July 22, 2018
Figure 8 Halters for Young Foals
“Beware of nylon!” is the advice top horse breeders have for anyone looking to leave a halter on a foal, especially foals younger than 6 weeks old. They prefer leather, largely for safety and fit. And for those youngest foals, many breeders specifically recommend a leather “figure 8” or calf halter.
The Journal asked two experts to explain why: custom leather halter maker Ralph Quillin of Quillin Leather & Tack in Paris, Kentucky, and Becky Bailey of Batavia, Ohio, western pleasure horse breeder and exhibitor. Ralph makes hundreds of figure 8 halters for breeders every year, and Becky uses them.
“Your No. 1 concern is always fit,” Ralph says, “especially with a foal. You don’t want a halter with a lot of room underneath the chin. “That’s one of the biggest advantages of the figure 8 or calf halter – because of the design, it will fit pretty snugly underneath the head.”
The figure 8 design is pretty simple – a loop of leather runs over the nose, crosses below the chin through a brass ring, and is connected to a crown piece running over the poll. Two leather cheek panels stabilize the sides. Because the leather under the chin runs freely through the brass ring, adjustments to the crown piece also adjust the nose band for a better fit.
“Foals always try to reach up with a hind foot to knock that halter off,” Becky points out. “But they can’t get hung up in a figure 8. We’ve never had an injury with one of those halters. But we have had foals get hung up in other kinds.”
Thegood fit of a figure 8 is especially important for newborns because they are often not strong enough to break even a leather halter if they get hung up. “You really cannot make a breakaway halter for a newborn,” Ralph says. “If you could, it just wouldn’t hold up to use. The newborn figure 8 style will only fit maybe six weeks. They outgrow them in a heartbeat. It doesn’t take long for them to move up to the next size figure 8 or our regular foal halter.”
“Your No. 2 concern is durability or serviceability,” Ralph says. “It’s silly to spend $15 – $20 on a halter and just use it one year. If you buy a well-made halter and take aminimal amount of care with it, the chances of it lasting several years are greater.”
Foalsgrow quickly, so check the halter’s fit every three or four days in the first couple of weeks so it doesn’t get too tight.
The crown piece on a figure 8 is typically a double-buckled crown, adjustable on both sides as the foal grows. Many companies also offer crown pieces of different lengths, usually 16 to 20 inches, which extend the halter’s use.
“A lot of people don’tput a halter on a young foal, but I think it’s good if they learn early to wear one,” Becky says. “We raise ours up north, so they have to be inside at night, and we lead them in and out.”
She has seen a lot of bad mistakes with halters. “I’ve seen people put a nylon halter on a foal and leave it on and the foal’s head grows right around the halter,” she says. “I’ve also seen people turn a foal out with a nylon halter dragging alead rope. We did that once and had a casualty. Not that dragging a rope is a bad thing, but with a nylon halter, it can be disastrous.
“I also like (the figure 8s) because they’re easy to put on,” she adds. “The foals seem to accept them right away because they don’t jostle and bounce against them.”
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