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"Dressage" Horse and the Rope Halter Crowd

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  • #81
    Originally posted by skydy View Post
    "Lunging" or "Longeing" (you use both terms), is done for one of two reasons. To "get the bucks out" and warm up,so to speak, or to train the young horse to carry the bit and to balance themselves. A halter (rope or leather) can be used successfully in the first instance. A halter is relatively useless in the second instance.

    I have never seen anyone that could be considered a well qualified "dressage trainer" longe a horse in a halter, expecting to accomplish anything other than "getting the bucks out".

    Leading, tying, ponying, yes. Longing, no.

    The links did not work for me , so I have missed out on the Olympic dressage riders longing their horses in halters.
    I've never understood this concept. A horse is supposed to be soft/light/giving to the bit or bridle, but the same no longer applies when in a halter? What?

    I can easily run my advanced mare through all of her in-hand work in a halter (of any style). Same soft feel from her, same forgiving hand from me.

    Similarly on the longe. Although we do not use side reins anymore. I can give a rebalancing half halt on the longe line and school a lovely collected/extended canter transition series with clucks and a fingertip's pressure. I am not a wizard. I thought dressage horses were always supposed to be light and responsive like this. Are they not?

    For leading and general handling, each of my horses has a soft leather halter. 9 times out of 10 there is slack in the lead from beginning to end of session. The horses follow my body language. Again- is this not normal? I thought it was.

    I own a soft rope halter and I call it the "pajama halter" because it's like slipping into a comfortable piece of clothing. I like it for tasks like clipping and bathing because I can slide it around easily to clip/wash the chin and jaw area (without getting my nice leather soaked!). Slack lead rope, no 'bite' needed. None of the horses exhibit any kind of pain or fear response whatsoever. There is no transition needed between this rope halter vs a flat one. One of my weanies grew up in rope halters because a friend had made her a beautiful foal sized one. The transition from that to her flat leather halter took about 10 seconds while I put it on and buckled it up. No difference in feel or "manners" whatsoever.

    I have seen the stiff rope halters with knots all over, and I'm not saying those halters don't exist. I'm just trying to add a little balance to the conversation and assert that the soft/smooth/comfortable version exists as well. And sometimes, just maybe, folks are using them for something other than a training bandaid.


    • Original Poster

      I haven't experienced anything in the last week-ish ... but I am paying as much attention to my horse as I expect her to pay to me. I recall watching the assistants at her former residence hand-walk her and having to ask that they give little more attention to their arm swings and the affect on the lead rope (she was on stall rest and hand-walked 2x a day by 2 walkers, one on each side. I was told she was too much horse for one person to be safe.) while they were having conversations with each other.

      I think hand-walking a horse on rehab, especially when it's not yours, can be pretty boring, so it's tempting to have headphones/music or phone going ... I don't mean to project, but I totally imagine my horse saying "you're in your world, I'll wander off in my own, oh WHAT!???? IS THAT?!"

      My friend seems to have become comfortable with my girl's behavior (she stands where she's supposed to when my friend puts feed in the bucket and waits for a release before moving) and there's been no more talk about necessary training. Except she'd like me to ride her horse

      Carry on ... very interesting ideas coming up. (Though, I'm reluctant to accept that throughness can be achieved without a connection.)


      • #83
        I keep one of those unbreakable, parachute-cord "NH style" rope halters and its knotted-on 12' lead around for ONE purpose and ONE purpose only:

        When I have NO CHOICE but to forcefully physically restrain, usually with the help of a sturdy overhead tree branch, a horse who is so rank, disobedient or dangerous that there is no other way to get him to submit to deworming, vaccination, or getting a tranq. into him so he can be doctored. The fact that these days I strive not to take on such animals to begin with means the halter hangs on a peg in my attic.

