Cross tying horses was not something I had experience with on the home farm. We always tied our horses with a single rope connected to the bottom halter ring. They had plenty of slack, but obviously not so much that they could ever get a leg caught. Using cross tying as a normal, everyday method never crossed my mind.
Several years ago, I noticed that our method seemed to be the minority. Other barns I have visited, and most videos and photos I see online, make it appear that cross ties are the norm. It was such a strange concept to me. All I could think was “Why do so many people cross tie their horses?” I have thought a lot about it, yet I never directly questioned anyone who does it.
I suspect that my disdain for cross tying is an unpopular opinion, but I have several points against it:
Although not all cross tie setups cause a horse’s head to be held up high, I have seen it quite often all over the internet and in person. I want my horse to be in a comfortable position, to enjoy experiences with me and be relaxed while I work around him/her. When the head is hiked up, or there is no room for them to move freely, how can you expect your horse to relax? A relaxed position is head level or slightly down, not hiked up. I also want my horse to have the ability to scratch an itch, get at a fly, look around, etc. Things that are not possible when cross tied.
2. Fear Responses
I want my horse to be able to look all around them. Preventing that is silly, and can be detrimental. If a cross tied horse hears something scary behind them, they have no way to face the potential danger. That could result in your horse overreacting, which could trigger rearing or pulling back so hard that the cross ties break. If your horse succeeds in escaping by breaking the halter or ropes, that horse has now learned that pulling (aka bracing against pressure) = freedom. That is not a lesson you want your horse to learn.
If your horse is only tied to one rope at the bottom ring of the halter, he/she can easily swing around to see what the commotion was. By allowing your horse that mobility, he/she can determine if it warrants being scared. I think of it like this: The thing you can’t see is far scarier than the thing you can see. Never take away your horse’s ability to observe their surroundings.
3. Speed and Ease
In the case of an emergency, I want to be able to quickly release my horse from the wall. For example: One day I was grooming a horse and someone was bringing a tractor towards the aisle we were in. As soon as the horse saw the tractor, he was on full alert. I expected he would back away and try to escape the “danger”.
If he had backed up in fear and felt the pressure of the rope preventing him from leaving, that could have caused him to panic, potentially break the rope, and/or hurt himself.
To prevent that, I grabbed my lead rope, hooked him up, and released him from the wall tie. It was a quick transition because I was only dealing with one snap, not two. I let him take some steps away from the tractor as it came towards him. He was on high alert still, but because I allowed him the space to relieve the pressure of the impending doom, he didn’t overreact. No risk of broken ties, and he learned that the tractor was not going to eat him. Had he been cross tied, it would have been far more difficult to unhook him quickly (even with “quick release” snaps), and because there is typically little slack in cross ties, he could have already been pulling the ropes so tightly that I would not have been able to get them unhooked.
4. (Lack of) Training
I suspect (although have not confirmed) that some people cross tie because they have not trained their horse to stand still while tied. They use it as a quick fix to control the horse’s movement rather than taking the time to teach the horse to stand still.
In some cross tie set ups I have seen, the ropes are short to the point where there is basically no slack on either side. In those instances, it prevents the horse from moving their head freely and getting relief. Constant pressure with no release tells your horse, “There is no right answer. No matter what you do, there is no relief here.”
Using cross ties as a way to "teach" a horse to stand still is a cheat method that I view as rather unkind. A horse unaccustomed to being tied will very likely fight against the pressure. Their instinct will be to brace against the pressure to escape. A horse that is “taught” using that method has not learned, they have given up. There is a difference between teaching and breaking. A horse who is taught this way has not learned that being tied is a comfortable place to be. Rather, they have learned it is a miserable place to be. I will say that I have also seen people use this so-called training method with single ties as well. Both are wrong.
Another Example of Why I am Anti Cross Tie
Other than the instance in the “Speed and Ease” section, I recently experienced another circumstance where using cross ties could have potentially resulted in a bad situation.
I was grooming a horse near the barn entrance (we’ll call him “G”). Not far from the barn entrance, there is a round pen which currently houses a horse, and there are pastures past there as well. Both the round pen and pastures are visible from the entrance.
The horse in the round pen and the two horses in the front pasture decided it would be a great idea to start bucking and running and carrying on, doing a bit of snorting, and the like. G had been facing the opposite direction of the barn door. As soon as he heard all the ruckus, his head went way up, eyes wide, ears forward. Then he rather quickly spun around to look out the door to see what was going on. Obviously I had heard the ruckus myself, saw G’s alertness and moved inside the tack room door right beside him because I expected the swing was going to occur. He looked out the door at the horses, determined there was no danger, and quickly returned to his calm state.
Had he been cross tied and unable to see what was happening, he very easily could have tried to back away to break the ties so he could see what was going on. The pressure from pulling the ties could have caused him to panic, resulting in harder pulling and fighting against the pressure. I would have considered that a normal response. After all, how is a horse supposed to know the appropriate reaction to a situation if they cannot see it in order to evaluate? We must remember that horses are prey animals. A typical horse’s natural response is flight. If that means busting a cross tie, then that’s what they will try. I was actually very happy with G’s response. He could have immediately freaked out at the ruckus behind him. Instead, he chose to face it and evaluate. That is a thinking response, and that’s an excellent trait for a horse to have. Once he relaxed, he got a “good boy” and a nice scratch after that!
Single Tie Method
Freedom of movement. Ability to inspect surroundings. Allows head to hang lower if the horse wishes to relax.
Cross Tie Method
Restricted movement. Cannot move head freely without almost instant pressure. Inability to inspect surroundings. Horse cannot lower head if desired for relaxation.
I have wanted to ask avid cross tie users this question for many years, and I am putting it out there now: Why do you cross tie? Please comment below.