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Rope Halters vs Flat Halters
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Rope Halters vs Flat Halters

With the huge movement of "natural" horsemanship, rope halters have become quite popular as a training aid. They are said to work on certain pressure points on the horse's face, improving communication and giving clarity to your directions. Though I don't agree that rope halters are a magical piece of gear, I do favor them over flat halters. Flat halters include those made of nylon, webbing, leather and any other flat material. They are still very popular and some find them far more visually appealing than rope. Some horse owners claim that rope halters are far too harsh for an equine's sensitive face and therefore prefer a kinder option.

I agree that the flat material can be softer on the horse's face but this "advantage" can be quite the disadvantage in my eyes. One of the most common things I see with spoiled horses and their owners is the horse leaning into the halter. A horse than leans into the halter quickly learns that they can easily overpower a human. That gentle halter is so nice on the horse's face that the easily dispersed pressure doesn't cause any discomfort when the horse misbehaves.

Horses that are well-trained and understand how to give to pressure can do wonderfully in a flat halter. I know quite a few people who use rope halters for training periods and flat halters for everyday use which seems to be the best of both worlds. Personally, I'll likely pick up a rope halter over a flat halter any day, save for when I'm trailering. I enjoy how is simplifies communication and helps give clear instruction. Which halter do you prefer and why? Leave your response in the comment section below!