        This is because those halters are UNBREAKABLE for all practical purposes. A horse can literally hang himself in one. For that same reason, I DO NOT allow my clients to use them on my premises. I want the halter, or the shank snap, to break before my fences, my barn or the horse's neck does. People can make mistakes, and I don't want the horse to pay with cervical spine wrenching or flipping over because someone who didn't know any better hard-tied him to the wrong object.

        In the hands of professional trainers, particularly out West where they are dealing with a lot of young stock who haven't had much handling, they have their place. I DO NOT think the current "fad" of using them to teach basic leading has much merit at all. If your horse needs something just this side of having his head wrapped in barbed wire to be led around the yard, you have a MAJOR LEAGUE training problem you need somebody to solve.

        In 45 years in the horse business this is the first I've heard that leading by the bridle can "give them problems." Live long enough, see everything! Just one more sign there are an awful lot of half broke (or what GM would call "lady-broke") horses out there! Now before you all jump on me for that sexist term, what George really MEANS is "horses trained with too much sweetness and not NEARLY enough firmness." IOW, the ones who'll walk all over you.


        • #84
          I haven't read most of the responses, just the last page but I second Heronpony thoroughly. I use a rope halter when first working with a new horse to establish ground manners. I like it better than a chain because a chain sometimes gets stuck and doesn't offer the instant release a rope halter does when the horse responds correctly. That's very important to me. I was turned on to rope halters by a GP dressage trainer years ago and have really liked them and used them for manners training since. Once my horse has manners we go in a regular leather halter as I have yet to have one need anything more than that once they have leaned manners and that I am in charge.

          As far as lunging and being through on their own that's absolutely possible and wonderful and shows very correct back to front training! Our goal in dressage is self carriage and once they establish the correct way to move via side reins or a riders hands they should offer it without anything. I usually use side reins when lunging but threw my pony out on the lunge in a halter the other day because I forgot my bridle at home. I was thrilled to see that when I asked for a trot transition she sat down, lifted through her back and poll and trotted around with her nose just in front of the vertical and her poll as the highest point. She looked no different then when I lunge her in side reins. Momma was very happy and proud of this unexpected turn if events! Then I realized I shouldn't be surprised as that is what are goal of training is. I teach you how to carry yourself, pushing from behind, which rounds the back, causes you to come out the wither and raise your poll. Reins aren't really necessary once they have learned and feel good traveling in balance. She did her lengthenings and collected canter work beautifully in just a halter. It was a happy happy day :-)

          I don't have a problem with a chain over the nose but in my experience a rope halter is just as effective and doesn't risk the "not releasing" at the perfect moment. I like a horse to have a release the very second they make the right decision as it speeds up training when things are so black and white.
          Please excuse the typos...I'm always on my iPhone and autocorrect is not my friend. Yes I mean mares autocorrect...not mates.


          • #85
            Originally posted by AllWeatherGal View Post
            (Though, I'm reluctant to accept that throughness can be achieved without a connection.)
            In case you were referencing my post here, I wanted to clarify that my slack lead comment was for leading and general handling. Obviously, no need to be through for that


            • #86
              Agreed! If I don't have slack in my lead we go back to manners training. I expect my horse to follow my body and rarely have to use the lead. Unless we are passing over the last 5 feet of delicious grass before we hit the barn. Then I need my lead to pull her naughty little head up:-)
              Please excuse the typos...I'm always on my iPhone and autocorrect is not my friend. Yes I mean mares autocorrect...not mates.


              • #87
                I'm a reformed rope halter hater. I could not stand them. They are ugly and I just couldn't see the point when I could accomplish what I wanted with a leather halter and a chain. All my horses have fairly good ground manners and I only needed the chain for circumstances that were out of the ordinary.

                THEN, I had to start handwalking one. He has very good ground manners and even ground ties. Well, he wasn't much fun handwalking. The horse that used to walk when I walked, stop immediately when I stop, move away from me, never came in my space was suddenly all up in my business. I had him in a chain and leather halter and by god he acted like the world was going to end if I used the chain at all. He was tense and upset and like holding onto a helium balloon. So I broke down and tried a friend's rope halter.

