Headcollars are a vital bit of kit for our horses. We use them constantly when handling our horses. We use them for tying our horses up, transporting them and leading them to and from the field. But have you ever thought, just how safe is your horse’s headcollar?
Headcollars can cause injury to horse and human
Dr David Marlin asked over 5.5k horse owners about their use of headcollars and some of the results were surprising. 88% of those answering the survey use a headcollar every day. 31% of those in the survey recorded a headcollar related injury. 167 horses suffered a fatal injury from a headcollar! It also found that 1 in 3 horses and 1 in 7 handlers had sustained an injury due to an incident with a headcollar. This study should make all horse owners consider just how safe their horse’s headcollar is.
What can you do to reduce the risk of injury from a headcollar?
Unfortunately, completely scrapping the headcollar simply isn’t an option. We need them for day to day handling of our horses and other options, such as bridles aren’t always an option. But there are steps every horse owner can take to reduce the risk of them and their horse sustaining an injury from a headcollar.
Safe tie up practice
70% of all injuries recorded in the survey happened while the horse was tied up. This highlights the need to make sure you aren’t taking unnecessary risks while tying your horse up.
How you tie your horse up & what with:
- Leave your horse enough length in the rope to move their head. Tying them too tightly can make them uncomfortable and cause tension, making them more likely to panic.
- Tie them to something breakable, such as bailing twine or special quick release tie up rings. These will snap when the horse pulls against them with enough force, reducing the chance of them injuring themselves struggling against the tie up point.
- Use quick release knots. These let you quickly release the pressure from being tied up while being able to keep hold of them, hopefully preventing them from getting loose.
- Where possible, tie up horses with leadropes & tie chains with panic hooks or quick release clips. These are really easy to release in one quick motion. It means if the horse is going to get loose, they won’t have a rope still attached to them.#
- If you can, give them a haynet or similar to give them something to think about while they are tied up.
When you tie your horse up:
Horses have to learn how to stand still while tied up. But that doesn’t mean you should tie them up in any situation and expect them to get on with it. There are some simple best practices you should consider when tying your horse up. If you can’t meet most of these best practices, it might be best not to tie your horse up. They might be better lose in the stable or with someone holding onto them.
- Are there other horses around?
Horses are herd animals and need company. They might be more likely to spook and panic without other horses around.
- Are they already on their toes?
If they are already a bit spooky or on their toes, tying them up might not be the best thing for them.
- Can you keep an eye on them?
When your horse is tied up you should be able to see or hear them the whole time to keep an eye out for trouble.
- Is there a safe place to tie them up?
When you tie your horse up they should be away from anything that could cause an injury if they spooked into it.
Correctly fitting headcollar
Unsurprisingly, the better your headcollar fits, the safer it is. If the horse is trying to pull away while tied up, a correctly fitted headcollar will avoid slipping into the eyes or cutting into the ears. It is also less likely to get caught on other objects.
How should a headcollar fit?
- The noseband should fit about halfway between the nostrils and the eyes.
- The crownpiece (the bit behind the ears) should sit on the poll, just behind the ears without pushing into them.
- The noseband should be loose enough that the horse can chew, but not so loose that there is enough space for the horse to get their foot stuck. You should be able to fit 2-3 fingers between their face and the noseband.
- The throatlatch needs to be tight enough to prevent a foot getting stuck, but loose enough to ensure it doesn’t interferre with their breathing or swallowing. You should be able to fit 3-4 fingers here.
- In a perfect world, the cheek pieces should run parallel to the cheek bones. But as long as the other areas fit correctly, this can be overlooked.
Different headcollars have different breaking points. The safest headcollars are ones what break before the horse does too much damage to themselves, but don’t break too easily. Horses will spook and pull occasionally while being led or tied up. We don’t want the headcollar to snap right away, leading to a loose horse.
Webbing & nylon headcollars have the highest breaking points, some take over 600kg of force before breaking. Leather headcollars are much better at 210kg. This is why we often consider leather headcollars as safer for leaving on during turnout and travelling. I only travel Scottie in a leather headcollar and on the rare occasion I leave headcollars on in the field, it has to be a leather one.
But there are other headcollars on the market with even lower breaking points. There are all nylon headcollars with velcro instead of buckles, so the horse only needs to use enough force to undo the velcro. There are nylon headcollars with rubber rings instead of metals. There are some hybrid headcollars where you can swap between a “normal” headcollar with a strong buckle to a “safe” headcollar with velcro depending on what you are doing with your horse. Equilibrium have also designed a smart leather headcollar with a breaking point of less than 100kg.