More of us are turning our horses out in halters than we used to, and the reasons vary from boarding stable rules to catching our horses in the dark when we return home from work late to anything in between. While we remain firm in our belief that turning a horse out without a halter is best, there are times when you need to be able to quickly and securely grab ahold of a loose horse in the field without having to put the halter on.
However, a horse should only be turned out in a halter with a safety or breakaway feature. Decades ago, an all-leather halter was considered the safest choice, as leather will rip under stress and nylon won’t. But nylon halters offer convenience — and colors — and they’re less expensive. Nylon also doesn’t stiffen after a rain and doesn’t require saddle soap.
We soon saw nylon halters with leather crowns, which were put in place with the belief that the leather would break in an emergency. It will, but it takes quite a bit of force to rip a leather halter or crownpiece. (Clearly, you shouldn’t turn your horse out in an all-nylon halter, because the only thing that might break is the hardware.)
In 1996, we tried our first halter with a leather fuse breakaway feature, set at the throatlatch buckle. It was from BMB Tack, and it definitely set the standard for years to come, handily winning our 1996 and 2003 trials. Unfortunately, BMB is no longer offering that halter in its line.
There’s no need to worry, though, as many other companies seem to agree that the fuse is the way to go. The leather fuse is usually thinner than normal halter leather, so it will break more readily, and held together with a Chicago screw.
A replacement leather fuse is fairly easy to find at the dealer that sells your halter. You may even be able to make your own, if you have a thin-enough piece of scrap leather. Chicago screws are available at most tack stores.
One halter in our trial, the Tuff Rider, has a piece of leather sewn in where others have the fuse and screw. Although this is a similar concept, we would prefer to be able to easily replace the fuse rather than having it permanently sewn in. As it is, if it breaks, you either have to replace the halter or improvise. We admit, though, that at under $15 replacing it isn’t impossible.
With experience, we’ve found that the leather fuse will hold well enough for most horses and their normal activities, including leading and possible bursts of friskiness. If, however, you have a young horse you’re teaching to lead or a very strong horse with a real difficult-to-handle attitude, you’re probably going to want to stick with an all-leather halter or a nylon halter with a leather crown.
We’ve learned over the years that if a dominant horse learns he can break free, he will repeatedly exercise this ”right” at will. If you’ve ever had a horse who learned that cross-ties will release and purposely backs up just to do it, you know what we are talking about. It’s a similar situation with halters. These fuse-type halter are for normal, trained horses.
We’re also seeing Velcro-closure safety halters again. This is an interesting concept that has improved over the years. We tested the BreakFree halter in 1996, which had a Velcro release. It took very little effort for a horse to get free from this halter. The Velcro-release halters in our trial this year are much stronger, but we still don’t trust them for leading a difficult horse.
The Field Safe Halter comes with two different strengths of Velcro releases, set at the crownpiece buckle, but we found it difficult to feel the difference when we opened them. They do hold well, though, if you’re looking for Velcro. (Note: Some horses object to the sound of Velcro opening.)
The Okeden Bay halter has four Velcro release points. In fact, the fitting and adjustments are done with the Velcro, and the only hardware pieces on it are the rings. It’s one of the most impressive-looking halters in the trial, especially with the deerskin lining we had in our test halter. And it’s extremely well made.
We insist on an adjustable chin on our halters, as we worry that a grazing horse could easily get a hoof hung into a too-large chin. We like one strap of nylon under the horse’s chin, like most of the halter in our trial. The Ronmar halter has two straps, held together with a keeper.
We can go with or without throatlatch snaps. Lots of horsemen like them, as it gives them the option of simply unsnapping the halter and pulling it over the horse’s head. This can be valuable in situations with school horses, so you can ensure that the halter is always properly fit to the horse (the adjustment at the crownpiece stays closed) no matter who puts the halter on.
Snaps need to be comfortable for the horse, though, which means we don’t like them too large or obtrusive. There’s debate as to whether the snap opening should face inside or out, and we’re still walking the line on that one. Turned in, the snap might rub the horse a bit more than if the flat side is against his face. But, turned out, some folks think the snap is something to get snagged on a wire fence. A few manufacturers, like HorseWare Ireland and the SmartPak halter made by Kensington, feature swivel snaps. That way, you can make up your own mind.
We like our nosepiece to rest two to three fingers below the cheekbone. You should be able to get three fingers between the nosepiece and the horse’s head, as well as under the throatlatch, much like a bridle. We also want padding on the nose and crownpiece, at least. In fact, the more padding the better. Nylon rubs. Dirty nylon really rubs, but even the clean stuff will take the hair off your horse’s skin.
We like the convenience and price of nylon halters — and have to admit that it’s fun to choose colors. Nylon also wears w ell, although it may fade a bit with time.
We don’t recommend putting any halter in a washing machine, unless you put it inside a pillow case or other washing bag, as the hardware will beat up your machine. That said, you’ll find some halter manufacturers recommend washing machines.
The best method we’ve found to clean nylon halters is to use warm water, Dawn dishwashing liquid and a brush. You can soak the halter first, if it’s really filthy. Otherwise, dunk it into the warm water to get it good and wet, then pour some Dawn on the nylon and scrub with the brush. Don’t scrub too hard, as you don’t want to fray the nylon, but you can get that greasy grime to come off fairly quickly.
The Okeden Bay Velcro halter is extraordinarily handsome and clearly designed with a lot of thought. While it’s well priced for its quality and materials, it’s expensive for a turnout halter. We also liked the Field Safe halter with Velcro, especially with its ligher weight. However, Velcro closures are going to need to be kept clean to stay sticky and that can be a pain at times.
We’re really most impressed with the leather fuse and Chicago screw. Although you need to periodically check to be sure the screw is still tight, we think it’s the simplest method.
We also like padding, and two halters impressed us there: The Dura-Tech Deluxe Padded Safety Turnout Halter and the Flex Rider Padded Safety Halter. However, the nod for best halter and best buy goes to the Dura-Tech Deluxe, due to its lower price.
Horse Journal staff article.