                The difference was huge. It was just the right balance of soft when I wanted it, but had enough bite that immediately lessoned when put slack in the rope. As much as I hated to admit it, a chain does not give you immediate slack, no matter how you put it on. It also can pull the halter into the far side eye which I REALLY hate.

                So, I concede...a rope halter is a really good tool. That said, I would not let someone who I didn't trust or like the way they used a rope halter put one on my horse. I'm particular about ground manners and how my horse is trained. I don't let just anyone ride my horse to train it, so why would I not be just as selective about ground manners?

                I recently had the opportunity to take one of my horses to a Buck Brannaman clinic. I was lucky to have a slow introduction to quality NH via a first horse who'd been brought along by a BB student. I was pretty amazed by what BB could do and started giving some of that a try by watching videos and reading books. Then I got to go to the clinic. Let me just venture that probably 75% of the people who say their horses have good ground manners are full of it. They might be good enough for them, but on the scale, they are mediocre. You may not believe your horse needs to always walk right at your shoulder (it's really more about them paying attention to you, not doing as they please) or needs to stop when stop, but they are great skills to have and can have a big effect on your horse's overall quality of life and how they interact with everyone.

                Back to the rope halter: is it essential, no. But it does make teaching good ground manners easier. You can't have the same feel with a chain/leadrope...or even a rope halter with a snap on leadrope. The tied in lead rope is actually a pretty important piece of it all. It allows you to have the soft feel when asking your horse to do something without the snap swingin or hitting the horse in the face when it shouldn't.

                'Course a rope halter is only as good as the person on the end of the lead rope. If that person doesn't really understand feel or has gotten their training from a mass marketed game playing type of NH, the rope halter isn't going to amount to much. Also, if the owner doesn't see the benefits, it's not really going to bring about much change. Ground work is pretty important part of each ride. It's not something you teach once and then are done with.

                Also, not all rope halters are created equal. The stiffer they are and the more knots they have, the harsher they are. I prefer a soft, very flexible halter with only the standard knots. I don't use it all the time, but it is on my horses at least once a week. I do ground work, however, every time I take them out of their stalls.

                That's really a long-winded way of saying, that a rope halter really is a useful tool, even for your dressage horse.

                (as for leading with reins: I don't see it as a problem, especially if you are not just dragging your horse around. you should take the time to teach them to move forward and back off of the "slobber strap" (the 3 or 4 inched of rein that attaches to the bit. If they are good doing that, leading from the reins shouldn't be an issue as you will not be dragging them anywhere, rather they are coming willingly. )
                Keith: "Now...let's do something normal fathers and daughters do."
                Veronica: "Buy me a pony?"


                • #88
                  Originally posted by sascha View Post
                  Yes, I read the article. If you didn't intend it as an argument against chains, why did you even bring it up?
                  Simple - it's posted at local barns as a reminder that one should take note & make sure one is using the shank chain properly.

                  If you wanted to caution the world against using chains incorrectly then, a) when you see someone doing it wrong, TELL THEM and point them to the article, b) post a USING LEAD SHANK CHAIN INCORRECTLY post on horse care because you'll reach a whole lot more people that way.
                  Well I suppose if I were you, I would do it that way

                  For me, it fits in just fine here as this is (for me) a discussion rampant with misconceptions.


                  • #89
                    Originally posted by alto View Post
                    Did you read the article
                    - the person whose horse died was the author, she never implied any different ... she shared her tragedy because it is not uncommon to see people using the chain incorrectly.
                    I read the article but don't understand what doubling the chain meant. I must be dense.
                    No personal experience with rope halters but saw one that apparently worked miracles on a previously unhandled yearling appy draft cross acquired by the BO after she drove to CO to pick up a couple of pregnant Belgian draft mares she naively bought on line. The filly, a product of the same PMU scam, was given to my BO with the caveat that if she didn't take the filly she'd be shipped back to Canada for slaughter.

