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 Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Horse hobbles were a vital tool

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

Of all the cowboy gear used down through history, horse hobbles are among the most important. These restraints around the front legs of your mount allowed him to graze in a limited fashion yet kept him from traveling very far or very fast.

With few fences, corrals or enclosures available out on the vast ranges, and with the headquarters and bunkhouse often miles away, being "afoot" was not only unhandy, it could be life-threatening.

Though soft rope, braided twine and fancy, braided leather hobbles exist, the most popular material is rawhide. It is strong, cheap and available on every cow outfit.

Many times, the first leather project of a young cowboy is learning how to make rawhide hobbles. The design is simple: They were strong and unaffected by weather, and some believed a man's character could be foretold by examining his homemade hobbles.

To make a pair of old-time hobbles, set two posts the size of a horse's front legs into the ground about 24 inches apart. Take a well-soaked cowhide, scrape off the hair, cut into strips about 4 inches wide and the proper length to fit around the two posts. Be sure to make the strip long enough.

A special process of rolling can produce a "button" about 3 inches long and three-quarters of an inch in diameter on one end. A slit is cut into the opposite end of the strap to provide a hole for the button.

With the center of the strap around one post, wrap or twist the strap ends around each other, then go around the second post and button the ends together and let dry. The dried shape will remain in that position permanently.

After drying, tallow or grease is applied to keep the rawhide supple. To carry along on the ride, merely wrap the hobble around your horse's neck and button. This provides a ready strap to grip the mount when catching up. It is always available for instant use, can be used to keep the horse facing any animal caught with the rope and even help identify the personal mounts in your string.

After greasing, weathering and mixing with horse sweat, the hobbles turn a gray-green- colored patina that signify a true set of aged cowboy hobbles. To emphasize this "hobble for each horse" in a cowboy's personal string, a quote from the famous book "The Trail Drivers of Texas" told of two old-timers sitting on a hotel porch, watching a large ranch remuda walk down the street, who saw every horse wore its own gray-green hobble around its neck. With great respect, one told the other, "There goes a pure-dee cow outfit."

Once in a great while, a particular ornery horse would learn how to run with hobbles. These so-called spoiled horses could be cured of the bad habit by attaching a trace chain to one front leg, or slipping one or more horseshoes around one front leg, securing them with a leather thong.

The chain caused a running horse to fall or the horseshoes, bouncing up and down, rubbed the legs raw, causing pain when trying to run. This may sound a bit cruel, unless you were left "afoot" in cold weather, nursing a bad knee, wearing high-heeled boots or facing a 20-mile walk back to shelter, all uphill and against a fresh norther.

Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" February 17, 2010 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

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This page last modified: February 17, 2010