Equine Rescue

Basic “Rules of the Road” for Horse Keeping

Article by Jerry Finch ~ Founder/President of Habitat for Horses

A little “Horse Sense” goes a long way!

Beyond any doubt, there are those who know far more than I’ve even thought about in relation to the care of horses, but there are a few things that over the course of years of operating an equine rescue have become “rules of the road” in horse keeping.

Having witnessed far too many ripped and torn bodies from barbed wire, the “no barbed wire in areas less than 5 acres” rule is basic in our adoption application. We all know better, or at least I hope we do, but I still hear people tell me, “I’ve had barbed wire around my horse’s pens for years and he knows to never touch it.”  It takes just once to maim or kill a horse. By then it’s too late.

Another rule – never tie a horse in a trailer. The rule is proven when some drunk nobody runs into the side of your trailer, flipping it over. What might have been a minor accident for your horse can easily turn into a horse with a broken neck – because he was tied. Saw it, tried to help, but the horse never had a chance.

Tying a horse to a tree is just plain dumb. Sure years can pass and nothing happens, but on that hot afternoon when no one is around, here comes that dog that has to nip at the horse’s feet, the horse runs around the tree trying to escape and… you don’t even want to picture the end result.

Result of halter left on ~ photo by Jerry Finch

This weekend another rule of good horsemanship was broken by an owner that should have known better. The rule – never leave a halter on an unattended horse. I’ve seen the broken rule end up in a couple of very ugly deaths. The rule breaker this weekend didn’t lose the horse – yet.

It’s in our hospital, the result of using a hind foot to scratch his head, something most horses do quite often. This time the hoof got caught in the halter, the horse fell down and stayed twisted up and struggling for hours on end before someone finally came outside and saw what was happening.

His head is swollen to almost twice it’s normal size. Because the horse could barely breath, Doc Jenkins did an emergency tracheotomy and inserted a breathing tube. He’s been on IV fluids since Friday.

So just another example of horse owners not thinking. There was no reason to leave that halter on. The horse is a pocket horse – loves people. An act of laziness and while the result didn’t kill the horse – yet – there will be thousands of dollars in medical bills and the horse may never again be the same.

Jerry Finch
Habitat for Horses, Inc.
PO Box 213
Hitchcock, TX 77563

19 replies »

  1. Great tip about that halter! I have seen horses left haltered out in fields etc.. Quite a common practice actually!


    • Ok I’ve seen this argument many times but Where I am we need halter’s on all But with one exception they must be breakaway type Even velcro will break enough if a horse panics. I take care of nine horses right now and every one of them has a break away halter. any Horse that arrives at my barn get a new break away. Studs are always fitted with a break away. I’m not lazy but Short I’m 4’11” and I don’t need a 17 hand idiot pounding down on me. The only time we take off halter is either under clinical setting like surgery or when their about to be euthanized. In the past a halter can save a life like pulling a horse out of a corner when cast. The horse was old and just sat their while we pulled him to a point he could get up on his own. Every one has their reason for use or not the point in this is situation and what calls for it. Its not people are lazy and yes their are some real slackers out their when you are alone and it happens to me quite often a halter is necessary.


  2. The halter issue on pasture horses brings to mine a day I spent with our local vet traveling with him during our clubs shot clinic.

    When we arrived at a member’s farm and approached the paddock we noticed her gray Arab mare down and not moving. We approached her and found that her hind leg had indeed was caught in her halter (which did not have a breakaway).

    The vet immediately ran to his truck and came running back with a surgical knife and cut her free. We did not know how long she had been down but it appeared it had been awhile. We had to pull her to her feet and check for any damage and she was fine.

    So NO halters on pasture horses!


  3. Break away halters are great for a horse that isn’t easy to catch. Some people won’t use them on a horse that pulls back when tied. You need to consider the break away as a pasture halter and go out to catch him with a solid halter if this is the problem. Break aways are the only halter to leave on an unattended horse.

    None of my horses wear halters at pasture.


    • None of my horses wear halters in the pasture either….just dare ya to go out and not have the herd come runnin’ to you!


