By Patty Wilber

Hobbling used to be a standard skill for any western horse, but as we have moved from range use to suburban trails and arena horses, hobbling has become something that many horses do not learn.

Because of my interest in working in the back country on trail projects and with cattle, I teach all my own horses and some client horses to hobble.

In addition, a few trainers I know use hobbling as patience training and to keep horses at shows from pawing or sticking their feet in the trailer wheel wells.

I just got back from a weekend in Los Angeles and I thought, “Hey!  Hobbling sure would be an asset when I ride into the very urban  Pan American Park in the middle of LA”, but nooooo…

This sign was on Beverly Drive. Not so sure where the horses would have been coming from...

How to Hobble.  Well, as usual, there is more than one way to scuff that pastern.

1.  The Direct Method: Put on the hobbles and stand back.

I have tried to put my hobbles around the cannon bones of my horses as many Internet sites suggest,

Hobbles on the cannon bones

but they invariably end up around the pasterns.

Hobbles around the pasterns.

So, I gave up on the cannon bone thing.

Hobbling is not the first skill I teach a new horse.  I usually spend from 3 to 10 days doing ground work, which entails some rope work around the legs.  The ground work also allows me to assess the horse’s personality. The Direct Method is best used on the low keys types.

High strung equines tend to panic and fling themselves about. Not usually a pretty sight.

Once it seems clear the Direct Method is suitable for the horse, it also is a good idea to choose an area with few obstacles, grass (they can eat it and be calm), and near enough to other horses that the hobble pupil will not be tempted to hobble off to be with his buddies.

Cometa was probably eight when he wore his first set of hobbles.  I put them on.  He tried to walk a few times and knocked himself to his knees. “Bummer,” he said, got up, and started eating.

Ali was three. Hobbles on.  She had a snack.  Laid down to roll, got up.  Ate some more. (Ali is a super minded girl and had a nice show career–National Champion Jr. Western Riding, top 3 reining, top 10 trail– AND was stellar in the back country.)

Risa was two, and yes I pulled the Direct Method on her.  She was MAD and tried pulling her feet out one by one.

Which worked. Hobbles on tighter.  Which also worked (in my favor). MAD for an hour, but never panicked, just kept trying to figure out out to shed the hobbles.

When they would not shed, she did give in.

She soon figured out how to hobble-lope, (which in fact all of them did).

Running in hobbles

Funny thing happened about 2 weeks later.  I had her tied up and put support boots on.  She started acting really strange and doing small rearing moves.

She thought I had hobbled her!

2. The Gradual Method

I used this approach on May. More rope leg work was used until she was readily picking up her feet and giving to the rope.

Then I tied a rope around her legs in a hobble-like way, but the rope was long so she could walk somewhat.  In addition, I made it so it would pull off if she really got in a tizzy.  I also kept her on a  lead line.

Once she was secure with this, I made the rope (it needs to be a soft cotton rope so they don’t get nylon-burned) hobble shorter and less prone to pull off.

Then I went for the real deal.

May decided to kneel down and eat.

Seriously, she knelt down and started to eat.

May got it figured out.

Even for horses not going in the back country, hobbling is excellent for patience training, or just in case you end up with your horse at a park in downtown LA that allows them…

About BlogPatty

Here's the skinny: I have a thing for horses. They make sense to me. I have a small horse training business (it's a "boutique" training business, not because it's super fancy, but because the horses get a lot of personal attention). I also go by Dr. Wilber, and teach biology full-time at a Central New Mexico Community college.
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5 Responses to Hobbling

  1. Doranna says:

    I never tried with Duncan because my gut instinct would be that his fury would get something hurt or broken, and nothing I do with him at this point requires that the skill be lurking.

    My mare, once upon a time, could do the hobble-loping over steep and rugged terrain. “See ya!” ;>

    Totally fun blog!

  2. BlogPatty says:

    Hi Doranna! I learned the steep and rocky could be tricky for the hobble-ee… Yikes! Thanks for your kind words, too! Ego likes that!

  3. Richard Hall says:

    With Shadow and Whip I took htem to an open area hobbled them and kept a halter and lead rope on them and walked them slowely so they could get the feel of them so they wouldn’t try to take big steps and fall. Then I left them alone. Whip just walked and tripped a coupleof times but soon adjusted to taking with small steps. Shadow would only go backwards even after several hours in the hobbles. He would side step his butt around to the direction he wanted to go and just back up. When we got up into the Pecos with the other horses and mules hobbled he saw them hop forward and within a couple of minutes he was hopping along like a bunny rabbit across the meadow and the rocky stream a much faster pace than I could have caught him.

  4. Paul Noble says:

    Needed to teach our horses how to hobble for an overnight trip to the Pecos.
    Put Patch in the roundpen. Put a pile of hay in front of him. Put hobbles on. No reaction — good. moved hay ten feet away. Patch sidled on over to the hay.
    In the Pecos he learned how to hobble hop in about five minutes. I was sure he would blow a gasket when I first put them on, but he took to hobbles just fine.

  5. BlogPatty says:

    Hi Paul and Richard. It is funny how different horses react! I know one older horse that just refused to try to move with the hobbles on–and she had grazing hobbles that did have a enough room so she could shuffle along like a chain gang convict, if she’d only give it a go!

    Risa managed to jump a stream in hobbles…but then again, she’s special…

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