Hobble Training  ~Steve McClure (Reno)


In my time out west I have seen hobbles used many times. When a cowboy gets off his horse for an extended period of time they will often hobble their horse. Typically it is done in pasture when the rider needs to attend to a cow or maybe some fence work. Surprisingly enough the horse can roam a little and will often graze (yes sometimes with a bit in its mouth). Some folks see the hobble as cruel or dangerous to a horse. To the contrary, when properly introduced and applied, it can protect the animal from injury and encourage a calmer demeanor. As prey animals, horses will usually try to run when they are frightened or contained. This can lead to disastrous consequences should they run afoul of barbed wire in a field or suddenly frightened when they get hung up. The hobbles teach them that flight is not always the answer and to accept the containment of their legs. It also increases the horses trust in you as the leader.

Some years back I asked Jen if I could try to hobble train a horse. We discussed techniques and safety measures and she told me to proceed but do so carefully.

I’ve seen hobble training. Sometimes it pretty much consists of some groundwork warmup and then just tying them on. Now i’m not judging, it’s just that for me things take longer because I like the process. That’s where I learn the most.

I enlisted Sherwin for training since he is my go to for all things cowboy. Now Sherwin has a personality and although he is smart by a half we’ve managed to work successfully together since he arrived at Sun Fire Stables. I trusted him and I hoped the feeling was mutual.

My plan was methodical and would take several sessions . I began using a soft lead rope and loosely wrapped it around Sherwin’s lower front leg using pressure and release to induce him to move his foot as well as conditioning him to the feel of confinement. I also invested in a couple of single picket hobbles and strapped them on each leg as well. I would use the same lead rope through the ring on the hobble to move his feet.


Like all disciplines there are differing opinions whether the hobbles should be fastened to the pastern or above the fetlock. Jen suggested that we should stay above the fetlock and I agreed.

Once he got used to the feel of the hobbles I proceeded to the next step of connecting the hobbles together. I used bale twine since I reasoned that if things go bad he would be able to break the string and regain his footing. In addition I started with a longer string in the beginning and got shorter as we progressed. All this was done in the round pen with a rope halter and lead rope. He was contained, the footing was good and we were alone. Sherwin did well. He stumbled a bit but stayed calm. When kneeling down to fasten the hobbles, always facing forward and out of the way of his forward movement, you could bet that you’d eventually feel his hot breath as he bent down to pull my hat off. I know that I should stop that habit but it’s how we get along. I holler at him, he snorts, quits and goes back to ignoring me.

During the next lesson it was time for real hobbles. I used a set of leather “Great Basin” hobbles I had received from my good friend, Steve Lundean. They were crafted by Gary Winkler of Coeur d'Alene, ID. Beautiful workmanship.

I put them on, “off” side first, stood up and used the flag to gently move him. He quickly became accustomed to the pressure and the reduced mobility. Contrary to what some believe, a hobbled horse can move quite efficiently. Sherwin pretty much just stood still since that was his natural state anyway. He is trained to stand on cue and he’s lazy to boot.


I will still hobble him when we are together just to keep us both trained and those hobbles are now hung proudly from the “near” side of my saddle. Sherwin is now a hobble trained horse and I believe he is all the safer for it.

If you wish to learn how to hobble please seek professional help. Like all equine activities it certainly involves a certain amount of risk but it is another way to improve safety and expand the connection between horse and rider.


To read more by Steve McClure (Reno)--see below.

Insights By Steve -- Roping Practice

Insights By Steve -- Support

Insights By Steve -- Sensei

Insights by Steve - Harmony

Insights by Steve-Centered in the Now