SECURING A HORSE
Catherine M. Sheets Tauer- Hill View Farms
(Written at the request of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
in 2002 for their use in developing horse parks)
What are the various methods of securing a horse:
There is a debate regarding the best ways to secure an equine that has
come to my attention. Therefore, I will share the various methods that I
have encountered over the years. We ride our horses over 1,000 miles
every year and have seen lots of things and will continue to see and do
new things as life allows. Where we have
What follows are the good and bad things Iíve seen or experienced over
the years in the ways campers secure their horses. To get started,
we need to look at the three areas:
The horse camper.
The horse and its safety.
The Park or Equine Camp and its financial and
The Horse Camper:
1) Horse campers and their horse trailers:
Horse trailers can be bumper-pull style towed by a
pick-up truck, SUV, van, RV, bus or even a utility truck.
Horse trailers can be gooseneck or 5th wheel style
towed by a pick-up truck or a semi tractor.
trailers can accommodate anywhere from one to eight horses, and be up
to 60 feet long including tow vehicle. The park or campground has to
plan for these various rigs, which are getting to be larger and
2) Horse campers themselves:
campers come by themselves or more often with families and friends. You may see several vehicles at one
campsite and even several trailers if the family is large and needs
more than one trailer to haul all the horses. The park or campground
has to accommodate all these variations.
campers have different sleeping arrangements. Some sleep in their
horse trailers, some in tents or RVís, or in a combination of these.
What they all have in common is that they like level camping spots.
The Horse and itís Safety:
owners must be able to see or hear their horses from their rigs so in
case of an emergency, they can quickly get to their animals and lend
assistance. This is an absolute must regardless of type of restraint.
1) Using portable corrals:
allows the horse to move around and not tie up (cramping of the heavy
muscles in the back and hind quarters, a medical condition that can
lead to colic, which is an intestinal disorder that, if not properly
treated, can lead to death).
other hand, horses roll, play, jump, squeal and kick. I have seen
horses trapped under the portable gate panels. Iíve seen legs stuck,
and shoes pulled off. When trapped, some horses lie calm and allow you
to help them, but most will struggle and injure themselves.
campers using this method bring and set up their own corral. But not
every camper has the means to do this. The park or campground has no
expense associated portable corrals.
Because this corral is portable, the wear and tear
on the campgroundís "lawn" will be widely distributed and not confined
to one spot. This is pleasant for the next camper, but the campground
has to provide more room to accommodate these corrals.
2) Tying to the Trailer:
method allows minimal movement by the horse, thus increasing his risk
of tying up or colicking, especially after a hard day on the trail if
he isnít as fit as he should be.
try to compensate for the horseís lack of mobility by leaving lead
ropes long, furthering the risk of major injury. Iíve
seen horses tangled in their leads from scratching themselves, lying
down or rubbing, with the rope pulled so tight that the only way to
free the horse is to cut the rope with a knife. The quick release
fastener, if used, is not usually on the trailer, but on the horseís
halter. (Have you ever tried to get close to a thrashing horseís head
to release him? It wonít happen).
seen horses that lie down and get stuck under the trailer. These
horsesí legs look like raw hamburger when they get unstuck and
sometimes the soft tissue damage is so severe that the horse is out
for the season. If tying to the trailer is the only option, the horses
need to be tied short enough so they canít get their head below their
knees Ė and subsequently canít lie down to rest.
this method of securing the horse should only be used for tacking him
This method is easy for the park or campground. No
extra cost is involved and wear and tear to the ground is spread out.
But this method carries a very high risk of injury to the horses. I
have witnessed two horse deaths associated with trailer tying.
3) Using a Portable Electric Fence:
method allows the horse to move and graze, but as I said before,
horses will be horses. Iíve seen horses play and run right through the
fence. Others get
chased through the fence by their best buddy reinforcing the pecking
order. These horses try to stop but end up sliding through the fence,
getting tangled, panicking, breaking the wire, and then being
dangerously loose. Sometimes the posts that hold these lines canít be
set into the ground properly and topple over in the slightest wind.
And horses also try to eat that last blade of grass from under the
fence and get themselves into trouble. (This goes for portable corrals
as well.) The worst incident I witnessed was at an endurance ride in
the fall when the horses were blanketed. For some reason they got out
of the pen (maybe they didnít feel the shock of the fence through
their blankets), but for whatever reason they escaped and got out on
the freeway. One horse was killed instantly as it went through the
windshield of a car (the people were not hurt). The other was horribly
injured. I knew both the girls who owned them and the horses. I cried.
Granted, nothing is entirely safe, but we all do our best.
