Hackamore Horse Bridle
Hackamore is a type of bridle for a horse which does not have a bit. Instead, it works on pressure points on the horse's face, nose, and chin.
Hackamores are most often seen in western riding and other styles of riding derived from Spanish traditions, endurance riding, and are occasionally seen in some English riding disciplines such as show jumping and the stadium phase of eventing. While usually used to start young horses, they are often seen on mature horses with dental issues that make bit use painful and on horses with mouth or tongue injuries that would be aggravated by a bit. Some riders also like to use them in the winter to avoid putting a frozen metal bit into a horse's mouth.
Like a bit, a hackamore can be gentle or harsh, depending on the hands of the rider. It is a myth that a bit is cruel and a hackamore is gentler. The horse's face is very soft and sensitive with many nerve endings. Misuse of a hackamore can not only cause pain and swelling on the nose, but extreme abuse can cause damage to the cartilage on the horse's nose, or even break the fine bones that protect the nasal passages and cause jaw injuries. Particularly severe "mechanical hackamores" may have long shank or a harsh noseband material such as metal or a rubber-covered bicycle chain.
The word "hackamore" is derived from the Spanish word jaquima. The first hackamore was probably a piece of rope placed around the nose of a horse at the time of domestication, perhaps as early as 2,500 B.C. Over time, more sophisticated means of using nose pressure were developed.
Types of Hackamores:
Today, hackamores can be made of leather, rawhide, rope, cable or various plastics, sometimes in conjunction with metal parts. There are three main types: the bosal, the sidepull, and the mechanical hackamore.
The bosal (pronounced "bo-SAL," not "BO-sul") is the classic hackamore and is seen primarily in in western-style riding and derived from the Spanish tradition of the vaquero. It consists of a fairly stiff rawhide noseband with reins attached to a large knot or button at the base--the bosal. The reins are made from a specially tied length of rope called a mecate (may-CAH-tay), which is tied in a specific manner to both adjust the size of the bosal, and to make a looped rein with an extra length of rope that can be used as a lead rope. In the Texas tradition, where the bosal sets low on the horse's face, and on very green horses in both the California (vaquero) and Texas traditions, a specialized rope throatlatch called a fiador (FEE-a-dor) is added, running over the poll to the bosal, attached to the hackamore by a browband. The fiador keeps a heavy bosal properly balanced on the horse's head without rubbing or putting excess pressure on the nose. However, it also limits the action of the bosal, and thus is removed once the horse is comfortable under saddle.
The bosal acts on the horse's nose and jaw, and is most commonly used to start young horses under saddle in the Vaquero tradition of the "California style" cowboy. The bosal is a very sophisticated and versatile style of hackamore. Bosals come in varying diameters and weights, allowing a more skilled horse to "graduate" into ever lighter equipment. Once a young horse is solidly trained with a bosal, a bit is added and the horse is gradually shifted from the hackamore to a bit. While designed to be gentle, Bosals are equipment intended for use by experienced trainers and should not be used by beginners, as they can be harsh in the wrong hands.
Sidepull is a modern design inspired by the bosal It is a heavy noseband with side rings that attach the reins on either side of the head, allowing very direct pressure to be applied from side to side. The noseband is made of leather, rawhide, or rope with a leather or synthetic strap under the jaw, held on by a leather or synthetic headstall. Sidepulls are primarily used to start young horses or on horses that cannot carry a bit. While severity can be increased by using harder or thinner rope, a sidepull lacks the sophistication of the bosal. The primary advantage of a sidepull over the bosal is that it gives stronger direct lateral commands and is a bit easier for an unsophisticated rider to use. Once a horse understands basic commands, however, the trainer needs to shift to either a bosal or to a snaffle bit to further refine the horse's training. If made of soft materials, a sidepull is also a good bridle for beginners to use, so that they don't injure their horse's mouth as they learn the rein aids.
English riders sometimes use a jumping cavesson, which is a type of hackamore that consists of a heavy leather nosepiece (usually with a cable inside) with rings on the sides for reins, similar to a sidepull, but more closely fitting and able to transmit more subtle commands. A jumping cavesson is put on a standard English-style headstall and often is indistinguishable at a distance from a standard bridle. It is often used on horses who cannot tolerate a bit or on those who have mouth or tongue injuries.
A mechanical hackamore, sometimes called a hackamore bit or a brockamore, falls into the hackamore category only because it is a device that works on the nose and not in the mouth. However, it also uses shanks and leverage, thus it is not a true hackamore. Because of its long, metal shanks and a curb chain that runs under the jaw, it works similarly to a curb bit. The shanks and curb chain serve to increase pressure on the nose, jaw, and poll, giving the device more leverage a true hackamore. Mechanical hackamores are most often seen in rodeo and O-Mok-See events, endurance riding and in the show jumping arena, where the hot horses used in competition will often ignore a side-pull and run through their riders' hands. They are illegal in most other horse show disciplines. However, some of the milder designs are used by casual riders, especially for trail riding, and are particularly popular with hunters who must ride and camp in freezing weather where a frozen bit can injure the horse's tongue.
Mechanical hackamores lack the sophistication of bits or a bosal, cannot turn a horse easily, and primarily are used for their considerable stopping power. It is not usually possible to teach a horse to soften its jaw or flex to the rider's hands with a mechanical hackamore, and horses ridden in these devices quite often develop a bad habit of head-tossing.
A mechanical hackamore has a noseband, usually of leather, sometimes covered with fleece for extra comfort. However, the noseband can also be very harsh; some are made of rubber-covered cable, stiff metal, or even bicycle chain (though usually covered in plastic). The curb chain is usually a flat-linked chain, though it may be made of anything from relatively mild leather to very severe designs with heavy chain or solid metal bars. The noseband and curb chain are connected by a metal link that also includes a long shank that applies pressure to the nose, chin groove and poll when the reins are tightened.
While mechanical hackamores made entirely of leather with short shanks can be relatively mild, the addition of a longer shank and chain or metal under the jaw or over the nose can make this device a very severe piece of equipment that borders on animal abuse, thus making the device quite controversial in some equestrian circles. If adjusted too low, it can also put excessive pressure on the horse's nose cartilage and obstruct the horse's breathing. In cases of a severe mechanical hackamore with long shanks, abusive use can even break the delicate nasal bones of a horse's face and cause damage to the jawbone.