it to move with as little pressure as you can until it doesn’t want to move.
Once it doesn’t want to move, see if you can walk the horse around without it moving. Start progressing to using a flag to desensitize it; while holding the lead rope, start with the flag in front of you, with you being between the flag and the horse, and work both sides. When the horse tolerates this, start hobbling them all the time in different areas. A big mistake most people make is not hobbling enough. The more you do it, the more the horse will be conditioned to it. Always work in small steps and progressively. Until you are sure the horse is ready, always hold the lead rope so you can offer the support to your horse when they need it.
Once your horse is hobbling comfortably, start placing the lead rope on the ground, as you would if you were ground tying your horse. (I like to throw it on the ground with emphasis.) Be consistent so it becomes a cue. Soon you will be able to ground tie your horse without using hobbles.