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A halter or headcollar is headgear that is used to lead or tie up livestock and, occasionally, other animals; it fits behind the ears (behind the poll), and around the muzzle. To handle the animal, usually a lead rope is attached. On smaller animals, such as dogs, a leash is attached to the halter.



Horse wearing a nylon web halter (US) or headcollar. Horse headshot 4397.jpg
Horse wearing a nylon web halter (US) or headcollar.
A show halter on a Murray Grey bull Show halter.jpg
A show halter on a Murray Grey bull

Halters may be as old as the early domestication of animals, and their history is not as well studied as that of the bridle or hackamore. The word "halter" derives from the Germanic words meaning "that by which anything is held." [1]


Dog wearing a halter-style collar. DogHalter wb.jpg
Dog wearing a halter-style collar.

A halter is used to lead and tie up an animal. [2] It is used on many different types of livestock. Halters are most closely associated with Equidae such as horses, donkeys, and mules. However, they are also used on farm animals such as cattle and goats and other working animals such as camels, llamas, and yaks. Halters generally are not used on elephants or on predators, though there are halters made for dogs.

Halters are often plain in design, used as working equipment on a daily basis. In addition to the halter, a lead line, lead shank or lead rope is required to actually lead or tie the animal. It is most often attached to the halter at a point under the jaw, or less often, at the cheek, usually with a snap, but occasionally spliced directly onto the halter. A standard working lead rope is approximately 9 to 12 feet (2.7 to 3.7 m) long.

Horse shown in hand, wearing a Yorkshire halter. Welsh-C-Trot.jpg
Horse shown in hand, wearing a Yorkshire halter.

However, specially designed halters, sometimes highly decorated, are used for in-hand or "halter" classes at horse shows and in other livestock shows. When an animal is shown in an exhibition, the show halter is fitted more closely than a working halter and may have a lead shank that tightens on the head so that commands from the handler may be more discreetly transmitted by means of the leadline. A shank that tightens on the animal's head when pulled is not used for tying the animal.

Halters are designed to catch, hold, lead and tie animals, and nothing else. [2] However, some people ride horses using a halter instead of a bridle. In most cases, it is not safe to ride in an ordinary stable halter because it fits loosely and provides no leverage to the rider should a horse panic or bolt. It is particularly unsafe if the lead rope is used as a single rein, attached to the leading ring under the jaw.


A rope horse halter Green rope halter 01.JPG
A rope horse halter
Sheep wearing a cotton rope halter. Border Leicester closeup.jpg
Sheep wearing a cotton rope halter.

Halters may be classified into two broad categories, depending on whether the material used is flat or round. Materials include cured leather, rawhide, rope, and many different fibers, including nylon, polyester, cotton, and jute. Leather and rawhide may be flat or rolled. Fibers may be woven into flat webbing or twisted into round rope. Flat or round dictates the construction method: flat materials normally are sewn to buckles or rings at attachment points; round materials are knotted or spliced. Knotted halters often are made from a single piece of rope.

Horse halters

The Halter was patented in the United States by Henry Wagner of Toledo, Iowa February 13, 1894. [3]

An Arabian horse in a stylized show halter Showhalterone.jpg
An Arabian horse in a stylized show halter

Horse halters are sometimes confused with a bridle. The primary difference between a halter and a bridle is that a halter is used by a handler on the ground to lead or tie up an animal, but a bridle is generally used by a person who is riding or driving an animal that has been trained in this use. A halter is safer than a bridle for tying, as the bit of a bridle may injure the horse's mouth if the horse sets back while tied with a bridle, and in addition, many bridles are made of lighter materials and will break. On the other hand, a bridle offers more precise control.

One common halter design is made of either flat nylon webbing or flat leather, has a noseband that passes around the muzzle with one ring under the jaw, usually used to attach a lead rope, and two rings on either side of the head. The noseband is usually adjusted to lie about halfway between the end of the cheekbones and the corners of the mouth, crossing over the strong, bony part of the face. The noseband connects to a cheekpiece on either side that go up next to the cheekbone to meet with a ring on either side that usually is placed just above the level of the eye. These rings meet the throatlatch and the crownpiece. The crownpiece is a long strap on the right-hand side of the halter that goes up behind the ears, over the poll and is buckled to a shorter strap coming up from the left. The throatlatch goes under the throat, and sometimes has a snap or clip that allows the halter to be removed in a manner similar to the bridle. Many halters have another short strap connecting the noseband and the throatlatch.

