Friday, January 18, 2013

Rope Halters Are Not Cruel

Rhonda from Pennsylvania wrote to ask about halters: "Hi. I used to ride quite a bit as a kid, now 30+ years later I find myself as a owner for a half Quarter Horse, Half Arab mare. I love her to death, but sometimes she is a little pushy. My friend's farrier told me to get rid of the halter I use and get a rope halter. After the farrier left, my friend told me not to get a rope halter as that is cruel to the horse. I don't know what to think now. Do you have any recommendations?"

I'm predisposed to use rope halters. It's just a personal preference. I think generally it's not the tool that is cruel or harsh to the horse, it is how it is used. Quick or forceful hands can make a lot of common horse handling tools harsh to the horse.

The rope halter because of the small diameter of rope making contact on the horse's nose and poll (think the bridle path behind his ears) puts more pressure than a wider web halter would, so that is probably why your friend thinks a rope halter is cruel. Again, if you use it correctly I don't believe it is cruel.

The idea is still Pressure and Release. If your horse pulls away while under a halter he is going to be putting pressure on himself via his poll, and depending on his head set, maybe the nose. Once he stops pulling that pressure is released. Same as teaching your horse to give to pressure.

I'm sure you understand that it's hard to train a horse if you can't get him to move his feet. So imagine ground training with a halter where you maintain pressure via the lead line on the halter. As the horse moves in the direction of the pressure, you release that pressure and he starts to understand how he gets his release. While I think the rope halter provides a more clearer signal, there are thousands of exceptional horsemen and women who use web halters.

There are some innovative halters out there. One is a web halter that uses an elastic material for the webbing over the poll. I think the idea here is that when when a horse pulls away the pressure is gradual and once the horse quits pulling, and figures out his release, then that release is instant - a lot more quicker than a handler can provide. This is a pretty smart idea but I'll stick to the rope halter and judicious use. This elastic type web halter is from Paul Ortuno of Mane Horsemanship. This is not an endorsement, as I don't own one of these elastic halters. I just list it for your information. Again, I'll stick with quality rope halters from Double Diamond or Craig Cameron.

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