Halter and Lead Rope Factors

Amy Skinner is the owner of Essence Horsemanship and a frequent BestHorsePractices contributor. She teaches and trains from her base in Boyne City, Michigan.

Skinner reviewed the 4-knot halter with lead rope from Knotty Girlz.

Read more about Knotty Girlz here.

Read additional halter post here.

Enter “Cayuse” when ordering and receive 10 percent discount.

Skinner writes:

4 Knot halter

4 Knot halter

When I teach in a clinic or am helping a new client, often I am presented with a horse in ill-fitting or poorly made equipment.  A halter that doesn’t fit well or a poorly made rope, especially one that is too light or doesn’t have the right weight to it, can make a huge difference in feel.  It may sound silly, but if you have a 1,000-pound animal on the other end of a lead rope and the only way you have to communicate it is through that rope, then I want that rope to feel pretty nice and have a great feel to it.

When the choice is mine, I’m pretty particular about what types of halters and ropes I work with. I don’t like to mess around with my own horses and equipment.

So when I received my Knotty Girlz halter and lead rope in the mail, I was glad to see it was beautifully made.  The lead has just the right weight to it – not flimsy and with just enough give to make it easy to manipulate.  It has a wonderful leather popper on the end that adds balance to the weight and overall look. It came in black with bits of blue braided into it.  The halter itself is stiff, providing a good firm feel for a horse, and it has a nice splice.  I appreciated that there were no clips or metal on the halter as well, having seen lots of clips whack chins and metal tails hit horses’ eyes.

halt2The only downfall to the halter was its four knots.  Though well made and of nice quality, four knots for me is overkill.  [Please note: Knotty Girlz makes 2-knot halters and custom halters, too.] The nerves on a horse’s face are sensitive. A lot of damage can be done even with two knots.  The knots seemed too severe and stiff for my liking.

When considering a rope halter purchase, know that four knots don’t tend to stay in place as easily as two. They dig in more easily, which means that every jiggle of the lead rope and every slide of the halter may translate to a “bite” on the horse’s sensitive facial tissues.

Knots aside, the halter and lead are beautiful and fun to handle.  Equipment doesn’t make a good horseman or woman, but bad equipment can sure get in the way or be downright dangerous.  So for Knotty Girlz’ expertly braided and spliced halters and leads, I was appreciative.  It doesn’t hurt that the products are made in America either.

Amy’s word on web halters:

Web halters are hard to work with and hard to communicate to the horse with lightness.  Web halters are made thick and wide, and often fit around the jaw and chin loosely, which gives too much “wiggle.”  Because of their thickness, it is necessary that more be done with the lead rope than necessary, giving sort of a muddy feel.

Another feature not conducive to lightness are the clips just below the chin of a web halter.  Any jiggle or sudden movement from the lead rope can result in banging the horse’s chin, which can be pretty abrupt and discouraging.  I much prefer the feel of a good rope halter or lariat rope, which allows me to convey direction, speed, and proper flexion with much less confusion and better results.

Enter “Cayuse” when ordering and receive 10 percent discount.

Read more about Knotty Girlz.

Read additional post on halters, lead ropes, and the sense of touch.

Web halter and web halter with chain over nose. YIKES!

Web halter and web halter with chain over nose. YIKES!




What David Foster Wallace can teach you about riding

I’m just back from a cross-country, truck camping trek: 6,200 miles, 11 states, and dozens of hours of listening to books and music. The work of David Foster Wallace, the amazing writer of fiction and non-fiction who died in 2008 at age 46, is a favorite choice for rides like these.

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace

In 2006, Foster Wallace wrote the essay, “Roger Federer as Religious Experience” for the New York Times. Foster Wallace was a nationally ranked junior tennis player and he brings to the pages an healthy understanding of the game. He didn’t know horses and rode only a handful of times. But I’m betting you will see parallels in the athleticism of feel.

Here’s what Foster Wallace said about Federer and his honed sensibilities:

Imagine that you’re a person with preternaturally good reflexes and coordination and speed, and that you’re playing high-level tennis. Your experience, in play, will not be that you possess phenomenal reflexes and speed; rather, it will seem to you that the tennis ball is quite large and slow-moving, and that you always have plenty of time to hit it. That is, you won’t experience anything like the (empirically real) quickness and skill that the live audience, watching tennis balls move so fast they hiss and blur, will attribute to you.

roger-federer-eastern-forehand-gripVelocity’s just one part of it. Now we’re getting technical. Tennis is often called a “game of inches,” but the cliché is mostly referring to where a shot lands. In terms of a player’s hitting an incoming ball, tennis is actually more a game of micrometers: vanishingly tiny changes around the moment of impact will have large effects on how and where the ball travels. The same principle explains why even the smallest imprecision in aiming a rifle will still cause a miss if the target’s far enough away.

