In which Fiddle learns something new, with carrots to make learning nicer

Fiddle and I will be heading to Oregon in August, to do a week of camping in the backcountry with our human-friend Sky and our horse-friend Cricket.

Before we leave, Fee needs to learn a new skill: hobbling!

I start by leading her out to a nice part of the pasture where the grass is soft. I also bring a big bucket of hay and carrots with me.

Carrots make teaching easier for me, and make learning easier for Fiddle.

I'm a huge supporter of "making things easier" for everyone.

While Fee has her head in the bucket, I attach the hobbles. When each one is secured, I give a little tug on it. That doesn't mean anything to her now, but in later lessons, it will remind her that her feet are hobbled.

Next, I move the bucket a little further away from her nose....

Do you want the carrot, Fiddle?

"YES. Give me the carrot!"

Come here and get it!

Every time she took a step forward, I gave her a piece of carrot. Even a little step, or a tangled-up step. She wanted those carrots so much, she was eager to figure out how to get them.

After a few minutes, I scattered some on the ground, and stepped back.

She did just fine.

In fact, she did great!

We will practice a lot more in coming days, so she feels comfortable moving around with the hobbles on, and so I don't feel like I have to stand right there every second when she's wearing them.

I don't recommend this for every horse, by the way. Fiddle is very sensible about various kinds of ropes and restraints. I started more than a year ago letting her graze with a halter and leadrope (YES, I was watching the whole time) so that she could problem-solve the occurances of standing on her own rope. Her solution in that case was to, first, eat all the grass she could reach without moving any of her feet, and then gradual lift one foot at a time until her rope was released.

Fiddle has also never been a "panic-and-fly-backwards" horse when she gets a foot tangled in, say, the longe rope. Instead, she stops and looks at the human for assistance. I think this may come from harness-training, and even from the breeding for harness racing--a horse who explodes and flies sideways while harnessed to a racing buggy will never be a winner, assuming it even survives long enough to reproduce. It makes sense that standardbred breeders deliberately select for the "non-explosion" trait, if only so they don't end up with drivers tangled in the shafts!

Jim and I discussed all the reasons that we will not be hobble-training Hana: she is a high-strung Arab, for starters, and a drama-queen. Hana also has silly moments, when common sense is clearly pastured far away from her little brain. She's smart enough to try to "outwit" the hobbles, but I fear she's not quite nimble enough to unbuckle the straps without injuring herself.

So, hobble-training around here will be limited to Fiddle.

She thinks that's a fine arrangement, as long as we keep a big pile of carrots ready for her.


  1. "Will tap dance for food" - that's my Boyz' motto. Fiddle sounds so sensible!

  2. What a nice horse - glad it all went so easily!

  3. I love the pictures. I can't imagine ever trying this with a horse like Raven, but Tonka would do OK. Why hobbles this time around?

  4. When I was in Montana, the first lesson I did when starting young horses was burlap sack hobbles. It taught them to stand quietly and to respect my equipment.
    I've gotten out of the habit, mostly because it's getting so hard to find burlap sacks anymore; did buy the nylon ones for Beth, who doesn't like to stand still much...

  5. Fiddle sounds like such a wonderful, intelligent horse. Baby Doll would do well with hobbles, too, I think. She is very smart with the lead rope while grazing and knows just what to do.

    But she is prone to spooking, so I think thats all it would take for me to decide to never hobble her. I can just see her now....birds burst out of a bush and she teleports sideways....and falls right over. bah!

    Good for you understanding your horses so well and knowing how to train them in such a gentle and intelligent way.


  6. Oh! This is for Evansong.

    Check around at coffee shops, like Starbucks, etc. They get their bulk coffee in large burlap sacks from places like Costa Rica. I just bought a bunch of burlap sacks through Craigslist from a local coffee shop, for only $1.00 a piece.



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