Knowing how to halter a horse means getting the approach right. Before you can even get started with this skill, you will want to walk up slowly to the horse. Most prefer an approach that occurs on the left side. Talk gently as you make the approach as well, allowing the horse to recognize that you are there. This will prevent the horse from becoming spooked.
Take a moment to hold out your hand when you get within a couple feet of the horse. Give an opportunity for your fingers to be sniffed, allowing the horse to recognize that some stranger hasn’t arrived in the pasture or stall. Once the horse becomes comfortable, you’re ready to begin the process of haltering the horse.
The following steps will help you accomplish this task successfully.
#1. Get the halter ready for placement.
From the left side of the horse, you will want to position the halter so that it is facing in the same direction as the head. Make sure that the halter is unbuckled. It is also helpful to make sure that you have the lead rope attached to the halter.
#2. Pass the lead rope.
Still standing on the left side of the horse, pass the end of the lead rope under the neck of the horse with your left hand. Then put your right hand over the neck of the horse and take the lead rope out of your left hand. This should let you have the rope around the neck of the horse. Hold both ends of the rope in your right hand at this point. It helps to prevent the horse from wandering off because he’s decided that the halter isn’t wanted right now.
#3. Pass the halter strap.
Now you’ll want to position the loop so that you can pass the halter strap to your right hand. Follow the same process that you used to pass the rope.
#4. Position the halter near the head of the horse.
Now that you’ve got the unbuckled halter in your left hand, you’ll want to have it close to the head of the horse. This will allow you to take your other hand and slide the noseband over the muzzle of the horse. Keep moving the halter upward, guiding the headstall over the ears of the horse.
#5. Be careful when working around the ears.
Your horse might seem willing to accept the halter, but the ears might be telling a different story. Twitchy ears betray an irritated horse. If there is heavy movement within the ears, take a pause in the process and use some time to calm the horse down some more. You may also wish to check on the tightness of the halter around the muzzle, as discomfort there can lead to the irritation that is seen.
#6. Guide the halter over the ears.
Your horse will have a preference in having the ears folded forward or backward. Use whatever method is preferred by the horse, then guide the halter over the folded ears. This will prevent any discomfort around the muzzle that may occur from trying to pull the halter over the ears instead. You will be up close to the eyes of the horse as you do this, so take extra care not to accidentally poke them or cause some other form of discomfort. This step will usually take both hands, especially if this is one of the first times you’ve put a halter on a horse. You may wish to have someone hold the lead rope for you.
#7. Affix the halter so that it is secure.
If you’re still holding the lead rope, you can let it go if the horse is comfortable. If not, you may wish to have someone hold it for you even if you’ve been doing all the work on your own up to this point. That’s because you will need to make sure that the halter has been placed correctly and that it is secure. You’ll need to buckle the halter under the throatlatch, making sure that it is tight enough to stay in place, but loose enough that it won’t be bothersome. It may be a clip, buckle, or knot that you’ll need to work.
#8. Grasp the lead lines.
Now you’re ready to go. Just remember to avoid wrapping or tying lead lines around your hand because the horse may decide to bolt at any time. Stand to the side of the horse at all times while you have the lead rope as well. At this stage, you’ve accomplished the task of placing a halter on the horse.
Knowing how to halter a horse is an essential skill that every horse owner must be able to do. With some care and patience, you can follow these steps to have a successful experience.
What Happens if My Horse Refuses During These Steps?
In a perfect world, the horse will see your approach with the halter. The horse will then come to you, ready to put on the halter. So you hold it out as an invitation, the horse slips right into it, and you’re on your way in seconds. You don’t even need to loop the lead rope around the neck because the horse loves having their personal halter placed on them.
In the real world, the experience can be very different. A horse may respond with discomfort, irritation, or even disrespect when your presence has been noticed.
If the horse turns their back on you as you approach, then this is a sign of avoidance. It’s a communication tool that says, “I don’t want to have you put on this halter right now.”
You might also see the horse place their face into a stall corner, run to the edge of the pasture, or even become physically aggressive when you approach with the halter. These behaviors occur because at some level, the horse has decided that spending time with you is a negative experience.
In order for you to follow the steps that are necessary to halter the horse, you’ll need to work on turning those negatives into positives.
There are several issues that you may encounter as you work to secure the halter to the horse that communicates you are being seen in a negative light.
- Raising their head upward to the point where you cannot place the halter above the ears.
- Pushing their head into you as you attempt to place the halter on the muzzle.
- Slinging the head so that you cannot get the halter properly positioned in the first place.
- Nipping or biting behaviors.
- Shoving their head into the halter and then continuing to press forward, attempting to use their shoulder as leverage against you.
If you see the ears of the horse are pinned back or you can see the whites of their eyes (or both), then it is more than just a negative experience the horse has associated with you. They are emotionally afraid of you or the halter at this stage. Being stubborn about the halter placement process on a fearful horse is a recipe for either you, the horse, other horses, or everyone to be injured.
So if your horse rejects the halter, either initially or during one of the steps, then it is important to slow down and spend some time on the areas that are problematic. Work to see if you can get the horse to relax. Sometimes chewing some hay or playing a favorite activity can be enough to reduce the pent-up energy that can fuel fear or stubbornness. Show the horse that there is nothing to be afraid of during a certain step.
And make sure the halter properly fits or isn’t rubbing the horse in a way that is not liked. If the halter is uncomfortable, then the horse is going to associate a negative experience to it and will not want to wear it in the future.
Are You Ready to Pass the Halter Test?
The ability to place a halter on a horse is an easy way to gain an insight into the thinking of a horse. It can also give you insights into yourself. The relationship you have with your horse requires that you lead and the horse follows. If you have negative energy, then the horse is going to have negative energy.
If you are impatient with the process, the horse is going to respond in kind.
So be positive about this process. Follow each step with confidence. When you encounter resistance, stop and work with the horse so that comfort can return. Over time, you will see in most horses that any tension with the halter will begin to erode and eventually disappear.
Knowing how to halter a horse might be a required skill and a basic necessity, but that doesn’t mean it is always easy to accomplish. By following this guide, you’ll be able to reduce the risks of rejection from the horse so that you can be successful.