To safely halter a horse, we must catch him first. If he is in a field, we need to approach so that he can see us and does not become spooked by our presence. Walk up to the horse’s shoulder while talking softly to him. You may want to walk in a zig-zag sort of pattern or even walk right past him if he’s known to be hard to catch. (I will talk about hard to catch horses in another article.) Once you reach him, give him a good scratch on the shoulder, whither and neck. If you rub him first, he won’t think you are just going to rush the halter over his head and put him right to work. Horses learn quick, and often times, they won’t like to work unless they enjoy their job. So let’s try to make their job more fun! Now that your horse is thoroughly enjoying the attention; it is the time to drape the lead-line over his neck so that you have control of him if he decides to leave at this point. You want to be on the near side, or left side, of the horse to put on the halter. Start by holding the halter in your left hand, unbuckled. Take your right hand and place it over the horses neck. Your right hand should be near to where his jaw bone connects to his throat. Now grab hold of the crown piece of the halter with your right hand so that your left hand is holding the nose piece. In this position, you have complete control of the horses head. With your right hand holding the crown piece, gently ask the horse to bring his head towards you. At this point, you should be standing between the horses head and his shoulder. Bring the horses head towards you then gently slip the nose piece over the horses nose; and at the same time lift up on the crown piece with your right hand. The halter will easily slide over the horses face into position where you can secure it on his head. Be sure that the nose piece is up high enough on the bone of the horses nose when it is fastened. If the halter is too far down towards his nostrils, you can easily injure the horse. Now you have a safely haltered horse.
To the left is an incorrectly haltered horse. To the right is a correctly haltered horse.
Above is a correctly fitted rope halter. Below is an incorrectly fitted rope halter.
Below is a drawing of the horses skull. Here you can see where the bone of the horses nose ends.
If the horses halter is on too tight, there is no wiggle room in the halter. You do want to have wiggle room all the way around the halter.
Question: Is it okay or safe to leave a halter on a horse while he’s out to pasture?
Answer: NO! I cringe every time I see a horse with a halter left on unattended. This is one of the most common problems (let me translate that word to: Dangers) I see today. Here’s why I believe it is not a good idea, and is very dangerous to the horse to leave a halter on unattended. Halters can get stuck on anything. A horse goes to scratch his head on something (probably trying to get that itchy thing off!), well, when he brings his head back up… he can’t! The halter is stuck. The horse panics, begins to thrash and before you know it the horse is all tangled up in a fence, his face scratched, cut or worse.
Another problem is that horses can scratch their face with their legs. A horse goes to lower his head, and intends to scratch his ear with his hoof. Lets say he uses a hind leg to scratch, like a dog would, only the hind leg is now caught in that halter! You can see all kinds of problems this can cause, right? Same thing can happen with a front foot. Lets say you can free this horse, and the horse is basically uninjured. You now have a head-shy horse on your hands even though you didn’t hit or physically cause this horse pain. The fear of the halter getting stuck is now always in this horses mind. It takes a tremendous amount of training to teach a horse that halters and people touching his face, will not always be a bad experience. Horses use their ears, nose, and sight to survive, so having their face caught, I imagine, is one of the scariest thing for a horse to experience.
One more thought on leaving halters on… if halters are left on too long (thus they are tight enough not to come off) they will imprint into the horses face. There are plenty of horses out there that have permanent scars from halters being left on too long. The worst case horses are usually terrified of people, will not let anyone come close to their face. Some horses will even have missing ears and eyes because of halter accidents. In other words, please please PLEASE do not leave a halter on a horse unattended and share your new knowledge with your horsey friends.
Sometimes accidents happen, and they can be totally out of our control. However, we can try to prevent some serious accidents from happening by being proactive in how we manage and care for our horses.
Thanks for reading.
Kate Thomas with OCHS