How to Choose the Right Horse Halter
Updated December 8, 2022
There’s hardly a piece of equipment more essential to having a horse than a halter. Halters can offer a fashion statement, identify your horse in an emergency, be a valuable training tool, prevent dangerous situations and be an integral part of showing success.
When buying a new horse, it is sometimes the only thing that comes with him. A personalized halter is often the first milestone purchase a new owner makes to celebrate having a horse of their own. Trainers depend on the performance of their halters to effectively school and successfully show. In this article, we’ll talk about types of halters, their uses, and how to find the perfect one for your horse.
Leather Horse Halters
A quality leather halter is what many horse owners buy as their first purchase for a new horse. With so many unique colors and personalization options available, it’s hard not to have at least one for each horse! Leather halters can last a lifetime when properly cared for and are employed in everything from daily barn use to showing. There are several types of leather halter styles, but we’ll focus here on leather halters for daily use (versus those used in the show ring).
You can find leather halters in double and triple stitch, with fancy stitching to match your bridle or in patent leather. There is also the choice of having a padded halter, which allows for many fun padding colors like green, purple and turquoise! Most of these options are a matter of personal preference, although additional stitching and padding can add integrity and comfort.
A “grooming” halter is either just a headstall and noseband or is convertible and includes clips on either side of the throatlatch and onto the noseband so that that section can be removed. Either way, the design makes it more convenient to groom your horse’s face. Although, it’s important to keep in mind that without a throatlatch your horse can also slip out of this style with greater ease.
Sizes of Leather Halters
Leather halters come in traditional sizes like Cob, Horse/Full and Oversize. Many also come in Pony, although some halters styles are made exclusively for ponies. If you’re looking for a specific size, it’s also helpful to use filters in your search to narrow down the halters available in those sizes. It’s easy to search by color as well to find the perfect combination! Sizing your halter correctly will be important not only for appearance, but also functionality, ensuring it stays in place properly and provides the type of control you might need.
Care and Cleaning Leather Halters
Leather halters (just like your bridle and saddle) require regular cleaning and conditioning to stay looking and performing their best. It’s important to address any dry or cracking areas to ensure your halter doesn’t fail at the wrong moment. Check out our selection of leather care products.
Perhaps one of the most popular features of leather halters is the ability to attach an engraved plate. At SmartPak, we offer nameplates on all our leather halters and when personalized while ordering your halter, we’ll attach the plate for you.
Nylon Horse Halters
Nylon halters are typically more economical than leather halters and are popular as an everyday halter that doesn’t need the same attention as leather would. This category includes nylon halters as well as cotton and those with trendy overlays. They come in all sorts of fun colors and patterns and will often match other pieces of tack to complete your look! There’s often an even wider variety of sizes, including minis and drafts.
It’s helpful to have a nylon halter as a backup to your leather halter, and most stables keep on hand a collection of nylon halters in various sizes as they are easy to slip on, durable and easier to replace. Some can even be personalized with stitched text on the nose or cheekpiece, or with completely custom colors to match your barn.
Because nylon halters are practically unbreakable and nearly impossible to cut through in an emergency, you should always use them under supervision. Unless they say “breakaway” (which we’ll talk about below), nylon halters can pose a danger if your horse were to catch the halter on something during turnout, become tangled in the trailer or spook on crossties. As a result, you should never use a nylon halter for turnout, and when trailering be sure to either use a breakaway halter or breakaway ties in case of emergency.
Breakaway Horse Halters
A breakaway halter can either be a halter with a leather crownpiece or one designed with a snapped leather strap connecting the cheekpiece to the crownpiece. Even if you have an easygoing horse, for tying and turnout, a breakaway is a safer choice than a straight nylon or leather halter. Some all-leather halters may break, but halters entitled “breakaway” are designed to provide a more reliable release under pressure. It’s important to note, for either style, breakaway halters will release at different degrees of pressure under different circumstances.
Some breakaway halters are specifically designed for turnout, with Velcro straps instead of a snap that will release should your horse become tangled on brush or otherwise while out on their own. These halters are favorites for horses that need a safe turnout halter but tend to break their breakaways often. The Velcro is easy to reattach and there’s no need to replace anything.
To check out our selection of breakaway halters, look for nylon halters that have “Breakaway” in the name.
Rope Horse Halters
Rope halters have gained in popularity in recent years, and are now seen beyond Western disciplines, especially where trainers and riders are turning more focus to groundwork. For those unaccustomed to using a rope halter, they aren’t as instinctual to put on, but with a little practice can become second nature and prove a valuable training tool. Because rope halters don’t involve any hardware, the connection between handler and horse is unencumbered, allowing for the development of more subtle cues.
If you haven’t used a rope halter previously, it may be helpful to work with or observe a trainer skilled at using one. A trainer can also assist in recommending an appropriate lead style and length to make the best use of your rope halter. In addition to being a useful training tool, rope halters can be used easily over a bridle as a backup for trail riding, or under a breakaway halter for trailering.
How Rope Halters are Different
The knots on rope halters apply pressure to sensitive areas, so the more knots there are (especially on the nose) the greater pressure exerted in more spots. Additionally, rope halters are thinner than leather or nylon halters, so the pressure is focused on one spot versus being distributed across a wider strap. As a result, even a basic rope halter can apply quite a bit of pressure.
Just as with a nylon halter, caution should be taken when tying a horse with a rope halter in case they should spook, and you should never turn your horse out in a rope halter. One pro about rope halters is that should an emergency occur, they are easier to cut than nylon halters.
Sizing Rope Horse Halters
Many rope halters are sold as one size fits all, although fit and adjustment on a rope halter are just as important as with other types of halters. Most rope halters will fit the average Quarter Horse right out of the bag, but it’s always good to check your fit. You’ll want to be sure that the noseband isn’t gaping (the knot under the chin can be adjusted with some patience) and that you’ve left some space in the throatlatch when you tie the halter. The lash on the halter should be tied so it points toward the neck and not the eye. If the lash is long enough to be swinging, you can tuck the end into the throatlatch section, so it doesn’t accidentally catch your horse in the eye.
How to Fit a Horse Halter
To fit your horse’s halter properly, be sure to use any available adjustments on the crownpiece and noseband. Follow these halter fitting guidelines:
- The crownpiece should fit comfortably behind your horse’s ears but not pinch.
- The noseband should sit about halfway between your horse’s nostrils and eyes, with about 2 - 3 fingers width between the leather and your horse’s nose.
- The throatlatch should allow for 3 - 4 fingers width so your horse can breathe and swallow properly, but won’t get a hoof caught.
Double-check fit by ensuring the cheekpieces run roughly parallel to your horse’s cheekbones. Finally, be sure that the hardware is not fitting too snugly and pressing into any sensitive areas. Don’t forget that if you don’t happen to buy the perfect size at first, SmartPak offers free return shipping on all sized items, including halters, so you can easily exchange it for the right fit.
Whether you have one of each type (or more), halters are a fun way to show your horse off at home and on the road, express individuality and get excited about ownership. Used correctly, halters are an important part of your horse’s safety and daily routine. When you’re ready to buy your first or next halter, SmartPak is here to help find the perfect match!
- Shop ergonomic halters that are designed to avoid facial nerves and are great for horses with sensitive ears.
- Shop halter fleeces, pads, crown pieces, nameplates, and other halter accessories.
Originally published February 28, 2018.