By way of illustration, let’s slow things way down. Imagine that you, a tennis player, are standing just behind your deuce corner’s baseline. A ball is served to your forehand — you pivot (or rotate) so that your side is to the ball’s incoming path and start to take your racket back for the forehand return. Keep visualizing up to where you’re about halfway into the stroke’s forward motion; the incoming ball is now just off your front hip, maybe six inches from point of impact. Consider some of the variables involved here. On the vertical plane, angling your racket face just a couple degrees forward or back will create topspin or slice, respectively; keeping it perpendicular will produce a flat, spinless drive. Horizontally, adjusting the racket face ever so slightly to the left or right, and hitting the ball maybe a millisecond early or late, will result in a cross-court versus down-the-line return. Further slight changes in the curves of your groundstroke’s motion and follow-through will help determine how high your return passes over the net, which, together with the speed at which you’re swinging (along with certain characteristics of the spin you impart), will affect how deep or shallow in the opponent’s court your return lands, how high it bounces, etc. These are just the broadest distinctions, of course — like, there’s heavy topspin vs. light topspin, or sharply cross-court vs. only slightly cross-court, etc. There are also the issues of how close you’re allowing the ball to get to your body, what grip you’re using, the extent to which your knees are bent and/or weight’s moving forward, roger-federer-vs-novak-djokovic-wimbledonand whether you’re able simultaneously to watch the ball and to see what your opponent’s doing after he serves. These all matter, too. Plus there’s the fact that you’re not putting a static object into motion here but rather reversing the flight and (to a varying extent) spin of a projectile coming toward you — coming, in the case of pro tennis, at speeds that make conscious thought impossible. Mario Ancic’s first serve, for instance, often comes in around 130 m.p.h. Since it’s 78 feet from Ancic’s baseline to yours, that means it takes 0.41 seconds for his serve to reach you. This is less than the time it takes to blink quickly, twice.

The upshot is that pro tennis involves intervals of time too brief for deliberate action. Temporally, we’re more in the operative range of reflexes, purely physical reactions that bypass conscious thought. And yet an effective return of serve depends on a large set of decisions and physical adjustments that are a whole lot more involved and intentional than blinking, jumping when startled, etc.

Successfully returning a hard-served tennis ball requires what’s sometimes called “the kinesthetic sense,” meaning the ability to control the body and its artificial extensions through complex and very quick systems of tasks. English has a whole cloud of terms for various parts of this ability: feel, touch, form, proprioception, coordination, hand-eye coordination, kinesthesia, grace, control, reflexes, and so on. …Hitting thousands of strokes, day after day, develops the ability to do by “feel” what cannot be done by regular conscious thought. Repetitive practice like this often looks tedious or even cruel to an outsider, but the outsider can’t feel what’s going on inside the player — tiny adjustments, over and over, and a sense of each change’s effects that gets more and more acute even as it recedes from normal consciousness.

Sounds a bit like horsemanship to me. It’s hard. It takes a lot of practice. A lot of what we do is honed from scores of previous micro-moments and our ability to immediately assess each scenario. Read a different take on it here.

Randy Rieman photographed on his bridle horse in Dillon, Montana

Randy Rieman photographed on his bridle horse in Dillon, Montana

Feel Matters: Knotty Girlz rope halter review

FullSizeRender-2Years ago, I worked for a high-end furniture maker whose tables were beautiful. Thanks to repeated sandings and buffings, their feel was extraordinary: like polished granite but soft and warm. When it comes to furniture, he explained, people – especially women – prioritize touch.

“When women visit a showroom and touch these tables, they want them,” he said.

Scientists are just now beginning to contemplate our sense of touch and pursue questions answered long ago about our other senses.

Our skin is “a sensing, guessing, logic-seeking organ of perception, a blanket with a brain in every micro-inch,” wrote Adam Gopnik, the author of an outstanding article on the science of touch. Read here.

As researcher Dustin Tyler noted: “We think of hot and cold, or of textures, silk and cotton. But some of the most important sensing we do with our fingers is to register incredibly minute differences in pressure, of the kinds that are necessary to perform tasks, which we grasp in a microsecond…We know instantly, just by touching, whether to gently squeeze the toothpaste or crush the can.”

The eye splice on this Knotty Girlz lead line is simple and elegant.

The eye splice on this Knotty Girlz lead line is simple and elegant.

It should be no surprise, then, that of all the positive attributes of the Knotty Girlz rope halters, I gravitated most to how they felt in my hands and how I believe they’d feel on my horses’ faces.

I tried two halters and lead lines:
A 2-knot halter made of 5/16 inch diameter polyester rope with a half-inch diameter, 12-foot lead. The set was a lovely, neutral beige and white.
A 2-knot halter made of ¼ inch diameter polyester with a 9/16 inch diameter, 14-foot lead. This set was a turquoise halter with a brilliant multi-colored lead line.
Both lines had leather poppers.

The halters and lines are tough and without stretch, yet soft and pliant. Those are rare combinations and attributes I have yet to see from any other rope halter manufacturer.

The end for tying the halter does NOT have a metal tip. This is a fine, yet significant point taken up by many professionals who don’t want their clients accidentally whipping the tip in a horse’s eye. A metal tip can cause damage; a rope tip likely will not. Instead, the two lines coming over the horse’s head are spliced together and then melted. Pretty nifty.

No metal tip. Hooray! Well-spliced rope end of halter

No metal tip. Hooray! Well-spliced rope end of halter

I absolutely love the “eye-splice” of one of my lead lines. Eye-splicing means there is no knot to contemplate or struggle with. The eye splice is the most popular option of Knotty Girlz customers, said business manager Christine Kovacevich.

The weight and thickness of the rainbow lead line was more than I’m used to, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It would be nice for working with a young horse. And a friend pointed out that it would work well for a pack horse, when laying the rope across the pommel and ponying hands-free is possible with a nice heavy rope.

Thanks to Tom Weaver and his horses, Rocky and Rivers. Weaver’s handsome geldings modeled the Knotty Girlz gear.

Enter “Cayuse” when ordering and receive 10 percent discount.

Coming next week: Considering the Knotty Girlz 4-knot and 2-knot rope halter options. A review by horsewoman Amy Skinner.


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