Many horse owners know that moment of panic when your horse is not where you tied him up. Be it a horse show, hitching post at a campground, or simply the cross ties at the barn, dealing with a four-legged escape artist can be a trying time. I remember being 16 and having not owned my horse, Chex, very long had him tied to the horse trailer at a show. I went to get a water out of the cooler and turned around to no horse. The mass hysteria that goes through a show-grounds when "loose horse" is called out is nerve-wracking. Every one is either checking to make sure it is not their horse or attempting to safely coax a strange horse to them to be caught. So there I am running around chasing after my little escape artist with a lead rope and a grain scoop trying to convince him that his new mommy would be the ideal person to come to instead of running across the busy road. Long story short I ended up chasing him through a corn field and into a subdivision almost a mile away (and then back!) before I finally was able to catch him. In light of this trial by fire type baptism into my horse's wayward ways, I have since learned a few lessons which I'd like to share with you:
Bye, Bye Cotton. Hello, Nylon!
Cotton may be much better on your hands and for gripping in terms of no/less rope burn if your horse tries to run off on you. And for years we were a family that preached the evils of nylon lead ropes. However, after that fateful day at 16, where come to find out my horse escaped because he could too easily chew through his cotton lead, he ONLY gets tied with nylon leads or trailer ties forever more. Using the old cotton lead may be fine for every day barn use, but when you are at a show or are tying your horse anywhere I highly suggest using a nylon lead or a rubberized trailer tie (or both!).
Break Away Halters are a Gift From God. Use Them!
The typical escape artist horse will often be your "mom, I'm bored" horse. This leads to new and creative tactics for escape, not all of them being safe. Once, while tied to a hitching post, my horse ran out of hay and decided our other horse's hay was totally fair game. Being tied a good 6 feet away was of no deterrent for Chex. Oh no, not my horse! He tried this way and that way to get to our poor mare's hay before becoming hopelessly entangled around the hitching post and his own hay bag. To which he then decided "oh no, I'm tangled!" and pulled back so hard he ended up sitting himself down on the ground. Thankfully he had a break away halter on so he wasn't hurt. Granted he was still loose and running around the campgrounds when this happened, I'd rather have a safe escape rather than a nasty one where my horse got hurt. Consider investing in a break-away halter of some kind. There are many options out there such as all leather, leather crown pieces, or even small leather attachments at the buckles. Whichever route you decide to go, if you have an escape artist for a horse, I strongly recommend this as an investment.
Doors Mean NOTHING
There are many types of stall locks on the sliding stall doors. My barn has the ones that have a small drop down latch at the end of the door that would presumably keep most horses from getting out by stopping the door as it tries to slide back. Again, not Chex. The small latch accompanied by a dutch door style window in the bars wreaked havoc on my horse, whether he knew it or not. My horse managed to figure out that if you push on the door hard enough it goes around the latch and still stays on the track, and then if you simply slide your neck to one side the door will slide open. This allowed him to then walk around the barn freely which resulted in him eating 8 horses' buckets of grain that had been put out for the next morning (resulting in lots of cold hosing and banamine). The moral of this story is: know your horse, learn his trickiness, and attempt to outsmart him/her. Chex now lives with a chain around his stall whenever he is inside so that we have not more meandering adventures around the barn. Keeping the type of stall closing in mind is something we might not always think about, but it is very important for our horses well-being in many aspects.
Chex is truly an escape artist if there ever was one! I have found myself running after him screaming his name with a note of panic in my voice more times than I can count. Over the years it has gotten less and less, thank goodness, since I've learned some of his tricks and tips for how to either circumvent him escaping or at least keep him safe while doing it. I'm never completely positive if my horse is pure genius or has immense dumb luck, either way at least he always (eventually) comes back to me.