                    Anyway, this filly, as you might expect, was a handful the BO could barely control and getting bigger everyday. The BO was ready to throw in the towel. As much as she felt bad about it, she was getting to the point of being afraid to handle or lead the filly anywhere. Other than sending the filly to a pro for the basics, which the BO did not want to do as she knew the filly was not worth the thousands it would have cost, I had no suggestions or advice to offer.

                    Someone on an Internet forum like this one suggested a rope halter which I thought was a dumb idea at the time but kept my mouth shut (hard to believe I know - LOL).

                    I was completely speechless when I saw the BO a few days later leading the filly around the farm. The filly was calm & relaxed like she'd been doing it forever! No more pushing, bumping, rearing or striking out. A day or two later the filly was backing up with just a word. If I hadn't seen this 180 transformation with my own eyes I wouldn't have believed it. The filly wound up being the BO's horse of a lifetime she wouldn't sell for any amount of money.

                    Never have had a need for a rope halter and wouldn't have the faintest idea how to use one. No clue where the knots are supposed to go or how to attach a lead to them. Or even what type of lead to use. But after what I witnessed with that filly I won't ever poo poo them again.


                    • #90

                      I bought my halter from here. In my custom colors and custom sized to fit my horse. You can use any ol regular lead rope although for schooling I have a longer one than normal.

                      If you can't manage the knot you can get one of these



                      • #91
                        One very simple NH concept (or just training concept) that would benefit dressage horses is that in NH, they teach to lead the horse from both sides, alternating leading with handler on both left and right side. It is good practice as then both horse and handler avoid becoming one sided and it creates a basis for groundwork where of course the horse is worked from both sides.


                        • #92
                          Originally posted by skydy View Post
                          It could be a problem, depending upon what you were trying to accomplish by longeing the horse. If you are trying to get the" bucks" out, then no, it would not be a problem at all.

                          If you are a dressage trainer, schooling a young dressage horse on the longe, then you have a "problem" if you have to use a chain or a rope halter to school the horse on the longe.

                          Of course I may be wrong in assuming that dressage trainers still use a longeing caveson and/or a surcingle and side reins. It's quite possible that I am hopelessly outdated and that new "chain" and/or "rope" techniques have replaced the old school method of teaching a young horse to carry the bit.
                          I do therapeutic rehab with horses and dressage training. All our handling is done in rope halters including a lot of inhand work and lunging. The rope halter can be as soft or as hard as the hand at the end of the rein just like a bit can. It is all about the contact.

                          We do gentle softening work and rebalancing which is just as much body language and gesture as halter pressure. I don't even own a chain and never have.

                          All our breeding with stallions is done in a rope halter and yes, the knots can hurt if you crack down, but no more than a chain and certainly not as damaging as using a bit IMHO.

                          Our stallions do live cover in a rope halter because they are TRAINED not to be pushy and arrogant. We only use breakaway web halters for horses that need them to be caught because they have trust issues still or for foaling alarms.

                          Personally I love the ability to be as light with my hands when handling the horse as I want to be when riding and a rope halter gives this where as, if the horse is a bit opportunistic, the web / leather halter gives them the option to ignore you a bit more easily.

                          When you are consistently working with stallions and colts and groups of horses I find they suit my needs better than web and it isn't because I want to bully them.


                          • #93
                            Here's one of our 3yos having his teeth done for the first time. This particular halter is a bit big for in-hand work but is easy for the dentist to put the gag over. Every second horse in Australia seems to have a rope halter nowadays.


