If you have a horse who has learnt to pull away suddenly as you get to the field gate, you’ll know just how annoying and dangerous it is. You risk getting your arm pulled out of the socket, rope burns, fingers pulled off if you can’t let go in time (I know someone this happened to… NEVER put a finger through the metal loop on the headcollar!) and, if you have to let go, the horse running off with rope dangling, which can have terrible consequences (and is extra-dangerous if you’ve had to use a chifney).
I don’t believe in many ‘tricks’ in the horse world, but this one was shown to me by a lovely old nagsman called Fred, who saw me struggling repeatedly to safely release 17.2 of hyped-up loony in the field gateway, and took pity on me. It works. It’s the ultimate quick-release halter.
You will need (nothing else will do!!!) a softish rope of about an inch in diameter, about 10′ long (longer than a usual leadrope, for safety), and it needs to be spliced on at least one end, so, with a loop/’eye’ made only of the material of the rope woven back on itself, as in the picture. (It’s called a ‘soft eye’ apparently!)
It absolutely mustn’t have a metal loop inside the ‘eye’, or anything else. A spliced dog lead won’t work. It needs to be one length of long-enough rope, with no joins, with a spliced end.
These used to be sold as ‘tow ropes’ for about £5 at just about every petrol station, but they seem to have fallen out of fashion. If there’s enough demand I might get some made. Let me know at the bottom of this post if you want one. I’ll do them as reasonably as possible.
Otherwise, get a long soft rope, and get splicing, or find a boy scout to do it for you! The other end should have a knot ideally.
Here’s what you do when you have the right bit of kit in your hand:
In the stable, standing on the near side beside the horse’s head as if you are about to put a headcollar on, drop the end with the ‘eye’ over the horse’s neck an inch or two behind the poll, and let about a foot of it hang down on the off side, so it is visible below the horse’s jaw.
Now take an approximately 1′ long middle section of the rope in your right hand, make it into a loop, and thread the end of this LOOP through the ‘eye’, so it’s hanging under the horse’s chin in your right hand, then lift the loop over the horse’s nose, and gently pull it tighter, so it goes snug mid-way under the horse’s jaw, and holds in place (a bit like a figure of 8 with the horse’s head in it).
With practice, it’ll become automatic to get the right length in your hand. Don’t twist the loop, you just want the rope to go through the ‘eye’, round the horse’s nose, back through the ‘eye’, and straight back to your hand.
Don’t use a chifney, a headcollar, or a bridle with it. Just have this rope on the horse’s head – basically you don’t want anything else to have to release, when the moment comes.
It looks like an old-fashioned gypsy halter, but not secured under the chin, and made of rope not webbing. It needs to be soft smooth rope so that it will slide off quickly and easily. This is really important! That’s the trick of it, that it will fall off instantly when you need it to, and there’s no danger of the horse being held, fighting against it, or yanking you off your feet. (Obviously, you shouldn’t ever tie a horse up with this. One rub and he’ll get it over his nose, and be free. It’s purely for leading to the field.)
It’s a good idea to practice taking this halter off a few times in the stable: keep the end of the rope in your left hand and just reach up with your right hand, then lift/shove the loop down off the horse’s nose, and the rest will come undone instantly (as long as you put a LOOP through and not the end of the rope!!!) even if the horse is rearing, wheeling away or whatever. All you have to do is get the loop over the end of its nose, and it will all come undone and trail away from his neck as he goes.
Lead the horse to the gate the normal way. I usually have a pocketful of treats to try to get the horse interested in before going through the gate, so it will turn towards me and wait, but that doesn’t always work – sometimes the joy and exuberance of being FREEEEE is all that is on their mind, unfortunately. (I always wear a hard hat with this sort, it’s just not worth the risk of having an unprotected head if they are really explosive.) Make sure you have your hand ready under his chin to lift it over the end of his nose, and he’ll be free with one easy motion.
In my experience, after a few times when the horse isn’t inadvertently yanked as you try to get the headcollar/bridle/chifney off, but is free to run off unimpeded, they usually calm right down about it, and such bad behaviour eventually becomes a distant memory.
I hope this helps those who are struggling with wild-to-be-free horses at the moment!