The halter design made of rope also has the same basic sections, but usually is joined by knots instead of sewn into rings. [4] Most designs have no metal parts, other than, in some cases, a metal ring under the jaw where the lead rope snaps, or, occasionally, a recessed hook attachment where the crownpiece can be connected. However, in many cases, a loop is formed in the left side of the crownpiece and the right side of the crownpiece simply is brought over the horse's head, through the loop and tied with a sheet bend. [5]


In addition to the halter, usually a lead (lead line, lead rope) or leash is used to lead or tie the animal. The lead is attached to the halter most often at a point under the jaw, less often at the cheek, and rarely above the nose. [6] On horses, a lighter version of a headcollar or headstall is also used to attach a fly veil of waxed cotton strands or light leather strips onto a browband. Some fly masks are also made in a similar pattern to a headcollar and are often fastened with velcro tabs. These masks may also have ear and nose protection added to them. On both horses and dogs, halters may be used to attach a muzzle.

Safety and security issues

A modified sheet bend with the end falling away from the horse's head is used to secure a rope halter that lacks buckles Green rope halter knot.JPG
A modified sheet bend with the end falling away from the horse's head is used to secure a rope halter that lacks buckles

For tying, it is disputed if a halter should be made strong enough not to break under stress, or if it should give way when tension reaches a certain point in order to prevent injury to the animal. Usually the issue is of minimal concern if a tied animal is attended and the lead rope is tied with a slip knot that can be quickly released if the animal panics. However, in cases where a non-slip knot is tied, or if a soft rope is drawn tight and the knot cannot be released, or if the animal is left unsupervised, an animal panicking and attempting to escape can be seriously injured. Those who argue that the risk of injury is more of a concern than the risk of escape recommend halter designs that incorporate breakaway elements, such as a leather crownpiece, breakaway buckles, or easily detachable lead rope. Those who believe that escape is the greater danger, either due to concerns about escape or creating a recurring bad habit in an animal that learns to break loose that could become unable to be kept tied at all, recommend sturdy designs that will not break unless the handler deliberately releases a slipknot or cuts the lead rope. Between the two camps are those who recommend sturdy halters that will not break under normal pressure from a momentarily recalcitrant or frightened animal, but ultimately will break in a true panic situation, such as a fall.

Some users have the animal wear a halter at all times, even when stalled or turned out. Others have the animal wear a halter only when being led, held, or tied. The advantages of leaving a halter on are that the animal is often easier to catch. The disadvantages are that an animal may catch the halter on an object and become trapped or injured in some fashion. While experts advise leaving halters off when animals are turned out, if halters are left on unattended animals, breakaway designs that still will hold for everyday leading are recommended. [7]

See also

Related Research Articles

Tack is equipment or accessories equipped on horses and other equines in the course of their use as domesticated animals. Saddles, stirrups, bridles, halters, reins, bits, harnesses, martingales, and breastplates are all forms of horse tack. Equipping a horse is often referred to as tacking up. A room to store such equipment, usually near or in a stable, is a tack room.


A bridle is a piece of equipment used to direct a horse. As defined in the Oxford English Dictionary, the "bridle" includes both the headstall that holds a bit that goes in the mouth of a horse, and the reins that are attached to the bit.


Longeing or lungeing is exercising and/or training young or experienced horses on a rein approximately 23 feet long. It is an excellent way of introducing young horses to regular work and teaching them the trust and respect which is the foundation of the relationship with the trainer. It can also be used to good effect to build strength in ridden horses or for rehabilitation after illness or injury. The horse is asked to work on a circle at one end of a longe line, or rein, by a trainer on the ground who guides the horse's movements using rein, whip and voice commands. Longeing is also a critical component of the sport of equestrian vaulting.