                            4yo filly seeing an indoor arena for the first time


                            Great for the beach



                            • #94
                              Originally posted by Countrywood View Post
                              One very simple NH concept (or just training concept) that would benefit dressage horses is that in NH, they teach to lead the horse from both sides, alternating leading with handler on both left and right side. It is good practice as then both horse and handler avoid becoming one sided and it creates a basis for groundwork where of course the horse is worked from both sides.
                              I pretty much consider this basic training for ANY horse. Neither mare nor filly got training from the "rope halter crowd." Both are trained (or being trained in the filly's case as she is less than a year old!) to have everything done from either side. If anything, I criticize myself for not doing more from the right side with the mare, just because I'm "used to" the left side, and I am pretty sure that if I did more from the right she might not be so one-sided.

                              Yet my dressage-barn friends are absolutely amazed when I do something as simple as mount or dismount on the right, switch the mare from one side to the other if she's getting silly about something (putting me between her and the Strange Thing of Doom usually quiets her) etc.

                              Then again... these horses, while not trained by the rope halter crowd, are not and did not get their start in a typical "sport horse" barn.
                              You have to have experiences to gain experience.

                              1998 Morgan mare Mythic Feronia "More Valley Girl Than Girl Scout!"


                              • #95
                                I find it interesting how far apart so many disciplines are...this thread is a wonderful illustration.

                                I am about as far from a "dressage" rider as possible. My hands-on background is all race horses (in pretty much every capacity but as a jockey) and polo ponies.

                                However these days I DO breed horses primarily for the dressage ring. Obviously I know alot of dressage riders and I constantly pick the brain of the UL ones (PSG +) that I know & respect.

                                One of my best "productions" was sold to a former YR and current professional dressage rider/trainer. So I am very familiar with what dressage riders want from their horses and the "traditional" way of training. Although I doubt if I could do it myself, I know in theory the training scale, various methods, dressage ideals, etc. etc.

                                OTOH, I live out West, and from a "philosophical" point, I have been interested in (so-called) NHS for years. Was exploring the teachings of folks like Monte Roberts, Buck B., Ray Hunt, Tom Dorrance, John Lyons and yes, the most hater person on COTH, Pat Parelli for over 15 yrs.

                                And here is where this thread unknowingly seems to be discussing apples & oranges.

                                I think what you guys call the "rope halter crowd" are doing something far different with their ground work on a long-line than dressage riders are doing when lunging. These are different even though they are both "math" calculus & algebra are both different systems and actually working towards "solving" different issues.

                                When doing ground work ala NHS, you are working on communication
                                & controlling the body. Traditional "dressage" lunging is NO about "lightness" so much as it is about teaching the horse self-carriage, how to reach for the bit, and just the gymnastic aspect of simply strengthening the horse IN VERY SPECIFIC WAYS in order for them to be able to perform certain movements correctly.

                                When training w/the rope halter on a long line, you are also using your body language as an aid, then gradually just the lightest touch from your hand can transmit the same signal.

                                And you can do this with a nylon halter if you can put enough force behind your "feel", but a rope halter is constructed in such a way that you don't HAVE to use such force.

                                So what was shown in the video was the Danish dressage rider doing GROUND WORK ala NHS with his rope halter. When he did his passage & piaffe work, he was using a regular old bridle. When he did his ground driving/longing work, he was using a traditional bridle w/flash, surcingle & draw reins. Nothing "weird" at all.

                                Again, these are two different tools, different goals, different methods, but I am here to tell you they are NOT incompatible. I get alot of compliments on my babie's behavior from "traditional" dressage folk who have no real idea that I use rope halters (most of them could care less).

                                Using a rope halter on your dressage horse will not "ruin" him unless the handler is an idiot...which is actually the highest risk. But then there are plenty of people ruining horses with overly tight side reins, etc. etc.

                                Abit OT, but I've lately become a BIG fan of Lester Buckley, a Western trained "NHS" guy who actually spent 3 yrs in Germany studying traditional dressage & got his trainer's cert over there. He's one of the very, very few people in the US who can "bridge" the NSH & dressage world.

                                But it really can be done...honest.


                                • #96
                                  I haven't read all of the responses, but I wanted to add something here. A rope halter is an effective training tool, but only when accompanied by correct expectations of horse behavior. In many cases, the expectations and ordinary corrections are enough. BUT not all. A rope halter will effectively and efficiently help your horse to understand your expectations for him.

