Riders’ Guide to Horse Halters

by Michelle Drum August 13, 2021 6 min read

horse with halter

A horse halter is an essential piece of tack used to lead or tie up your horse, but you have many options to choose from. Halters come in different types and materials, each suited for a specific purpose. Once you’ve selected a halter, you’ll need to ensure a good fit for your horse’s comfort and safety. In this guide, you’ll learn the essentials for choosing a halter, how to measure for a halter, and how to properly halter a horse.

Types of Halters

There are six different kinds of. halters for horses. The type you will choose will depend on the situation you’ll be using it in as well as your personal preference for the material. It’s important to note that your boarding stable may have specific requirements, so you’ll want to consult with your barn manager.

Leather halters 

Many horse owners prefer leather halters, and they’re ideal for turnout and shipping because the leather will break if caught on something, preventing serious injury to the horse. Leather can sometimes be repaired, or parts of the halter can be replaced as needed. You’ll find a wide range of leathers available at varying price points. Some leather halters even have padding on the nosebands, crownpieces, and cheekpieces for added comfort. They are attractive, easy to clean, and durable. It’s important to note that leather can stretch over time, so you’ll need to check the fit periodically.

Nylon halters 

Nylon halters are made of nylon webbing. They are very durable and easy to clean with a soft brush, soap, and water. However, they are not ideal for turnout as they won’t break if a horse gets caught, increasing the risk for a serious injury.

Breakaway halters 

Breakaway halters are a popular choice for turnout as they will break if a horse gets caught. They are made of cotton-blend webbing or nylon with leather tabs, or they have a leather crownpiece that’s designed to break if the halter gets entangled. Replacement pieces are easy to find and inexpensive, and these halters are relatively easy to clean since the fabric portions can be cleaned with a soft brush and soapy water.

Shipping halters 

These halters are specifically made for trailering. Shipping Halters are made of nylon with a breakaway tab or leather, and they’re covered in sheepskin fleece or synthetic fleece. The fleece protects a horse’s face during transport and wicks away moisture to keep your horse dry and comfortable. The fleece pieces are often attached with hook and loop enclosures to remove them for easy cleaning.

Grooming halters 

Grooming halters don’t have a throat latch and jaw piece, allowing easy access to clean the jowl area. They are meant to be worn only with supervision during grooming and should not be used for turnout, shipping, or groundwork as they can get caught on an object, injuring your horse. You’ll find them in nylon webbing or leather.

Rope halters 

Rope halters are made of rolled nylon rope. They require a certain type of knot to secure them to your horse’s head. They are not suitable for shipping, cross-tying, tying, or turnout, but you can use them for horse handling and groundwork.

Pros and Cons of Using Halters of Different Types

A halter is recommended when you’re grooming, shipping, and turning out your horse. A halter gives you easy control over your horse to keep her safe. Some halters are designed for specific situations, like grooming and shipping. Others are more all-purpose and designed to use as needed. (Pro Tip: if you're using a halter for turnout, we recommend using only a breakaway halter to protect the horse from mishaps.) Here are some pros and cons to consider when choosing a halter for your horse.

Leather halters can snap fairly easily, a safety feature that ensures your horse doesn’t get caught on something and injured. However, they do tend to cost more and need to be cleaned regularly. Nylon halters are very strong, so they don’t break. If your horse gets caught on something, he can get injured, but nylon is more affordable than leather and is easier to clean. 

Rope halters are as sturdy as nylon halters. They are very convenient and easy to use if you know how to loop them properly. And they are quick to get on and off, with no metal fastenings as they are joined by knots. However, the knots can irritate a horse’s face, and the halter won’t break away if the horse gets caught. All of these materials make great halters depending on the situation they’re used in, so it’s up to you to decide which is right for your needs.

Measuring for a Halter

When fitting a horse for a halter, there are three measurements you’ll need: the noseband, the cheek, and the throat and poll strap. Compare to the size chart and select the right halter for your horse. Next, there are a number of adjustments you can make to fit the halter properly. 

  • The noseband should sit around halfway between your horse’s eyes and nostrils, with two-to-three fingers between the halter and your horse’s nose.
  • The crownpiece should fit behind your horse’s ears without pinching.
  • The throatlatch should fit three to four fingers under it. 
  • The cheekpieces should run parallel to the horse’s cheekbones.
  • Make sure the hardware isn’t too snug and applying pressure.

Horse Halter Size Chart

horse halter size chart

Halter vs. Bridle: What’s the Difference?

A halter and a bridle are similar, so it may be easy to get them confused. There are some important differences, though, particularly in how they are used. A horse bridle has a bit that goes in a horse’s mouth for riding, while a halter does not. Halters are essentially used for everything except for riding, including grooming, shipping, and turnout. When you tack your horse for riding, you will use a bridle and not a halter. 

Learn more: What is a Horse Bridle, and How Does it Work?

How to Halter a Horse

Once you have the right halter for your horse and you’re sure of the fit, it’s time to place it on your horse. Here are the steps to halter a horse.

  1. Attach the lead rope to the halter and unbuckle the crownpiece on the left side.
  2. Standing on the left side, use your left hand to pass the end of the lead rope under the horse’s neck.
  3. Using your right hand, take the lead rope from your left hand and place it over the horse’s neck.
  4. Bring both ends of the rope together in your right hand so your horse remains steady.
  5. Position the halter under your horse’s head, oriented with the nose piece under your horse’s muzzle. With a hand on each of the cheekpieces of the halter, pass your horse’s muzzle through the nose of the halter. Slide your left hand to the left side open buckle. Slide your right hand to the right side buckle holding the crownpiece, and pass the crownpiece behind the horse’s ears. With your left hand holding the open buckle on the left side, grasp the crownpiece and the buckle in your left hand. Using your right hand, thread the crownpiece through the buckle on the horse’s left side.
  6. Place the noseband on the horse’s nose with your hands on either side of the horse’s head. This slides it into place and raises the halter into the right position.
  7. Bring the halter strap over the horse’s head behind the ears and latch the buckle. Keep a hand on the rope to hold the horse securely. Note that with modern halters that have a throatlatch snap, you don't need to undo the crownpiece to put it on. You simply unbuckle the throatlatch, then put the horse's nose through the noseband, slide the crownpiece over the poll (similar to a bridle), and then buckle the throatlatch. With older styles, however, you will need to undo the crownpiece.
  8. Remove the rope from around the horse’s neck.

When you’re done, check the fit of the halter to make sure it’s secure and comfortable for your horse. The halter should fit comfortably around your horse’s head, similar to a bracelet on your wrist — not snug like a watch. The noseband of the halter should fit 2-3 fingers-width below the protruding corner cheekbone on your horse’s face, similar to the noseband on your bridle. If the nose piece is too low, you run the risk of your horse popping his nose out the top if he pulls back while tied, or while you are working with him on the ground. You should be able to fit 3-4 fingers-width between your horse’s face and the noseband, as well as the cheekpieces. Use a similar approach to fitting the throat latch area of the halter, you should be able to fit 3-4 fingers between the halter and your horse’s throat. He should have enough room to breathe comfortably, but be unable to get the halter off over his ears.

example of correct spacing for a horse halter noseband

The halter may be too large or need to be adjusted if you can fit your fist in between the halter and the face of your horse at any part of the halter. Spaces that are too large can lead to potentially dangerous situations for your horse. 

What is the Best Horse Halter?

The best halter is the one best suited to the situation your horse will be in, whether that’s riding in a trailer, enjoying time in the pasture, or being groomed. No matter the halter (or halters) you choose, make sure it’s fitted properly to keep your horse safe and happy.


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