Rope halters - use and fit

The new year is here and I start it with some practical advice. I asked my newsletter subscribers if they had any wishes and they asked for more horse training tips and advice. So here we go - the first article will be about rope halters

Working almost every day with a rope halter, I've almost forgotten how I used to struggle to get the knot right and all the questions I had about it. So my goal today is to answer all rope halter related questions. Let me know if I forgot anything important. 

Why use a rope halter?

The rope halter is a tool for communication and made to transfer impulses from the lead rope directly and precisely to the horse's head. 
One of the most important concepts in horsemanship is to make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy. The rope halter is ideal to achieve just that: Thanks to its little weight and the loose fit it sits comfortably on the horse's head. If I put movement or pressure on the lead rope, it's directed to the halter quickly and precisely - it is not diluted which would be the case if the horse wore a web halter (that come thickly padded these days). 
Additionally, the horse most likely will not enjoy to hang their heads in the rope halter - the ropes are quite thin and don't make it a nice place to rest the head in. The halter becomes uncomfortable if the horse pulls on the rope; it makes the wrong behavior (counter pressure) hard for the horse. The right behavior (give to the pressure) is rewarded instantly: If the horse yields, the pressure on the halter disappears and it becomes comfortable right away again. 

Because of the the thin ropes the rope halter is not made for constant pressure - if we want to use it, we need to work with impulses, not steady pulling. Used the wrong way, the knot halter can easily turn into a sharp tool that does not benefit the horse. 

The knot

rope halter, use and fit, being with horses blog

It works like this:
1. Threat the end of the rope through the loop of the halter. Adjust the halter on the horse's head, meaning push up the nosepiece and make sure the rope sits around the horse's throat, not the horse's cheek. Pull the end of the rope through some more. 
2. Now, you pull the rope under the loop to the front in direction of the horse's head. 
3. Now bend the rope and thread it through the new loop (going over the old loop).
4. Tighten the knot.

(The rope halter is quite loose here. That's because I was taking pictures while I was doing the knot. Usually, I use both hands to do the knot so it does not slip or become loose). 

Two things you need to pay attention to
1. The knot needs to be around the loop of the halter
2. When the knot is done, the end of the rope needs to point in the direction of the horse's back, not in the direction of the eye.

These pictures show all possible knots - but only one is correct. 

rope halter, use and fit, being with horses blog
Wrong: The knot is not around the loop. Plus, 
the end of the rope points in direction of the horse's eye.

rope halter, use and fit, being with horses blog
Wrong: The knot is not around the loop. The end of the rope points in the right direction, though.

rope halter, use and fit, being with horses blog
Wrong: The knot is around the loop but still points in
the wrong direction to the horse's eye.

rope halter, use and fit, being with horses blog
Right: The knot is around the loop and the end of the
rope points backwards, away from the horse's eye

The fit of the rope halter

The most common mistakes I notice when it comes to the fit of the rope halter

- The rope halter sits too low on the horse's nose
- The rope halter does not go around the horse's throat but sits on the cheeks. 

This is why that is wrong:
You don't want the rope halter to come too far down on the nose, because the nasal bone is very thin there. We don't want to exert any pressure on such a fragile structure. 
If the halter sits on the horse's cheek, it most likely is unbalanced. That means that more pressure than necessary is exerted on the horse's cheek, which easily rubs the coat and pinches the skin. If the halter sits farther back along the throat, you not only save the horse's skin but also you will have greater influence on the horse's head as the halter runs around the jaws which gives you more control over the head as a whole.

You want the nose piece to run under the edge of the cheek bone with one or two fingerbreaths room between themBetween the loop (where you snap or knot your lead rope) and the horse's chin you want to be able to fit the width of your hand. If the rope halter is too large, it moves too much and becomes imprecise when the impulses of the rope are delivered. If the halter is too narrow, it again will pinch the horse's face. 

I am no vet, but I guess that the believe a rope halter would stimulate some acupuncture points on the horse's head is not scientifically proven. What I find is that if you work with the lead rope, the halter does move on the horse's head quite a bit. That would mean that the acupuncture points cover quite an area - and I don't believe that. 

rope halter, use and fit, being with horses blog
This is how a rope halter should look like. There is some space 
between the nose piece and the cheek bone, the throat strap is 
behind the horse's cheek, meaning the cheek piece has the
right length. There is enough room between the loop where
the rope is attached and the chin. The halter is balanced and a
nice, comfortable fit. 

rope halter, use and fit, being with horses blog
The halter is too low. The nose piece is
quite down on the nasal bone, and the throat
strap pinches coat and skin at the cheek. 
The halter is unbalanced. You can tell that 
more weight is on the throat strap, whereas the
nose piece is quite loose. 

rope halter, use and fit, being with horses blog
This halter is too small for the horse. It is quite tight around the nose, 
the nose piece touches the edge of the cheek bone and 
because of the short cheek piece you cannot run the throat latch 
around the throat. 

Some thoughts on tying a horse. Here in Germany people tend to freak if someone would tie their horse in a rope halter (because it is so sharp and dangerous). Interestingly enough, no one freaks if a horse is tied in a web halter. The general advice: "Do not tie your horse in a rope halter".
As for me, I think, if my horse has not learned to be tied or has trouble with it, a web halter can be as damaging as a rope halter. I personally don't tie horses because I want them to stand still on their own without being held back by a rope. If had had to, I would use a web halter for that purpose (maybe it is superstition or tradition).

Let me know if you liked that piece. I published it in German first and it was the most successful blog post I ever wrote with several thousand clicks. If you like it, I'll think of some more basic concepts to write about.

PS: All pictures: Nadja, model: Paledo

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