In the best of all worlds, horses would be pastured without halters. They would come when they were called. They’d raise their right hoof and take an oath not to go under, over or through fences. And at feeding time, they would line up in the proper pecking order.
But we know that doesn’t happen. Horses escape to run frantically down interstate highways. The horse you want to ride is the hardest to catch, and the entire herd thinks your arrival at 5 p.m. is a signal to stampede.
While we stand firm in our belief that horses are safer without halters, we acknowledge turnout halters are often a necessary evil. Many boarders have no option — it’s barn policy. Therefore, we put leather halters to the test to determine which excelled in important areas: safety, durability, appearance and price.
Our 19 trial halters were considered by their manufacturers to be “turnout halters.” We tested them during a very hot summer, an unusually wet fall and a record-breaking winter with 132” of snow and 18 days below zero, conditions known to be tough on leather. The horses were turned out wearing halters every day, usually from dawn to dusk.
It wasn’t long before we noted that the light-colored halters were being “chewed to pieces” by the horses. While many of the halters displayed evidence of teeth impressions, the lighter-stained halters — labeled “London tan,” “chestnut” or “oak bark” — were actually damaged.
The obvious question was “why’” Manufacturers were as perplexed as we were. Their leather tanners were also at a loss for an explanation. We learned not all the light-colored halters were produced by the same method, ruling out the dye. Some had dye added to the drums along with the oils during the tanning process. Some had dye sprayed onto finished or chrome-tanned leather followed by wax applications.
We then thought maybe instead of the light halters being tasty, something was added to the dark halters, the “havanas,” that discouraged chewing. “No,” we were told, “It’s just a different color dye,” and all the dyes were bitter. We never did figure out why our horses prefer to chew light-color leather.
We found that it’s not always the crownpieces that break first under stress. In fact, not one crownpiece failed in our test. We had cheek pieces break twice, and we demolished virtually every adjustable chinstrap. Even halters that became lost in pasture at some point were eventually found with the crown still buckled.
However, so many adjustable chinstraps failed — either breaking or stretching to the point where they could trap a hoof — that one barn manager had to duct tape all the adjustable chinstraps. While we like adjustable chinstraps for a better fit, we’re not so sure they’re your best bet for turnout. You only have to watch a horse scratch his ear or face with a hind hoof to realize how easily any part of a turnout halter can snare a hoof. We recommend considering a non-adjustable chinstrap that properly fits your horse.
Without argument, riveted halters aren’t as strong as stitched halters, making rivets the way to go when you want to be sure a halter will break. For an actual comparison of halter-leather strengths, however, you’d have to be able to compare each individual hide, the type of rivets, the number of stitches per inch, and the composition of the stitches themselves, which may be linen, nylon or cotton. This was not something we were able to do in this trial.
In fact, we believe triple-stitched, doubled-leather halters probably can’t be broken by the average horse. They may be the fanciest, but they might be too strong. Anyone who’s ever witnessed a horse cross-tied with a leather halter pull down a barn beam or flip over in a trailer with the halter still intact knows what we mean.
Safety comes first in turnout halters, and that means it’s got to be likely to break. That mouth-watering beautiful halter might be the one you want for a show, but it’s not the one you want your horse grazing in.
We like a fail-safe mechanism at the crown and a breakable snap at the throatlatch. We’ll skip adjustable chinstraps, if we find a fixed one that fits well. While you’ll have to ask our test horses why, we’re going to opt first for dark-leather halters that last, look acceptable and can be replaced cheaply when they do break.
Our first choice in leather turnout halters is Thornhill’s #2471. It’s made of soft, stretchy, doubled leather, and, although stitched, we believe it’s likely to break in a dangerous situation. It also held up well to a tough test.
Right on Thornhill’s heels is Perri’s #140. We tried it with an adjustable chin, but you can get it with a fixed chin and a throat snap and you should be fine.
Overall, in our search for a “perfect” turnout halter, the Weaver 3-In-1 just missed the brass ring. Although it’s triple-stitched, doubled-leather, the 3-In-1 is an exception, evidently inspired by a true horseman.
All its buckles are riveted rather than stitched, which gives us the weak link we want for turnout in every dimension of the halter. If it had a fixed chin with a riveted connection there, we’d be ecstatic. In fact, this halter has so much class and safety built into it, we’re calling it our best buy. Yup, even at the $40-$45.
One more halter deserves mention: If you have an accident-prone horse who simply must wear a halter, but you worry about all the ways he could get hung up, you need G&B’s Western Tack #42. But buy two of them because this halter will break. We know. Our horses did it three times.
Also With This Article
Click here to view ”Leather Turnouts.”
Click here to view ”Evaluating Leather Halters For Turnout.”
Click here to view ”The Great Escapes.”
Click here to view ”Spare Halter Smarts.”