Hobbles on the front legs (1) have been used by horsemen since they began to ride. Hobble breaking a horse is just good sense. Not only is the animal more controllable during early training but it learns to stand quietly without being tied or saddled. Being hobbled by both front and back legs with use of hobbles and a sideline (2) also teaches a horse that having a leg restrained is not a reason to panic. That’s a big plus if the animal hangs a foot in a wire or in the brush out in the pasture or on the trail. Many horsemen introduce a colt to hobbles early in the training program-a lesson which will stay with it for a lifetime. Join us to learn about hobbles and the history of their use, written and illustrated by my friend and tack historian, Phil Livingston.
Hobbles are effective in teaching a horse which paws the ground when tied, to stand quietly. They may not break the pawing habit but, they teach patience and eliminate holes in the ground.
Many working cowboys carry hobbles with them at all times. The most popular style-the Figure 8-can be buckled around the horse’s neck or looped through a rear cinch dee (3) when not in use. A common sight at brandings is saddled horses standing quietly while their riders are busy around the fire.
Hobbles can be made from harness or latigo leather, or, twisted or braided rawhide. Packers have long favored two leather buckled cuffs connected by several links of chain. Up until a few years ago when the material became obsolete, many colt starters used gunny (burlap) feed sacks. The sack would be split down both sides, twisted into thick, soft rope, and wrapped around the legs. The soft burlap would not “burn” the legs if the colt became fractious.
As mentioned earlier, the Figure 8 style is the oldest and most popular. There are several versions of it.
The hobble most often used by cowboys and trainers is made from one inch doubled and stitched latigo leather. Two metal rings are sewn in 4-6 inches apart, the leather is passed around one leg, through the rings, around the other leg and then buckled.
Pacific coast vaqueros had their own style of hobble-one which still exists today. A pair of bound, braided, cuffs were connected by a center ring. Loops at each end of the cuff passed around a braided rawhide button and were tightened by a braided keeper. Today, in addition to rawhide, latigo leather is used (4).
The Californios were strong on training a horse not to move when hobbled. On the open ranges of the San Joaquin Valley there were few places to tie a horse. And, those dedicated horsemen didn’t want a halter rubbing the nose and blunting the sensitivity to the braided rawhide hackamore.
Another style of hobble, seldom seen today, was used on colts and hard to mount horses. The horse had to be hobble broke before it was used. Rather than cuffs fastening with either braided buttons or buckles, small twigs or leather strings passed through a pair of slits on each one. Attached to them was a long string to the rider’s hand. Once in the saddle, the horseman pulled the twigs or strings loose and the hobbles were released (5).
Staking a horse to graze isn’t done as often today as it once was as it’s now known to be unsafe in many situations, and it’s not recommended. In open country staking historically was the only way to allow one to graze and still keep it close (6). Trail driving cowboys staked their saddled night horses close to camp. In the 1800’s, the cavalry staked their horses at night to keep them from wandering or being stolen. A metal picket pin was issued to each trooper to carry on his saddle.
Training a horse to hobbles should be done carefully in a large open area or pen with soft ground. An excited, restrained animal can pull and injure himself. He has to learn that having feet-or a foot-confined, will not hurt him, so he does not panic. Like all training exercises, hobble breaking should be done in short doses. Eventually, the horse will stand quietly and stay put.
Hobbles are a time-proven horseman’s tool. All horses should be hobble-broke and all horsemen should have a pair. You never know when you’re gonna’ need ‘em.
Hobbles for every need are available at Dennis Moreland Tack. Each hobble and sideline is handmade of latigo and stainless steel with short center pieces to prevent horses from traveling. They also have a long tail for easy and safe attachment on horses that are learning to be hobbled or are fractious. The latigo leather is soft on the legs to prevent burning or hair loss. If you have any questions about hobbles or sidelines call 817-312-5305 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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