People ask me all the time about my horses’ collars. I use collars instead of halters most of the time. It all started years ago while horse camping with a high line. I had an accident prone horse at the time and didn’t want to tie the rope long enough her her to reach the ground for fear of her getting a leg over it and getting hurt. I decided to use a collar instead of a halter, so I could still use a shorter rope, but the horse would have more freedom of movement and be able to lay down without lengthening the rope. The collar spins around so the D ring is at the horse’s poll, which automatically gives them more freedom than another 18″ of additional lead rope length if you were to clip it to the bottom of the halter. For years I used collars for horse camping, this was before they were common, and at that time I never saw anyone else using collars on high lines (except my friends, who adopted my method). It has become much more common now, and for good reason: it is safe and it works so well.
In recent years I have actually been using collars instead of halters for daily use the majority of the time. At first, it was just around the farm for grooming, tacking, etc. Over time I realized my horses were just as well behaved in their collars, so why not use them for other things? It kind of became a personal challenge: is my groundwork solid enough to take my horse in public and have full control with nothing on their face? I started using the collar for hauling out for endurance training rides. Tied to the trailer with a collar, the horse could reach the ground to graze or eat a pan of mash after their workout. My horses were delighted to have their bridles removed after a hard sweaty workout and NOT have a halter on. They could rub their itchy sweaty faces and ears and then looked so content. I used the collars more and more and realized I very much prefer them over halters.
Here’s how I did it: GROUNDWORK. Lots of it. People frequently comment that they could not control their horse in just a collar, and are often surprised that my horses behave so well in them. My horses are not inherrently respectful or well behaved. They are mares! By nature, one is a greedy pushy hog (Squidy) and the other is an overreactive sensitive fearful type (Ink). However, with thorough groundwork training, they have learned manners and respect, and look to me for guidance. I use natural horsemanship groundwork training methods, mixing a bit of this and that, especially Chris Cox and Clinton Anderson’s methods. I start training in a rope halter as usual. Once the horse is fully trained and responsive, I’ll repeat all of the exercises in a collar instead of a halter. They usually get it right away, as most of the exercises are based more on body language than pulling on their face anyway. If there is something they have a hard time with in the collar, I’ll revisit the exercise in the halter, then once they get it I’ll immediately repeat it in the collar again. This is not just a one or two sessions kind of thing. It takes a couple weeks of training and repitition, by once they get it, they never forget it.
As for being tied in the collar– I won’t do this unless the horse is rock solid at being tied for hours in a halter. With that being said, I have had a horse panic and pull back in a collar and the D ring did break, so the horse was fine. You could also use one of the many options for safe tying, such as the pull through rings or quick release links, but I haven’t tried these and they may not work well. The horse can pull harder in the collar with less discomfort, so if the rope had some give and not enough resistance, they may just keep pulling until free.
Horses seem to immdediately figure out being tied in the collar overhead, such as on a high tie or a high line. I’ve had friends’ horses who have never worn a collar before stay on my high line in a collar and figured it out right away with no problem, even highly reactive breeds like Thoroughbreds and Saddlebreds. One high line collar newbie horse spooked and bolted, only to be pulled back around and then stopped and stood quietly. Another decided to drop and roll immediately, and luckily the shorter rope length kept the rope out of the way of the legs and the horse successfully rolled and got back up like nothing was out of the ordinary. Tying to a trailer or post at eye level is a little harder and requires a horse who is well trained and already knows how to stand tied.
I’ve used a few different types of collars. My favorite are beta biothane. You really only need 1″ wide. I’ve used 1.5″ wide collars too, but the extra width is not necessary in my opinion and just gets in the way. I currently have single thickness 1″ reflective biothane, and a double thickness 1″ beta with 3/4″ overlay of reflective biothane. I really like the reflective biothane for camping. You can glance out the trailer window with a flashlight and see your horse immediately. My collars also have name plates with emergency numbers added. You could also add dog tags, but I didn’t want them getting tangled in manes, so the flat name plates work well. My horse wears one if staying in a temporary electric pen at endurance rides also, just in case she were to get out she could be identified.
The single thickness collar came from Four Paws Pet Supplies, who makes dog collars but was willing to make one longer for me upon request. The double thickness collar came from Beta Tack on facebook. It would be easy to make your own collar as well. You would need 41″ of 1 inch width biothane or beta (the collar is actually 38″, plus enough to double over around the buckle), 1″ wide D ring, 1″ wide buckle, rivets, and a hole punch (I like a soldering iron for making holes in biothane).
There are times when I’ll use a halter still. Out of respect for the veterinarian during exams or treatments, I want to have the option of more control over the horse’s behavior should they choose to act up, just in case, so I use a halter. If one of my horses is being a bit disrespectful or pushy in the collar, we may revisit a rope halter ground work training session for a bit of an attitude adjustment, but this is very rarely necessary once they are well trained. Ponying is another time for a rope halter – I need full control of the ponied horse with very minimal effort, so I use a rope halter. Sometimes while camping on the high tie I’ll use a halter if the grass is really lush and if the horse is sensitive to excess grass intake. They can reach a surprisingly far range around the high tie with a collar! Sometimes that is not a good thing (such as for Insulin Resistant horses, or those not accustomed to grass at home). However, most of the time the collars work well as an equal substitute for a halter in a well trained horse.