                                  For example, when I move, you follow my speed and my direction. You do not gawk off at the other horses.

                                  This is my space, you do not run over me b/c you are watching something else or in a hurry to get to t he barn..

                                  Most importantly, when I tell you to move somewhere on the ground, you do it right away, because that is what I expect under saddle too.

                                  If you have low expectations, a rope halter will not solve your problem.
                                  Last edited by pheasantknoll; Nov. 10, 2014, 11:50 AM. Reason: add more info


                                  • #97
                                    I have a variety of halters. Leather, web, breakaway crown web and the rope halter. I use the rope halter to turn out my 25 year old who sometimes gets excited and tries to run off while I'm still attached. I also use the rope halter when I take my younger horse around the Chatsworth neighborhood in city like traffic to get him use to the noise and commotion.

                                    I would never put my horse in a trailer though with the rope halter. For that I use the leather or one with the breakable crown.

                                    There is a fine line between "hobby" and "mental illness". - Dave Barry


                                    • #98
                                      Originally posted by Countrywood View Post
                                      I doubt they use a rope halter for any longing, (but that is speculation, they don't share every detail lol), I suspect they only would use a rope halter, those that do, for specific ground work purposes.

                                      Great links and discussion!
                                      I Don't think that you can "longe" in a rope halter because the connection is in the wrong place and the contact can be too light. But you can certainly do a great variety of ground work.


                                      • #99
                                        Originally posted by rcloisonne View Post

                                        I was completely speechless when I saw the BO a few days later leading the filly around the farm. The filly was calm & relaxed like she'd been doing it forever! No more pushing, bumping, rearing or striking out. A day or two later the filly was backing up with just a word. If I hadn't seen this 180 transformation with my own eyes I wouldn't have believed it. The filly wound up being the BO's horse of a lifetime she wouldn't sell for any amount of money.

                                        Never have had a need for a rope halter and wouldn't have the faintest idea how to use one. No clue where the knots are supposed to go or how to attach a lead to them. Or even what type of lead to use. But after what I witnessed with that filly I won't ever poo poo them again.
                                        Well, the rope halter was about as much a part of that filly's transformation as a bit was in making Valegro a dressage horse.

                                        It was the manner of training!! The correct training. This really isn't the place for a primer on NHS ground work, but a super place to start is with Buck Brannamen's "little red book" on Ground Work. Or, if you want to spend a bit more $$, he has a video out on it as well, I believe.

                                        It truly is a "different" way to communicate with a horse. I learned all sorts of tricks on the track about how to handle fractious horses with amped up brains. Not too many animals as "wired" as a 2-3yr TB colt stuffed with grain and ready to run!! And, with a halter & chain, even at my old age, I think I could still handle almost anything!!

                                        But the type of ground work promoted by so many of the NHS folks IS different. PP talks about his "7 Games", but all the maneuvers he teaches have been around for ages...Tom Dorrence (the modern father of NHS) was using them ages ago.

                                        The rope halter is the tool because it has a variety of "feels" to it. You can make it harsh, but because it is thin, you can also transmit your msg with just the lightest touch (the ultimate goal). Leather halters/chains simply don't have that range of touch...they are "dull to the hand".

                                        The whole school of NHS is about communication w/the horse using feel, energy and body being most important. If you know what you are doing you can transform a naughty baby or horse VERY quickly.

                                        However, once you start riding them, there is not that much difference in basic dressage & so-called NHS riding. Turn on the forehand is the same, leg yields same, etc. etc.

                                        I personally believe that the ground work develops a certain level of communication & trust in many horses FASTER and more completely than most other methods.

                                        The rope halter is just the tool. It's just the cover of the's not what is inside. And you don't learn it in a day, just like you don't learn dressage in a day. But for those who are interested, the sources are out there to learn.