Horses that have not been halter broken are virtually impossible to handle or do anything with. The halter is a basic piece of equipment which is placed on the horse’s head and used to tie the horse, lead the horse and convey basic commands to the horse. Halter breaking is the first step in training a horse.
In an ideal situation, a foal should be handled by humans almost immediately after his birth. It is considered normal to place a halter on a foal within the first few days of his life in order to get the foal used to the feeling of wearing a halter on his head. The benefit of halter breaking a foal is that he has not developed any bad habits yet and his small size makes him relatively easy to handle. If you can get your foal used to having his head handled and a halter taken on and off regularly while he is still very young, he will likely always accept the halter as a simple and unquestioned part of his daily life and routine. When halter breaking a foal it is important to make sure that the halter fits appropriately and is not loose enough to get snagged on anything.
When horses are born in the pasture or left unhandled for the first part of their lives it can make it slightly more difficult to halter break them. Halter breaking an adult horse involves patience and time. You will have to spend time getting the horse used to your handling his head, ears and neck. Reward the horse for letting you touch him by offering him treats and verbal praise. Once the horse accepts your touch, you will begin getting him used to the halter. You will have to introduce the halter slowly and let your horse get used to the smell and sight of it in your hands. When you are ready to try to put the halter on the horse, you will need to gently slide it over his nose and up onto his head, buckling it on the side of the head behind the ears. It may take multiple tries to get the halter onto an adult horse, but you should not be discouraged. Once the halter is on, you will probably want to leave it on for several days so that the horse accepts wearing it before you begin practicing taking it on and off.
What Not To Do
It is important never to get angry with a horse when you are trying to halter break it. You should not scream at the horse, hit him, throw the halter or behave in any type of aggressive manner towards the horse. You do not want the horse to view haltering as a scary process. You should also never give up when working with your horse. It is important to end each lesson with some kind of success, even if it is just that you got the halter over the horse’s nose without him trying to escape. End every training session on a positive note for both yourself and the horse.
Leading The Horse
Once you have the halter on your horse’s head, you need to teach him to respond to pressure being applied on the halter. Start by attaching a lead rope to your horse’s halter. Stand to the right of the horse and apply pressure by pulling the lead rope to the right. Your horse should turn his head towards you. When he does, praise him. Now do the same thing to the left. Teach your horse to step forward and backwards by applying pressure to the halter and releasing it when he moves the direction you are asking him to move. Your horse will soon figure out to follow the pressure of the leadrope as a way to release the pressure that is being applied. You can reward your horse with treats and praise for behaving correctly.
APPROACHING A HORSE FOR THE FIRST TIME
The way you approach a horse can set the tone of your interaction with him. While some horses are relatively difficult to upset or frighten, other horses can react very negatively if you approach them the wrong way. If a horse feels threatened or frightened by you, he may bite, kick or run away from you. Approaching a horse is not difficult if you do it the proper way.
Let Him Know You’re There
Sneaking up on a horse is always a bad idea. A startled horse who suddenly realizes there is someone — or something — near him may kick out in reflex or run away. As you begin walking towards the horse you want to approach, start calling out to him gently in a soft tone of voice. Make sure he can both see and hear you approaching him. Do not walk up behind a horse. If you must approach from the rear, approach him at an angle so that he will still be able to see you coming on the edge of his vision.
Avoid Loud Noises
Horses are prey animals and they generally don’t like loud scary noises. Yelling, screaming, shouting and even just loud, overexcited talking can upset a horse. Try to keep your volume turned down as you approach a horse as well as when you are handling him. While a horse will eventually get used to you and most of your noises, it may take some time to desensitize him to your screams of joy.
Let The Horse Smell You
When you first reach the horse you are approaching, hold your hands out to him and allow him to sniff your fingers if he desires. Horses use their sense of smell to help them decipher potential threats from potential food items. If you have a treat with you, now is a good time to offer it to the horse. Let him take it from your hand. Make sure the treat is sitting on your palm and your hand and fingers are completely flat to avoid accidental nipping. Pet the horse on his face, neck and sides once he has sniffed you. At this point, if the horse has sniffed you and is allowing you to pet him, then you have successfully approached him and he has accepted your presence.
For an assortment of different reasons, some horses are not easy to approach and may even be dangerous. Never chase a horse that attempts to run away from you when you approach it. If the horse behaves aggressively by pinning his ears, bearing his teeth, biting, rearing or kicking, then you need to stop what you are doing and leave the horse alone. This type of behavior needs to be dealt with by a professional horse trainer in order to ensure the safety of everyone involved. Never go into the stall or pasture with a horse you do not know unless a professional has instructed you to do so and you are under her supervision.
The Most Basic Way to Halter
- Stand at your horse’s shoulder and face forward (toward their head).
- Allow the halter to slide onto your horse’s nose.
