The Art of the Hobble: benefits of an ancient tool.

Hobbles on a horse have likely been used in some form since humans first began domesticating horses, some 6000 years ago, and we can first see evidence of such leg restraints in Egyptian hieroglyphs, a civilization which unified in 3100 B.C. 

The basic premise of hobbles is that they limit the mobility of the horse, thus taking away the horse’s greatest defensive tactic; flight. (as in fight or flight; horses can’t actually fly, although I’ve been on a few on a cold morning that certainly made me fly).

With the horse’s mobility limited, they prove easier to handle, saddle, mount, and as a result hobbles were, and often remain a staple in many folk’s colt-starting programs. Certainly in North America on the vast ranches of yesteryear, and on the outback stations of Australia, cowboys and stockmen had to get a large number of horses broken to saddle, and the use of hobbles could allow a cowboy to get an unhandled horse saddled and mounted with relative safety and efficiency. Later in that same horse’s working life, the hobbles would often again be used out on the range, to prevent a horse from wandering too far whilst the stockmen took a break, worked on repairing a fence or the like.


These days, with influences of horsemanship changing, and stockmen not needing to camp out for days or weeks on end, you’d think we’d be seeing hobbles used less and less, but they can, and do still prove to be an extremely useful tool when used correctly. So why is this?

Hobble training a horse, if done correctly, can be a relatively stress-free endeavor, and another skill that sets a horse up for success. It trains a horse to 'give' physically, but in my opinion the most beneficial aspect of correct hobble training is that it will teach a horse to 'give' mentally. Not ‘give up’, but give its mind to the idea of relaxing through pressure, that relaxing when something restricts leg movement is the correct answer. This simple bit of training early in a horse’s life can prove life-saving, and vet-bill reducing if ever a horse gets a leg caught through a fence, in some stray wire or rope, or any similar situation.

Whenever I’m explaining the potential benefits of hobbling to folks who may not understand their correct usage, and see it as cruel and restrictive, I recall to them story of a good friend of mine who’s an excellent horseman and stockman, and understands intimately the benefits of sound hobble training. In his colt starting process, and regularly during his work days, his horses will find themselves hobbled, usually after hours of hard work, or many long miles of riding. They welcome the rest, often with a nose bag of feed, and learn to simply relax when the hobbles go on.


One day whilst out working stock, his horse’s leg got tangled in an old piece of wire that was hidden in long grass, and things went from bad to worse, the wire tripped the horse to the ground, entangling two of its legs. The impressive part of this story is that the horse simply relaxed on the ground, it never once fought or tried to kick out of the wire which would have made the situation, and any injuries, much more severe.

My friend was able to get out his fencing pliers, cut the horse free, clean up the wire, and continue working. There were no cuts, or injury to the horse, and my friend attributes this to the fact that his horse understood so well that they best thing to do when the legs are restrained is simply relax, and wait until the restraint is removed. The above story is an extreme scenario, but demonstrates the added and often unintended value that can come from good hobble training.

Regardless of the job a horse is intended to have, there can be great merit in hobble training. Discretion and common sense should most certainly be used, and should be performed by, or under the guidance of an experienced hand. 






(NB: Hobbling and hobble training needs to be done safely, and by an experienced hand. This article is based one one person's personal opinion, and is not an instructional article, nor is it suggesting that you should utilize any of the training methods discussed within the article.)