Four More Trail Knots
By Stan Walchuk, Jr.
Promise me this: if you use horses and you have never learned a proper knot, then of all the knots you could learn, take a few minutes to learn the quick release knot and the bowline knot. It will take only minutes, and it will change your life. Now you can tie up and get going in mere seconds. No longer will you fight with a knot that is so tight it appears welded together, or end up with a rope in segments, hacked apart with your jackknife, tossed aside, or hung on a barn nail. Your life will be altered.
The quick release and the bowline are knots that my family uses every day. We use the quick release knot more often because we are constantly tying up horses to rails and poles, but the bowline is more versatile, used in a variety of important situations.
The bowline is king on the high seas and on your horse. It is used when you need a fixed loop, when you need a knot that can be undone after great pressure, and for Houdini horses that can untie release knots. It is used to lead multiple horses, tied neck to neck with 11-foot lead ropes. It is used to tie a puller. It is used on a picket line and for emergency rope hobbles. It is used when we tie horses for longer periods, as an insurance policy. It is used to lead horses that may get wrapped around a tree or to lead inexperienced horses that may pull. It is used on a scotch hobble, when a front or back foot needs to be lifted up. And it is used to pull out your truck and horse trailer after getting bogged down in the mud.
If knots are not tied properly they can get you into trouble by coming undone at the worst moments, or by not doing what you expect them to do. Sometimes we blame the knot but usually it is the person who tied it.
The bowline is the most versatile of our horse knots, performing a variety of jobs daily while on the trail. It is used whenever a fixed loop that can always be undone is needed. In the final step, the bottom segment of the knot is pushed downward to loosen the knot before untying it.
The bowline knot is like the diamond hitch in that there are many versions. One of the criticisms of a bowline is that it will slide down a post or a tree. This can be remedied by wrapping a couple of loops around the post first, or by using a running bowline (for instructions, see Blue Creek’s Trail Riding, Packing & Training). Notice that we thread the tail end of the lead rope around the post or tree left to right. This is because on the trail we are constantly tying to trees and brush and want to feel for the tail with our right hand if we are right handed.
1. Pass the rope around the post left to right (or right to left if you are left handed), and put a small loop in the fixed end of the rope, as shown.
2. Pull the tail end of the rope through the loop.
3. Circle the tail end around the fixed end of the rope below the loop, then pass the tail end up through the loop.
4. Pull to tighten the knot.
The inline bowline is used to tie a loop at any point in a length of rope. It is great for making a high line and for securing loads on vehicles. Like the regular bowline, it can easily be undone after use.
1. At any point in the rope, make three loops around your hand.
2. Pull up the center coil of the rope and lay it to the outside, towards your fingers.
3. Lift up the new center piece and lift it over to the inside, towards your wrist.
4. Take the new center piece and lay it to the outside again. In total, you should have lifted the center piece three times.
5. Pick up the center piece and remove your hand.
6. Pull the center piece to form a loop.
7. Tighten the knot by pulling the rope from both sides.
The hondo knot is great whenever you need a small standing loop. It is used to make a lasso or lariat and can be used to tie your lash rope to the lash cinch (however, if it is a three stranded rope, splicing it on is better).
1. With the tail end of the rope, pass the end back over and then under the rope to make a loop as shown.
2. Place the tail end of the rope inside the loop nearest to the end.
3. Pull fixed end of the rope to tighten the knot.
The sheet bend is useful for tying two ropes of different sizes together. It becomes more secure if the small rope is wrapped around the big rope twice rather than just once.
1. Create a hook with the larger rope, and then pass the smaller rope underneath it, as shown.
2. Pass the smaller rope underneath both ends of the larger rope as shown.
3. Pull the smaller rope back underneath itself, and pull to tighten.
All photos courtesy of Stan Walchuk, Jr.
Main article photo: Calm, reliable horses are central to the success and safety of your trail riding and horse camping adventure. And a few reliable, practical knots will help keep both horse and rider out of trouble.