Staking is a handy thing for a horse to know, especially if he participates with you in trail rides and camping trips.
If you plan to stake your horse, it is wise to give him some lessons first. And when you actually do stake him those first few times, you’ll want to be nearby to get him out of a bad tangle if he does happen to get fouled up in the rope. Most horses learn fast. After they have gotten their feet in the rope several times, they watch where they put their feet and graze systematically in a circle to avoid mixing up in the rope.
After your horse has learned to stake, it’s best to stake him by a front foot; he won’t get tangled up so easily and he’ll have a lot less trouble. But you want to start him out tied by the halter. It is easier for him to learn what it’s all about if he is already halter broken and doesn’t fight this restraint.
Some horses are spooky about ropes, but there are ways you can get around a rope-shy horse’s fears before you ever stake him. A few sacking-out lessons with a rope can help; do this by rubbing the rope over his body and letting it move about his legs, he’ll soon realize that the rope isn’t going to hurt him.
With some horses it helps to let them graze a few times in a small enclosure just dragging a rope so they can get accustomed to having a rope around their feet and learn not to step on it. The horse learns that when he steps on the rope and it holds his head down, there’s no real cause for alarm or excitement (some horses seem to get claustrophobia at having their heads held low), and that by picking up the proper foot his head will be free again.
It’s not impossible to start a horse out staked just by a front foot instead of by the halter. You might want to try this method if your horse is spooky about having his head caught low. But if you do it this way, prepare the horse for it by letting him adjust gradually to having a foot tied to something. A few short lessons with hobbles will help the horse get used to having his front feet restrained. After he is used to the hobbles, put him in a corral with a short length of rope fastened to one front pastern. As he moves round, he learns not to be upset for frightened or to resist when he steps on the rope and it inhibits his front leg. He soon learns to maneuver his feet accordingly.
When you actually stake the horse, you’ll need a large, soft rope at least an inch in diameter. This won’t burn him as badly as a small rope or a hard-twist one if he gets wound up and fights it. A stake rope should have two swivels in it to keep it from twisting as the horse moves around.
The first few times you stake your horse, do it in a flat, grassy place that has no rocks or sharp objects to hurt him if he gets tangled as he grazes or if he throws himself. It might also be a good idea to keep him hungry for a few hours before his first staking. Then he will be too busy grazing to make any real attempt at getting loose.
When staking a horse, use something around his pastern that won’t cut in or cause a rope burn. A leather strap with some kind of padding on the inside works quite well, and you can put a ring around the strap or through the buckle on which to fasten the rope. Sheepskin lining attached inside works well for padding.
A shod horse can get his hind shoe caught in the halter if he happens to try to scratch his ear with a hind foot. Staking by a halter is also just generally inconvenient for the horse as he is almost sure to step on the rope with a front foot or get the rope around a hind foot. Sometimes he can get into a mess that’s hard to get out of because his head is restrained by the halter and rope.
Staked by a front foot, the horse isn’t as likely to get entangled, because the rope stays on the ground as the horse grazes and moves about. He isn’t as apt to get his hind legs caught in it as he turns. But with the rope tied to his halter, it comes off the ground each time the horse raises his head, moving high up on his legs as he moves and turns. Staking by a front foot saves a lot of trouble.
After your horse has learned to stake, you will find camping or traveling with him a lot easier and less complicated. You won’t have the worry of a place to keep him or the problem of taking along a lot of feed. All you’ll need is an adequate rope and foot strap, a stake, and a grassy place. Your horse will appreciate the chance to fill his belly instead of being tied up all night. A stake is not always necessary but is handy if there are not many trees or rocks around for tying.
Staking out by a foot or by the halter could be dangerous if a horse is badly spooked. This could result in a broken neck, dislocated shoulder, or other injuries. If you have a valuable horse, or for that matter any horse not well trained to staking, this surely is a factor to be considered.
By: Oliver C. Hill – Special Assistant to the Dean/Director of Ag Leadership and Development – University of Wyoming