Removing Mental Hobbles



Life–and horses, for that matter– both have an uncanny knack of knowing just when you need a little insight and humility.

We recently posted a photo on our online Classroom page on Facebook. In the photo, one of our horses was standing hobbled. We posted this in response to requests from several of our Classroom members who were looking for help teaching their own horses this skill.  We made a three-part video series carefully explaining how to teach a horse to be ok with hobbles.

We thought this photo was just a photo. However, for others, it was an example of cruelty and abuse. It was a source of disappointment that we would advocate their use. How could we?! How dare we?!

Mark and I both have worked on ranches where hobbling is just another job a ranch horse does, like standing tied or moving cattle. Neither one of us had used this as a way to punish or scare horses, and I personally have not seen a hobbled horse hurt itself. But it quickly became apparent that for other people who didn’t share that background, it was an example of us abusing our horse. The other interesting thing is that the comments we received from angry people were about the photo, not because they watched the video series.

A few folks felt that by hobbling a horse we are taking away their ability to flee. That it may also induce learned helplessness. That we are setting them up for both mental and physical injury. To be fair, all these things can certainly happen if you don’t prepare your horse properly.  Hobbling isn’t a skill for a horse with limited life experience and training. It’s not a way to force them to stand still. And it’s certainly not a substitute for teaching them how to stand tied. When done properly, hobbling becomes an extension of their education.

However, what interests me isn’t the hobbling debate. What does interest me are the insights into human behavior. As many of us know, who we are in life has a direct impact on how we are with horses. Through those two days of seeing unbridled anger at our post, several things occurred to me.

IMG_58291At some point in time, we all run up against our own beliefs and prejudices. If we aren’t careful, this gets translated into our horse work as a certain rigidity (my horse HAS to do the thing, right NOW in this EXACT way). If we aren’t careful, the view of our lives and the world can get pretty narrow. And small. Small isn’t where life thrives, I believe. Small is where we dig ourselves in because we feel threatened. Life–and horses–lives big and open and out there.

Some of the most aggressive people I’ve run across also profess to be kind to animals. They probably spend hours learning about horses or dogs, or cats, or any other pet that they have. They put a tremendous amount of effort into trying to understand their pet and caring for them. When it comes to relating to other people, though, there is very little effort to understand or get along.

The interesting thing is, if some of these kind animal people find a post on social media that is at odds with what they believe, they will attack first and not ask questions later.  I guess this is to force someone else to change what they think, or at the very least make the other person feel like a very horrible human.


I get it. As a person who is deeply introverted and has worked with the public, I often struggle with people.  I’ve found some to be rude, self-serving and cruel. I’ve been forced to do things that were traumatic (as have many young men and women) and have spent most of my life not only being wary of people, but avoiding them. For most of my life, I’ve often said that I get along better with animals than people.

I realized when I started teaching that getting along with and being kind to animals is easy. Getting along and being kind to people is where my personal challenge lies. Kindness, or any positive quality we wish to have, is robust and full-bodied and inclusive. One might say unhobbled.

How can we call ourselves tolerant if we only apply it toward certain people (or certain breeds of horses, or certain riding techniques and/or disciplines)? How can we be patient if we only practice when it suits us?

After reading over the comments in the hobbling post, I can now see how the people who are against hobbling feel they are correct. I can also see how we can be more considerate about what we place on social media and keep in mind the broadness of our audience and their own life and horse experiences.

Though I strongly believe that we are all more alike than we are different, the one trait I don’t care to share is close-mindedness. It isn’t helpful in our horsemanship, or our life.

In order to be the kind of teacher and human I want to be I still have many skills to learn. Some of the skills I work on daily are traits that my introverted hermit heart sometimes wished I didn’t have to learn. Some days I want to (and do) sit on our couch with my cat and a good book and let the world go on its way.

Right now I’m grateful for the angry outbursts from people because it brought me to these realizations that are personally valuable.  An experience like this, though fleeting, helps me get closer to who I want to be. Like working with horses, I’m not striving to be perfect, but just a little better than I was before.





