Friday, February 20, 2009

Halter types and about leaving them on

I guess my first note on halters is why rope over web halters. I use rope halters on all my horses for two reasons:

1. The knots on a rope halter provide pressure points that encourage the horse to release rather than lean on the halter and to move into whichever direction you're directing by "porcupining" the horse over from the opposite side through the use of the knots

2. Web halters are wide and thus provide the horse something to lean on; the thin rope of the rope halter encourages the horse instead to release to pressure - it is much harder to lean into something thin than something wide that can distribute the pressure

My second note on halters...leaving a halter on a horse is a pet peeve of mine because usually they present a danger - especially with foals! Horses can get caught up in a halter so easily. Horses are prey animals; if they get caught in something like a halter most are going to immediately become reactive and try to fight their way out, which can result in a broken leg - or worse!

So why do people leave the halters on their horses? Most people seem to leave the halters on to help them catch their horses. If you need to leave a halter on to catch your horse, your horse is telling you something! Start playing with your horse in such a way that your horse wants to work with you each day! Sometimes this takes a little time, particularly if you are just developing a relationship with a particular horse. However eventually, with time, it should come, your horse should want to work with you and should be excited to see you. I find the left-brain horses, the thinkers, can be particularly difficult to catch, however if you keep playing with them and earning that partnership, they do come around...every horse does if you put the time into it.

A horse that has been taught to think things through left-brained rather than react right-brained first (such as through Parelli Natural Horsemanship) will hopefully remain calm to think things through should they get caught up in a halter, but in that case you shouldn't need to leave a halter on in the first place! By that point you've likely established a pretty strong partnership with your horse and so therefore do not have any trouble catching him.

Another reason I sometimes see halters left on is to get foals or young horses accustomed to wearing a halter. First off, young horses aren't going to think the situation through when they get caught, they're going to react blindly. Second off, there are better ways of getting your foal accustomed to wearing a halter! Some people will even allow the foal to drag a leadrope around...aaah!!! There are much better ways of teaching your foal to release to pressure than to leave him in such a dangerous situation. Parelli's 7 games are one such way, for example.

My point though was just that hey it can be difficult to catch some horses sometimes...whether it be through your own fault or simply because your horse does not want to come in to play with you and you have not yet established a strong partnership with them (even if you are currently working on it) or even because your horse has bad past experiences with humans...but please please please do not leave the halter on if it can be at all helped!! In addition, if you are having trouble catching your horse, please take a step back and evaluate what you are doing to cause that horse to not want to be caught. If it's simply a matter of continuing to build a partnership with that horse and/or developing that horse to where it thinks positively of people, well then continue to plug away because you guys will get it...but if it's a horse you've had for years and who still doesn't like to be caught, maybe there is more that you can do to entice him to want to be with you, maybe there is something different in your program to change so as to further earn your horse's partnership. Keep in mind that how difficult it is to catch a horse can often also be a reflection of your prior session with that horse.

I do have horses in training (or whom I have just recently purchased) that periodically did, or will, go through phases (at the beginning) where they do not wish to be caught. They all come around eventually, as they start to enjoy our sessions and as we build that partnership. All my own horses that I've built solid partnerships with will often come running out of the hills to find me when I whistle - work towards that type of goal with your own horse! It's not all that hard for all of us to achieve. In extreme circumstances (ie, the severely abused horse or such), I can understand even having a (preferably breakaway) halter on a horse for a period of time - but those circumstances are rare for the average amateur horse owner. If you're leaving the halter on your horse - just take a moment to establish 'why' and see if you need to perhaps adjust your approach or focus on certain areas of your relationship with your horse.

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