“No one can teach riding so well as a horse.” This quote by C.S. Lewis couldn’t be more true. However, in order to reach success and build a good relationship with your horse, you also need to teach the animal to be attentive and respond to your commands. And to do so, you’ll need proper gear.
For the new equestrians out there, the halter is an essential piece of horse equipment. It’s part of the horse’s headgear and gives the trainer control over the horse. Halters can be used to tie the horse, to lead the horse and to give basic commands. So, before you can train your horse you need to buy a reliable and adjustable horse halter. Here are some things to consider in order to make the right choice.
Why the Choice of Halter Matters?
The safety and comfort of the horse are central to picking a halter. If you notice your horse showing signs of anxiety or stress when the halter is fitted, this will affect the success of the training. And it can cloud your relationship with him, thus affecting his obedience.
Then, you also need to factor in your own needs and intentions. The way you expect to control the horse can help to further narrow the choice. You might be more inclined to handling natural materials. You might even prefer their visual appeal. This part of the equation is up to you. Some go for headgear made of synthetic materials and find them very convenient both in training and the open field.
There are lots of materials and types of halters to choose from. Instead of making your job easier, the sheer amount of options can overwhelm you. Let’s take a closer look at the most commonly used materials so that you can make an informed choice.
Leather is the traditional choice. It’s attractive and has an indescribable connection with the equestrians of old times. The way the horse halter is processed can affect its price. Oak or vegetable tanned are considered superior to the ones processed with harsh chemicals, hence a difference in price tags.
With good care, a leather halter can last for a long time. On the other hand, the straps are strong, but will break in case of an emergency and this is a default safety feature. Trailering is also best done with leather halters because if the horse gets in a jam it allows you to free him quickly.
Nylon is popular with beginners because it facilitates easy adjustable movement. Nylon halters aren’t very expensive but nevertheless, they can be heavy-duty and durable. If visual appeal is important for you, then you can choose from a wide selection of colours and you can additionally customise these halters. Nylon doesn’t break as easy as leather though, and this can put your horse in greater risk during an emergency, so avoid trailering with a nylon halter.
Leather and nylon halters generally have a greater surface area. Because of this, they are also known as flat halters. The greatest benefit in employing flat halters is their reduced friction against the hair and skin of the horse. They are gentler and will not dig into the skin of both the horse and the inexperienced handler.
However, some stubborn horses will show resistance if you strap them in flat halters. This can start as a training nuisance and can end up as a total defeat of the handler. Horses with an attitude can learn how to break the halter. This not only gets expensive in the long run but can also teach horses they can get away with bad behaviour. So, go for flat leather and nylon halters if your horse is well-trained and well-behaved.
Besides having a rustic and raw look that some equestrians love, rope halters are also known for being highly functional. Rope is thin and cord-like, so it’s able to send much clearer signals to the horse. This is the primary reason rope halters are mainly used for training and groundwork.
Rope will dig deeper into the horse’s face and the pressure from the knots will be uncomfortable so you will get training results faster. These features are important with defiant horses.
Being practically an extremely tough cord with high breaking point has its downsides too – it can afflict rope burns in both the handler and the horse. And when the horse is tied down or gets caught in something, its panicked movements can result in injury. That being said, only use a rope halter for untamed and disobedient horses, but not for too long and outside of training.
Hardware and Fittings
An easily overlooked part of the halter are the elements used to strap and fit it into place. As with anything else you’d buy even for yourself, high quality, sturdy and well-made fittings are more expensive but will last more. Cheap metal will rust and break down faster and easier. Here you will get what you pay for so look for stainless steel, tough fittings.
How to Get the Horse Used to a Halter
Halter breaking is best done to a young foal. Training starts by teaching him to yield to pressure applied by pulling the straps. You should step to the side and gently pull the straps towards you. The foal will lose his balance, and the purpose of this is to make him move toward the pressure. Once the foal gets the cue and moves toward the pressure you can release the straps. Treats and verbal praise are optional and depend upon the relationship you want to establish with the animal.
Teaching the young horse to stand tied is your next training goal for using a halter. If you are not experienced in this, please ask for guidance and supervision by someone with more training under their belt. If done improperly, this exercise can end in injury for the horse and the handler. Basically, you want to put your horse in a position of submission and a lot can get wrong.
Halter breaking a horse that is introduced to you as an adult is more challenging. First, you want to gain his confidence and trust and this can start with grooming and feeding. Then, you need to slowly and patiently get the horse used to the halter and your hands handling his head, ears and neck. Getting the halter on, might be the hardest step in training adult horses. Once you get past this milestone, the rest of the training is similar to that of a foal.