54 responses to “Removing Mental Hobbles”

  1. EXCELLENT!! So well said…so well written. Thank you Crissi! Linda Linda Mannix – Coordinator 970-749-2995 Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering PO Box 2571 Durango, CO 81302

    “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.” – Betsy Shirley (Buck Brannaman’s foster mother)


    1. Thank you, Linda. Great quote too!

  2. Great post. Thank you Crissi

    1. Thank you so much, Rick!

  3. This is excellent Crissi. I’m just learning about ways to improve on how I am and a big thing is to assume the best intentions, ask questions when something doesn’t make sense and in the end learn. Anyone that knows either of you and how you work with horses should know that you wouldn’t do anything harmful or cruel to any animal. Stay true to who you are.

    1. Thank you, Karen. Yes, those lessons are difficult to implement at first but they are so worthwhile.

  4. What a very honest,kind and insightful response Crissi……I think alot of people have experienced rude and mean responses to some benign post or picture they’ve shared., You handled it much better than I would have:):) Always room to grow,right?
    Loved your guest appearances on Listening To The Horse.

    1. Thank you, Linda! Well, my first draft didn’t reflect my handling it too well. 😉 But the great thing about writing is that each day I could revise it to get to the heart of what I wished to say. This gave me time to process everything and find out what was important.

  5. Thank you Crissi. A very well written and enlightening article. Thank you. Both you and Mark have brought so much new beautiful horse connection awareness. Blessings🙏

    1. I appreciate your expressions of gratitude, Kelly. Thank you!

  6. Crissi, We share many of the same introvert traits. I too have had difficulty getting along with people. As a farrier I have often said, “My job would be much easier of people would give the cell phone and checkbook to the horses so I could avoid the people.” This, usually after an unpleasant encounter with one of us two-leggeds. It never ceases to amaze me how the internet gives people “permission” to be rude, nasty and hateful in ways they would never be in person. Your perspective and insight are both dead on. Very refreshing to know others have to deal with this too. Thank you.

    1. Yes, I’ve been there too. When I was a little girl, my dreams were full of horses. I envisioned a barn in Lexington, Kentucky where I would go stall to stall and spend my days riding horses. Oddly enough, I was the only person at this barn. 😉

  7. Thank you for this post, Crissi! I just read your response to Linda McCabe and had to chuckle. Writing is my preferred method of response for just that reason!
    I must say, your “final draft” expresses what I have been feeling for several years now, only said much more eloquently than I think I could have.
    Point 1 – A lot of hurtful things are said and written by people, quite often good people, who feel passionately about something, sometimes so passionately that they become single-minded (yes, define that “close-minded.)
    Point 2 – It is very possible to disagree with another point of view without being combative about it. I know, because I have read Mark’s books and he does it quite well.
    Point 3 – Wouldn’t it would be even smarter to actually read the context (or watch the videos) before interpreting a photo?

    1. Thank you, Linda. 😊 I agree on all three points. And I am a work in progress on point two. I like how you’ve stated this!

  8. I really like that article Crissi. Thank you for writing it and sharing it.

    1. You’re welcome, Rick. Thank you for letting me know you enjoyed it.

  9. Well, how about I send a virtual hug here – it is draining to feel people’s fierceness directed toward you, and then to work to find the good in it. Well done! pat, pat, carrot piece

    1. Are those chocolate dipped carrots by chance? 😉 Thank you, Sue. Your comfort is welcomed.

  10. Loved this essay!! Now I really want to know why you would teach a horse to be hobbled :).

    1. Well – the short answer is you don’t have to. 😉 Looking at it more broadly, it may be one of those old practices that may fade away. I’ve really felt that just because I grew up with it and have no negative baggage about it, doesn’t make it right.

      But it also doesn’t make us wrong for asking our horses to be ok with hobbles, much like we ask them to load and stand in a trailer, or stand tied, or stand to be mounted.

      There are lots of reasons not to hobble and reasons for hobbling.

      Speaking from my own background, it was a way for a horse to graze when you were done working for the day. Or on a lunch break. Some folks have noticed that a horse who is ok with hobbles won’t get terrified if he gets into a situation where his feet are restricted. I’ve noticed he same.

