Ground Tie Training©
by Beverly J. Whittington

 If you wish your horse to ground tie, you must formally train him. Teaching a horse to ground tie is not difficult, if you set yourself AND the horse up to succeed. The horse must have minimal distractions, fly's and grass under their feet are sure to get the horses mind off you and the training in progress! Try to conduct your training sessions when you can be undisturbed and when distractions will be at a minimal. It is going to be impossible for the horse to accept the "TOTALLY Motionless" concept that you are trying to install if he is distracted by the feed mill trucks arrival or the barn cat scurrying under his feet.

Materials Needed

  • Sturdy halter
  • Strong, safe, figure-8 training hobbles
  • 25’ lounge line, preferably with a chain
  • Lead rope
  • Food reward

 It is important to start slowly & span the sessions out within a few days to a week, however long it takes. Begin by fitting him with a sturdy halter, spraying the horse with a fly repellant and taking him to a quiet, small, enclosed area (a round pen is GREAT). It is best not to start in a bridle, because if your horse takes a step, you definitely don't want to pull down w/ the bit in the mouth, causing he horse pain.  Also, he could take a step and step on a rein, then pulling back & breaking the bridle & also hurting his mouth. I always like to begin the initial sessions by lounging the horse for a few minutes to get the freshness out of him and to get him keyed to taking commands. If your horse has be trained to hobble, reviewing hobbling with the horse for a few moments and then place the horse in the center of your enclosure with the hobbles on and the lounge line attached. If your horse has not been trained to hobble, it would be easier to train to ground tie if you accomplish this first, but it is not impossible to train a horse with out hobbling.

 First you must establish what ground tying means in your own mind, before you can establish it in the mind of your horse. Ground tying means to stand without moving a single foot, with their head up. To help the horse to be less inclined to take a step, try to place the horse in a fairly square stance, so that he isn’t going to have to take a step or two to balance himself.  Attach the chain under the jaw. Tell the horse WHOA and take a step away from the horse. If the horse takes a step, or drops his head, say WHOA and send a wave through the rope, which pops him under the jaw and causes him to bring his head back up and to stop forward movement.  You must not let the horse get away with movement of any kind. Walk around him in a circle on the end of the lounge line for several minutes. You must remind your horse that he must stand still and keep his head up, correct for the slightest movement. When you return to the horse to release him from the command, praise him say “OK” and offer a food reward. When your horse is responding to you & picking up on the aspect of ground tying...move to the next step, which is unhooking the chain & hooking the line underneath the chin. Repeat the above steps until the horse is responding by standing still with his head up to the command “Whoa”.

 When the horse has a solid grasp on the message you are trying to get across, replace the lounge rope with a lead rope and drop the rope on the ground under his head (do not progress to this step unless your horse is standing still with you holding the lounge line).  Give a slight tug on the line while telling your horse "whoa", drop the line to the ground, and then walk away. Say "whoa" as you step away from him and then again walk around the pen for several minutes. If the horse moves at all correct him, if he walks away, quietly take him back to the exact place you had him, set him up square, and say "whoa", this time a little more emphatically but not louder. If you have been using hobbles, remove the hobbles and stay by the horse’s side for a moment as he realizes the hobbles are off.  If he moves a foot, you can correct him with a tug on the halter and put any foot that he has moved back exactly where it was.  Say "whoa" and leave him in the middle of the round pen for several more minutes while you walk around him. Progress to where you can lean on the rail, sit on the rail, exit the gate and walk around the OUTSIDE of the round pen or enclosure without the horse moving.  Now proceed to go out of sight, increasing the time intervals that you are gone. The lessons in the Round pen or small enclosure should be repeated until the horse stands still for at least five minutes. Whenever you release him from the command, praise him say “OK” and offer a food reward. 

 Next, tack up the horse and move to a larger area. Ride the horse for a few minutes then set him up relatively square in the center of the area, dismount, hobble him, drop the reins under his head, and say "whoa" as you leave him. Initially stay close, within ten or fifteen feet, so you can get to him quickly if there is a problem.  Gradually work father away from him, intentionally “turning your back” where you can just see the horse out of the corner of your eye. Slowly increasing your radius from the horse. Make yourself appear busy, as if your attention is not on the horse, but always keep a close eye out for any movement. It will often take over a week's worth of lessons in the round pen or small enclosure and the larger area, but you will know when the essential connection has been made. That is when you begin testing and strengthening the ground tie command in your horse.  Use all possible opportunities to increase ground tying reliability.  Ask him to stand still while repeatedly opening and closing a gate. If at any time he starts to move, quickly close the gate to block his exit. Stand him in the middle of an area while you groom another horse, tied to the side of the enclosure.  If you would like to take this further, you can work on the horse ground tying without a line on... or even going to ground tying without a halter on.

 Now you proceed to an area, which is not as closely enclosed, such as a large paddock or field. Riding the horse, make up reasons to dismount and fiddle with something on the saddle.  Always make sure the horse is standing square, and always leave him head up, with the command "whoa".  Every different setting and set of circumstances that you can expose your horse to strengthens the lesson in his mind. It isn’t a bad idea to keep your hobbles with you on these rides, if the horse breaks the ground tie by excessive movement, hobble him and cause him to stand for at least 10 minutes before removing the hobbles and remounting. The horse should not be eating grass, this is a command (not a request) and to fulfill the aims of the lesson, the horse must stand with his head up. Continue the food treats until the command is firmly established, then begin to use just a pat and verbal praise, intermixed with the occasional treat to reinforce the training.

 Most horses will pick this up readily; it just takes a little time & patience. Ground Tying can be very useful, both in the trail and show horse.  A horse that has learned the lesson completely frees up the rider to carry out tasks that require hands free from holding the horse. Not to mention that it is a tremendous plus when the horse is for sale!

Beverly J. Whittington