My thoughts on this subject first came up nearly a year ago when I was required by our former boarding facility to purchase a rope halter in order for the staff to handle my horse. This was the same place that didn't allow horses to be turned out in grazing paddocks alone. All horses at the barn were required to have a rope halter, so this was not specific to Rose. There was a lot of head scratching on my part but I obliged. Soon to follow were curious rubs spots, missing hair, and bald patches on Rose's face. My leather halter (with or without stud chain) never did any of that to her. It does leave me to wonder just how the staff handled my horse when I wasn't present. But I digress...
|April 2010, 2yr-11mo old Rose sporting a stud|
chain on one of her first off-barn outings.
Stud chains and flat leather halters are not all that commonly used here in Montana, as most people use western style rope halters. I'm not sure if that's because it is tradition, or because they have been popularized by the likes of Clinton Anderson and Parelli. Regardless, they are seemingly everywhere. Most of my formal equestrian training was gained in hunter barns on the East Coast prior to the natural horsemanship movement. Back then at least, rope halters did exist on the East Coast. Hence my traditional understanding and use of leather halters and stud chains.
I'm not taking a stance on whether rope halters are the end all and be all of halters or should all be melted in a giant pile of steaming nylon. Nor am I saying that I think stud chains are the perfect training tool and should replace all rope halters. That is for everyone to decide for themselves. As I see it, there is nothing wrong with rope halters when used appropriately as the training tool that they are intended to be. However, I have seen them miss-used on a daily basis, by uneducated and unsupervised horse owners, lessors, and barn staff. I've had the dis-pleasure of witnessing very serious accidents that have occurred due to the improper use of rope halters. As such, I'm not a big fan of their general everyday use. Not that I'm a fan of everyday general use of stud chains either. In my mind they both have a time, place, and purpose.
|Rose and modeling her rope halter|
At our past boarding facility, I can't tell you how many people I saw tie and cross-tie horses in rope halters only to walk away and leave their horse unsupervised for a good half-hour or more. I don't care how "broke" your horse is, that is just a very dangerous and negligent thing to do, even in a leather halter, not to mention a rude hogging use of the cross-ties or hitching post. Not once did any of these people ever ask me to keep an eye on their horse in their absence. Being the polite and anti-drama boarder I am, I would just ring my hands and walk away, hoping that nothing bad would happen.
Why is tying or cross-tying a horse in a rope halter dangerous? Horses should never be tied in anything that does not have breaking point (i.e. leather halter, leather crown piece, or leather panic strap). If something were to seriously spook a horse there is no part of a rope halter that will give way, no part that can easily be taken off, and all the while the horse is panicking it is being severely punished by the pressure applied by the rope halter. This can actually cause the horse to panic more. To that end, I don't like the excuse that "it's unlikely that my horse will do that", because people use the same statement to justify the existence of barbed wire fencing on their horse pastures, "my horse is barbed wire wise". Excuse me? During what Pareli game did you teach your horse to not spook and gallop into a barbed wire fence? If a wild cat were to get into your horse pasture, you can be certain that you are looking at a dead horse or at best a very expensive vet bill. The fact is, if a horse can even think about hurting itself on something it will. It's just a matter when, not if.
Getting back to the topic, I've also seen people miss use stud chains. In my opinion, one major difference between the use of a stud chain vs. a rope halter is that a stud chain can be removed from a flat halter eliminating the added pressure entirely and easily, whereas the small diameter pressure aspect of a nylon rope halter with it's various knots and sometimes metal pieces cannot. The only way to remove that pressure entirely is to swap halters, as one should once a training session is over just as one would remove a stud chain. As I see it, a lot of people get lazy and don't want to swap out their rope halter for a flat halter after their training session is over, and soon enough the only halter they ever use is a rope halter. Not that everyone who uses rope halters is lazy, but I think a lot of people lack an education on the subject and quite frankly don't know any better. No one ever told them to not tie a horse in a rope halter. Sadly, like many things equestrian, it is an education that many people only gain the hard way as a result of unfortunate accidents.
Why I steer clear of rope halters:
|Rose's rope halter, always at the ready to|
perform it's sole task...emergency haltering
|September 2011, 4yr-4mo old Rose |
To summarize my position, if my 4-year old 16.2h warmblood can be safely handled in a leather halter, I imagine most people's 15.0h quarter horses around here could be too. If they can't be, then that's a training issue that needs to be addressed, and the non-stop use of a rope halter is just a band-aid for the symptom and not a solution to the problem. I think if most people thought about what they were doing with those rope halters they might just change their ways. Just a little, just maybe? Probably not.
Happy trails and swooshing tails!