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Horse Healthcare - A Manual for Animal Health Workers and Owners

Author(s):David Hadrill
Publication date:2002
Number of pages:256
Publisher:ITDG Publishing
ISBN:1 85339 486 6
Copyright holder:David Hadrill

1. How to tie, restrain and transport horses and donkeys
View this section of the text1.1 How to tie useful knots
View this section of the text1.2 How to restrain horses and donkeys
View this section of the text1.3 How to transport animals

1. How to tie, restrain and transport horses and donkeys


1.1 How to tie useful knots


Quick-release knots

Horses should be tied using a quick-release knot. Then, if the animal goes down, the knot can be undone quickly, reducing the risk of strangling or injury.


To tie this knot, put a loop through a loop through a loop, and pull tight.

Pull the short end to untie quickly.


This is a simple knot with a loop.

This knot can also be used for tying a load to a horse, see the section Knot for tying loads.


The bowline knot is a fixed loop. It cannot pull tight. It can be used around an animal’s neck.


1 Take a length of rope and make a loop in it by laying the shorter end over the long end.

2 Take the short end in your left hand and push it up through the loop.

3 Now take the end round the long end, and then push it down through the same small loop.

4 Pull the knot tight and check that you have tied a loop big enough to go over the horse’s head without being tight around its neck.

Knot for tying loads

Use a quick-release knot, in case you need to take the load off the animal quickly, for example, if it falls. Quick-release knot (2) described above can be used to tie the rope to a loop.

1.2 How to restrain horses and donkeys



If a horse or donkey’s head is restrained, it can be led or held for procedures such as injections. A halter can be made from a piece of sisal or cotton rope. Avoid using nylon rope against the skin.

A simple slip halter can be made with loops.

A better halter can be made from about 5 metres of rope. The rope should be about 15 mm wide. Make a small loop at one end of the rope and another loop about 30 cm along. Then thread the end through the loops as shown in the next pictures.

The halter on the animal

Make sure that the fixed piece of rope between the two loops is above the nose. A small knot made with the free end of the rope stops the halter becoming too tight across the head.

Head collar

Some horses learn to slip halters off over the ears. A head collar is better.

Head collars are suitable for donkeys too, but should have buckles to adjust the size of the straps around the nose. This way the head collar can be made big enough to go around a donkey’s nose.


The twitch is useful to restrain a horse before a painful procedure, to examine it or give it treatment. A horse will normally stand still when the twitch has been put on.

It is known that a twitch placed correctly on the nose causes the release of natural pain-killing substances in the horse’s body. Twitches are not as useful for donkeys, which seem to be frightened by them.

A twitch can be made from a wooden pole or long axe handle with a hole in the end. A rope loop about 50 cm long is tied through the hole.

To put the twitch on the upper lip, first put three fingers and thumb through the loop. If you hold the lip with three fingers like this, the loop does not get caught over your hand when you start to tighten it.

Hold the lip, slip on the loop and twist the pole.

• Do not tighten the twitch more than necessary to restrain the horse.
• Do not keep a twitch tight for more than 10 minutes.
• Never put a twitch on the ear. It is cruel and can damage the ear.
• Do not put a twitch on the lower jaw either.

Do NOT put a twitch on the ear or on the jaw.

Mild restraint without a twitch

Although you must never put a twitch on to an ear, you can steady the head by holding an ear.

While giving an injection, if you pinch a fold of neck skin and talk to the animal, it is possible to distract a nervous horse that is afraid of needles.

If the animal is shy of injections, ask the person holding the head to keep a hand behind the horse’s eye on that side, so the horse cannot see the syringe coming.


To hold a donkey’s chin in this way, put the flat of your hand under the animal’s chin, then put your thumb across its mouth and grip with your fingers.

For most donkeys, this is sufficient, but if more restraint is needed, hold by the chin and the base of an ear.


Covering a horse’s eyes with a towel or similar cloth will often make it stand quietly. In a confined space the horse may back away at first and become frightened if it collides with things. Blindfolding is more useful in a field.

How to prevent kicking


This technique helps to prevent kicking from a back leg. It can help to keep the hind legs still so work can be done on them. Pick up the front leg on the same side as the back leg on which you are working.

It is easier if two people restrain the horse. One person keeps the head still, while the other holds up the front leg.

This method is not suitable for a very nervous horse. If possible, get a vet to sedate a very difficult animal with an injection. Do not sedate if the animal has to go back to work immediately afterwards.


A sideline can also be used to prevent kicking or to lift up a hind leg to work on the foot. If possible use cotton rope, not nylon rope. Cotton rope is softer and less likely to burn the skin.

How to put on a sideline

• Wrap a strip of old cloth or bandage around the leg below the fetlock, if it can be done safely without danger of being kicked. This will prevent the sideline rope from injuring the skin. Have a front leg lifted up while you do it.

• For the loop that goes round the neck, pass the end of the rope around the neck and tie a bowline knot (see the section How to tie useful knots).

• Lay the long end of the rope on the ground and walk the animal forward so the rope is between its hind legs.

• Pick up the rope, pass the long end around the hind leg at the fetlock (see the drawing on page 51 for position of the fetlock), then twist it twice around the rope from the neck.

