When your horse's halter finally gives out or gets lost, the replacement isn't likely to get much thought. Halters are such commonplace tack items that they hardly seem worthy of comparison shopping or heightened consumer consciousness. Whatever you're used to using is what you're likely to pick up the next time. But wander through any tack store or flip through a catalog, and you'll find a surprisingly large selection of halters on the market.
All halters perform the same basic function--to provide a means of controlling horses' movements during handling--but all halters don't serve all control needs equally well. Not every halter is going to suit your management style and handling philosophy any more than every halter is going to fit your horse's head just perfectly.
The halter is probably the most frequently used piece of equipment in your barn, so you want one that facilitates your day-to-day interactions with your horse. The bottom line of halter selection is your horse's safety and comfort. Your own expectations for control and convenience narrow the field, and appearance and cost decide the final choice in headgear. The following questions spotlight the considerations involved in satisfactory halter selection: quality and cost.
Question: My local tack store carries nylon halters costing from $8 to $18 and leather halters ranging in price from $21 to $89. Do the price differences honestly reflect quality and durability in halters?
Answer: In general, when you spend more money on a halter, you get better materials and fabrication, just as you do when you purchase expensive shoes and clothing. The difference between "good" and "better" nylon halters comes down to materials that directly affect the product's strength and durability.
"A higher thread count in nylon is important and means the halter is of better quality," says Kristin Schlegel, accounts manager for halter manufacturer Hamilton Products, Inc., of Ocala, Fla. "It's similar to buying better bedsheets that have a higher thread count and a tighter weave."
In shopping for a leather halter, expect to pay more for one made of English bridle leather than for items made from American cowhide or less refined raw materials, such as buffalo hide from overseas. English bridle leather is typically oak or vegetable tanned, a processing method that's considered superior to harsher chemical tanning. Leather halters with triple stitching along the cheek pieces and noseband tend to cost more, as do halters fitted with padding or with rolled, curved throatlatches that provide a contoured fit around the jawline. Silver-decorated show halters can cost up to $400 or more, depending on the amount of decoration and engraving.
In both nylon and leather halters, "ply" is an indication of quality--and cost. "Cheaper halters are single ply, meaning you take one layer of leather [or nylon], fold the ends over the hardware and sew the ends," explains Jeff Schild, owner of B Bar B Leather, a tack manufacturer and distributor in Blackfoot, Idaho. "Double layered has one layer folded over the buckle end and another piece sewn in between, and triple ply uses a continuous piece of leather that is folded in threes."
According to Schlegel, double- and triple-ply nylon gives a halter more rigidity so that it keeps its shape and is easier to place over the horse's nose. "Nylon halters tend to be taken off and on a lot," says Schlegel, "and you don't want a floppy halter."
The fittings also influence price. Typically, the more snaps, buckles and latches there are, the more a halter costs. But quality metals increase the longevity and satisfactory service of halters. Brass eyelets, for example, reduce the chances that the nylon around the holes will fray or rip. Solid-brass hardware and nickel-plated or chrome-plated brass don't rust or corrode as do other metals and contribute to longer product life.
Q: Browsing through tack catalogs, I've noticed that some nylon halters are described as "nylon web" and others are "polypropylene." They're both synthetics; is there any difference in their performance?
A: The two materials look virtually identical to the hands-on shopper, but nylon webbing tends to be much stronger than polypropylene. Nylon is the better choice when a halter is needed to stand up to rough use and when a tied horse may challenge his restraints. Yet the weaker material may have its place in your horsekeeping setup. "Polypropylene is generally less expensive than nylon to manufacture," says Betty Flores, manager for Sunshine Nylon Products, Inc., in Spring Hill, Fla. "Poly is probably better for breakaway halters. If a horse gets tangled in a fence, it's easier to break away from poly than nylon." In addition, polypropylene does not absorb water as much as nylon.