Each morning, the stable hands halter the horses individually and lead them quietly from their stalls through the sunlit barn aisle. Lead ropes are un-clicked from halters at the paddock gate, and the horses greet each other pleasantly for turnout in the fresh dawn air.
This image seems picturesque, a common description of life at the barn, but there’s something I didn’t mention: the types of halters the horses are wearing. While this detail may seem trivial, it has the potential to be life altering.
A dear friend of mine spent years working as a stable hand, and later, veterinary technician. Throughout this time he visited many facilities, but one experience in particular has stuck with him. He was walking through a pasture to catch some broodmares for routine veterinary work. The grass was tall, and out of the corner of his eye he saw something dark off to his side. Turning to look, he noticed a red-handled water hydrant with its head barely visible over the tall foliage. Next to it, was a young horse lying in the grass. As he came closer, he realized that the animal was in an abnormal position and not breathing. It appeared the poor colt had been deceased for several hours but had not yet been found due to the dense undergrowth. Upon further inspection he discovered that the colt’s nylon turnout halter had become hooked around the hydrant nozzle while the weanling was running, subsequently breaking the poor horse’s neck.
While it is true that some unfortunate accidents are going to occur no matter what, that particular foal’s death might have been avoided if it had been wearing a breakaway halter. A leather strap would have broken and released pressure under the significant force of impact with the hydrant, whereas the nylon held firm.
Most turn-out spaces contain a number of items that could potentially snag a halter—feeders, fencing, gates, etc.. If we choose to leave halters on during turn-out it is essential to have some sort of breakaway mechanism. I, for one, would much rather have to deal with a broken halter than an injured horse.
There are two main ways to ensure your halter will breakaway. Option #1 is to acquire a halter made fully out of leather. This can be expensive depending on style and size. Budget-friendly option #2 is to add a break-away component to the horse’s existing halter. Here’s my simple, step by step process to turn a regular nylon or cotton halter into a breakaway halter.
Step 1: You’ll need the following simple tools: halter, hole punch, baling string, lighter, strip of leather, heavy-duty scissors or knife. Take a look around the barn for old or broken leather equipment that can be cut to the approximate size you need; you might be surprised how much can be recycled!
Step 2: Once you have cut the strap of leather to the desired length and width, poke 4 evenly spaced holes at one end and a few more at the other.
Step 3: Fold the end of the leather strap containing the evenly spaced holes around the halter’s ring. Line up the holes and thread a piece of baling string through, then tie a knot. We want this knot oriented on the outside of the halter to prevent irritation of the horse’s skin. I like to add extra security to this knot by melting the baling string into place with a lighter.
Step 4: Now simply use the knife or scissors to cut off the unnecessary nylon/cotton crownpiece and your new break-away halter is ready for use!
About the Author
Throughout her childhood at the family horse farm, Heather Malcolm found her passion for equine nutrition, behavior, and wellness. After graduating with a degree in Animal Science, she gained a job in the companion animal industry. When she’s not riding her horse, she enjoys reading the latest equine research and cuddling up for a nap with her favorite dog.