The park or campground has no expense associated
with this system because the horse owners bring and set up their own
corral. But not every camper will have the means to provide this for
This corral is portable, so the wear and tear on
the campground "lawn" is distributed and not all the damage is
confined to one spot. The down side is that these corrals require a
lot of space, which the park or campground must provide.
4) Using a Picket Line or High Line, with a Permanent
Line (Rope, Cable, or Chain) Attached:
Using this method allows the horses to move, walk
or trot in a small circle, and lie down. They can kick and rear, and
even scratch themselves with a rear foot. The freedom of movement
helps prevent tying up and colic.
The issues I have had over the years (and I picket
5 or 6 head each time we hit the trail) is that while scratching an
itch, a horse may get his foot in the lead rope or even tangled in a
halter. When a horse is attached to a permanent cable or heavy marine
rope, he may be hard to release if he gets tangled, and more
importantly, a cable does not give or stretch, so the horseís leg
maybe rubbed so raw that, the horse will be lame for an extended
period of time. The horse owner must have a quick release snap on the
end that attaches to the line, for a lead that is tied canít be
released quickly, especially if the lead it is damp or pulled tight,
which it will be in a case of entanglement.
Sometimes these permanent lines are not set far
enough apart to avoid horse entanglements or horsy disputes.
Standard-sized horses need 8 to10 feet of space between them to allow
for the weaker or lower ranking horse to move away from an aggressor.
Many of these permanent lines do not have loops or
rings permanently affixed on them, so the horse owner must figure out
a way to jerry-rig the rope so the horsesí leads do not slide
The park or campground has the expense of
installing and maintaining posts and the high line. Because this is a
permanent fixture, erosion will occur in one spot and that one spot
must be maintained so when it rains, the horse is not standing in mud
or water and the rider will be able to approach and tend the animal
with out getting covered in mud and slop.
The park or campground also must make sure that the
camp is large enough to secure the number of horses that one camper
unit may bring (1 to 8 horses).
5) Using a Hitching Rail: (Two Posts with a Cross
Piece at the Top)
Using a hitching rail works well for tacking up
horses. The horse can stand fairly still while the rider moves around
hitching posts horizontal crosspiece should be made of a material
other than wood because horses will chew wood. Disadvantages are:
The park has an on-going expense of replacing crosspieces.
- The horse gets splinters in his gums and mouth.
- The owner has the responsibility and expense of treating the
horse, which could involve the assistance of a medical professional
to remove splinters treat abscesses in the horseís mouth.
this, the park could choose to use a pipe cross piece.
height of the crosspieces also is an issue. Horse owners bring horses
in many sizes, from a miniature, standing at 9 hands (36 inches) high,
to a warm blood, who can easily be 17 hands (5 feet 8inches) high.
Ideally, the crosspiece should be at the horseís chest level, so where
do you put a crosspiece?
I also have issues with these crosspieces
themselves. Not only are they never the correct height, but a small
horse or a horse who lies down can get under these crosspieces and get
into serious trouble. I have witnessed a permanent back injury to a
horse that got stuck under on hitching rail crosspiece. One of my
horses got under a crosspiece and came up on the other side. Of course
she could not get down and crawl back under, so she struggled with her
head below her knees and the lead rope so tight that she could not
move. Fortunately the horses on the "wrong" side did not panic or
viciously attach her, but she did receive a kick (from on of her herd
mates, telling her to go back to her own space, which clearly she
could not do) before I got to her.
Because the hitching rail is a permanent fixture,
it will cause erosion in one spot and that one spot must be maintained
so that when it rains the horse is not standing in mud or water and
the rider will be able to approach and tend the animal without getting
covered with mud and slop.
The park also must make sure to provide enough area
to secure the number of horses that one camper unit may bring. (1 to 8
6) Using a
Hitching Rail and Picket Line Combination: (looks like a goal post or
the letter ĎHí, with a cable, chain or heavy rope at the top)
The horses can move, and lie down (with a risk of
back injury, but does allow them some freedom of movement so they do
not to tie up). They can kick, rear and even scratch themselves with a
The issues Iíve had with this arrangement over the
years (and I picket 5 or 6 head each time we hit the trail) is that
while scratching an itch, a horse could get its foot in the lead rope,
or even the halter. Releasing a horse attached to a permanent cable or
heavy marine rope can be hard. Also a cable does not give, so the
horseís leg can be rubbed so raw that the horse will be lame for an
extended period of time. The horse owner must have a quick release
(panic snap) on the end of the lead that to the line, cable, chain or
rope, because a lead that is pulled tight cannot be released quickly.