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  1. Rene Wright
    Rene Wright
    Voted. At the moment I am using a rope halter because it's all I have, however I will be getting a flat halter because I like using both. I think with so much variety now, I like having the choice of which to use. Some horses do better with one over the other especially the pushy one's. lol
    1. shumes
      I remember buying my first horse, a quarter horse/welsh cross that absolutely inherited the pony attitude, a purple and black striped padded halter. I thought she'd love it. What a mistake that was! She was dragging me all over the place. After switching to a rope halter I was able to get her under control ASAP and brush up her ground skills.
      1. jst4horses
        I have never met a pony that is harder to train than a racing stallion who has been at stud. Pat Parelli has a documentary out about a stud horse that he takes under his wing, and convinces that instead of double stud bits and chains, a little behavior goes a long way. Monty Roberts uses a training chute, it is an intriguing idea, and has no force involved. Horses when properly acknowledging that you are the alpha mare are calmer, happier, and at peace and a lot less dangerous. My trainer when I was a kid taught us that it is not safe to be one chain link, or one harsh knot away from death, make sure you know what YOU are doing and your horse knows you are the alpha mare.
  2. PonyGirl
    I use a flat halter, but my horses are very light. From being on the racetrack, I'm more familiar with using a chain lead than the rope halter. So if I get a new horse that wants to drag me around, and I can't get his attention with just the halter, I will put the chain around his nose and hook it back to itself, essentially making a chain nose band. Once he begins to respect my cues, I take it off. I think the rope halters are fine, and are great if you have a horse that doesn't respect you. I just didn't see the sense in buying new halters when my flat halters usually work fine for me, and I already own a chain lead. I have a friend that buys nothing but rope halters. He deals with a lot of green horses and also some spoiled horses. He likes the rope halters, not only for the pressure point features, but also because they don't have any hardware which is likely to break if the horse sets back really hard while tied.
    1. shumes
      I've used a chain twice and they seemed overkill with the two horses. I really enjoy the lightness the rope has on the horses face compared to the weight of a flat halter with chain. It really comes down to what you are comfortable with though. Chains are more commonplace on racetracks and your background would lead you to being more comfortable with them. The hardware issue is a great one. Thanks for bringing that up!
    2. jst4horses
      I trained horse handlers at the track for licensing. I had to train how to properly use a stud chain. That piece of metal torture is NOT for training, it is for keeping million dollar animals that WONT behave, often because they are not cut, and not properly trained (I train stallions to know "not your mare", and that is that, just words) and dangerous in such a small area with thousands of horses. I once saw a breeders cup stallion, who had been out at stud, get away from his exercise rider, he ran back into the stables and found himself a row of hot walking machines with young colts and mares on them. He tried to mount the mares and kill the colts, and many people got injured before my younger son darted in and caught his dangling rein and wrestled him out of there to his own trainers barn. What is safety at a track is not so great for your own horse. I join my horses up, and as much as possible use a loose progress string on a Parelli halter. or no tack at all when the horse just follows me around and does what it is directed. I do not use rope halters for pressure points, I use them as training aids, until the horse just recognizes the cues and behaves. OR for safety in groups or public places.
    3. jst4horses
      There are different types of rope halters, one is the so called "be nice" halter, which IS NOT, it is just a type of torture to the face of the horse item. I use only the soft rope halters...........I have seen horses on chains if given one lesson in join up go to a rope halter and NO MORE chains. I was working with a stud racing stallion at Santa Anita, this horse was being used for breeding and then brought back and forth for racing, it makes it hard.....BUT he came right into his partnering and on to a rope halter and I had no problems with him. He however hated the trainer, and that man could only get near him with stud chains and a whip.................it shows that a horse often can discern who is a good leader and who is a horse abuse that needs to be fought off............
  3.  Rachel at The Warmblood Horse
    Rachel at The Warmblood Horse
    I have actually never used a rope halter before but after reading this post I think I'm going to have to look into investing in one! Thanks! Voted!
    1. jst4horses
      Pat Parelli has some great advice, and sells the soft "string" halter, not those harsh, double knotted, or harsh materials that tear the skin off a horse. And find out how to use them, not just buy one because it is a trend..
  4. Timbermama
    I have been using rope halters since born, they are not a new thing and the first was patent in late 1800's. They caught on when Trainers now Clinicians put them out in their clinics and made their own in which most do not have a patent on them. They have many designs to choose from on the market today, most cowboys still grab a rope and loop it on in a figure 8, (hence rope halter). Rope halters no matter size shape or knot placement in the wrong untrained hands can damage a horse, same with a flat halter. Rope halters are versatile for training and riding no need for fancy hacks etc.. Be sure if you purchase a rope halter you are trained proper to use one before ever putting on your horse.
    1. jst4horses
  5. tennesseesnow
    For training purposes I prefer the rope halters, with the 2 extra knots on the nose. I believe these are patented by Clinton Anderson but can't remember right off. These work great on our 2 year olds who we like to be able to spoil a little yet still have full control. My number one reason for preferring a rope halter is ground work..... Lunge a horse in a flat halter and they can resist pressure all day and not get the point, they just fight you because they can. Lunge in a rope halter and what you want is much more direct and the horse cannot resist and fight you near as much. We do LOTS of ground work so this is a key factor with all of our horses..... Now, I only use flat halter for pictures lol and they aren't your typical halter, it's a pretty bronc halter ;)
    1. jst4horses
      If you take the time (generally no more than half an hour) to train a horse properly to LISTEN to you, you will not need halters. I have seen my alpha mare, just with ear wiggles, get horses in other pens, or even stalls, to bring their hay, and even grain out of their tub, over and give it to her. Horses are herd animals, and when they are SURE you are the alpha mare, they will not need extra knots. I do not know about you, but squeezing my nose shut would just make me hate you .......and horses have a long history of holding mean memories and waiting for the time to get even with people who harm or torture them. I like Clinton Anderson, and his show, but not his knots. I once had a six month foal that had igotten bitten by spiders in her stall. Her owner called the vet, and he absolutely could not believe that little horse just stood there, on a loose line when we asked him to for his treatments and shots. A horse in the wild either minds its manners, or gets killed by predators. I saw a documentary where a rude colt was taken by the neck by the alpha mare and ejected from the herd. His mother did nothing. After a short time, he put his head down, clacked his teeth in apology, and was allowed back into the herd. Even if they are on a sanctuary with no predators, they know being shunned is unsafe and they behave. You have to be the alpha mare, not the close your ability to breathe properly person to your horse. I know I am rude, but horses deserve a lot better than we give them.
