Opening forces or failure of commercially available equine headcollars and other safety devices

David J Marlin, Kirstie Pickles, Roberta Ferro de Godoy, Jane M Williams

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A recent survey by the authors of the present study indicated that headcollar (halter, USA) related incidents resulting in horse injuries may be common. From the survey, 134 incidents involving horse fractures and 167 fatalities were reported. Headcollar design and materials vary markedly from traditional leather to “safety” headcollars and safety devices. Despite their almost universal use, there has been minimal study as to how these items function or specifications for performance. The aim of the present study was to select a range of commercially available standard headcollars and a number of safety devices, to test the force required to break or release them. Safety devices selected included baler twine, which is widely used by equestrians to attach a horse by a headcollar to a lead rope and in turn to a fixture. This system practice is perceived to increase safety. Devices were subjected to increasing load in the poll to lead-rope attachment axis (i.e. to simulate a horse pulling backward) using a custom-made steel rig incorporating an electric 1000 kg winch. The force was increased incrementally until either the headcollar or device opened or failed. The lowest mean opening force of 357 ± 50 N was for a safety headcollar, which is equivalent to a load of approximately 36 kg. The highest breaking force was 5798 ± 265 N for one of the eight different webbing headcollars tested. Breaking for safety devices ranged from 354 ± 121 N for “fine” baler twine to 1348 ± 307 N for a “heavy duty” baler twine. Variability in opening force was lowest in two of the webbing headcollars (CV < 5%) despite these having very high breaking points (>3500 N). The greatest variability was found for fine baler twine (CV = 34%) and one of the commercial safety devices (CV = 38%). The range of opening forces and variability in opening forces for standard headcollars, safety headcollars and safety devices is a cause for concern and may give horse owners/handlers a false sense of security with regards to safety, and actually predispose horses and handlers to an increased risk of injury.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175433712110396
Number of pages1
JournalProceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part P: Journal of Sports Engineering and Technology
Early online date16 Aug 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Aug 2021


  • Horse
  • force
  • headcollar
  • injury
  • restraint
  • safety


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