  4. My draft cross is one of those “air-fern” easy-keepers so she has to wear a grazing muzzle – and it is attached to a break-away halter. I hate that she has to wear this, but the danger of her foundering is real.


  5. Ours are clean and green, also…and as far as catching, it is usually the game of who can catch the human. As a group, they are always glad to see us in the pasture and are happy to be with us.


  6. I use safety halters ONLY. I’ve had a couple of incidents when I was WITH my horses and they were just tied normally in the barn for grooming. You just never know! It was enough to make safety halters my ONLY halters.


  7. Have to disagree about not tying in a trailer – it can be a safety issue NOT tying them (don’t ask my how I know this) however, breakways are the way to go here too. That way if the horse goes down the trailer tie will break and the numerous other disasters that go along with a horse having its head hung up will be avoided. One of my BIG pet peeves is people driving down the road with their horses hanging their head(s) out the trailer window. HELLO! Injured eyes – head injury (or removal) from tractor trailer passing too close. Just had to have my prize mare’s eye removed because of a corneal scratch that went way south with a fungal infection, so I am SUPER sensitive about eye injuries now.
    Great post!


  8. Seems that horses have this knack for finding new adventures and especially ones that will end up with them getting horribly injured. Just special talent they seem to have. ANYTHING that will add to their safety should be considered. Of course they will find a way around it and get injured or caught up or whatever anyway. Gotta love ’em.


  9. Thank you SO much for sharing this important info.! At the place our daughter was riding horses, another girl (all teens age 13-18), tied her pony to a hitching post & left it unattended. I heard a commotion, turned & saw the poor thing had gotten completely wrapped up in the lead rope, & had fallen!! Other adults ran over to the frightened pony & were able to safey free it with no injuries. The girl in question only responded, “oh well, stupid pony deserved it!”” Can you believe that? If that was my daughter, that pony would be getting a new home!! Another person whose daughter has a rescued/retired thoroughbred, uses harsh words & treatment, including a plastic wiffle bat, to “control” their horse!! For these & other reasons, we have found somewhere else. I don’t care if an animal weighs 1 ounce, or, 1,000 pounds, ALL creatures respond better with a firm, but, GENTLE touch, a SOFT touch, &, SOFT, GENTLE words, calm & assertive will gain their trust & respect. We have to carefully “school” them & train them, they’re almost like over-sized toddlers!


    • I believe those girls need to be straightened out. Suppose they’d ‘get it’ if they had to volunteer at an equine rescue facility and see what others using their violent negative means of interacting with a horse will end up?


  10. We never leave the halters on either – only because Kamenari – aka the Boss – will drag the others around by it! A very good article though – Valerie, as for the wiffle bat people, hopefully someone will use it on them!


  11. Great words to live by, thank you Jerry. We don’t leave halters on at our farm, either. Our Jazz’s first adopter left a halter on him that was too small, so he now has that all too familiar dent in his nose and he’s very head shy. I wish the lazy humans would be the ones suffering and not the horses.

    I hope someone makes that wiffle bat disappear. Valerie, are the laws in your state such that the owner can be reported for abusive behavior? That horse – and the pony – deserve so much better.


  12. 4H Horse projects with good leadership can be of great help in teaching kids how to work with and respect Horses. Parents can learn a lot, too.


  13. I’ve been lucky to never see any of these type of wrecks first hand, but I’m really not a big fan of the idea of leaving halters on, even aside from the dangers that a horse will get hung up. I used to work in rescue and when we got a new horse in from a private owner usually our first order of business was getting them tame enough that we could cut off the halters that were growing into their faces. I really wish BLM didn’t recommend halters and drag lines either… IMO if you have to have one to get your wild horse handled, you shouldn’t have a wild horse, and there are too many people who get the horse home, realize it’s going to be more difficult than they thought, and leave the horse out there for months or years with that halter and drag rope on.


  14. We regret to inform you that after long consultation with the treating veterinarian this horse was laid to rest on April 27th, 2011. Another victim of human stupidity, ignorance and arrogance.


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