Updated: Apr 7, 2020
To truly connect with horses, we have to truly acknowledge that they are flight animals. If our goal is a relationship based on connection and trust, using cross ties can reduce that relationship to become a mere handling of horses. If we seek lightness and feel in our communication, cross ties will poison it. Furthermore I think it`s rude and unnecessary to tie horses in a manner that prevents them from scratching themselves and bend their necks. I really can`t think of anything positive with cross tying, other than it`s wise to teach your horse to accept it, because so many people do it. Cross tying has sadly become common practice, and I think it can ruin the horse just as much as it can ruin us as horse handlers.
Making a horse stand still can cause stress and poisons feel
If I saddle or groom a horse, I like to be able to recognize how the horse is feeling. I often interpret their mindset by the way they carry their neck. I like my horses to be able to lower their neck and relax, just as I appreciate them telling me that they are tense, by stiffening the neck. Cross ties hinders horses to move their neck freely and they surely cannot move the hind end over and find their own stop, which by the way is a great way to empty out worry in a horse. Cross tying can therefore make a horse stand still, that does not want to stand still. If this is the case, stress will build up inside the horse.
My aim when handling horses is teaching them to follow the slack and operate from feel. I don`t pick up the lead rope, unless I mean something with it. Slack means nothing, taking the slack out means something. This is how you teach horses to operate from a feel, which is the horse responding to a lessening of the slack. Responding to feel is not the same as responding to pressure. A horse cannot respond to feel if there is no slack. Put simply cross tying will poison the feel, because feel cannot happen if the slack is not there in the first place. If the slack is not there we`ll have to use pressure to make a difference and give a signal.
Allow your horse to choose to stand still
It`s very hard to teach a horse to choose to stand still without allowing them to walk off. Which might sound strange, but it`s the difference between moving and doing work vs the ease of standing still that, at least I use, when teaching horses to stand still on a loose lead rope or rein.
Let`s say I was holding a water hose planning to hose my horse`s feet. The horse moves away, I allow the horse to move away but follow with the hose (pressure). When the horse stops I take the hose away (release). In this way the horse is rewarded for stopping by me taking the water away and learns that standing still is a better option than walking off. In this manner I can approach with the water hose and eventually hose the whole horse. Versus, like the picture above shows, hosing a horse that doesn`t want to, but is forced to stand still by the use of cross ties.
Doing this will ruin the horse just as much the human. Because this approach is not in tune with the horses nature of needing a way out, and being able to learn from pressure and release. Using cross ties in this manner allows us to turn a blind eye to how horses function and express themselves but still get the job done.
Horses tolerating something doesn`t make it a great idea
Last, but not least, the mere act of tying someone without escape to groom and saddle them is not really a nice thing to do. I think horses appreciate being treated with trust, kindness and respect. Just because horses tolerate something doesn`t mean it`s a great idea. I like my horses to enjoy their time spent being saddled and groomed. If they have an itchy spot I think it`s okay for them to scratch themselves when being around me. I`m running a stable not a military camp.
I mostly single tie, ground tie or simply have my horses loose. I have no need for cross ties. Saddling at liberty is a great way to find out if your horse is comfortable with what we are doing when tied, or not. Below is a video of saddling at liberty.
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