- Next, take it up and over their ears.
- Clip the cheek snap.
- Lastly, your lead rope attaches to the round circle under their chin.
Approaching An Unruly Horse
- Put your horse in an enclosed pen when you need to halter it.This may not always be possible, just depending on your situation. If it is, having your horse in a contained space where it cannot easily run far away will help you get it haltered faster.
- Avoid having other people, horses, or animals present in the pen when you’re attempting to harness your horse.
- Show your horse the halter as you begin to walk toward it.When you enter the pen, keep the halter in your left hand. Never hide it behind your back, and don’t shake it back and forth. Just let it be visible, so your horse knows you have something in your hand.
- Approach your horse near its shoulder from the front side so it can see you well. Avoid approaching the horse from behind or directly in front of it because it has a gap in its vision and may not be able to see you.
- If the horse bucks or runs away at the sight of the harness, that is okay. Let it run around or back up, and then approach it again slowly or wait for it to come back to you. You may need to repeat this several times until you’re able to stand next to it.
- Use your horse’s name and speak to it in a kind voice.Even if you’re nervous, try and keep your voice calm and steady. Your horse can pick up on your attitude, and if you’re skittish, that could make the horse nervous, too. Call out to your horse and use its name. Use reassuring words as you make your way to it.
- If the horse bucks or runs away, stop and stand still until they’ve stopped moving. Then start approaching it again.
- Move slowly and avoid making any sudden movements.As you continue making your way toward your horse, avoid making any fast movements. Don’t run at the horse, wave your arms in the air, or lunge at the horse. Fast movements could spook the horse and make it nervous.
- If you brought treats with you, you could always take one out and carry it in your right hand so your horse can see it, too. You could also use a bucket of grain to encourage your horse to come closer to you.
- Continue approaching the horse until you’re on its left-hand side.Depending on how skittish or unruly your horse is, it might take a little while until you’re able to get next to it. Make sure the horse can still see the harness and continue using calm, kind words as you speak to it.
- If you ever feel that the horse is too upset and that you could get hurt, leave the pen. Give the horse 5 minutes to calm down, and then try again.
Haltering Training Your Horse
- Pass a lead rope under and around the horse’s neck.Stand on the horse’s left-hand side, take the end of the lead rope, and pass it under your horse’s neck. Reach over the horse’s neck with your other hand and grab the rope (keep the halter in the hand that’s under the horse so it doesn’t startle it). The horse will feel like it’s “caught” and is less likely to run away once you have the lead rope around its neck. This gives you a little more control over the horse’s head while you’re putting on the halter.
- The lead rope attaches to the halter, and you use it to lead the horse around.
- Remember to use reassuring words while positioning the lead rope.
- Position the halter and slide the noseband around the horse’s muzzle.The halter is made up of the crownpiece, which goes behind the horse’s ears, the cheekpieces, which line the horse’s face, the noseband, which goes around the horse’s muzzle, and the ring, which is where the lead rope is attached. To put the halter in position, the ring should be on the bottom so that when you slide the noseband in place, it’ll rest below the horse’s mouth.
- Depending on how skittish the horse it, it may pull its head away several times during this process. Keep a firm hold on the lead rope around its neck to keep control of the horse and be persistent. It may take a few tries, but you’ll get the noseband in place!
- Fasten the crownpiece over the horse’s head and behind its ears.Once the noseband is in place, take the crownpiece and position it behind the horse’s ears. Secure the end of it in the buckle, but don’t make it too tight—there should be enough room for your hand to fit under the strap.
- Be extra gentle around the horse’s ears. Many horses have sensitive ears and get upset if they’re accidentally smushed down or touched on the inside. Take care to not fasten them down or yank them in any way.
- Release the lead rope that has been around the horse’s neck.Pull the lead rope back around the horse’s neck so that it is hanging down from the ring. Remember to tell your horse what a good job it’s doing, and keep in mind that this may be a really uncomfortable moment for it.
Don’t yank on the lead rope. Eventually, you’ll be able to start leading your horse around the pen and teaching it to walk beside you, but for the first few weeks of halter-training, you just want to acclimate it to the harness itself.
- Stay by the horse’s side for a few minutes before removing the harness.This is a great time to talk to your horse, pet it, give it a treat, and just hang out. Depending on your horse’s attitude, you may even be able to groom it while you’re in the pen, which is another way to teach it to associate the harness with pleasurable things. After 4 to 5 minutes, slowly remove the harness, give your horse another treat, and end the training session.
- Repeat this process for 2 to 3 weeks before moving on to leading the horse around. Ideally, you want the horse to not be skittish or aggressive when you approach it with the halter before you start the next part of its training.
- Remember patients and taking your time will eventually pay off and you and your horse will have a positive learning experience. Your horse will learn that the halter is a normal everyday bond between you and him.