A noseband is the part of a horse's bridle that encircles the nose and jaw of the horse. In English riding, where the noseband is separately attached to its own headstall or crownpiece, held independently of the bit, it is often called a cavesson or caveson noseband. In other styles of riding, a simple noseband is sometimes attached directly to the same headstall as the bit.

Longeing cavesson

A lunging cavesson is a piece of equipment used when longeing a horse. A lunging cavesson consists of a heavy, padded noseband, metal rings to attach the lunge line, a throatlatch, and sometimes additional straps such as a jowl strap or a browband for added stability. It is placed on the horse's head in a manner somewhat akin to a halter, but provides significantly more control than a halter, without placing pressure on the horse's mouth as a bridle would. The noseband should be just below the cheekbone, several inches above the nostrils sitting on the nasal bone, and fitted snugly. The jowl strap should be very snug to prevent the cavesson from slipping into the horse's eye.

A martingale is any of several designs of tack that are used on horses to control head carriage. Martingales may be seen in a wide variety of equestrian disciplines, both riding and driving. Rules for their use vary widely; in some disciplines they are never used, others allow them for schooling but not in judged performance, and some organizations allow certain designs in competition.


Reins are items of horse tack, used to direct a horse or other animal used for riding. They are long straps that can be made of leather, nylon, metal, or other materials, and attach to a bridle via either its bit or its noseband.


A hackamore is a type of animal headgear which does not have a bit. Instead, it has a special type of noseband that works on pressure points on the face, nose, and chin. It is most commonly associated with certain styles of riding horses.

Horse showmanship

Showmanship is an event found at many horse shows. The class is also sometimes called "Fitting and Showmanship", "Showmanship In-Hand", "Showmanship at Halter" or "Halter Showmanship" It involves a person on the ground leading a horse, wearing a halter or bridle, through a series of maneuvers called a pattern. The horse itself is not judged on its conformation. Rather, the exhibitor is judged on how well he or she exhibits the animal to its best advantage, with additional scoring for the grooming and presentation of both horse and handler.

Mechanical hackamore Piece of horse equipment to direct the horse that fits on the horses head but has no parts in the horses mouth

A mechanical hackamore is a piece of horse tack that is a type of bitless headgear for horses where the reins connect to shanks placed between a noseband and a curb chain. Other names include "hackamore bit", "brockamore", "English hackamore", "nose bridle" and "German hackamore". Certain designs have been called "Blair's Pattern" and the "W. S. Bitless Pelham".

Western riding

Western riding is considered a style of horse riding which has evolved from the ranching and welfare traditions which were brought to the Americans by the Spanish Conquistadors, as well as both equipment and riding style which evolved to meet the working needs of the cowboy in the American West. At the time, American cowboys had to work long hours in the saddle and often over rough terrain, sometimes having to rope a cattle using a lariat, also known as a lasso. Because of the necessity to control the horse with one hand and use a lariat with the other, western horses were trained to neck rein, that is, to change direction with light pressure of a rein against the horse's neck. Horses were also trained to exercise a certain degree of independence in using their natural instincts to follow the movements of a cow, thus a riding style developed that emphasized a deep, secure seat, and training methods encouraged a horse to be responsive on very light rein contact.

Fiador knot

The fiador knot is a decorative, symmetrical knot used in equine applications to create items such as rope halters, hobbles, and components of the fiador on some hackamore designs. As traditionally described, it is a four strand diamond knot in which six of the eight ends loop back into the knot, thus allowing it to be tied with a single line. While a specific knot is discussed in this article, the fiador knot has also been treated as an entire class of multi-strand knots similarly made with a single line.

Bit (horse) Horse equipment that fits in the mouth and is used to direct the horse

The bit is an important item of a horse's tack. It usually refers to the assembly of components that contacts and controls the horses mouth, and includes the shanks, rings, cheekpads and mullen, all described here below, but it also sometimes simply refers to the mullen, the piece that fits inside the horses mouth. The mullen extends across the horses mouth and rests on the bars, the region between the incisors and molars where there are no teeth. The bit is located on the horse's head by the headstall, and which has itself several components to allow the most comfortable adjustment of bit location and control.


