Horse injuries related to the wearing of headcollars were reported by nearly a third of horse owners surveyed as part of a British study.
David Marlin and his colleagues, writing in the journal Equine Veterinary Education, noted that headcollars, also known as halters, are among the most commonly used pieces of equestrian equipment.
“Despite this, there appears to be minimal information on their use, or more importantly, risk factors for injury of horses/handlers,” they said.
Marlin, Jane Williams and Kirstie Pickles set out to explore headcollar use and safety through an online survey comprising 19 questions made available through equestrian social media in Britain.
A total of 5615 horse people responded, most of them competing in either dressage, showjumping and eventing, or riding for pleasure.
In all, 88% of those who responded said they used headcollars multiple times daily, but mostly for short time periods — less than 30 minutes. They were commonly employed for the likes of grooming, tacking up, leading horses to and from turnout, mucking out, and for travelling horses.
A horse being injured as a result of wearing a headcollar was reported by 1615 people, representing 31% of respondents, with 15% of incidents also injuring a person. Seventy percent of injuries occurred when the horse was tied up and 20% occurred in the field.
Injuries were mainly cuts, bruises and abrasions. However, 134 horses sustained a fracture and 167 fatalities were reported.
Across all headcollar types, the odds of injury risk increased by 1.7 times when using a headcollar while mucking out.
However, during travelling, headcollar use reduced the injury risk odds by 0.7 times.
The use of leather or synthetic safety headcollars reduced the risk compared with standard headcollars of the same material.
The researchers said the frequency of reported headcollar injuries was concerning, particularly given that injuries whilst the horse was tied up accounted for 70% of harm incidents.
“The fact that only 20% of respondents used a safety headcollar suggests that horse owners perceive the risk of head-collar‐related injury to be low,” they said.
“Given the frequency and severity of headcollar‐related injuries reported here, further work is warranted to fully understand human and horse‐related risk factors that contribute to headcollar injury.”
In all, nearly 4% of all respondents had been injured because of a headcollar‐related incident. Horses were therefore almost eight times more likely to be injured than the handler or owner.
The authors noted that there is no recognised safety standard for headcollars and there appears to be no published information on factors such as breaking force of conventional headcollars or opening force of safety headcollars or devices.
“It is also unclear to what specifications manufacturers are producing head collars. Similarly, there appear to be no industry‐approved guidelines for headcollar fit, use, life span, or safety checks.”
They continued: “Our results suggest that horse owners and riders would welcome further guidance on the correct fit and effective use of headcollars.
“The development of evidence‐based, standardised industry guidelines for the use of commonly used tack and equipment, including headcollars, would support horse owner and rider education, and could enhance human and equine welfare by reducing injury.
“There is a need for further research relating to headcollar function and industry‐approved guidelines for head-collar fit and use.”
Increased user knowledge of risk factors for headcollar injury, combined with standardised guidance on how to correctly fit and use them, may reduce injury risk, they said.
Marlin is a scientific and equine consultant; Williams is with the Department of Equine Science at Hartpury University in Gloucestershire; and Pickles is with the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science at the University of Nottingham.
An online survey of equestrian headcollar use and safety
D.J. Marlin, J.M. Williams, K.J. Pickles
Equine vet. Educ. 03 May 2021 https://doi.org/10.1111/eve.13480