      But what I’ve really noticed is to treat volatile topics (and I truly hadn’t any idea hobbling was volatile) with a broad mind.

      1. Thank you!! Love your writing style. Very interesting stuff

    2. Just adding my 2 cents…I heard this practice was illegal in the UK (not sure if that’s true) I was a bit shocked because its such a common practice here in the West, but it got me thinking if there was some legitimacy to that or not. Anyway, it does seem to help the horse learn to accept pressure on her legs without panic and it is useful in grazing horses overnight in the backcountry. Some horses spend every night in the backcountry in the summer around here. Much better than tying them up.They learn to move fast in them but not go as far as they would if they were unhobbled I’m sure.

  11. Crissi I just wanted to say be you! Unfortunately there seem to be people out there who feel the need to judge what they do not know or care enough or open minded enough to find out perception is every thing and though every one has a right to voice there opinion you would think they should no better to be leave there’s is the only truth maybe that’s why it’s easier to relate to animals you go girl! Maybe both of us are still working on relating and being patient with the humane animal 😊

    1. Thanks, Linda! I smiled and feel very cheered on. 😃

  12. Excellent – well said , I agree with you entirely

    1. Thank you, Michael. My hope is that there are a growing number of us who seek to understand than there are those who don’t want to.

  13. A much-needed lesson in accepting narrow-mindedness with grace. ‘Small’ attitudes are one of my pet hates.

    1. Oh, me too. A closed mind is a brick wall. It’s best to find other paths than try to scale it.

  14. I did wonder if you would get a backlash after the photo. Haven’t read the posts.( Life’s short, and precious). I love your response and your thoughtfulness. I remember Mark saying years ago that softness is not something you can switch on when you go to your horses. It is a way of life and attitude. I often find many of the angry people have anger and quick judgements inside them . I am sometimes curious and wonder if they are able to really switch it off. I think it is interesting that the courtesy we extend to animals seems much harder to extend to people – you have hit that nail on the head perfectly here. Also people wear the “I get on better with animals more than people” badge with such pride……you’ve hit that nail on the head, its easier. Thanks for a great essay.

    1. Well said, and thanks! Yes, the chronic anger that is prevalent in our society right now is always looking for a target. And I used to wear that animal lover/people not-so-much badge with pride as well. I understand the mindset. For me personally, my growth lies in the realm of finding ways to extend the same understanding and kindness to my fellow humans.

      1. i think for all of us. I guess because my work involves people and animals I try to be understanding towards both.I know i do not always succeed on either front. WIP . Work in Progress.

        1. Right there with you as a WIP. 😊

      2. Thank you for this post. It serves us so well when we choose growth. Your grace is apparent in your prose. All the best.

        1. Your kind words just made my day brighter. Thank you Shelley!

  15. When I saw ‘the photo’, it was immediately linked to countless views I have from horses tied up in Turkey.
    It is done to keep them from running away. It always breaks my heart to see them hopping around 24/7 (!), or to see a mother horse unable to go after her foal who is running and playing out of her eye sight.
    But as this photo came from you, I knew it must be something else, and I found out about hobbling (of which I was not familiar with).
    If this photo would have came from a unknown person, without explanatory text, I would for sure add that angry looking emoticon.. ☺

    1. Noolah, thank you for giving the blog a chance. I would be distressed to see horses hobbled all the time and certainly cannot find any good reason to do so. I appreciate the fact that you read this despite your experience.

  16. Well said!

  17. I agree with what you say and feel much the same. This topic reminds me a lot of the Ted talk on misconceptions I listened to yesterday

    1. Thank you for the link, Cynthia! I’ll listen to it.

  18. Oh man I love this! You nailed it. You are such a kind and gentle being Crissi. Keep up the good work.

    1. Thank you so much, Cybele! I’m kind and gentle most of the time. 😉 It took me about a week to get to the conclusions I wrote about, but I consider it time well spent.