A bosal is a type of noseband used on the classic hackamore of the vaquero tradition. It is usually made of braided rawhide and is fitted to the horse in a manner that allows it to rest quietly until the rider uses the reins to give a signal. It acts upon the horse's nose and jaw. Though seen in both the "Texas" and the "California" cowboy traditions, it is most closely associated with the "California" style of western riding. Sometimes the term bosal is used to describe the entire classic hackamore or jaquima. Technically, however, the term refers only to the noseband portion of the equipment.

Halter (horse show) Type of horse show class where horses are shown in hand and not ridden

Halter is a type of horse show class where horses are shown "in hand," meaning that they are led, not ridden, and are judged on their conformation and suitability as breeding stock. Depending on breed and geographic region, such events may be called "Halter," "In-Hand," "Breeding," "Model," or "Conformation" classes.

Bitless bridle Type of horse equipment that is worn on the head and has no parts in the mouth that is used to direct the horse

A bitless bridle is a general term describing a wide range of headgear for horses or other animals that controls the animal without using a bit. Direction control may also be via a noseband or cavesson, if one is used. The term hackamore is the most historically accurate word for most common forms of bitless headgear. However, some modern bitless designs of horse headgear lack the heavy noseband of a true hackamore and instead use straps that tighten around a horse's head to apply pressure in various ways. These are often specifically patented and marketed as "bitless bridles", usually referencing a particular type of headgear known as the cross-under, though other designs are sometimes also given similar names.

Fiador (tack)

A fiador term of Spanish colonial origin referring to a hackamore component used principally in the Americas. In English-speaking North America, the fiador is known principally as a type of throatlatch used on the bosal-style hackamore. Its purpose is to stabilize a heavy noseband or bosal and prevent the bridle from shifting. It is not used for tying the horse.


A frentera is a part of some halters and bridles, usually on a horse. It is a cord, strap, or chain on the face of the horse that is attached to the crownpiece or browband and runs down the horse's face to the noseband or bit rings. A frentera can be split at the top to pass on either side of the forelock, or on either side of the ears. In the latter case, the frentera usually substitutes for a browband. A frentera can also be split at the bottom into two or more parts to support and stabilize a heavy noseband or bit.

Mecate rein

The mecate is the rein system of the bosal style hackamore used to train young horses. It is a long rope, traditionally of horsehair, approximately 20–25 feet long and up to about 3/4 inch in diameter. It is tied to the bosal in a specialized manner that adjusts the fit of the bosal around the muzzle of the horse, and creates both a looped rein and a long free end that can be used for a number of purposes. When a rider is mounted, the free end is coiled and attached to the saddle. When the rider dismounts, the lead rein is not used to tie the horse to a solid object, but rather is used as a lead rope and a form of Longe line when needed.

Lead (tack)

A lead, lead line, lead rope (US) or head collar rope (UK), is used to lead an animal such as a horse. Usually, it is attached to a halter. The lead may be integral to the halter or, more often, separate. When separate, it is attached to the halter with a heavy clip or snap so that it can be added or removed as needed. A related term, lead shank or lead chain refers to a lead line with a chain attached that is used in a variety of ways to safely control possibly difficult or dangerous horses if they will not respond to a regular lead.


  1. Oxford English Dictionary, [halter: (n)] Online edition, accessed February 20, 2008.
  2. 1 2 Loch, Wayne. "Haltering and Tying Horses." Department of Animal Sciences, University of Missouri Extension. G2844, revised August 2002. Web site accessed March 19, 2008
  3. United States Patent Office, Patent No. US000514523
  4. Diane Longanecker (2002). Halter-tying success: A Step-by-step Guide to Making Hand-tied, Rope Halters for Horses. William Eaton. p. 134. ISBN   9780963532060 . Retrieved 2008-10-14.
  5. Description of rope halter design and how to tie one. Web page accessed March 17, 2008
  6. "web storefront". Archived from the original on 2008-09-16. Retrieved 2008-02-28.
  7. Horse Journal Staff (November 2008). "Safety Halters for Turnout". Horse Journal. 15 (11): 6–8.