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My friend’s horse has been shaking his head during rides recently, so he called me for some advice. To remedy the issue, I switched out his standard bridle and bit with a hackamore. It turned out to be a good decision.
A hackamore is a type of bridle that can help horses who resist bit training. It’s also great for transitioning from single-reining to neck reining, and it comes in handy if your horse has been injured or has dental problems that prevent them from wearing bits.
The hackamore worked perfectly for my friends’ horse. But before you head out and buy one, there’s a lot to understand about them, so please read this article to find out why they’re used and if they’re suitable for your horse.
With so many different types of hackamores available and a wide range in quality, it can be hard to figure out what’s best for your horse. This article will give you all the information you need to find the perfect one!
What are Hackamores Used for?
Hackamores are a type of headgear used by riders to control and direct their horse. They’ve likely been used since humans began riding horses. It was originally made out of rawhide and placed around the muzzle. It’s the predecessor of the bridle.
The first use of hackamores in Europe dates back to 711 AD, when the Moors invaded Spain. Over the years, riders started using bridles with bits; however, the hackamore always remained popular.
In the 1500s, many of the Spanish conquistadores rode with hackamores to explore the New World. The word hackamore comes from the Spanish word jaquima – or halter.
How the hackamore works.
A hackamore is a type of bridle for horses but without a bit. It works by applying gentle pressure on the sensitive regions of the horse’s face, more specifically its nose, the sides of the face, and underneath the jaw.
The hackamore is designed to introduce indirect pressure and release to cue the horse, rather than direct pressure used by a snaffle bit.
Types of Hackamores
Typically you have the following categories of hackamores:
1. Jumping hackamore
This style is the mildest and most comfortable. It features a wide and flat headstall and browband attached to the rope noseband covered with soft leather. The noseband comprises a flat leather strap that goes under the horse’s jaw as well as two rings through which you pass the reins.
The main difference between jumping hackamores and bit-based bridles is that there is no leverage. In bridles, the reins are attached to the halters. But in jumping hackamores, you achieve lateral control using the leading rein.
2. Western sidepulls
These are slightly severe hackamores. Their nosebands consist of one or two pieces of thin waxed ropes. You attach the reins to the noseband at or near the level of the horse’s mouth.
There are less severe side-pulls consisting of nosebands made of leather. You can also choose side-pulls with a bit to apply pressure to the horse’s mouth. Compared to jumping hackamores, western side-pull hackamores offer stronger longitudinal control.
3. English hackamore
English hackamores consist of short, swept-back shanks and a curb chain. It also has a wide, padded nose piece made of leather. English hackamores are more severe than western side-pulls.
4. Bosal hackamore
The word bosal comes from Spanish bozal, meaning muzzle. Bosal hackamore is an oval-shaped rawhide hackamore that fits over the horse’s nose and is held in place by a piece of leather that slides behind its ears. A braided rope called the mecate made of horsehair forms the reins and lead rope. The function of the bosal is that it works on either side of the horse’s face and primarily the lower jaw.
5. Mechanical/curb hackamore
This type consists of a shank, curb chain, and reinforced noseband. It functions by exerting pressure on the horse’s nose and lower jaws.
Mechanical hackamores make bridling easy as the rider does not have to coerce the horse into opening its mouth for accepting the bit. They also make it easier to stop the horse (although some riders find steering difficult with mechanical hackamores.)
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How Should a Hackamore Fit?
The setup and fitting of the hackamore are as crucial to the training process as is using the right style of hackamore for your horse’s needs and for the riding discipline you have chosen. It is also crucial to fit the hackamore to the structure of your animal’s head.
The standard-fit of the hackamore places the nose button approximately halfway between the eyes and the muzzle of the horse, but this will vary based on the individual horse’s skull conformation.
If, for example, your horse has a long muzzle, the hackamore will end up being lower on its nose than it would appear on a horse with a balanced and proportionate build.
