Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cowboy Wisdom -- Halters and horse sense

One of Bob DeRoche's saddle horses on a trail ride high above Wapiti, Wyoming

I have some strong opinions about halters

Experience and lessons learned from hundreds of trail rides has taught me the value of always carrying a halter wherever I go.  

Many wilderness outfitters always leave the horse's halter on under the bridle.  The lead rope is simply looped over the saddlehorn for quick access.  The reasons for leaving the halter on a trail horse are many and simple.  On a wilderness ride you're likely to encounter situations where it's just naturally easier for you to get off and lead your horse.  One example is downfall trees.  I've been in places where so many aspen trees have fallen across the trail a horse literally has to negotiate one tree with his front end while his hind end is getting over another tree.  

Another situation is on long downhill descents.  If your horse has worked hard all day, he deserves a break when he's going downhill on a steep grade because he has to lock his front knees with every step taken, and your weight doesn't help.

A halter is essential for any stockman.

Finally when you make camp for lunch your halter is already on you can make a quick tie to the picket line and run for the grub line:-)

When I'm riding in my own neighborhood and know I won't be more than a few miles from home, I carry a lightweight rope halter in a cantle bag.  It never comes off my saddle.  Over the years I've walked home more than once leading a horse.  Sometimes it was a missing shoe or a sore foot.  One time it was a lost horse I found wandering loose on the trail.  Another time--when my bridle came apart -- I rode ol' Sunup home in his halter.

Joyce and Star with a sturdy nylon halter and soft cotton lead rope (1996)

Halters are for leading and tying horses only.  If you're gonna saddle, shoe, or doctor a horse, you need to tie him to a hitching post, trailer, or something else that's high and solid.  Never tie a horse to anything lower than his shoulder, or you're likely to have a wreck on your hands.

Halters need to be taken off when a horse is turned out in a pasture or arena  

When I see a horse in a pasture with its halter on, I figure its owner is either lazy, stupid or both.  It's all I can do to restrain myself from butting in and taking off the halter myself.  A lady once told me it was the only way she could catch her horse.  What?   She never heard of carrots or a bucket (empty or otherwise).  I always carry cookies in my pocket, and my horses know it.

A good friend of mine over in New Mexico bought a horse at an auction.  Because it was late at night when he got home, he turned the horse out in a pipe arena with the halter on.  He didn't know the horse and figured the halter would make it easier to catch his new steed in the morning.  When morning came he found his new horse with a broken heck.  The horse stuck its head through the pipe fence, got a halter ring caught on a bolt, and killed itself trying to get free.

I knew another fellow who turned out a couple of colts with their halters on.  They got to playing and kickin' when one colt got its foot hung up the other's halter.  The colt broke its leg and had to be destroyed.

Halters can be a downright dangerous tool.

Halters and horse trailers

I have trailered horses many thousands of miles -- and yes they are haltered in the trailer -- but I always use a break-away halter.  It has a leather strap over the horse's head that will break with pressure; a nylon halter won't.  I also don't tie my horses hard and fast.  Instead I use a "Blocker Tie Ring" that allows the lead rope to slip (with pressure on) should my horse fall or panic.

I go one step further when trailering: I have a TV camera and monitor so I can keep an eye on my horses while I'm on the road.  It's actually mighty interesting to watch your horses' reactions to trucks, trains, rain, wind, etc.

Keep your halter handy, use it correctly, and it'll be happy trails.

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