Horse Training Tools - Halters and Headcollars
What is a halter?
A halter is a device placed on a horse's head and used to either lead it or tie it up. Horses are rarely ridden in just a halter, although it can be done.
In England, what Americans call a halter is called a 'headcollar' and a 'halter' is a slightly different thing, which I will discuss.
Halters are also used to show horses in hand, although in some cases it is acceptable to show a horse in a bridle. (In some parts of the world stallions are always shown with a bit and bridle).
A standard halter or headcollar has a noseband and headpiece, then a piece that goes around the throat, with a strap securing it to the noseband so it does not ride up and cannot be fastened tight enough to strangle the horse (In theory. Some people still seem to manage it).
The most expensive kind of halter is the all-leather halter. Leather halters are attractive and long lasting, but do require more maintenance than synthetic materials.
Many people feel that horses should only ever be turned out wearing no halter or an all-leather one, as any part of the halter will break if sufficient pressure is applied to it, before the horse's neck...or whatever they are caught on...breaks.
Leather halters are generally dark brown or black in color.
Nylon Halters and Headcollars
A nylon halter is made of a heavy nylon web. These halters will not break under pressure and thus should only be used for leading a horse or tieing it up for short periods with somebody there (such as putting it in cross-ties to groom it). However, they can also take being soaked in water, making them a better choice for bathing a horse.
Nylon halters come in all imaginable colors and patterns and are often color coordinated with other gear such as rugs or boots.
A 'breakaway' halter is a compromise between the easy to care for nylon and the breakability of a leather halter.
The bulk of the halter is made of nylon, but the crownpiece is a separate leather strap. This strap will break in an emergency...and can then easily be replaced. Breakaway halters are extremely popular in the United States and may be the most popular kind of halter sold. Most people consider them the best kind of halter for picketing a horse or keeping it in a standing stall.
They are seldom used in the United Kingdom, where horses are generally tied with a breakaway strap between the lead rope and the tie ring. This leaves the halter on the horse if it does break away, which some consider safer.
(I personally prefer to use both, and will always use at least one, even when the horse is attended in cross-ties).
Natural Horsemanship people often swear by rope halters.
The American rope halter is a halter made from thin, braided nylon rope. Despite its association with natural horsemanship, a rope halter is a harsher tool than a regular halter. Rope halters are useful when handling large horses or when dealing with a horse that tends to pull when led or barge through things. They are often used on mules.
Some people like to use rope halters when training a horse or working on ground manners as they allow more force to be applied with less effort and provide a very clear signal.
English Rope Halters
The English rope halter, which is the only thing called a 'halter' in the United Kingdom, is a completely different thing from an American rope halter. The two should not be confused (American-style rope halters are sometimes used in the United Kingdom).
These old school halters are seldom seen these days, but still used by lesson barns and other establishments that have a lot of horses. They consist of a single rope which is knotted to form a loop around the horse's nose and one over the ears, and then leaves about four feet with which to lead the horse. These halters are only used for leading horses, and horses should not be left tied in them (or, worse, loose, as they have a built-in drag rope). They are extremely cheap and easy to make.
Again, you don't see these very much, but I grew up using them all the time.
Foal slips are, as the name suggests, specially designed to get a foal used to wearing a halter.
A foal halter is just a halter sized to a foal's head, but a slip is slightly different. The foal slip lacks the strap that goes under the animal's throat and also the strap that connects it to the noseband. This is considered 'gentler' on the young animal. They are also designed to have no buckles or rings that might come in contact with the foal's sensitive skin.
Foal slips are used by people who want to make sure their foal has no bad experiences with being haltered or lead.
Some foal slips and halters are designed with extra adjustability so that they can keep being used until the foal is a yearling.
More by this Author
Horses are known for their beautiful, flowing tails. Why do they have a tail so unlike other equids? And what do they do with it?
What parts of a horse are trimmed? How does it vary from breed to breed?
Tips and tricks for working with extremely tough-minded and dominant horses.