Here are the steps to ensure proper hackamore placement:
- Feel the structure of the bridge of your horse’s nose.
- Carefully note where the bone ends and ties into the cartilage and the soft tissue of the muzzle.
- Make sure that the hackamore does not sit so low that it is near the area where the bridge and muzzle converge.
- At rest, the hackamore should sit on the bridge, away from the nostrils and the muzzle. The heel knot and the mecate wraps should rest on the chin.
- If the heel knot is touching the horse’s chin when the reins are slack, the hackamore is too high and tight to function correctly.
What are the best hackamores and why?
For best results, a hackamore must be tender yet firm, not flexible. A limber hackamore is virtually useless. The stiffness of a hackamore is necessary to balance with the nose button and the heel knot.
With these points in mind, I recommend side pulls. They aren’t too harsh and the ones cut out of biothane and leather are comfortable, inexpensive, and lightweight. They offer convenience during training too.
Best Side Pull Rope Hackamore: Southwestern Side Pull Rope Hackamore
Southwestern rope hackamores are ideal for colts as well as older horses for relief.
- Plenty of reinforcement where needed.
- It fits most small and medium-sized/quarter horses
- Adjustable sides and throat latch
- Value for money
- Small for larger horses
- Less than $20.
Are hackamores bad for horses?
Some types of hackamores, especially mechanical hackamores, are deemed harsh and even inhumane by some experts. They work by exerting pressure and inflicting pain on the horse’s head.
However, bitless hackamores (including mechanical ones) – when used correctly – can be less severe and indeed less cruel than bits. But they must be used by an experienced equestrian.
Some modern styled hackamores are scientifically developed and designed to operate with less pressure plus hackamores don’t hurt a horse’s sensitive mouth. But in the wrong hands, they can still hurt a horse.
Are hackamorse better than bridles with bits?
Bit or bitless, they both can be good depending on how they are used. A hackamore is better for some horses while a snaffle bit may work best with others; there’s no solid answer to which is better.
However, a hackamore offers more signal before ‘direct contact’ because of its weight, giving the horse more opportunity to do the right thing. In that sense, a hackamore could be better than the bit.
Can you use a hackamore in showjumping?
Some show-jumping competitions do not permit bitless riding. Since a horse with a hackamore doesn’t have a bit in its mouth, they’re excluded.
Plus a hackamore uses ‘lever’ action to apply pressure on the horse’s nose, which is very effective for stopping a horse, but it’s not very good at ‘turning’ or steering a horse.
So, if you ride a jumping course with a hackamore, you might find it difficult to make quick turns on the course! That is the reason why advanced riders combine the hackamore with a snaffle.
Key Takeaways – Hackamore
The hackamore is ideal for horses with oral melanomas or ones that do not work well with bits. This vital piece of tack is also good to use for training young colts and during transition training or when you want to give some relief to your older horse.
Hackamores are of various types. Some, like the mechanical, are deemed severe, but it all depends on the rider’s hands. Even a mechanical hackamore can be gentle if you keep your hands light on the reins.
Having said that, you could choose side pulls if you want less severe action. I recommend the Southwestern braided rope side pull hackamore, which is sturdy, long-lasting, and less severe, and fits most average-sized horses.
Where should the hackamore sit on the horse?
The hackamore’s nose button will tell you if it is placed correctly on the horse. It should rest halfway between the horse’s eye and nostrils. The hackamore heel knot and the mecate wrap can rest at the horse’s chin when not in use.
What are some tips for choosing a bosal or hackamore?
Always ensure proper fit and measure your horse before buying. Start with a 5/8th diameter. Avoid overly stiff hackamores as they could injure your horse. Look for high-quality ones so they last longer.
- Art of Hackamore Training: A Time-Honored Step In The Bridle-Horse Tradition By Al Dunning, Benny Guitron
- Introduction to Equestrian Sports By Kate Luxmoore