Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC
Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Halters 101

Often I get questions about halters, which one is best for a specific horse and why.  I thought I'd go through some of the halters in my collection and explain why I use them in difference scenarios.  It's worth noting that with most everything in the horse world, you can spend as much or as little as you want.  Just because someone well known has put their name on a piece of equipment doesn't mean it's any better than the item identical to it without a famous name.  Usually the company has sponsored the trainer and gotten them to put their name on the equipment in an effort to market the product.  If the name is important to you, go ahead and purchase the equipment, but just understand that you're paying for the name. That being said, there are brands of leather that are higher quality than others.  Prices can vary from $15 to hundreds of dollars for a single halter.  I usually advise people to pick a budget that works for them and look within that price range.  If I'm buying a daily-use halter for a young horse who is often silly and behaving wildly, I'll go less expensive so that if/when it breaks it's not bank-breaking for me to replace it.

This first photo is of Major in his everyday leather halter, with the halter parts labeled.  Hopefully this will help with some of the vocabulary in the rest of the post.

This is Highboy's regular halter for everyday things.  It's brown leather with a brass nameplate because I like how that looks.  I like the leather because it's easier to clean than nylon or cotton, and it will break if he gets stuck or pulls back.  I have quite a few horses come to me for rehab and physical therapy that panicked and pulled back while tied in a solid halter and did damage to hamstrings, pelvis, neck, nuchal ligament, back, gluteal and psoas muscles...  lots of parts can get injured this way.  The horse's instinct is to run and escape at all costs, even when it means they injure themselves.  A horse can flex its muscles hard enough that it rips pieces of bone off of the skeleton, and I've had more than one horse come to me with what the owner thought was behavioral problems that turned out to be injury from pulling back.  The behavioral stuff was the horse's only way to tell us humans that he was hurting.  So for trailering a horse, general tying, and regular handling I prefer to use a good quality leather halter that will look nice, but break if necessary.
 This halter is also made mostly of leather, but it has silver attached to it.  It is used only at shows for halter classes or western showmanship classes.  It's an older style of silver no longer really in fashion, but it serves my simple purposes at the small local shows where I compete horses in hand for experience.  The silver is to accent the face and make the horse stand out from the competition in the class.

This is an example of a breakaway or safety halter that is mostly made of nylon, with just a leather piece near the buckle.  This particular halter was worn by a horse with a history of pulling back, and he did it while wearing this halter, resulting in the leather breaking as it should.  If a barn requires that the horse wear a halter during turnout, this one or the entirely leather crown piece style are the safest way to go, since horses are notorious for finding ways to injure themselves and getting the halter caught on fencing, a foot, or another horse is quite common.  In these cases it's best to have a halter that will break so the horse doesn't!  It is important to understand the best and safest way to do turnout is without a halter. 

This is called a breakaway halter as well, it is made mostly of nylon, but the crown piece is made of leather.  This is so that if the horse panics or pulls back while tied the leather will break rather than the horse injuring himself.  I prefer to use something like this or a completely leather halter for safety reasons when training horses.  When the leather breaks I usually replace it with worn out english style stirrup leathers that are no longer suitable for use on a saddle for riding.  You can purchase replacement leather crowns, but I have a surplus of stirrup leathers that have either stretched so the holes no longer line up or the leather is near enough to breaking that it's a safety concern with a saddle.  You can almost always find old leathers at yard sales in horsey areas, too.

With this type of halter it is important to note that some horses (example: Cole my incredibly smart lesson horse) figure out that all he has to do is jerk his head a certain way when he's tied and I'm not looking, and the leather piece pops and breaks, then Cole is free to wander away and eat grass.  For him it's a very calculated maneuver, not done out of fear but out of a reasoned thought process which results in grazing.  So for horses like him I will often use a rope halter, shown in the next photo.

This rope halter is blue with a yellow lead rope tied to it.  There are no pieces of leather or buckles to break, so the horse is pretty secure in this one.  It's not a good choice for a horse who is likely to panic (keeping in mind that all horses are hard-wired for flight if they sense danger), but it gives the human quite a bit of control over the horse's head.  The knots are tied in such a way that they apply pressure to the sensitive parts of a horse's face and give the human a bit more leverage.  I'll use this one if I have a horse who doesn't respect my space and I need more control while handling them on the ground, or with a horse like Cole who knows how to pop the breakaway halters.  When I tie a horse with one of these I always use a blocker tie ring, which is a contraption that allows the rope to slide through if the horse pulls back in an emergency.  If I don't have one available I just wrap the rope once or twice around a fence post without any knot.  Rope halters are good for horses who need to be handled more firmly, but don't need a chain attached, which is the next level of control.  The severity of a halter is increased or decreased based on how the chain is attached, but I rarely need to use one.   

This last yellow halter is just a completely nylon version.  I like to use these when I'm not tying the horse, but I'm giving him a bath.  The nylon usually doesn't bleed onto white faces like the leather can, and since the horse isn't tied I don't have to worry about him pulling back and injuring himself.

It's worth noting that when I teach a horse to tie, I like to use something that doesn't necessarily break, but will slide through the blocker tie.  I often do this in the round pen with a long lead rope to start, so that the horse can back up and pull on the rope, but he will run out of space and his buns will touch the other side of the round pen before he runs out of rope.  In this way he learns he's not tied solid (thus preventing fear), but he doesn't learn that he can get loose, either.  I also don't leave him unattended, so that I can immediately gather the rope and return him to the proper distance from the hitch rail should he pull back. 

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