I do love my rope halter. It is used with a heavy rope lead that is "wiggled" a bit, and "grabs" the face to communicate with my horse. This communication graduates to a very light touch on the rope and the horse responds. A stick and string is a tool used with this halter - it is an extension of the arm and communicates to the horse to speed up, turn, etc. Again, less "big" movement is needed as the horse learns the cues. When these halters are not being used to train, they wear like any "normal" halter and there is no pressure. Training with rope halters actually means that a lighter hand can be used (it isn't the halter that his harsh, it's the hands controlling it). I also think it is an awesome tool to use for "first rides".
Many people agree with the above. BUT what I find the "issue" to be is tying them up with one. It is almost impossible for the horse to break a rope halter and they can get hurt if they fight the pressure. A horse might fight until it is severely hurt or dead.
I might understand a leather halter if you are turning them out in really cold weather and you have heavy gloves on and the rope tie is hard to manage and the buckles or snaps are a bit easier to open and shut in the cold. (and I am of the mind that all halters come off when the horse is loose - I NEVER would put a horse "out" even in a break-a-way). ...
I understand the seriousness of injury to a horse that pulls back and won't stop fighting the pressure. But if a leather halter or break-a-way halter breaks due to a horse pulling back, hasn't possibly a bigger and more dangerous problem just been created for "down the road". A scared, loose horse can be very dangerous ... as is one who KNOWS he can get loose by pulling back.
The trainer I use, James Cooler, uses his rope halters even in the trailers. He says a horse must be properly trained, though, and many are NOT.
My sister actually ties twine between the leadrope and metal tie piece so if her horse pulls back in the trailer, it will get away... She does NOT use a rope halter... but I think this could work with both if this was a concern.
If a horse gets hung up in a trailer (or anywhere) I suggest a rope halter is much easier to cut through than a leather one (not ALL leather & hardwear breaks). And as for break-a-ways... do we REALLY want to make it that easy for a horse to get away?
Now I KNOW some people vehemently disagree with this practice, but others wholeheartedly agree. I really am on the fence, but I guess I am leaning towards ropes 100% of the time.
One last thought. I read somewhere that an interesting "test" to compare both types of halters is this: I call it the "grass test" now. Can you get your horses head off the grass with one hand? Try it in a flat halter. Then try it with a rope halter. I suggest the results with a rope halter will be quite rewarding and you might actually be "skiing" (I think that was the term) with a leather or flat halter.
I would LOVE to hear feedback and why you use what you use. Is it out of "habit" or because you have researched it? Have you had an experience with either or both halters that has made you change what you do or reaffirmed why you use the halter you do?
My favorite, though, is NO halters, because they always ruin the photo! :)
If you want to read further:
BELOW is an excerpt I copied and pasted from BossLady. I linked her to give her credit for her following words. I thought it was a good example of the pros and cons of rope halters:
My mare used to be a chronic rearer when tied. like, I was buying snaps and new halters every week. It was very dangerous and very expensive. She never reared under saddle or when lead around, ONLY when she was tied and got spooked. Other than that this mare was winning WP and Trail class shows with EASE, as if nothing in the world bothered this horse. well except trailers and being tied LOL. Anyway I won a local competition and received a rope halter as the prize on her so I started using it... man oh man, my mare met her match on this one. She would pull back and pull, pull, pull, thrash around, you name it. That lead didnt break. She finally landed and braced against it just letting it sink in. Then shortly after she softened up, gave it some slack, and stood there. I was amazed.
We've had a handful of incidences since then and we now have a system since she ground ties I rarely tie her anymore, but the rope halter was a huge help. No more flying metal peices, no more worrying about anything breaking, its been great. The last incidence was a couple years ago at a trail ride where I accidently clipped the lead rope while ducking under her neck and it set her off... she flipped and thrashed and braced up on her back legs. She passed out from the halter blocking her nasal passages... I just knew she had died. She came to shortly after hitting the ground and I untied her from the trailer and walked her around to make sure she was ok. within half an hour she couldnt walk. apparently she had paralyzed her shoulder and therfor the rest of her leg by hitting a nerve on the outside of the shoulder blade. scary stuff but she was fine within a week.