Safe Use of Crossties

Standing your horse in crossties in the aisle way of the barn is great for grooming and tacking. It even works for blacksmith time. Most horses stand perfectly fine in crossties. They might fidget now and then, toss their head or paw. They might look around and try and socialize with a horse in a nearby stall. They might even “talk a little trash” of the nickering, whinnying kind if they get some interest. They may take a few steps forward, a few steps back. They might rest a leg, and be totally at ease with themselves and their situation. The ideal setup for crossties would be in a designated grooming area or stall that is open at the front. This would eliminate any distractions for the horse, and you. Whether it be in an aisle way or grooming stall, it is referred to as crossties. Where’s your horse…? He’s in the crossties.

The actual crossties themselves are first on the list for success and safety for you and horse. They must, and I cannot stress this enough, they must have quick-release snaps. Quick-release snaps are designed, appropriately, to release quickly. If your horse gets spooked from a sudden noise or action in or around the barn and reacts to the extreme, he may need to be “released quickly.” My personal horse Malaki is notorious for becoming unglued when someone walks overhead in the hayloft. I can usually calm her, but having quick-release snaps has come in handy on more than one occasion.

The placement of the snaps is paramount. I have seen many configurations over the years and some are mind-boggling to say the least. I wonder why anyone would attach the quick-release snaps to the screw eye where the crossties connect to the wall. As a good rule, the screw eye should be high enough so that a horse rearing could not get its leg up over the crosstie. Thus said, if a horse does start rearing and manages to get a leg hung up, how on earth is the average height person going to reach up high enough to yank on the quick-release snap. This is no time to go searching for a stepstool or ladder.

Worse, I have seen crossties where the quick-release snaps are connected to the horse’s halter. Again, if a horse is acting up and manages to get itself in trouble, what is the likelihood of your being able to get close enough to him or her and the halter, safely, to release the snap? For me, the ideal spot is in between. Have two lengths of crossties on each side, with the quick-release snap connecting them in between, preferably a little higher than midway. When your horse is in trouble, rearing, backing up in a fit, trying to bolt forward or sitting down from pulling back so hard, it’s going to be the easiest route to your unsnapping the quick-release without you getting hurt. It’s the safest route for the horse, too.

A truly fastidious person can have quick-release snaps at the top and midway. I have seen barns where the connection to the screw eyes on the wall is a small double or triple loop made out of baling twine. In the event your horse starts acting up excessively, the baling twine will snap and can easily be replaced once your horse is calmed down. The chances of your needing to pull the quick-release snaps are not as common as one might think. Usually some calm assurance if the horse gets upset is enough to settle him or her down. Sometimes a firm word or two, particularly if they are pulling back on the crossties, will do the trick. A simple, “Get up” in a low voice will work wonders most often.

For horses that have never stood in crossties before, take it slow. Ease them into it. Groom them in the aisle way on a lead shank. Get them used to the area and process. You might want to keep the lead shank on them the first time or two that you hook them up to the crossties. Put the cross ties on one side, and put some tension on the lead shank on the other. Have them step forward and back, to get the feel of being tethered on both sides. The next time you go to hook them up, they will be accustomed to the routine. As a word of caution, me being an old Thoroughbred racehorse trainer, Thoroughbreds acquired off the track know nothing of crossties. They have a single tie in their stalls, usually at the back or on the side, and that’s where they are groomed. They are hand held for the blacksmith. Take it extra slow when introducing them to crossties. Don’t assume anything with any breed of horse. If you purchase a new horse, ask if he or she is used to cross ties. Don’t find out the hard way. Again, safety is the key, for you, and for the horse.