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Rope halters and trailers

From: Jerry


I read a reacent article in Trailblazer magazine on trailering the herd-bound horse and in that article you endorsed trailering in leather or nylon halters rather than rope. Why not rope? I've done it for years but am wondering what the drawback is. I'm leaving for Wyoming tomorrow, and since the trip is 1600+ miles each way I'd like to be sure I don't do anything to injure one of my horses.

Input? Thanks -- Jerry

Hi Jerry - When a horse is tied in a trailer, a leather or flat nylon will present a broader surface and create less pressure in the event of a sudden stop or - heaven forbid - an accident. A leather halter is the preferred headgear for a horse in a trailer. A nylon safety halter (one with a leather breakaway crownpiece) is the next best choice. A leather halter or a safety halter will break in an emergency instead of causing strong pressure and burns to a horse's head. The strength of a rope halter will generally prevent it from breaking, which is useful during training but can be fatal at other times. That's why rope halters shouldn't be used on horses that are turned out or in trailers.

A correctly-tied rope halter can be a very useful training tool because it's extremely strong, virtually unbreakable, and makes it very easy for the handler to create pressure on sensitive areas of the horse's head, but in a training situation, the handler is deliberately using pressure AND RELEASE. That's why some people DO use a rope halter when they are first training a horse to get into and out of a trailer, but if they are wise, they won't use it when they are actually taking the horse somewhere.

If a horse in turnout or a trailer gets its halter caught on something and panics, there is no release from the pressure. The rope can cause severe friction burns, and if the halter doesn't break, something else will... usually the horse. In a situation like that, the worst-case scenario is a dead or terribly injured horse, and even if someone is standing nearby with a sharp knife and can get to the horse almost instantly, the horse may already have been badly hurt, or may have broken its neck.

If you've ever had to cut through a rope halter or lead in an emergency, you know how difficult it is and how sharp the knife must be, whether the halter is made from a reata or from parachute cord. If you've ever had a frightened horse pull a nylon rope lead through your hands, you know just how quickly you can get a rope burn, and how very painful and slow-healing such a burn can be. Now imagine a horse getting such a burn on its poll, on the sides of its jaw, and under its jaw - areas where there is very little natural padding between skin and bone. Damage here is quick to occur and terribly slow to heal... if, indeed, it does heal. This is why trailering is best done using a flat leather or breakaway halter and a cotton leadrope with quick-release snaps. Even the most wonderful, calm, predictable, "dead-broke" horse can, in an accident, be put into a position where its weight is bearing on its halter, with horrible results. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter whether the horse pulled against the trailer or the trailer pulled against the horse, it's the horse that will sustain the damage.

Bottom line: Your best bet for safe trailering is a leather or safety halter, and a cotton leadrope with panic snaps.

I wish you and your horses a peaceful, safe, enjoyable trip - Wyoming is really beautiful at this time of year.


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