  19. Crisis, I am so sorry that you were in the receiving end of such vitriol.
    I have recently read posts from more than one person, who I would consider experts, and who have nothing but the horses best interests at heart, that they have been viciously attacked for ideas that are run of the mill in their particular realms, but might not be common place in others.
    To my mind, this just displays the ignorance of the attacker. They have preconceived notions, and do not want to hear anything that might contradict their opinions.
    I am sure that anyone who as read the words of you, or Mark, or seen you in action, know that you would never do anything that might put a horse at risk.

    1. Hi MaryAnn – a huge yes to your comment! I do wonder if some of those angry people hadn’t ever seen us work or even knew us. I have to believe so, because we’ve had other folks who are familiar with what we do take a closer look at hobbling, even though they felt bad about it. That kind of mindset is awesome; because they trusted us a little bit, they gave something a chance that they might not have otherwise. I can’t help but think horses are the same.

  20. RE the last photo on this page (right side of text); I would be very interested to know how you trained that 3-legged horse! 🙂
    Seriously, would like to thank you and Mark. Mark’s books have totally changed how I view the relationship with horses. I find my impulse to “punish”, taught over 40 years of conventional riding lessons, has more or less disappeared. You have helped me remove the old, wrong, judgmental human labels from horse behaviour.
    Dealing patiently with humans – sigh – that’s another issue altogether. Especially the “no win no fee” solicitors and their client who have just cost us $29,000 for something we didn’t do!!! I cannot say I am free of the wish to punish *them*.

    1. Hi Jude – three legged horses are easy to train. Three legged owners are a bit more challenging. 😉 (hahaha) Thank you for your kind words and observations. Yes, when something like that happens, I have to dig deep for any kind of compassion. Sometimes it takes me years. I’m a slow learner, but also persistent.

  21. I hear FB being blamed for quick judgement and nasty comments. I believe that those tendencies were always there but now they have a public voice. I came to realize that I somileapt to judgement too. Now I try to stop, reflect and seek more info. I enjoy your essays. They always make me reflect.

    1. Hi Teresa – Yes, that is all true. Our behavior as humans probably hasn’t changed so much as social media has given us the medium to make it known worldwide. 😉 Thank you for your kind compliment!

  22. Crissi~
    Thank you for challenging us to dig a little deeper into our open-mindedness….and being an example of what that looks and feels like in real time. Summers in the Bridger Teton Wilderness on horsepack trips, a few horses hobbled in the pristine alpine meadows, a bell mare being one of them, was one of the most beautiful, peaceful experiences I’ve ever had with horses and Nature. Up until then my experiences had been show jumping barns, horses stalled 24-7 unless they were working. So to see these horses roaming as a herd in a vast meadow, NO FENCES! was mind-blowing for me at that age. Because the few horses that were hobbled had *learned* how to move about safely and calmly while grazing it was no big deal. And they created an epicenter for the herd to stay together, safe and close-by. It was hard work for those horses during the day (any harder than show jumping?) but boy, did they have the best place to chill out and be a herd after the day’s work was done!

    1. Hi Clare – thank you. We are all works in progress, aren’t we? My horses being hobbled experiences closely relate to yours. That whole post and the angry comments sure woke me up to being more mindful that just because I think something isn’t cruel, doesn’t mean others don’t!

  23. Love this perspective and admire you. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Rachel. 🙂

  24. Well said and so eloquently shared! I am not a bit surprised by the unthoughtful responses as it seems that Inappropriatec, combative and highly reactive public opinions seem to be the norm these days. I don’t understand how we have gotten to this place and we see it in politics all the time. I sometimes wonder if it stirs the part of us that needs to stand for something greater than ourselves? But as you explained, it’s a great insight to oneself to perhaps consider what “we stand for” may in and of itself narrow our perspective and expose something within ourselves that is NOT so beautiful.
    (I sure hope you don’t take the post down! I am looking forward to learning about it)
    Makes be want my bulldog and a book

    1. Your bulldogs and books are a great solution to taking a break from all the social media/political madness. 🙂 And your wise observation (I sometimes wonder if it stirs the part of us that needs to stand for something greater than ourselves?”) just blew my mind in the best way. Now I have another way of understanding behavior that is otherwise puzzling.

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