Nylon halters offer horsemen a lot of convenience. They’re less expensive than most leather halters, don’t stiffen when wet and don’t require saddle soap for cleaning. You can clean them right alongside your brushes, saddle pads and fly masks. You can also get them in a variety of colors, patterns, overlays and even monograms.
However, nylon isn’t likely to break under the stress of a panicked horse, which makes us leery of all-nylon halters. It’s possible that an all-nylon halter might have weaker hardware that will pop under stress, but we don’t want to take that chance. Basically, the only nylon halters we like are the ones that have a breakaway feature, which can be a leather fuse or a leather crownpiece. (We’re not going to waste time discussing turning horses out in halters or not. If you need to do it, you need to do it.)
Leather will rip under stress, as we all know, which is why a leather crownpiece or a leather insert converts an all-nylon halter to a breakaway or safety halter. The crownpiece is a logical spot for the leather because, when secured by two crown buckles, it can be easily replaced. It’s not an expensive piece either, ranging from $6 to $12.
Sometimes, however, a leather crown can be tough to rip through, especially if the horse is in a spot where he can’t exert enough pressure, such as in an area with a low ceiling or tight quarters. This is where the leather fuses come into play, as they are made of thinner leather than a crownpiece and are held together by Chicago screws or ties.
The leather ties are cute, giving your halter a rustic look. They also mean if a fuse breaks, you won’t have the little metal screw parts scattered around your field or stall. However, they’re likely to become pull toys when horses are turned out together.
We prefer Chicago screws, but we want two, as we don’t think a single screw holding the fuse is enough. One test halter fell apart when its single Chicago screw opened unexpectedly. Chicago screws are inexpensive items, usually sold in small bags, that are easy to screw in and out with a plain screwdriver. Fuses are also inexpensive.
Both the leather crown and the leather fuse have advantages and disadvantages, which you’ll want to consider. For a purely turnout halter, we don’t think you can beat the leather fuse. It will hold well enough to lead a mannered horse around the barn and stand up to most rolling and rubbing.
However, it’s not a good choice for a frisky horse or one with a habit of testing the strength of crossties. Our quick-release crossties held firm when one test horse decided to pull back, but the leather fuse immediately broke, and the horse was loose. She then repeated this habit several times after that, requiring a few tying lessons.
Judging from this episode, we speculate the same could happen if you were leading an unruly horse who could act up when you were leading him. In these cases, at events away from home and for trailer tying, we’d go with a leather crownpiece.
Some people prefer a snap at the throatlatch, so you can place and remove the halter the way you do a bridle. Some also claim it gives the halter another likely breaking point, although that largely depends upon the strength of the hardware used.
Other people like the traditional method of unbuckling the crownpiece to remove the halter. We prefer to unbuckle the crownpiece, especially if you’re immediately replacing it with a bridle, but there’s nothing wrong with snaps either.
That said, every horseman seems to have a preference about which way a snap should face. Many just hate the thought of the snap end “gouging” into the horse’s face. They want the snap facing outward.
Wrong, says the other camp. If the snap faces outward, the horse can catch it on a wire fence and the horse will be snagged. These folks want the snap facing inward.
Frankly, if you want a snap, there’s no right or wrong way to do it, although we think a swivel snap is really the smartest option, allowing you to face it whatever way you want when necessary.
Although we found in our leather-turnout-halters trial (August 2003) that an adjustable chin could give the other horses in the field something to grab and chew, we think its fit advantage outweighs that disadvantage in the nylon category. Nylon just isn’t as satisfying to chew on as leather.
If you find a halter with a fixed chin that fits your horse perfectly with approximately three fingers width underneath it, you’ve got it made. However, some chins are simply too large for smaller-headed horses. For those petite faces, you’re probably better off with an adjustable chin. Check the store’s return policy to be sure you can return it if it doesn’t fit. A too-big chin is just waiting to catch on something.
Two of our test halters had soft padding in the nose and crown — the usual rub spots — for extra comfort, the Thornhill and the Dover Kensington. On both, the padding was wider than the nylon, making them good defenses against rubs.
The Dover halter is striking with its plaid overlay and smooth white padding, although the white isn’t a great defense against dirt and grime. When it’s clean, however, it’s guaranteed to catch a person’s eye. It also comes with a nice color-coordinating lead rope.
The Thornhill padding is black, and it’s made of a molded, soft-foam vinyl set on a cloth backing. It feels thick, soft and comfortable. We liked the dark color.
We think padding can be a huge plus for horses that must wear halters all day. While fleece halter covers are softer, fleece also gets wet in the rain, matting down. The foam-backed padding doesn’t. Plus, you don’t have all those fuzzy pieces to keep track of.
We think the addition of grommets around the holes of nylon halters is a big plus, as nylon does eventually fray with use. The Dover Ronmar halter had grommets.
Rolled throatlatches are nice, as they give the horse’s head a finer look and they tend to lay a little better against the throat. However, they’re not high on our list of priorities.
The nylon in these test halters varied from thin, lightweight two-ply nylon to thick, nearly luxurious, three-ply. None appeared to be prone to rubbing or scratching the horse, and we found no consistent areas of rough or unfinished edges. All had solid stitching and smooth edges.
While there were some variances in hardware, they were minimal. We had a few scratches here and there, but nothing affected the strength, and none wore any more than expected. The only hardware we didn’t like were snaps that seemed unnecessarily large. Interestingly, they were also the only “flat-backed” snaps we had.
All of these halters come in a variety of sizes, and many have a huge array of colors. Some, like BMB, also have custom options, such as monograms and overlays.
We found the BMB halter continues its r eign as our top choice for safety turnout halters. You can’t beat its construction, the fuse system and its extremely soft, durable nylon. We also like the way the leather fuse inserts through the nylon of the halter and the improvements in hardware.
For those looking for a breakaway halter that features a leather crown, we love the $29.95 Thornhill halter. Its padding is excellent, and it held up to substantial use.
Our Best Buy was a tough call with Weaver, the two Walsh halters and Triple E all neck-to-neck. However, the nod goes to the Weaver.
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