Your Halter Is Too Big (and other horse safety tips to address)

Photo © paulvico via flickr

BY LAUREN MAULDIN

It kills me every time. You see a lovely photo of a beautiful horse posted on social media. The rider is beaming next to their horse that’s well groomed with a sleek coat, but the noseband of the halter is hanging down, down, down. 

Proper fitting tack isn’t about aesthetics; it’s a safety concern. The noseband of a properly fitting halter should rest the same place as the noseband on your bridle—about 2 fingers below the cheekbone. Halters that are too big can be easily pulled off or shaken loose in a moment of “free expression” hand walking. Flappy straps loosely hanging off your horse are an open invitation to catch on something or otherwise cause a disaster you didn’t see coming, but could have prevented. 

I’m not the only one who feels this way. Trainer and veterinarian, Katherine Donis, has collected countless safety precautions from a lifetime in the barn. With her IEA team in Au Sable Forks, NY, she starts by teaching the basics of ground safety before a rider ever gets on a horse. “Each week, my team kids are supposed to come to two riding lessons and one unmounted lesson where the kids work around the barn, giving back to the horses who teach them while they learn horse management,” she explains. “I also teach lots of kids with disabilities so I really take my time and go into exquisitely careful detail about all the safety issues and how to just ‘be’ around a pony safely.”

One of Donis’ pet peeves is leaving door latches open around the barn. It’s easy to be lazy when bringing your horse out and forget to close the door and latch it back, but taking the extra five seconds can save an emergency call. “I can’t tell you how many torn necks I’ve sewn up from people leaving the latches sticking out of a stall door,” she says. You can even be safer bringing your horse out by opening the stall door all the way so the horse doesn’t “hip” itself walking through. 

Photo © J.Smith831 via flickr

Letting some air flow through the barn with open doors? Make sure to tie-up stall chains and guards with hay twine. Why? You want that chain to easily break when your horse might decide to put its leg through one. Even cross ties need consideration. “I’ve seen not only horses, but also humans damage their eyes due to bungee cross ties or trailer ties,” Donis states. 

Working as a veterinarian has led Donis to be not only more aware of horse safety, but human safety too. “Most of us have been injured by horses from time to time, some quite seriously,” she explains. “The sad news is that there are only a couple of my own classmates (1997, Cornell) even still practicing equine medicine due in large part to this.” It’s extremely important for horse owners to warn vets and farriers when they know their horse kicks. Pretending your little darling is a perfect angel can be very dangerous when you know there’s a history and choose not to disclose. 

The list of potential hazards in the barn is infinite. And no, there is no way to 100% prevent injury to horse or human, but start looking critically around you. 

“I still feel that a day you aren’t learning something around a horse is a day wasted,” Donis says. “What amazing creatures they are to give us unlimited opportunities for lifelong learning.”

With horses, you can never take shortcuts. Start looking at a halter dangling, still clipped to a crosstie, not as a sign of “saving space” in the barn, but something a silly horse could hang its leg through. It’s going to be cheaper on your wallet and less traumatic on your mental health to imagine and prevent, versus experience, accidents that could be avoided. 


Katherine Donis was trained at Anne Grenci’s Fox Hill Farms in Pleasantville, NY as a junior, mostly by Jane Grenci & Leslie Miller, but also by Barb Cochran, Carol Parker, Kip Rosenthal, Kim Jacobs, and J Michael Plumb. In the last ten years, she’s ridden with Scott Keach, Lucinda Green, Nona Garson, George D’Ambrosio, Jonathan Millar, and Gary Duffy.


About the Author: Lauren holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of California Riverside, and is a lifelong rider and writer. Beyond equestrian journalism, she explores body positivity, mental health and addiction through personal narrative. She enjoys showing on the local hunter/jumper circuit in Austin, Texas.

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