Monday, September 28, 2009

Leaving halters on

I have to go back on my word a bit in regards to leaving halters on hard-to-catch horses…there are special circumstances where I feel leaving the halter on can be ok. Special and rare, but they exist.

This comes about as I admit to leaving a halter on our newest horse, Cody. Where we are at for the month of September and part of October (until the Thanksgiving weekend), there are no facilities to make catching Cody easier. I cannot really lock him into a paddock as he would not have enough feed (the horses are on grass - hay out here isn't feasible/worthwhile; they'll be back on hay upon returning home) and he would have no water (not really feasible to pack it to him every day). In addition, even in a small paddock, it would probably take a good hour or more to get a rope on him. He remains suspicious of people (though he is coming around), but is particularly suspicious of ropes yet (we haven’t done too much work on it yet and will tackle it more directly once we return home). Working on ropes with him is something I want to take on while I have a rope and halter on him – doing so at liberty (unless in a roundpen, which we do not have right here but do have at home) would just result in him losing trust in me and then being impossible to catch. Anyways. So in the mean time, due to his substantial fear issues, I am leaving a rope halter on him – one that easily comes off in the event he catches himself on something (and it has come over an ear a few times). I do not advise someone to leave a halter on a horse who just doesn’t want to be caught (for whatever reason) – in that event, there is a lot you can do (usually): walking down the horse, cornering the horse, approach and retreat, using body language to have the horse face you, bribing the horse (short-term while you work on the issue from the other side – getting the horse to the point where he enjoys being with you so much he wants to be caught), etc etc. We’ve discussed leaving halters on horses and hard-to-catch horses in the past. Leaving a halter on a horse can be dangerous and is a last-resort option; it is also a temporary option as you work on a horse’s fear-based reactions. I still cringe when I see pastured horses with halters on, particularly foals (because they haven’t been taught to release to pressure or to think situations through). On the other hand, I can understand the odd time where leaving a halter on a horse is necessary. So, what can you do to make your horse as safe as possible while wearing her halter?

1. Either have the halter as loose as possible (while still staying on) or as tight as possible (while remaining comfortable to the horse) – not in between. It has always been a debate throughout my years with horses of which option was best (I think Pony Club usually recommended a snug halter), with pros and cons on either side of the fence. If you have the halter on snug, the possibility of a foot becoming entangled is reduced, yet if the horse gets his halter caught on anything, there is less chance of the halter coming off in the event of an emergency. However, a snug halter reduces the risk of something being caught in the first place. With a loose halter, there is more of a chance the horse could get a foot caught, but the halter can also come off the horse’s head in an emergency. Either way, use a breakaway halter or rig one by using a breakable tying material (thin baling twine, etc) to tie the halter together rather than doing it up as usual. This allows the halter to break apart in the event of a caught foot or other. My recommendation would probably be to have a snug, well-fitting halter that will break apart should the worst occur.

2. Check the pasture/paddock and remove anything (possible) the halter could be caught on.

3. Make it a temporary “solution” while you work out your horse’s catching issues – the longer that halter is on, the greater the risk your horse could be injured. The minute that horse starts being possible to catch (even if it takes 15min and takes some work), remove the halter. Be willing to do what it takes to catch that horse and to improve future catcheability.

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