The Hitching Debate
Updated: May 23, 2022
There has been a debate working it's way around Facebook for a week or so. When hitching your horse to a cart do you tie it or hitch untied?
There seem to be two very distinct groups of people, those that ALWAYS hitch tied and those that ALWAYS hitch untied.
I do both. Of course. LOL!
One of the ADS safety rules is that you may NOT hitch a horse to a vehicle while it is tied. As it has been explained to me this is because most people that would be participating at an ADS event do not keep halters on under the bridle. So if you have your horse harnessed and hitched to a vehicle, while tied to your trailer or cross tied or tied to a fence you now need to remove the halter to slip the bridle on. This is a great time for your horse to decide it doesn't want to do this right now! And off he can galavant, with cart attached. Now he is a very deadly weapon, as anyone who has been around a horse that is running wildly with a vehicle attached without a driver can attest. It's pretty terrifying.
Another reason for this rule is if you remove your horse's bridle and leave them hitched and tied to a trailer, there is a great risk for them to spook, break the halter or lead rope and again, be loose with a deadly weapon attached to the back of them.
Hence the rule - DO NOT hitch a horse to a vehicle while it is tied.
The other group of people believe that you should only hitch a horse while tied. Their thinking is if a horse spooks while being hitched (and we can all agree one of the most dangerous times when driving a horse is when you are hitching and unhitching) there is not a person that can hold a bolting horse. But a tie wall or hitching rail can. I agree with this! If a horse spooks and bolts it is nearly impossible to hold it while also trying to attach the cart to it. So one should always tie their horse while hitching.
You can see the conundrum here. Both very compelling arguments.
Here is what I think. Sometimes I will hitch my pony while he is tied. Sometimes I will hitch my pony while I hold him. Sometimes I will tie my pony while he is attached to the cart and sometimes I will unhitch my pony before I tie him. If I am at a ADS sanctioned event I will NEVER hitch my pony while tied and I will NEVER leave my pony tied while hitched to a cart. When I am home I will mix it up. When I drive with my driving group I NEVER hitch while tied. I always hold my pony. There is often a lot of busy-ness at our group drives and I want to set Zorro up for success. So I do things the same way every time... this leads me to my next thought:
This summer our driving group was witness to a very bad accident. One that resulted in our member being life flighted out of the mountains. Did people tie their mule teams to trees while attached to their wagons? You betcha they did! They leaped from their vehicles, safely tied the teams and RAN to help the member that was unconscious and tangled in the lines, lying underneath her vehicle. Her horses were tangled up in a juniper tree that was growing through a barbed wire fence. So EVERYONE leaped free of what they were driving and riding to run to her aide. I was left holding a riding horse and two driving ponies, one still attached to his cart (Zorro). Had people in our group not taken the time to teach their teams to stand quietly while hitched this day could have had an entirely different outcome.
So moral of THAT story, prepare your horse or pony for everything. And teaching them to stand quietly is #1. Always. Stand should be the first thing your driving horse or pony learns. If your pony can not stand tied quietly then by all means do NOT hitch them to a vehicle while tied. And go back and work on stand until he can stand tied quietly.
Something else to consider is, when driving big horses their vehicles are often also quite large and very heavy. There are many many times that the horse simply must be taken to the vehicle as a person can't move the vehicle to the tied horse, or horses. One of our members drives a 4 up and a 6 up of mules. He harnesses tied, then takes each pair of mules to the vehicle, two at a time to hitch. All the while there must be someone sitting in the drivers seat of the vehicle holding the lines as he goes. I know people who use their horses for farm work. This is the same for them. They take the team to the vehicle and hitch untied.
Also, always be prepared for things to go sideways. Even with a header things can get a bit dicey at times when hitching untied. I headed a pony last summer for a gal at an event. He was green, this was his first time being hitched at this event and he was nervous. So, as she went back to attach the traces to the single tree he felt this was a great time to leap forward and try to make a break for it. Somehow I ended up on the OTHER side of him from where I started but I did get him stopped. This leads me to another safety tip. When hitching while untied ALWAYS ALWAYS have your driving lines in your hand. Even if you have a header. The header only has the little bit of line that goes from the bit to the neck turrets. The pony driver needs to have the lines so there are TWO people managing the pony. Remember, the longer the lines the more leverage you have. So it is possible to stop a leaping pony from the ground with driving lines. It may not be pretty but it can happen. And you will have a better chance if there are TWO of you working at this together!
I have a friend who always hitched while tied when at home. Then one time when she was getting ready to put the bridle on, the pony decided it had it's own idea and before you could blink the pony ducked and took off with the cart attached! She ran down their private road towards the public dirt road access. Once she got to the stop sign she turned and ran straight back home where my friend was standing there with a halter wondering what the heck she was going to do! The pony went into the yard, where she got her cornered and caught. Luckily no one was out and about, there wasn't any traffic and no one was in the yard to get run over by the cart.
When I am hitching a green pony I never tie to hitch. I will always hitch while holding them until I know they are confident and I am confident in them. I do A LOT with my ponies before they are ever introduced to the cart and I feel I know them pretty well by that time. But to keep everyone safe and to help build their confidence in the cart I simply feel it's best to hitch them while holding them at first. On my YouTube Channel you will see me hitch all my ponies while holding them!
Things will happen. We do all we can to try to keep things from going sideways but they do sometimes. One thing you can add to your harness, if you like to harness while tied, is a grooming/driving collar. This goes around the pony's neck up high by the throat latch. You can clip a lead rope to it and it gives you another anchor point when you are putting the bridle on. Also you should have the bridle on the horse BEFORE you hitch the vehicle. Especially if your pony drives in blinders. Either put the bridle on over the halter or have your grooming/driving collar snapped to your lead rope, put your bridle on and then hitch to the vehicle.
I'll add - please take the time to introduce the grooming/driving collar to your pony. Don't just tie him up with it and expect him to understand what is going on! I do a few leading lessons with the collar before I will ever tie them with it so they understand the pressure is different than with a halter. Just putting the collar on them and tying them can lead to a pony that will pull back against the pressure and they can really hurt themselves!
And regardless of which way you hitch you should always have the driving lines in your hand!