When I am out in the backcountry, I think it is very important to have a halter on my horse at all times. When I go on a trail ride, I leave my horse's rope halter on and put his headstall on over it. I also leave the lead rope attached and secure the other end to my saddle horn. When I get off and walk or when I want to tie up, the lead rope is right there for me to use.
If you prefer to not have a halter and headstall on your horse, a popular option is a halter bridle combo. This practical design converts a halter to a headstall simply by fastening two snaps, and your lead rope stays attached to the halter portion of this headstall.
If you prefer, you can detach your lead rope and keep it in your horn or saddlebag. Whatever you decide, just remember to NEVER tie up with the reins as it could result in serious injury to your horse's mouth.
What kind of halter should you use?
Well, that depends on what you are doing and your personal preferences. On my trail horses, I used to always use a standard, flat nylon halter because I prefered how it lay under the headstall. However, recently I have switched over to a rope halter because, like many people, I now prefer a halter and lead with no hardware. This lightens the overall weight and there is no hardware to fail at an inopportune moment. Also, this type of halter is often used on horses who pull back. Either style will work and will be equally effective for your saddle horse.
One note on using a rope halter on a horse highline (sometimes known as a horse picket line): you will have no problems with your lead rope getting all twisted up or completely unraveled by your horse turning circles on the highline if you use the TrailMax™ In-Line Swivel on your horse highline. As the name suggests, the lead rope attachment on the In-Line Swivel turns with your trail horse's movement and keeps the lead rope straight.
If you are choosing a halter for your pack horse or pack mule, you might want to consider a Packer's Halter or a Mule Halter. These halters are similar to flat nylon halters, but offer you three choices of lead rope attachment: no-pull, center-pull or side-pull. With the no-pull option, the lead rope attaches under the chin and the packer's halter functions like any other flat nylon halter. With the center-pull option, the lead rope attaches under the chin and when the lead is engaged, there is extra pressure applied to the top of the nose, which can provide you with a little extra leverage. With the side-pull option, the lead attaches to the on-side of the pack halter and when the lead is engaged, the noseband cinches around the nose and provides you with much more leverage. Pulling from the side alters the animal's balance enough that even the most stubborn mule will need to move forward. The Packer's Halter is available in brown and orange for better visibility.
Lead ropes come in all types of lengths and materials. A lead rope should be of a length that is long enough to tie around a decent sized tree, but not so long that you have a lot of excess dangerously hanging from your saddle. We have found that a length of 9-12 feet is usually adequate and safe. As for material, cotton is very popular and feels good in the hand. However, cotton will absorb water, which can make it difficult to untie, especially if it is frozen. Nylon does not absorb water and will not freeze, but it does not feel as nice or soft. However, we have found that spun nylon gives you the benefits of nylon with a softer feel.