Some of these permanent lines are not set far
enough apart to avoid horse entanglements or horsy disputes. A
standard - size horse needs 8 to10 feet of space between tying to
allow for the weaker or lower ranking horse to move away from an
Many of these permanent lines do not have loops or
rings permanently affixed to them, so the horse camper must figure out
how to improvise an attachment that does not allow the horsesí leads
to slide together.
height of these cross pieces also is in issue. Horse owners bring
horses in many sizes, from a miniature, standing 9 hands (36 inches)
high to a warm blood who can easily be 17 hands (5 feet 8 inches).
Ideally, the crosspiece should be at the horseís chest
level, so where do you put a crosspiece?
I also have issue with these crosspieces
themselves. Not only are they never the correct height, but a small
horse or a horse who lies down can get under theses crosspieces and
get into serious trouble. Iíve already talked about some of the
injuries this arrangement has caused.
The park or campground has the expense of
installing and maintaining the posts and high line. Because this is a
permanent fixture, erosion will occur in one spot, and that one spot
must be maintained so that when it rains the horse is not standing in
mud or water and the rider can approach and tend the animal without
getting covered in mud and slop.
The biggest expense for the park would be the
wooden crosspiece that runs parallel to the ground attached to both
upright poles. Horseís love to chew on these crosspieces; in fact they
chew on any horizontal positioned piece of wood. This chewing is bad
for all involved. The park has the ongoing expense of replacing these
crosspieces. The horse can get painful splinters in the gums and
mouth, which can become infected. The owner has the expense of
treating whatever damage the horse does to himself. To avoid this, the
the park could choose to use a pipe crosspiece.
The park must also provide enough area to secure
the number of horses that each camper unit will bring (from one to
7) Using a
Picket Pole as a high line/picket line which can double as a Hitching
Post and Hitching Post
hitching post should be a metal pole at least 5 feet tall and 8 inches
in caliber with a rounded top. The pole should have rings welded at
several heights to accommodate different sized horses. This
configuration gives the horse nothing to chew on and is tall enough
that a horse rearing would not come down on the post and impale
himself. It also allows horse campers to secure their horses at the
proper height for each horse.
picket poles should be arranged in groups of three, spaced so that the
campers by using their own rope can secure up to eight horses. Each
pole should be at least 10 feet high with rings at various levels so
that the campers can select the proper height for their horses. These
poles work best if they are of treated wood such as a telephone pole.
Campers can either tie their horses directly to the poles or use the
upper rings to run their own rope between the posts to set up their
own picket lines for the number of horses they plan to tie. Using
their own unattached rope lets the camper space their own rings or
"stops" in the rope using the proper spacing to avoid the horsy
conflicts that so often arise.
picket line allows the horses to move, walk, trot in a small circle,
and lie down. This gives them enough freedom of movement to prevent
tying up. The horse can kick and rear, and even scratch themselves
with a rear foot.
5 or 6 head of horses each time we hit the trail and have only one
issue with a picket line. While trying to scratch an itch, a horse can
get his foot caught in the lead rope or even a halter. Using a
removable picket line, all it takes to free the horse is to drop the
line or undo a quick-release snap on the lead rope or crosstie. To
free a horseís foot from a halter requires sheer strength. Then making
sure the halter is properly tight the next time! The worst injury I
ever encountered was a slight rope burn on a rear pastern and the
horse could still be ridden; he was not lame. The "give" in the picket
line keeps the rope from binding, cutting or laming a horse. The only
other incidence had happened when we left a young horse behind by
herself. She reared up and her front feet went over the picket line.
The line gave, so she could move around. She felt as if she had a
girth or lead rope under her belly, and all we had to do to free her
was release the lead rope and drop the line. She didnít have a mark on
her because the line gave.
horse campers will have to bring their own rope for a picket line or
they will have to tie to the post using their own lead ropes.
or campground will have to install the round posts - preferably not
wood - if theyíre being used as hitching posts. Square wood posts have
corner edges that invite horses to chew on them. Large round 10 to 12
inch caliber utility posts, such as electrical companies use, last for
many years and do not invite much chewing. The campground also will
have the expense of setting the rings or nailing wooden blocks (to
prevent the picket rope from sliding down the post) to the posts at
the various heights. The height selection allows the camper the option
of using the picket post as a hitching post, eliminating the need for
an additional hitching post. Also the post should have lower wooden
blocks nailed to it or metal blocks welded or bolted to it for use as
a ďstep-upĒ by campers to reach the height needed for a higher picket
line. Using the picket pole system makes erosion easier to manage
because campers will try to move their horses on the picket or high
line and change configuration to attempt to minimize wear. They too
do not want to step in mud and muck, so the wear pattern between the
posts will be fairly even.
or campground will have to determine the number of horses it can
safely accommodate and space the posts so that the campers can safely
secure that many horses.