• Pull the end of the rope gently to stop the animal kicking, or to lift the foot.

How to cast a horse

It is sometimes necessary to cast an animal, that is, make it lie on its side. For example, this might be done to avoid being kicked when helping a mare that is having a difficult birth.

Instead of casting, veterinarians usually give a sedative injection. Casting should only be done if a vet is not available to sedate the animal. Someone who is experienced in casting should lead the team of helpers.

What you need

• At least five people: one to hold the head and two to pull each rope.

• A strong halter or head collar on the horse.

• A long piece of rope, 15 metres long and 1.0-1.5 cm thick, to cast the animal. Cotton rope is best, as it does not rub the skin as much as rope made of other materials.

• A shorter piece of rope about 3 metres long, to go around the chest.

• Bandages for the legs.

Before you start

• Find a place with soft ground without rocks or stones, which could injure the animal when it goes down.

• If possible, do not let the animal eat for 12 hours before so its guts are not full when it is cast.

• Bandage the lower parts of all four legs to prevent ropes from injuring the skin.

• Decide who is in charge. This person will give the instruction to pull the ropes when everything is ready.

• To reduce confusion, tell the other people that they should all keep quiet.

• Check that everyone knows what they have to do.

How to do it

• Make sure that the person who will hold the head is experienced and knows what he/she has to do. The person at the head must be told not to let go of the head. This person must also be told not to let the horse bend its neck as it goes down (or the horse’s neck or back may be injured).

• Lay the rope on the ground, double.

• Make a loop with a figure-of-eight knot. This kind of knot is flat against the animal’s breast.

• Coil up each end of rope.

• Place the loop over the head.

• Tie the shorter length of rope around the chest and attach it to the loop around the neck (this is to stop the neck loop slipping forward if the animal struggles).

• If the horse is nervous, get someone to hold up a front leg. See above, How to prevent kicking.

• Pass the coiled ends of rope between the front legs, backwards and round over the hocks of the back legs. If these ropes are over the hocks at this stage, even if the horse kicks, the ropes will stay around the legs.

• Bring the coiled ends of rope forwards under the first part of rope.

• Pass these ends through the neck loop.

• Two people hold the end of one rope well in front of the animal.

• Two other people hold the end of the other rope well behind the animal.

• Let the loops of rope around the back legs slip down so they are just above the hooves.

• The person in charge gives the order ‘Pull!’

• The person on the head makes the horse move backwards.

• The pairs of people pull their ropes and the animal goes into a sitting position.

• The person on the head must stop the animal from bending its neck, or it may injure its neck or back.

• As soon as the animal is sitting, it can be turned over on to its side.

• The upper back leg is now pulled up to the shoulder and tied with two or three loops (half hitches) just above the hoof with the end of the rope on that side.

• Now the front foot is tied in the same way beside the back foot.

• The animal is turned over and the other back and front legs are tied in the same way.

• The person in charge of the head keeps control of it all the time that the horse is cast.

How to cast a donkey

As for casting a horse:

• Make sure the donkey is wearing a head collar or halter.

• Have a reliable person control the head.

• Find a suitable area of soft ground.

• Make four rope loops to make four hobbles.

• Put the hobbles around the legs.

• Thread a piece of rope through all the hobbles and tie it to one as shown in the picture.

• When the rope is pulled, the donkey will go down on to its right side.

• Tie the feet together.

• Keep control of the head until the feet are untied and the animal is allowed to stand.

1.3 How to transport animals


Loading into a truck

It can be difficult to persuade an animal to walk into a truck if it is not trained for this. This advice can make it easier:

• Bring the vehicle to the animal. Do not make an injured animal walk more than absolutely necessary.

• Park the truck with one side along a wall so the animal cannot escape round that side.

• One person should lead the horse, holding the halter rope.

• Two other people pass a rope around the back end of the horse. One stands each side of the animal and takes the end of the rope on their own side. They pull steadily forward. (With only one person at the side of the horse, a rope can be tied to something at the side of the truck, looped around the back end of the horse and pulled.)

• If the horse does not want to move, use a broom behind the horse to encourage it to walk in.

• Once the horse is in the truck, reward it with some tasty food. This will help make it more willing to walk in next time.

• Secure the head by tying the animal’s head collar using a quick-release knot.


• Always drive at a sensible speed, even if it seems to be an emergency.

• If a hind leg is injured, have the animal face the direction of travel. Then when the vehicle slows it can take the weight on its front legs during braking.

• If a front leg is injured, turn the animal so it looks back if possible. Then it can take the forces on its back legs when the vehicle is braking.

• Partitions allow the animal to lean sideways. Use partitions to allow the animal only a little sideways movement.

Lifting and moving an injured or sick animal

A very, very weak horse on the ground might need help to stand up. As a horse gets up front end first, help it stand up with a pole under its chest just behind the front legs. One person lifts each end of the pole.

Two men can carry a donkey. They reach under the donkey’s belly and grasp each other’s arms.

A horse that is too weak to stand can be rolled on to strong sacking and dragged along.

If a horse or donkey is too weak to stand and is suffering, consider euthanasia. After some time, the muscles become damaged and the animal is unlikely ever to stand. A horse is unlikely to stand again if it has been down for more than three days, a donkey if it has been down for more than five days.

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