[sayit]If you have a horse or a mule, you own a halter. It may be plain, fancy, or have special uses, but you have one (or several) of these pieces of tack laying around. Let’s take a peek at some of the different types of halters and discuss how and when to use them.
All halters perform the same basic functions. They provide a tool for controlling horses’ movements during handling. But all halters aren’t equal. Not every halter is going to suit your needs any more than every halter is going to fit your horse’s head perfectly.[/sayit]
The Big Three
I lump my halter collection into three piles—flat, round, and special purpose. Let’s check them out.
As the name implies, flat halters are flat and generally made of strips of flat nylon webbing or leather connected with metal rings and buckles.
Nylon is available in a variety of colors and patterns. These halters stand up to the weather and resist abrasion. Nylon halters are very strong and they’re easy to wash and care for. With its wide webbing, a simple nylon halter is my go-to tool for trailering.
Leather halters look terrific! They offer plenty of strength and durability as long as they’re well taken care of. Well taken care of is of course the point here. Despite the classic look, feel, and smell of leather I’d rather be riding than cleaning and oiling leather.
Fitting a Flat Halter
Flat halters come in a variety of sizes such as cob, full, and more. Sizing your halter correctly is important not only for appearance, but also functionality, ensuring it stays in place properly and is comfortable.
To fit your flat halter properly, be sure to use the adjustment points on the crownpiece and noseband. The crownpiece should fit comfortably behind your horse’s ears without pinching. The noseband should sit about halfway between your horse’s nostrils and eyes, with about two to three fingers width between the noseband and your horse’s nose. The throatlatch should allow for three to four fingers width so your horse can breathe and swallow properly, but not so loose as to catch a hoof in it.
Finally, be sure that the hardware is not too tight. Properly fitted flat halters evenly distribute pressure and are ideal for trailering.
Round or rope halters are my favorite type of halters for around the barn and on the trail. Rope halters are created from a single piece of rope and forego hardware attachments that are prone to failure common in flat halters. Because rope halters don’t involve any hardware, they are much stronger than flat styles and offer an unfettered connection between handler and horse, allowing for the development of subtle cues. I use rope halters when practicing groundwork at home, under a bridle when trail riding, and when camping with a highline.
How They Work
Rope halters are thinner than leather or nylon halters, so the pressure is more focused versus being distributed across a wider area. As a result, a rope halter can apply a bit of pressure when you want to reinforce a cue.
Tying a Rope Halter
Rope halters may not be as instinctual to put on as a flat, but with a little practice the process will become second nature. A correctly tied rope halter is secured with a sheet-bend knot that points back towards the rump.
How to properly tie a rope halter in 4 easy steps:
- Stand on the near side (left side) of your horse. Reach over the neck and grab the poll strap with your right hand.
- Slide the noseband over the horse’s nose and the throat knot upwards below the jaw.
- Take the end of the poll strap pointing towards you and run it through the tie loop.
- Run the end of the poll strap behind the loop and then tuck through the space between the loop and the strap. For the more technically inclined you just created a sheet-bend knot! Make sure that the pointy end is pointing towards your animal’s butt and away from his eye!
Here’s a video on how to properly tie a rope halter: www.trailmeister.com/the-rope-halter-are-you-tying-it-right
- Special Purpose Halters
There are many types of special purpose halters available—from grooming to shipping. The two most common special purpose halters that I see are leading/packing halters and breakaway halters.
Leading/Packing – Also known as side pull halters, these tools help keep an animal that you’re ponying from pulling back on you while going down the trail. The halter tightens as they pull back and the animal quickly learns that the easiest way down the trail is without pulling. These can be found with chain or leather pulls. I like my “come along nicely” halters to have a wide leather nose piece so they’re a bit more comfortable.
Breakaway – These flat style halters typically have a breakable crown piece that acts like a fuse in case something exciting happens. My preference is that my equipment doesn’t break. If a horse tied with a breakaway halter gets free a time or two, he has been trained to walk away whenever he wants. That could be a very bad thing.
For me, the risks from running free outweigh those of staying put. Lost horses in the wilderness rarely come to good ends and even in a front country camp a free roaming equine can cause injury to others. For those reasons, I choose to avoid breakaways. You’ll have to decide what works best for you.
Of course, I spend a significant amount of time with my animals and they have to earn the privilege of being tied. Until I can reliably saddle and unsaddle without the aid of tying, my animals aren’t ready for the trail or the opportunity to rest and relax while parked to a trailer, tree, or highline.
I also hear from people who say they keep halters on their animals so they can catch them. In that case, both human and beast need more training. Teach your critters to come when called.
As always, for practical information on trail riding and camping with horses, as well as the largest guide to trails and camps visit us at www.TrailMeister.com.
Robert Eversole, ”the trail meister,” owns www.TrailMeister.com, the largest database of horse riding and camping areas in the U.S. with free trail and trailhead information, trail maps, and much more to help horse enthusiasts experience the joys of trail riding. Robert is a registered riding instructor with PATH International, a mounted search and rescue team member, and a U.S. Marine who has served on the board of the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington (BCHW). He is enjoying his new career helping fellow trail riders stay found and safe on the trail. When not on the trail, The Trail Meister resides near Spokane, WA and teaches land navigation to a wide variety of outdoor groups across the nation. For North America’s largest horse trail and camping directory, trail tips, and more, visit www.TrailMeister.com.