I’m sure that most horse enthusiasts are familiar with the idea of hobbling a horse around their two front feet. This is in essence like putting handcuffs on a horse restraining their ability to move freely and/or run away. I recently had a couple horses come in for training that I thought could benefit from a variation of this hobbling procedure. This is known as the one-leg-hobble.
I’ll admit that I did it for selfish reasons. These were big stout horses that came from a ranch with only minimal handling. They were going to need some front shoes and their feet had not been picked up very much. I knew this procedure would not only make my shoeing job easier, but also help these horses during the saddling process. Below is the how and why of the one-leg-hobble.
One of the best gifts you can give your horse is a thorough understanding and compliance to restraint. It is a horse’s natural instinct to struggle and fight when they feel like they’re being caught, trapped, or restrained. Out in the wild, this might save their life when confronted with a predator or another dangerous situation. However, for our domestic horses, around the barnyard, learning to yield to pressure would be a much wiser choice and probably keep them much safer. For example, if your horse has the ability to think through the process and yield to pressure, if they were to get their foot caught in the fence, could pay big dividends for both the horse and owner.
A one-leg-hobble is a rope or strap that goes around the horse’s ankle and forearm causing the horse to balance and stand up on three legs. The hobble material should be smooth, soft, nonabrasive, and strong enough not to break. I find that using a regular set of leather hobbles works about as good as anything. I want to introduce this technique to a horse in a confined area such as a round pen with soft ground. At the beginning I will also keep a halter and lead rope on my horse.
It is beneficial for a horse to have at least an elementary understanding of picking up their front feet before starting this process. When applying the one-leg-hobble, it is helpful to take one wrap around the ankle before securing the strap around the forearm. This will aid in keeping the hobble in place. Now with the horse bending his leg at the knee, pull the bottom portion of the horse’s leg up snug to the forearm, then secure the hobble as high up on the leg as possible.
At this point, it is important to stay to the side of your horse at all times. They can begin to hop on one leg or even rear. Standing directly in front of your horse places you right in the line of fire and in a dangerous position. It is not unusual for them to struggle and hop around quite a bit as they try to figure out how to get comfortable. This is where your horse having a basic understanding of respecting your space and yielding away can be helpful. Then you will be better equipped to keep your horse from coming into your space as they try to figure out how to stand quietly on three legs.
I will let my horse move around and work at this until I can see a sign of him wanting to stand quietly on three legs. Once my horse has stopped struggling and is standing quietly, I will rub and pet him for a moment and then take the hobble off. Now I will repeat the same process with the opposite front foot. As with all training, everything needs to be taught equally on both sides. Standing on three legs is somewhat fatiguing for a horse, especially if most of the time was spent struggling and hopping around on one front leg. That’s why it is important to release the leg and let the horse stand on all four feet after they have demonstrated that they are yielding to the pressure rather than resisting against it.
You can repeat this several times over a period of a few days. If done correctly, you will find that your horse struggles less and less and becomes more compliant and comfortable standing on three legs. As their understanding increases, they will be able to stand quietly on three legs for longer periods of time.
Initially, as the horse attempts to free himself from the one-leg-hobble the hobble might have a tendency to slip off the forearm down towards the horse’s knee. This can cause the hobble to come off completely. This would be counter-productive. Now the horse begins to learn that if he struggles enough he can free himself from the hobble. If you see the hobble slipping down towards the horses knee it will be necessary to occasionally pull the hobble back up to the top of the forearm to keep it in place.
As I mentioned earlier, I used this technique on a couple horses recently for selfish reasons. Once these horses have a good understanding of this procedure they will be more comfortable and compliant with holding up their front foot for extended periods of time while being shod.
The one-leg-hobble is just one more tool that we can use to help our horses become well-rounded citizens. When done correctly, there is nothing cruel or abusive about the process. It is actually a gift that you can give your horse to help him be more successful in this human world in which we have asked him to assimilate.
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 8, Issue 9-10