Horses need to be comfortable with our presence before we put a halter on. I spend quiet time with my horses. I let them come up to me to check me out before I attempt putting a halter on. I do this with any new horse as well. I’ll find a spot to sit down and just watch the horse interact. I’ll learn if he’s curious, fearful, uninterested or naughty. This is not recommended for dangerous or aggressive horses.
I’ll start to pet them after they are comfortable with my presence. I’ll start with just letting them sniff my hand, once they sniff my hand and keep their head near my hand, that’s a sign that I can attempt to give them a soft rub or scratch. Eventually I can rub their neck then their withers. Once they allow me to rub them from the withers forward, including all over their head, I will introduce the halter.
I’ll let them smell the halter. If they are accepting, (by “accepting” I also mean if they are not shying away or if they seem uninterested) I will attempt to rub their neck or withers with the halter. Approach and retreat if they are shy about the halter. I’ll try to remove the halter before they feel the need to leave me. Once I can rub them all over their neck and withers, I’ll slowly rub their nose with the halter. I spend a lot of time just letting them enjoy getting scratches and rubbed down. Approach and retreat is so important. If they have been accepting of me rubbing them down with the halter, I will pull the halter away and sometimes even walk away for a little bit. The retreat is also a release of pressure, it gives the horse time to think about what happened. Once I can rub their face, neck and withers without them showing much concern (some concern is okay as long as they don’t leave), I will put the halter on.
Here is an article about properly putting on and adjusting halters: https://owlcanyonhorseservices.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/halter-safety/
I choose to start with a rope halter because it has pressure points (the knots on the nose) and it releases pressure immediately when the horse gives or when I give slack to the rope. Horses can learn to push against thick nylon or leather halters, thus they get heavy in the face and can even learn naughty habits. I believe with the rope halter, we can teach them to give and be soft without ever needing use any harsh equipment. I will switch to using a nylon or leather halter once I have established a very light and willing horse.
If the horses is too nervous or has not been handled before I will start training in the round pen before I put a halter on. Round pen training to come in future posts.
Video 1: How to put on a rope halter. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmCFQfH4HUk
(Quick note about video one: I would prefer to use a rope halter without a metal end to the crown piece. Even though the crown piece – the top part that goes behind the horses ears – is facing back towards the horses tail, it can be long enough to still flop forward and potentially hurt the horse.)
Video 2: How to put on a nylon halter. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CL3bnTeYBXI
(Quick note about video 2: I would like to see this halter fit a little higher on the horses nose and be a little tighter fitting. Having a nylon or leather halter that is too loose will not send correct signals to the horse when you ask the horse to move.)
Please stayed tuned for the next phase in groundwork!
Kate Thomas OCHS