Issue 11 · 2013
by Ken McNabb
with Katherine Lindsey Meehan
In a wilderness situation where you won't always have something
to tie your horse to, how would you like to be able to drop the lead
rope, walk away, and have your horse stand where you put him? This
month, we will cover how to teach an exercise called ground tying.
For this exercise all you need is a halter and lead rope. Practice in
an enclosed arena or pen where you can catch your horse easily until
he knows the exercise well.
Have you ever noticed how well a ranch horse will stand after a hard
day of work? How about the Amish horses, who plow all day? In
these situations, the horse has been worked until he is tired and is
thankful for the chance to rest. But most of us don't ride fifty miles,
or plow twenty acres with our horse in a day. We don't have the time
to make them tired enough to stand. Instead, we need to create the
desire to stand in their head.
Begin this exercise by longeing your horse in a circle around you
at the trot. By asking him to move his feet you will begin to create
the desire to stand still. Change directions frequently, and try to
engage your horse's mind and get him focused on you. After you
have worked your horse for a while, offer him the chance to stand.
Pet him, and let him know that he is doing the right thing. BEFORE
he gets bored with standing, send him off to work again. It is very
important that you anticipate him getting restless and make the
decision to have him move before he makes it himself. Send him off
while he is still focused on wanting to stand. Repeat this exercise a
few times, letting your horse stand for a little longer each time. Keep
in mind that your goal here is not to make your horse sweat and tire
him out. Your goal is to improve on the ground work exercises that
you have already taught, and engage your horse's mind.
Now, you are ready to move on to the next step. First, pick a verbal
cue that you will use every time you want your horse to stand without
moving. Many people like to use "stand". I frequently use "stay".
The important thing is that you pick something that works for you,
and use it every time. Now, drop the lead rope on the ground, tell
your horse to "stay", and back one or two steps away from him. If he
stands, wait for 15 to 30 seconds. Then go back and pet him, reward
him, and let him know that he did exactly what you wanted. You don't
want to stay away for so long that he decides to move on his own.
If he tries to follow you or move when you first back away from him,
move him back to where he was before and try again. If he tries to
move more than once or twice, just put him back to work longeing
for a while and then offer him another chance to stand. Once your
horse stands for you once and you reward him, put him back to
work around you again. This is not a punishment, but rather a way
to further reinforce the desire to stand that you are creating in your
Repeat this exercise, asking your horse to stand for longer and
longer periods of time, and moving farther and farther away from
him. Always try to anticipate when he is going to move off, and go
back to him and reward him before he does. You want to set this up
so your horse can win again and again. With that in mind, start in
an area with as little distraction as possible, and gradually move to
areas with more and more distractions. If you are in an arena with
other horses on one side of it, ask your horse to stop and stand facing
away from them at first. You don't want to set him up for failure by
making it too tempting
to walk towards the
other horses. As
he understands the
you can add more
When my horse is
ground tying, I allow
him to put his head
down to smell the
ground or even graze,
as long as his feet
don't move. One
situation where I will
let my horse move
his feet is if he has
Then he is allowed
to move enough to
square up so he can
stand easily and comfortably, but no more than that.
Once your horse seems to understand this exercise, you will need to
give him the opportunity to make mistakes. As you go farther and
farther away, and leave for longer periods of time, your horse may
move. If this happens, just go back to him and return to the longeing
exercise, then ask him to ground tie again.
This is a fun exercise to teach and it is very useful on the trail when
you stop for lunch, or even when you just need to open a gate. It
can be used when you are grooming and saddling if you don't have a
place to tie your horse. It is also a great way to impress your friends!
Enjoy your horse and until next time, may God bless the trails you
Together, Ken, his wife DeeDee, and their two young sons Kurt and Trent
live near Cody , Wyoming where they are dedicated as a family to teaching
others to dream bigger, ride taller and live happier. A new partnership with
Diamond Land and Livestock Company, a large cow calf and ranch horse
operation in Douglas, Wyoming, has also provided an excellent location for
Ken's Three Week Apprenticeship Program as well as his one week Back in
the Saddle and Horsemanship clinic.
For more information on Ken McNaab's programs call 307-645-3149 or go to
his website KenMcNabb.com.