Tied correctly, a simple rope halter can be an invaluable groundwork training aid. I think of a rope halter as a training aid. It allows you to apply enough pressure on a horse’s face to get his attention and/or gain control.
It is a far superior tool, in my opinion, and experience, than using a stud chain on a horse for control because you can finesse the pressure with a rope halter. A stud chain will put constant pressure on the horse - you can make the pressure worse but you can never totally release it. With the rope halter, there is only pressure when you manipulate the lead rope, so you have more training ability. Rope halters are not all created equally. They can be harsh or mild depending on the diameter of the rope and the number of knots on the noseband.
While a narrow diameter halter with added knots may be more expedient on the difficult horse, it is not necessary (or advantageous) for all horses. I prefer to use a thicker diameter (3/8 inch) stiff rope for my halters and the minimum number of knots to make it a halter. I’ve yet to meet a horse that wouldn’t respond to this amount of pressure and there are many horses for which too much pressure can cause them to melt-down rather than think their way through the problem. The thicker diameter is also mild enough for everyday use and not just as an aid when you are actively engaged in ground training.
Contrary to popular belief, the knots in a rope halter are not placed to take advantage of pressure points on the horse’s face – they are put where they need to be to make it a halter, exactly where the hardware is in a flat halter. However, the knots do focus the pressure and, when you snap or jiggle the lead rope, the horse feels more pressure than he would in a flat halter. For groundwork, I prefer to use a rope halter and a long training lead of 12-15 feet.
I do not have metal buckles on my training leads because when I snap the rope, the chin knot will bump the horse in the chin (that is the pressure he feels when he is doing something wrong) and a metal buckle hitting the chin can be too much pressure for any horses and they become afraid of the correction and quit thinking. To me, it is critical that the training lead be made of the highest quality marine rope that is soft in your hands and heavy enough to have a good feel so that you can make subtle movements with the rope and impact your horse.
The rope halter should always be adjusted correctly, and make sure you learn how to tie the halter knot right. A rope halter that hangs too low can really hurt a horse’s nose and if the noseband were to sag so much that the horse got a foot in, it could cause serious injury.
Never turn a horse loose in a rope halter. For that matter, I wouldn’t turn a horse out in any halter but definitely not a rope halter. Generally, they are made of high-tensile rope that will not break; a horse turned loose in a rope halter could catch it on something, panic and get hurt. For the same reason, I would never tie a horse in a trailer in a rope halter. You know he will get off balance at times and end up pulling on the halter and I don’t want him to have too much pressure on his face, just because he got off balance. Plus, in the trailer, the horse should be outfitted in a breakaway halter in case of an emergency.
Tying a horse in a rope halter can be good training but can cause a problem if you have a horse that has a pull-back issue. We tie all our yearlings and older in a rope halter as they are learning to stand tied quietly. They learn not to pull on it because they’ll feel pressure every time they do. But if you have a horse that is already a chronic panic puller, the rope halter may make him worse by increasing his panic and fear when he pulls.
Of course, the real benefit from rope halters is in the training techniques you use to teach your horse obedience and ground manners. Once you invest in a good rope halter and training lead, work on specific training techniques and exercises to teach your horse to stand quietly, walk and trot off your body cues, back, circle and change directions so that he becomes focused on you as his leader.
How to Tie a Rope Halter
1. Bring the crown piece behind the ears and slide it through the loop at the top of the cheek piece, with the tip angled towards the horse’s tail
2. Bring the tail of this piece forward, under the halter at the base of the loop above the eye knot
3. Tie it off by bringing the tip of the crown piece back toward the horse’s tail, tying it below the loop and above the eye knot. Make sure the tail of the crown piece points towards the horse’s tail, that there are no twists in the rope and that the knot is snug
4. Put the horse’s nose through nose band and bring the crown piece strap behind the ears. Pull up on the halter until the throat knot is all the way to the horse’s throat, and then tie it off. The cheek knots should be just below the bottom of the cheek bones. The halter should not be tight but not so loose under the chin that a foot could get caught.
Attaching a lead to a Rope Halter
1. Bring the tassel end of the lead through the bottom loop of the halter below the fiador knot (the main knot hanging down under the halter).
2. Pull through about 12” of rope. Put your left hand on the lead on the left side of halter loop and reach behind the halter with the right hand and grab the tassel, pulling it towards the horse’s tail.
3. Put the tassel end through the loop created by your left hand so that the knot is tied around the loop, just below the fiador knot. The knot should be tied on the loop, not below it.