The lessons learned from being tied up for long periods of time are crucial to a horse's education. Unfortunately it is an area skipped over by many riders and owners. Why is this? I have heard a lot of excuses over the years, so let's dive into a few of them and see if there is any validity there.
1) My horse paws when I tie him up
If this is something that you experience, it is actually a sign that your horse should be tied more often. Pawing is a normal part of a horse's mind processing the task of standing still. Being prey animals, horses are naturally claustrophobic. Tying them up to something increases this claustrophobia and makes them want to move their feet more. Pawing is one of the ways horses move their feet when they are otherwise restricted.
Generally, if you set up the tying lesson well, you would do it when the horse is a little tired - maybe after a trail ride or a groundwork session. This will decrease his need to paw or reduce the length of time he paws. Be sure to tie your horse somewhere that he will not hurt himself when pawing. The side of your trailer or to a fence is probably not the best place to start this lesson. A hitching post or a solid wall would be a much safer alternative.
2) My horse pulls back when tied
This is another reason to practice tying more regularly. A horse that has a chronic pulling back issue was probably not introduced to standing tied in a systematic way. Someone probably just tied him solid and walked away. The horse panicked from the solid pressure, pulled back and got loose by breaking his halter or lead rope. Once a horse has done this, even one time, they are at risk of it happening again. Some horses become so anxious about being restrained that they will go to set back on their halter as soon as they see they are being tied.
Unfortunately there is no forever fix for this problem. But there are still some options available to you. I recommend using a tie ring like a Blocker Tie Ring that will encourage your horse to stand still but will allow your lead rope to slide through if the horse panics. These have saved me and my horses a lot of injuries over the years and are still my favorite method of tying a horse.
3) Tying my horse for long periods of time is unkind
This is one I run into from time to time. Owners are worried about throwing their horse off of their schedule and routine. Or they feel like they are causing the horse emotional distress by tying him up and walking away. Usually these horses have been tied and "rescued" from the lesson when they become agitated which then encourages the anxious behavior more.
I like my horses to learn how to stand tied and even get to where they look forward to that part of their session. I usually will add it in to the end of a ride and it is a whole lot less work and effort than anything we are doing under saddle! There is also something about standing tied and learning how to manage their emotions on their own that is critical to the process of teaching your horse how to self-regulate their nervous system and become more self-confident.
Quick success tips:
1) Tie at the end of the ride and not when your horse is fresh
2) Make it a regular thing. Don't wait until you are at a show or trail ride and start this on your trailer.
3) Choose a safe place to begin your horse's education on tying. A solid wall or a hitching post are great options.
4) Don't make this a sink or swim lesson. I consider tying a horse to something solid with their lead rope an advanced version of this lesson. In the beginning use a tie ring that will allow your lead rope to slide.
5) Tie your horse with a buddy that ties well. This will help decrease the anxiety of being alone. I like to tackle one thing at a time. At first my horse could tie with a buddy and once that is good I would expect him to start learning to be tied a little further away from his friend and eventually by himself.
6) Try to not rescue your horse if he becomes upset. If you have chosen a good location and method of tying, the ways he could hurt himself should be pretty limited. So let him go through the process of stressing and regulating himself until he finds his way back to calm and confident.
6) Make sure you have enough time for the lesson. Don't do this when you only have 20 minutes. It may take longer than that for the horse to settle.
Lastly, I want to leave you with this thought: Horses didn't ask to be a part of our world. But, living with humans and our human needs, routines and methods for doing things is just a part of their reality now. Have you taught your horse how to cope in the world of humans? Even if you don't really care if your horse ever stands tied well - lots of people tie their horses for various reasons. What if something happened to you and your horse had to be sold? Or what if you ran into financial trouble and needed to lease your horse out for a season? Nothing is impossible - and it is perfectly plausible that your horse might not be with you his entire life. Most horses have multiple owners throughout their lifetime. Right now your horse has you. Are you going to take responsibility for his mental and emotional development and teach him how to get along in the world of humans better? Or are you going to leave a hole in his training that could cause stress or injury to him or someone else down the road? Tying is important, mostly because it can be so dangerous if a horse doesn't understand it. Help your horse to understand and be confident so everyone can be safe.