5 Knots Every Horseback Rider MUST Know (& How To Tie Them)

Regardless of whether you compete professionally, ride for pleasure, or are just learning to ride, being able to tie a horse up securely is crucial for the safety of both you and the horse. Most riders know about the simple quick-release knot but there are other knots that every horseback rider should know. Especially if you ever need to tie a horse to a post, or hitching rail, or even a high line.

The good news about learning how to tie knots is that you can practice them at home, all you need is a bit of rope or shoelace and something secure to tie it to, even a loop on your jeans will do.

Safety first

Before you start to tie any knot there are a couple of things that you need to keep in mind.

Over, never under

When tying a horse to a hitching rail (or anything else for that matter) it’s important to feed the rope over the rail first rather than underneath it. I know you think this doesn’t matter and when it comes to the knot itself it doesn’t, but for the horse’s comfort, it will make a big difference. Going under the rail will reduce the movement in the rope and therefore reduce the horse’s ability to move as freely.

Make sure it’s secure

Be honest, how often do you check how secure the post you’re tying your horse to? Don’t worry most people don’t but it’s a bad habit to be in, you should always make sure whatever you’re tying the horse to can’t move, even if you’ve tied them to it a million times before.

Horses can be mischievous creatures and will always try and find a way out of doing something they don’t want to do, but if that involves pulling up a post or pulling over a saddle rack then it could be very dangerous and will undoubtedly spook the horse more. 

Important knots every horseback rider should know

Being able to tie a range of different knots will help you in all sorts of situations (not just horseback riding) but the knots below are the most important ones every rider should know.

1) Bowline

Designed to create a fixed loop at the end of a piece of rope, the bowline (which is sometimes called a three-bit-knot) is perfect for when you’re leading a horse without a halter. Once you’ve tied the knot around the horse’s neck the loop will be secure, allowing you to easily lead them without the risk of the rope tightening.

The only caveat I would add to this though is be careful you don’t put your thumb or fingers in the rope as they can get stuck if the horse spooks.


2) Clove hitch

Also called a builder’s knot or ratline hitch, it’s a particularly good knot to use if you need to tie a horse to something that has a smooth surface such as a pole or hitching rail. The reason for this is that the clove hitch will clamp down on itself if the horse pulls on it. This means that the more the horse pulls the more secure the knot gets, of course, the downside to this is that it can make it harder to undo.

The clove hitch is also good for tying multiple horses to the same post as the knot will prevent the rope from sliding further down the rail and getting in the way of other, shall we say less friendly, horses.

3) Getaway hitch

Sometimes called a highwayman’s hitch or a bank robber’s knot, the getaway hitch is a variation on a quick-release knot that’s used to temporarily secure a horse. It’s often used when hauling horses or when tying them up to the outside of a trailer.

The drawback to the getaway hitch is that until the knot is fully tightened it can easily come undone so it’s important to make sure it’s done up properly.

4) Quick release knot

Without a doubt, the most well-known of all ‘equestrian’ knots, the quick-release knot is certainly the most widely used as well. It’s often used when tying a horse up for feeding, grooming, vet checks, farrier visits, and just about anything else you can think about.

As its name suggests it’s quick to do and easy to undo as well, even if the horse has been pulling tightly on it, simply pull the end of the rope and it’s undone. While this is obviously a good thing, especially in an emergency, it can be a disadvantage if the horse is a bit of an escapologist! That said though there is a simple hack to prevent the horse from undoing it himself. Once you’ve tied the knot just tuck the end of the rope through the loop.

NOTE: If your horse is a proper Houdini it’s important to tie them up to a breakaway (a small piece of twine tied in a loop) rather than directly to the post or hitch ring. This means that if the horse panics they’ll be able to free themselves without risk of injury.

5) Reef (or square) knot

While you’ll never use this knot to tie a horse up it can be a real godsend if your reins snap or you need to attach two lengths of rope together for whatever reason. Once tied the knot will pull itself tighter the more you pull on it. 

Depending on the material the knot is tied in it can be very difficult (if not impossible) to undo which is one of the benefits of the reef knot, and one of the reasons why it should never be used to tie a horse up.


It’s not often that I recommend products in an article but to be honest I couldn’t not mention Reference Ready’s Horse Knots quick reference cards. They’re a real must-have for any horseback rider and can easily fit in your pocket. The pictures are clear and easy to follow, and the cards are waterproof too, so you can still use them in the pouring rain.

If you want to get your own copy you can easily order them on Amazon for just a few bucks.

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Recommended products 

Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.

  • Horse Knots by Reference Ready – If you’re like me and enjoy pocket reference guides then you’ll love this knot tying guide. These handy cards can easily fit in your pocket or attach to the saddle for quick reference. They’re waterproof, durable and are color coded to make them easy to follow.
  • Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
  • TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
  • Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
  • Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
  • Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.

Shopping lists

I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉

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