Continuing our series on posts about tack, it’s time to talk about horse halters. Let’s explore some basic halter types and what they are for.
A Guide To Horse Halters
The horse halter is the first piece of tack a horse will ever use. While all sorts of livestock may wear halters, in horses this piece of equipment has a whole new significance. Of course, it’s the way you’ll lead your horse from point A to point B, but it’s not just that. If you’re completely new to horses and horse training, it’s important to remember that “halter breaking” is the first step in training a horse at all. It’s here that the contact between horse and human truly begins to take shape.
This is why the foal halter will hopefully be the first piece a new horse’s future life. It’s very important to handle a horse since it’s a baby. Not only that strengthens the bond, it makes it easier to train the grown horse later. In this same vein, halter breaking a foal can save a lot of problems later, and plus, their small size makes them easier to manage. Horse halters for foals are simpler to put on, and the foal will hopefully grow without becoming head shy. Putting on and removing the halter multiple times helps the foal to get used to it.
Adult Horse Halters
Training adult horses to accept the halter is harder, but it can be done. Some horses, because they are head-shy, will resist the idea of a halter. Some might not even be so, but will still not let themselves be caught. Ideally, the owner of the horse should try to desensitize the horse to the halter. A good way to do this is to familiarize the horse with the halter’s presence before even putting it on. Positive reinforcement will also help cement the idea of the halter as a good thing, rather than a threat.
Whatever the case, it’s important to never get angry, throw the halter or anything that would scare the horse. The last thing you want is to associate this piece of tack with even more distress in your horse’s mind.
Choosing Horse Halters
The halter is a simple piece of tack compared to others, but they are not all the same. Other than foal halters, there are different types and styles of halter for your horse. Whichever you choose depends on your horse, your needs and of course, the activity meant.
The three things to consider are: usage, material and size.
Horses of course come in various shapes and sizes, and like human clothes, not all halters will fit all horses. Usually, halters come in the following sizes:
- Mini — these are meant for miniature and very small foals.
- Foal — as mentioned above, meant for foals. These may also fit some ponies.
- Pony — for ponies, but may also fit young horses such as weanlings or yearlings.
- Cob — these are for small horses. They might fit Arabian horses and others around the same size.
- Horse — meant to fit the average riding horse.
- Warmblood — for larger riding horses, such as the larger-sized warmbloods. Might fit some smaller draft horses.
- Draft, Large or Extra Large — meant for draft horses. These might come from specialized stores.
There also Arabian horse halters. These are different because Arabian horses, due to their breed, have slimmer noses, and even small halters might not fit properly on their faces. Likewise, draft horse halters may be different as well.
Even following the standard sizes, it’s good to make sure the halter has a proper fit to your horse. There should be some slack in the halter for the horse to eat, drink and yawn without constriction. The throat latch should not hang too loose, but also not too tight. The horse should be able to move comfortably and normally with the halter on, and it shouldn’t pinch or restrict it in any way, but the halter shouldn’t be too loose, as it could snag on something if that happens (even a hoof).
Types and materials
Other than sizes, halters come in different materials and styles as well. The most popular are nylon and leather, but rope halters are also popular.
Leather halters are popular because some believe they’re easier to break. While that might not make sense at first, this means that a horse, if tangled, will have an easier time freeing itself from the halter if it’s leather. Besides, in some cases, leather halters can be repaired if they break. Because of this, many prefer this type of halter for turnout and trucking the horse around. Even so, leather halters may last a long time, and they come in a variety of leather types and qualities as well. They also tend to look gorgeous, so that’s always an extra positive feature!
Nylon halters, on the other hand, are tougher. This might cause problems if the horse becomes entangled in some fashion, because the nylon webbing won’t break as easily. On the other hand, this material is easier to clean and thus, it makes a good halter for use while under supervision. They also come in a variety of colours and prints, some quite bright and catchy.
Rope halters are usually rolled nylon (polypropylene) ropes, tied with knots, so they do not have metal parts. They are good for ground work and training, but usually not worn in turnout or in transportation. As they’re thinner and lighter, you shouldn’t use rope halters to tie horses down anywhere, or leave them in the stable with a rope halter.
Other halter types
Some halters are breakaway halters. This means that, regardless of material (leather or nylon), the horse can quickly and easily free itself from it. This is good for turnout and transportation, and also for situations where a horse might need to free itself from the halter quickly, such as when using horse walkers. On the other hand, grooming halters often lack throat latch and jaw pieces and are very slim, which means they’ll slip easily — but unlike breakaway halters, this might leave the horse tangled or snag, which is why they should be worn under supervision.
There are also show halters, usually fancier than the usual, stable and turnout halters. Show halters look good and are stylish for that purpose. The design often varies according to the breed and style of show for that horse, varying from Western-style for Quarter Horses to the very slim ones in Arabians, and the traditional gear worn by some horses, depending on occasion.
Training halters are often rope. Some might come with a design specific to lead the horse better, applying pressure in different, strategic points of its face. Likewise, there are combination halters, which double as bridles or can be worn with bridles, depending on the style and purpose specific to the halter. These are popular among trail riders, as it’s one less piece of equipment to carry.
For transportation, you may want a halter with extra padding on the nose and poll. These offer extra protection from chafing and harm. This padding is usually sheepskin fleece, lining sensitive areas so the horse won’t harm them. They are sometimes called shipping halters.
And of course, no halter would be complete without lead ropes. Lead ropes, like halters, come in various materials, such as cotton, nylon and other synthetic materials, braided horsehair and leather. They come in different lengths and widths, which vary according to the horse and the usage for the rope, and attach to the halter through a snap. Lead ropes, of course, serve to lead the horse around, as well as to tie it down when necessary.
Care in halter usage
While halters are very useful and very common, one must take care in their usage. Many people recommend one to not leave a horse with a halter unsupervised, regardless of type. Accidents do happen, and some of them may even lead to death. Tied horses have broken their necks trying to escape in a panic, and sometimes even strangled themselves to death in their stalls and horse walkers when the horse’s halter tangled itself.
Even more importantly, horses shouldn’t have halters on permanently. On the stall, make sure to remove it. And even if the horse lives outside in a paddock, leaving a halter on permanently is very unwise. Likewise, make sure the halter fits — some materials, like leather, will stretch and give with time. In special, for foals and other young horses, make sure to check the halter’s fit as it grows. We don’t want horses to suffer injury from overtight halters!
So what do you think? What type of halter do you use? Let us know in the comments below!