The rope halter is a popular transition tool for the horse or rider who is new to bitless riding. It has become the must-have accessory for most brands of natural horsemanship, both for groundwork and riding. How does it fare against other bitless bridles?
£5 to £60
Rope halters can be purchased almost anywhere, and can be as simple, or have a noseband with additional knots or braiding. I have based estimated prices on a quick bit of research, in which I have placed the Parelli ‘Natural Hackamore’ at the top end of the price range, however I have also seen some beautiful handmade woven leather halters of the same style for upwards of £100. An advantage of this ‘bridle’ is that it can be found in hundreds of different varieties and colours, so there will be something to suit everyone (and every budget).
So why is the humble rope halter so popular for natural horsemanship? While each trainer might put this differently, halters are effective at transferring energy that the handler puts down the rope. In plain English, the small surface area of the two cords of rope over the nose and poll means that any pressure down the lead rope or reins is felt more strongly by the horse (i.e. the pressure is not distributed over a larger surface, like that of the flat noseband and headpiece of a headcollar). As such, the rope halter makes a perfect bridle for use with light cues or neck reining, but I would not recommend it for work in a sustained contact (such as dressage) or for when stronger/more direct cues might be needed (or likely to happen accidentally!).
Usually, reins are attached under the chin, where the lead rope would be clipped, but some have been specially designed for riding, with rings either side of the nose. Of course, this bitless bridle also doubles for leading, lunging, loading, tying your horse! Please be cautious when using a rope halter for these activities, and never turn a horse out in one, as it has no ‘break point’ should they get caught or panicked. Obviously this is also true should your horse get loose for any reason when riding. Baling twine cannot be relied upon to break when tying horses up, so be sure to seek out a reliable safe tying method (I have used the Idolo tether tie, and find that works rather well).
To conclude, while a rope halter would not be my personal preference for bitless riding due to its thin noseband, it is a valuable tool for its versatility. It is also important to note that entry-level gear like the rope halter are often responsible for easy transitioning from bitted to bitless riding – riders could otherwise be daunted by the cost of a bitless bridle that might not suit their horse and wind up sticking with what they know.
Thank you for reading, and be sure to check back in for future reviews, chats, and hugs!
Most of all, keep bossing it.