I’m beyond pleased to have found a solution to the longstanding problem of my horse Elsie being deeply herd-bound — meaning that she freaks out, runs the fence, and works herself into a full-body sweat whenever I take Lila away from her. Such separation happens every day for one to three hours, so you’d think Elsie would settle down after a while, but that happens only rarely.

Alas, the problem is not a mere annoyance. She’s lost far too much weight this summer, despite my feeding her about double what Lila gets. Plus, she’s been wearing through her very expensive shoes — which she shouldn’t even need — in half the usual time.

Over the past few months, I’ve tried all kinds of solutions, without much success. However, I’ve never tried tying her because that’s so dangerous: she could really hurt herself if she freaked out, pulled back, struck out, etc. — as a panicking horse would do. However, after seeing Clinton Anderson deliberately spook a horse on a “blocker tie ring,” I realized that I could try to tie her using that. She’d be tied, but she’d be safe too.

Basically, blocker tie rings allow the horse to pull out the rope with a sufficient amount of force. The rope exerts friction, so pulling out the rope requires effort. Also, the rope can be looped in such a way as to require more or less force to extract.

Blocker tie rings work with a horse’s psychology in rather surprising ways. If the horse is tied fast, he might panic — and fight the tie like a mad beast. (Even lazy Lila does that on occasion.) But with the blocker tie ring, the horse will free himself just slightly by pulling. So if the horse panics and pulls back, he’ll get a bit more rope thereby, then calm down immediately and stop pulling. (It’s counterintuitive, but it works!)

I use blocker tie rings in the trailer already, as well as when tying a horse to the outside of the trailer. They’re awesome. If Elsie freaked out when tied using a blocker tie ring, the worst that she’d do is pull out the rope and then run the fence. However, she’d likely calm down before extracting the whole rope from the blocker tie ring.

I started the experiment by tying Elsie to my hitching post using the blocker tie ring, and then I took Lila out of sight to do groundwork. I was expecting Elsie to freak out, but she was pretty placid. She never attempted to pull out the rope, although she was a bit upset by Lila’s absence. That was promising!

Next, I tied her and then trailered Lila over to our community arena to ride. I worried that Elsie would decompose with time… but she was good! She was still quietly tied when I returned, and Paul reported that she wasn’t overly upset while I was gone. She ate a whole leaf of hay too.

After that, I left her tied for about three hours while I took Lila to Martha’s for my lesson. Paul was home to keep an eye on her again, thankfully. Once again, she was excellent. She’s pulled the rope out a few feet, but she was still tied.

Then, on Saturday, we had the real test: I tied up Elsie, then took Lila to the jumper show. Paul was with me, so Elsie was totally alone for over seven hours. Amazingly, she was still quietly tied well when we returned. Yes, she’d been standing out in the hot sun for many hours. But that’s better than her running out in the hot sun, as she would have done if loose! Plus, she had easy access to hay and water, and she can move around quite a bit.

Here she is, perfectly relaxed, even though she knows that Lila’s soon to leave her. If she were loose, she’d be running the fence already.

(As you can see in the picture, I’m running the rope around the post to give it a bit more friction. It’s a bit too easy to pull out as-is.)

Happily, every time I tie her and take Lila away, Elsie seems to become more accepting of our departure. The more that she ran the fence, I think, the greater her anxiety became — to the point that it seemed to take on a life of its own. Forcing her to stand still keeps her calm. Perhaps she’ll learn someday that Lila’s departure isn’t anything to fuss about, but at her age, I’m not holding my breath!

Really, I’m just amazed that this method works. Elsie is so reactive — she freaks out if she steps on her own leadrope, for example — that I never would have expected that typing her up would be safe or effective. Yet it is!

Hopefully, Elsie will regain some of the weight that she’s lost this summer over the next few weeks. Even better, I’d like to be able to remove her shoes, once her feet grow back. I want a cheap and easy companion horse again!

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