Teaching a Young Horse to Wear a HalterBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · December 16, 2011
Halter-breaking a young horse begins with simply spending a lot of time with the foal in the first few days after birth, allowing the youngster to become curious and approach the handler, who can reinforce this behavior by rubbing and scratching the foal.
Putting a halter on for the first time is best accomplished with two people, one standing directly behind the foal to control movement and the other easing the halter over the foal’s nose. A stall or fence corner can assist in keeping the foal in one spot. If the foal has developed some trust in the handlers, this step is easier than if the foal is being approached for the first time. In general, the younger the foal, the easier the whole process will go.
Use a halter that fits well and is not too loose, as the foal will probably paw at it and could get a foot hung in a loose strap. Use a leather halter or one with a breakaway crown piece for safety. Leave the halter on for a little while but keep an eye on the baby in case he manages to get the halter tangled up on a fence or other object. Take the halter off at night until the foal is completely calm about wearing it. Putting the halter on each morning and taking it off each night will set a pattern that will become routine.
Some handlers clip a short lead rope onto the halter and allow the foal to learn that stepping on the rope pulls their head down. Foals will learn to drag the rope to the side, avoiding it most of the time. Don’t leave a very long rope attached, as the mare may step on it or it may get tangled up with trees, fences, or other horses.
Teaching the foal to yield to rope pressure can be started by pulling gently to the side, putting the foal slightly off balance and encouraging him to take a step to retain his balance. As soon as he moves toward the pressure, release the pull as a reward. Repeat this frequently in short practice sessions, eventually teaching the foal to move forward to a light pull. Aids to moving forward include a rump rope looped around the haunches or a long whip with which the handler can reach back to touch the foal on the hip. Again, these steps are far easier with small, young foals than with older foals that are much stronger.
Avoid long work sessions, and be careful not to start a fight with the foal. Jerks and hard pulls on the lead shank can damage the young horse’s neck. Finesse is better than force.
Teaching the young horse to stand tied is the next step in halter training. Begin in the stall by running the lead shank around a stall bar or ring as you brush the foal. If the youngster pulls back, ease the rope a little bit until the foal learns to yield to the pressure of being tied. To enforce standing tied without risking injury, tie to an inner tube or bungee cord that is secured to a fence or stall bar. Tie the inner tube to the solid object with baling twine so it can quickly be cut if necessary. Tie high enough that the foal can’t get a leg over the rope. Don’t leave a foal tied for more than a few minutes the first few times, gradually increasing the time that he is asked to stand.
Halter training sounds simple, but there are many ways it can go wrong, sometimes ending in injury to the horse or handler. Bad habits that begin in the early stages may be difficult to correct later in the horse’s training. If you have a foal or young horse and are attempting halter training for the first time, it will probably go more smoothly if you can find an experienced handler to assist.