I bought my first rope halter 10 years ago, but my favourite one is purple; made for me by a student. I still have it to this day. Rope halters are incredibly durable, come in a range of fun colours, and need absolutely no maintenance or cleaning to make them last. They can be rolled up and tucked into a grooming bin, or hang off the paddock gate for six months in the elements. There is no metal to rust or freeze, and the well-made ones will not shrink.
Lately I have contemplated getting rid of my rope halters because there is such a stigma surrounding them to everyone who is not dedicated to some kind natural horsemanship. It seems as though the horse world believes that if you use a rope halter then you must be wiggling ropes and carrying sticks too. I have seen this tool used in ways that enhance the relationship between a horse a person, as well as many ways it can be abusive towards the horse.
I developed a collection of rope halters when I was studying natural horsemanship. This tool has stayed with me even though I am learning different methods and I have released many of my original rope halter handling techniques.
In recent years I have been studying the methods of dressage with a non-competitive perspective. My horses have gained confidence, connection within their bodies, and the willingness to dance with me. I have found the use of a well-fitted cavesson to be an extremely helpful tool for working with my horses. However, a good cavesson is quite pricey and can be hard to find.
The key to the cavesson versus a halter or bridle is that you can work with the horse from the top of the noseband. This allows the horse’s head to be carried in balance with the vertebrae in their neck and rest of the body. I had no idea how important this simple change in equipment was until I experimented with the same horses using a connection under the halter and then on top of the halter. I started connecting my reins to the top of my rope halter for groundwork and riding. his quick adjustment has become a staple in demonstrating the changes to my students, and I have every size of rope halter already available to me for this purpose.
The rope halter can be useful in considerate hands; but a word of warning to anyone using them:
Rope halters are made from a single piece of rope, so they do not break or tear. Horses can undergo intense amounts of pain and injury to their poll and face if they pull back while being ponied or tied to a stall/wall/ trailer. This is not a safe halter to tie with or leave a horse unattended. Rope halters have originally been designed with very thin rope. A moderate amount of pressure will cause pain. There are several techniques established in the training world that abuse the facial nerves of the horse in order to achieve quick results. Here is a link to an article on properly fitting bridles.
Equipment that is well-fitted and used consciously should be the ultimate goal. It has taken time for me to learn that I do not need to use increasingly uncomfortable amounts of pressure in order to achieve results with my horses. Horses are masters at reading into our intentions and knowing whether we are worthy of their trust. The way we interact with them should prove our dedication to them and no one else.