- FYI for the park staff: To safely set your lead rope on your
line, adjust your line so that your picket fasteners, rings, or other
stops are spaced far enough apart to keep your horseís leads from
tangling with others. Then tighten the line with your "tight rope" or
self-tightening knots. Hang your leads so that when tugged on, they
wonít get closer to the ground than 16 to 18 inches. This allows the
horse to get his head to the ground without any interference from the
lead. If you hang your hay bags from your line instead of from the
posts, you might need to retighten your line. Your rope might have a
tendency to stretch. Also when tying horses on leads long enough to
let them lie down, make sure your lead is 8 ft away from obstructions
(e.g., vehicles, trailers, trees). We also have added D- loops to the
top of our trailer so we can picket from our trailer and our friends
have done the same, so we literally have a picket line city when we
camp. All in all, we have found the picket line our best choice. It is
the most versatile for all sizes of horses and can accommodate the
ever-changing number of horses that we haul around. Also, it is by far
the safest means of securing a horse, even though we have had the
troubles I shared with you earlier.
8) Using a Ground Tying-Type Picket:
A ground tying-picket is a permanent block of
concrete with a ring set into it. The block and ring are sent into the
soil and extend about 4 in. above the ground surface.
This is the least expensive restraint method for
the park or campground, but the low cost of each station is somewhat
offset by the need to have many stations because only one horse can
use each station.
This restraint method can be the risky for a horse
who is not trained to handle a rope. When ground tying-type picketing,
the horse is restrained by having a picketing hobble attached to one
foot, usually a hind, and a rope of whatever length the camper chooses
attached to the hobble at one end and to the concrete block at the
This restrain method allows the horse to move
about, lie down, etc., but is not widely used in the US today.
9) Using Permanent Corrals or Box Stalls:
-Fences must be at least 5 ft. high and should be
made of pipe. Horses will chew anything made of wood and can break any
board that is not at least 2 -in thick oak. Cattle panels and woven wire
and strands of wire can cause horses to pull their shoes off and can
cause severe, even fatal cuts. Each stall also must have hardware so
that the camper can tie hay bags and water pails.
-Stall walls must be 8 ft. high and solid from the
ground up. The smallest stall size suitable for a horse is 10 ft. by 10
ft. The largest practical size is 12 ft. by 12 ft. Each stall also must
have hardware so that the camper can tie hay bags and water pails.
-Permanent corrals and stalls also require the most
maintenance of any restraint type. They are permanent fixtures, making
erosion an issue, especially for the stalls because horses in
dirt-floored stalls paw more, and the resulting holes and uneven ground
must be filled regularly. This requires huge amounts of dirt fill.
-If the stalls are covered, they will become
excellent breeding grounds for contagious diseases, because rain and the
sunís ultra- violet rays are unable to kill the germs left by previous
Horse campers seem less willing to clean up after
their horses in a corral situation because they are not willing to
walk all over a corral to clean up manure. More manure left behind
means more flying insects, objectionable smells, and the potential for
If the facilities are safe and well-constructed,
this is the ultimate restraint method from the campersí viewpoint.
They just come in and put their horses to bed, no setting up, no
worries, and no extra equipment to take along.
The park or campground will need a lot of room to
provide the number of box stalls and corrals needed to accommodate the
number of horses that a camper could bring.
The park will also need to schedule weekly
maintenance to replace and repair what the horses have pawed up,
chewed up, and pooped on the previous weekend.
Park Obligations: To keep the campground
full, the Park must provide the following:
Safe and secure accommodations for horse campers
Ample space for large rigs
Level camping sites for the rigs
Ample space for campers who bring large families
and a large number of horses
An ample water supply (preferably piped-in running
water, not hand pumps)
A manure compost site (rakes and wheelbarrows are
Bathroom facilities, including showers
Picnic tables and fire rings
Optional electrical hook-ups
Horse wash station on a pad of concrete pad near a
water supply (most horse campers bring their own hoses, buckets, and
Sand pit for horses to roll
Do not be afraid to charge for the amenities you
provide. If you do not charge enough, you will not get the quality
camper that you would like to have at your facility. Offering family and
group rates, and taking some reservations, you can provide a financial
incentive for the quality of camper your would like to have using your
facility. Remember that if a facility is welcoming, safe, and allows the
campers some freedom, the facility will stay full.
I sincerely hope that I shed some light on the
various needs of campers with horses and the ways they restrain their
animals. I know I havenít seen it all, but I have seen a lot. I
respectfully submit this proposal for use in your debates and planning
forums. I also would also be available to speak and provide photos and
documentation with additional information if needed about the various
restraint methods used throughout the country and other parts of the
Sincerely, Cathy Sheets Tauer - Hill View Farms