Tethering was used widely here in the islands as a means of confining an animal whilst it was grazing.  It was a very useful (and practical) method of using all the odd corners of grazing and browsing that otherwise would have been wasted.  Most people tethered and knew how to tether.  Nowadays, with the increase of people coming in from outside, the rise in wealth of many animal owners, and the improvement in electric fencing, tethering is viewed with a kind of snobbery by many.  It has come to be viewed by many as a “low” method of keeping animals. 

But tethering has it’s place.  As a means of monitoring how much a pony is going to eat, allowing goats to graze up to (but not including) your hedges, trees etc, and confining animals that might be constantly challenging the fenceline, it is hard to beat.

What is tethering?

Basically, tethering is a means of restraining an animal by means of a stake, or stakes, driven into the ground.  There are two types of tethering.

The long line is a system whereby two stakes are driven into the ground a distance apart, and joined by a length of wire.  A rope or chain is clipped onto this wire so that it will run along the wire.  In this way, the animal has access to a corridor of grazing the length of the ground wire, and twice the width of the rope clipped to it.  This system gives the animal more room to exercise, but is more time consuming to maintain.

The single stake is driven into the ground with a rope or chain attached to it.  This gives the animal access to a circle with the radius the length of the rope.  With this method, the animal can’t travel so far in a straight line (although most adapt very well to the tether once they know their boundaries).  It is of utmost importance with this type of tether that sufficient swivels are set into the rope.  The absolute minimum should be a swivel clip for the rope to attach to the animal’s headcollar or collar, a link swivel halfway down the rope, and a swivel on the top of the tether pin.  In this way, the rope doesn’t twist up on itself and cause snags.

Providing water for the tethered animal can be problematic if not done correctly.  The biggest problem is that the animal will frequently turn its water over.  One of the simplest ways to prevent this is by use of car tyres.  Get along to your local recyclng and collect two car tyres that your water bucket will fit snugly into.  Then, using baler twine, tie the two tyres firmly together, on one top of the other,  making sure there are no loops of excess string hanging on the outside.  The bucket will now sit in this and be much more stable and less likely to tip over.  A pony tethered all day should have two buckets of water at his disposal.  The other thing to check on is to make sure they are at the correct distance.  If the tether is to be clipped onto a headcollar, the clip should just reach to the middle of the bucket when the rope is at full length.  This way the pony can reach to the water at the bottom of the bucket, but has no spare rope available to wrap around the bucket and pull it over.

An important point to remember is that the tethered animal is neither fish nor fowl.  It is not the stabled animal, but neither is it totally grass kept.  It is dependant on it’s owner for shelter, shade, water and food in the way that a stable kept animal is, although it has the benefits of being able to graze or browse and be in the open air/sun and have a little more exercise.

The amount you move the tether each day is entirely dependent on the type of animal, the time of year, and the type of grazing available.  For example – the apprentice’s pony is tethered during the day, and stabled at night.  At this time of year, he is moved about half a circle per day.  In the spring, when the grass is flushing,  he may only be moved 2 or 3 feet per day.  A goat on the other hand will not eat anything once he has trodden on it for a day.  So, it doesn’t matter how lovely his grass looks, he won’t eat once he has been there a day.  So it is important not to move them so much that they will waste the grass, whilst at the same time moving them enough to get sufficient grazing.  Another factor to remember with the goats is that they are not huge grass eaters.  If you can tether them near bramble or gorse bushes or the like, they will usually prefer that to grass.

A pony that is tethered must have the droppings picked up regularly just like a field kept or stable kept horse.  If you are moving the pony a half circle or more per day and the pony is only out in daytime, then twice a week may be enough.  If you are moving him less than that, or if he is out for longer, then they must be picked up every day or he will be living in droppings before you know it.

NO animal should ever be tethered unless it has been thoroughly accustomed to it over a period of time.  It can be extremely dangerous to tether an animal that has not been trained as they can get themselves tangled and panic!

Great care MUST be taken when tethering on or near a slope.  If a slope is steep a pony can roll downhill, get snagged on the rope and not be able to get up again.

Tethers must be placed in such a way as to provide shelter from wind and driving rain and, if possible, some shade from  hot sun.  A tethered animal cannot provide these things for himself so it is down to the owner to ensure he is provided for.

A tethered animal should be checked at least twice a day – more if possible.  Even a friendly neighbour driving past can cast an eye at them to make sure they are OK. 

Like many other management systems tethering is a tool.  For me it is a very useful tool that I would hate to be without.  Many are scared of tethering, perceiving it to be somehow “less” than other methods of husbandry.  But just as a stable kept horse can be badly managed and not looked after properly, and a grass kept horse can be badly managed and have worm infested grazing and dangerous fencing, so it is possible to tether animals well and safely and use tethering as a tool to your advantage.

Learn how to tie a bowline.

Have questions to ask about tethering?  Ask here.