Often, a hard to catch horse will be turned out in the pasture wearing a halter. The halter makes it easier and saves time when the horse needs to be caught. But is it a good idea? This article will answer the question: Should you leave a halter on your horse in the pasture?
Safety is of the Utmost Importance
A horse that is hard to catch is very frustrating, but we need to remember that safety is of the utmost importance. When a horse has an itch, it uses its teeth or hooves to scratch. But what about the places he can’t reach with his teeth, like his head? In that situation, horses like to rub on anything they can find. It might be a tree, a fence post, the side of a building. The list goes on.
Wearing a halter when they are rubbing can lead to tragedy. I am reminded of a horse I saw when I was a child. We were driving in the country when we saw a horse standing by the fence with its head held in an awkward position. As my Dad drove up closer, we could see sweat covered the horse. There was blood running down the horse's face.
The metal fence post was caught between the halter and the horse’s face, trapping the horse. We don’t know how long the horse had been fighting, but it was exhausted and cut up bad. My Dad, the always prepared rancher, put a lariat on the horse, took the halter off, and started walking the horse to the nearest ranch house to find the owners. I am sure he had a few choice words for them because the answer to, “Should you leave a halter on a horse in the pasture?” is a firm NO!
The Best Tips For Catching a Horse Which is Difficult to Catch
If you need to leave a halter on your horse because he is hard to catch, then you have some work to do. Ideally, we want our horses to run up to the gate as soon as they see us, but the reality isn’t always that way. There are some techniques to use that will make a hard to catch horse easier to catch.
Want to Work for You
The third rule in our article “15 Important Ground Rules for Horse Safety” is: You want the horse to work because it wants to not because it has too. This rule refers to developing a relationship with your horse based on trust and teamwork. This all starts with groundwork. Learn more about groundwork that encourages a horse to make decisions to respect and follow you.
Horses are incredibly curious creatures; instead of approaching a hard to catch horse, squat down and avoid direct eye contact. It will take some time, but most horses will come over to see what is going on, especially if you have been working with them on ground exercises. When the horse comes over, start petting it as you rise. Then slip a lead rope over the horse’s neck and put on the halter.
However, by squatting down, you are putting yourself in a vulnerable position. This technique requires you to be able to move out of the way if things go south. Therefore, if you cannot jump up quickly, this is not a good technique for you.
Lead Horse in Herd
Horses have a hierarchy, even if there are only two horses in the herd. The leader or boss has a distinct role in the survival of the herd. You can learn more about the Boss Mare and What She Means to the Herd here. If you have several horses that are turned out together, work on getting the lead horse to be easy to catch. When the leader is caught, you can use her to lead the other horses to a smaller corral. If she does not want to be caught and takes off, the rest of the herd will follow her lead.
Every Visit Does Not Mean Work
Riding is the part most horse owners love the best. But for a horse, it can represent work. Every visit to see your horse should not mean you are asking them to work. Nobody likes a friend that only shows up when they need something. Right?
To reinforce the relationship started during the groundwork sessions. Surprise him by taking a brush to the pasture instead of leading him back to be tacked up.
- About every third visit or so, try doing this. Put your grooming equipment in a bucket and carry it out to the pasture. My horses recognize the feed bucket and come up to investigate. Start rubbing and rewarding her for coming up. On infrequent occasions, I will have a little bit of grain in the bucket. Then I use a brush and groom as long as she is willing to stand there. When she walks away, the grooming and attention stop. I pick up everything and stop for the day.
- I keep repeating this step until she is willing to let me brush her all over before she walks away.
- Next, I will add a lead rope but not a halter to the bucket of grooming supplies. Before I start grooming, I lay the lead rope over her neck. Suppose she takes off or walks away. Then her special grooming/attention time is stopped.
- I keep repeating the above step, eventually adding a halter. Some horses will see the halter and immediately revert to not coming up. If that is the case, do not chase them down. It then becomes a “game”. Ignore them, and if another horse comes up, give them the attention instead. You might be surprised as to how jealous horses can get over getting our attention.
- It is important to remember the trick to making this technique work is to keep the horse guessing if your visit today means work or special attention. It needs to be intertwined with visits that mean work, in the form of ground exercises, riding, or both. On the days you need to work, try to enclose the horse in a smaller area where it is harder for them to get away from you. You can use the corner of a pasture if needed.
Leaving a halter on a foal that is unattended is a bad idea for two reasons. The first reason is the same reason you should not leave a halter on an adult horse. They can get hung up on most anything. The second reason is because foals are continually growing at a fast rate. If a halter is not taken off and checked for the size regularly, the halter can become embedded in the bone as the horse’s head grows.
Stable Requires A Halter During Turnout
First off, any stable that requires a horse to have on a halter during turnout or in the stall had better have a good reason!! If your horse is horrible about being caught and you are currently training him using some of the techniques mentioned, you can use a breakaway halter. The name says it all. Breakaway halters are designed to breakaway if the horse gets caught on something. There are some pros and cons to these halters.
One of the most aggravating things in horse ownership is a horse that is hard to catch. Leaving a halter on the horse in the pasture would be easier, but can lead to tragedy. As horse owners, it is our responsibility to keep our horses safe. We need to ignore the easy way out and take the time to develop a relationship and teach our horses to want to work for us and come up willingly to be caught. You should NOT leave a halter on a horse in the pasture!
Horse Courses by Elaine Heney
- Listening to the Horse - The Documentary by Elaine Heney & Grey Pony Films
- Shoulder In & Out Training for better balance, bend & topline development with your horse
- Over 110+ Polework Exercises & Challenges to Download
- Dancing at Liberty & Creating Connection with Your Horse (11 lessons) - Grey Pony Films