  6. jst4horses
    There are different types of halters in both categories. just because it is rope does not make it natural, many of the cheap, harsh rope halters are actually in the line of "be nice" monster abuse of horse category, NOT naturalhorsemanship. The true natural horsemanship halters, when fit properly and made properly are NOT working on any kind of abuse, they actually are descending in use as the horse becomes better behaved. A flat halter to me is sometimes what I want, especially for a horse that is really well behaved, but for the rules of a certain stable or show has to have a halter on, I feel are better, IF the horse gets stuck, it will break, where the rope halter may allow a scared horse, left alone and snared may harm itself badly fighting that halter that will not break. I prefer to train with a natural horse halter, and move from a heavy line to a progress string, to just a piece of hay twine wrapped around the nose, to nothing at all is what I strive for, and usually get in less than half an hour. It is worth paying for the training for the first three to five hours of training no matter what kind of use you expect to use you horse in. A friend who is a professional barrel racing star, had a horse that was just not a good stable, grooming, getting saddled up horse. Another friend, who is an equine therapist, has very little horse experience beyond those first couple of hours, and working with really well behaved equine therapy horses......was there one day and said, oh, that is silly. She took the horse into the round corral, in less than one hour that horse was joined up, behaved going in and out of gates, no longer went dancing through the stalls, misbehaving, and saddled without a problem. As noted below in comments, a pushy horse is different, once you have a join up, that horse should be convinced quickly that your space is your space,and to ask permission to come in. It is so much better than having that horse constantly pushing up on other horses, on you while grooming, or in other ways being so disrespectful to you and other humans and to other horses. I do all of this until I get the behavior I desire with no tack at all, I expect a well trained horse to walk out the stall door, next to me, and never step away from nose at my right shoulder EVER. That is a horse that is started as far as handling. That same horse does all grooming, bathing, braiding standing still, with no tack at all. It takes time, but is well worth it when an emergency happens.
  7. AverageJo Equine
    AverageJo Equine
    For training I use a HIGH Quality rope halter. I prefer the Stacy Westfall nose band though. But whichever nose band you like, the rope should be flexible. The cheap stiff halters don't do what a rope halter is supposed to do, give pressure in the proper areas. When you have a pushy horse, flat halters just create arguments. A well trained and respectful horse should be a good listener even if all you have on them is a bit of rope around their neck. But rope halters are generally not safe for trailering a horse or tying for an extended period of time. If they pull back it can cause more damage in the poll area than a flat halter. Rope halters are great for training...but safety first!
    1. jst4horses
      I do not tie horses in trailers. A well behaved, calmly trailering horse does not need it, and it will NOT help them in an accident. I DO however leave a halter on them, and my horses are trained to back out of the trailer and WAIT for their lead to be snapped on. I often start trailer exit training by snapping on the lead BEFORE opening the rear door of the trailer, so I have something to grab if the horse has not learned good enough manners to stop and wait for me. A horse that rushes backwards out of a trailer and "might" run off through a crowded backside, or crowd is NOT safe to be at a show or rodeo, or trail event. I also feel that horses that pull back need a good sound A plus in do not back up unless I ask you rating . I horse that is a backwardsaholic is very very very unsafe and needs to be trained out of it. It takes the time it takes, as Pat used to train us..........so you do not have to take the time it takes to recover, or let someone sue you for injuries from a poorly behaved horse.
  8. jst4horses
    I think the problem is that people do not know HOW to use a rope halter, and not all rope halters are alike. I had the same halter I bought at my first spend a week sleeping in a tent and taking classes at Pat Parelli's Ranch in Stockton many years ago for thirty years until it was stolen. I of course had b ought others. His are hand made. I know a kid who learned how to make them, from the same material, that would do........but many are NOT rope halters, they are called "be nice" halters and DO have torturous knots and hard rope to harm a horse. The next part is this: no matter what type of halter you use, you should train your horse and yourself to be partners and communicate without tack. I once was at the park with some friends, in the huge roping arena, our horses running free after riding a bit, and I saw a police vehicle slam to a stop and two officers jump out, weapons drawn, and rush down a wall. If guns were drawn on our side, I figured, guns are probably on the other side as well. I said, get your horses and get out of here. I motioned my horse, he came. They could not get theirs. so had to leave them. By then the helicopters had arrived from news, and police and mountain search and rescue. Their horses were NOT going to come and were terrified. My horse stood calmly by my side down the road where we had gone to get the tennis coach to get the children in the tennis courts to safety. I use Parelli halters when I am training a new horse, or a horse that has a lot of bad tricks that someone has not been able to work with. I have a book full of stories of why a Parelli halter was better than a flat halter. My worst case scenario is a mare that was rescued by another trainer, she was about two, and someone had beaten her to try and get her in a trailer, she reared up, flipped and the flat halter broke, She broke her shoulder. She did NOT learn anything. Some years later, and a lot of training by someone, she was being bathed by a young owner's friend, who turned the hose into her face, she again reared, and the flat halter tore down a tree branch, and terrified the horse, who reared again, the halter having gashed her face and behind her ears into a bloody streaming mess. The halter broke, but part of it was stuck in the wounds behind her ears. She attacked anyone in the stable, and they managed to get her into a stall. They called me. I was horrified when I saw her. Never being good at roping, I got a mop handle and managed to get a rope over her head, and told her, look Ms. you are not going to hurt me, because of your silly antics. I managed to get her calm enough to come to me, and pull the metal bracket from that flat halter our of the back of her head, and clean up her face where the other brackets had torn into her face before they broke. That horse never reared on a Parelli string halter, because she knew I would not let her get away........I had spent a long time training her that calm submissive fact of her life. Luckily, because otherwise, we would have had to get a vet with a tranquilizer gun or a sheriff with a real gun to get back near her ever again. I stress, YOU have to know what you are doing when you use any kind of halter, and know the difference between a string training aid, and a rope halter sold to fit a fad and trend.............and if your horse is safe enough for a flat halter. I use flat halters because I like them and think they look nice, but do NOT use them to train or hold back a horse in any way. It is just guidance for a well behaved horse.

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