January 20, 2012

Stud Chains vs. Rope Halters

In my last post I talked about how and why to use a stud chain. Now I thought I'd give you my opinion on the subject of stud chains w/flat halters vs. rope halters. Just to be clear, this is my opinion and I'm happy to own that. So please don't hate me if you happen to disagree, and I'll promise to not hate you right back. I'm always happy to hear and consider another equestrian's opinion on anything horse related.

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.
The big debate, flat halter with stud chain or rope halter?
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
Warning - Rope Halter Rant
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
Clearly, I have a sense of when, how, and why to use a rope halter. However, in my experience a rope halter just doesn't give you the leverage you need in a panic situation or with a "hot" horse like a stud chain does. In addition, every time you use it, a rope halter puts a lot of pressure on the delicate pole of the horse. A lot. Don't believe me? Go grab a rope halter and a flat halter. One at a time put them behind your neck and pull. Which puts more pressure on your neck? Which would you rather have to wear on a daily basis? No wonder why so many people around here feel that they need to get their horses massaged and adjusted. Surprisingly far more than I ever saw in fancy barns on the East Coast. Trust me, a nice leather halter is far less expensive than massages and chiropractic work.

September 2011, 4yr-4mo old Rose
sans-stud chain
For these reasons, with the exception of specific ground work training purposes or leading a horse in from a pasture, I don't use rope halters. However, Rose does have a rope halter (thanks to our previous barn) and it hangs on her pasture gate in case someone needs to halter her in an emergency situation. For daily use though, I keep her leather halter inside with my tack and always use that when I work with her. These days Rose's stud chain is a thing of the past, and it's only rarely used when someone needs to borrow it or I need something to hang a random water bucket with. In fact I went to look for it the other day and couldn't find it.

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!


  1. 100% agree with you. Great post! Hampton has a rope halter, which is what I bring him in from the field with. I use his nice leather halter to haul in and he will wear that at shows or lessons off the farm. I do like rope halters for young horses, as you can easily put the bridle over the halter. Hampton has not required a stud chain since he was 2, but I prefer a stud chain for "control" over a rope halter every time. They each have their time and place. Good post!

  2. Great post. My horsey roots are in the east as well at hunter/jumper/dressage barns and I don't think I'd even seen a rope halter until I moved out here where everyone seems to use one. I admit that I do own a rope halter now. I use it to ride in sometimes. I use it for some ground work. But 99% of the time I use a normal flat halter.

  3. I was just reading an entry in which a girl complained that her horse simply will not behave in a flat halter. She has no problems with a rope halter, but in a flat halter he barges into her space, drags her around, and is generally rude. I kept my mouth shut because I've found that rope halter lovers are almost cult-like in nature, but to me that says she's been using a rope halter as a crutch rather than addressing the problem. The point shouldn't be that your horse can be managed with such and such gear, it should be that your horse knows to damn well stay out of your space. My horse is polite whether I have him in a rope halter, a flat halter, or no halter at all. The same can be said of stud chains, but for some reason I don't see as many rude horses that were brought up with stud chains as I do horses who were brought up in rope halters.

    1. I absolutely agree Dom, and well put! Solid training is just that. One should know that their horse can safely be handled in any type of equipment, including halters. Rose behaves the same (politely) whether in a rope halter or her leather halter. If a horse only behaves in a rope halter...then you have a training issue on your hands.

    2. I hate to generalize but I think it is more common that people get to relying on rope halters. The horse wears the rope halter for everything every time it's handled. In fact, it's probably the only halter the owner has.

    3. I can't stand when people misuse rope halters. The first time I saw one with the metal on it I was appalled! I didn't even know they did that. I did try out your suggestion of putting both types of halter around your neck and there is a difference. My rope halter is homemade and out of a softer more floppy rope so it wasn't as bad as some, but there was a noticeable difference.

      When using my rope halter (which I originally started using because Chrome was growing and I didn't want to buy a bunch of expensive halters that he would outgrow) I rarely put pressure on it. I keep a loop in it 99% of the time. Even when I walk off I rarely put pressure on the rope. So to me the way I use my rope halter is a lot like how you use the stud chain. Only when necessary.

      I'm not a die hard fan of rope halters, like I said I made it because it was cheap and adjustable as he grew, so I'm not defending them, just explaining my usage of them. I never use stud chains for the reason you don't use rope halters, because I've seen them misused and causing damage. All tools can be misused however.

      As far as the tying issue I guess I didn't really think about it because growing up we didn't have leather or breakaway halters. We tied our horses in regular flat nylon halters. Usually the snap on the lead rope gives away before the halter and the chronic puller we had never caused any damage to herself (she pulled when we first got her and we trained her not to pull). In fact the one time Chrome stepped on his lead rope while wearing the rope halter the metal piece I used to make the lead rope gave way easily so he didn't hurt himself. The incident in the trailer was an accident because the rope got hung up. From now on I'll work in the trailer in a regular halter (and we removed the offending piece of metal his rope got hung on).

      Very interesting post though and appreciate the instructions on how to use a stud chain in case it's ever needed. Thanks!

  4. What an interesting post, I live in Spain and at my barn the rope halter is used only for training and riding but you don't see many stud chains (even for the studs). My 3yo filly is pretty reactive during her spooks even with the rope halter on so I've been trying out Linda Tellington Jones "zephyr" stud chain (actually a 1 cm diam. rope instead of a chain) and I honestly can't tell the difference so far. Do you have another post with a few more details on your "technique" when using a stud chain? What I've read / been told with both a chain as well as the rope halter is to put pressure on with short "tugs" as opposed to holding pressure, but with a stud chain do you prefer to tug down or to the side? I only need it when she panics, 85% of the time she leads extremely well with no pressure at all in a flat halter but every so often she'll see an invisible tiger lurking in the brush and she'll rush past me.


    1. Hi Starbuck & welcome to our blog! Yes, I have another post on how I use stud chains here: http://adventuresincoltstarting.blogspot.com/2012/01/how-and-why-to-use-stud-chain.html
      The pressure/tug comes from below and is applied evenly over the nose bridge and I use them on a "tug" by "tug" basis. If the horse is behaving/under control than no tugging is necessary at all. But then, I probably wouldn't be using the stud chain at that point anyway! I just pull it out and use it when necessary.

  5. I prefer a Nylon Horse Halters over a rope one, but I don't need to spend that much on one and don't need any special effects. I use just a plain leather halter that I have used for three horses over almost 20 years.



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