A hackamore is a name given to different designs of bitless types of bridles. A traditional bosal or a mechanical hackamore has many pros as a horse riding tool that every equestrian should have.
The hackamore bridle is an alternative to a traditional horse bridle that is said to be most pleasant for a horse as it does not place a metal bit in the horse’s mouth. A hackamore uses a combination of a noseband and often cheekpieces that allow the rider to control a horse’s movement by putting pressure on their nose and head.
There is a hackamore bridle for every rider and every discipline.
In this article, we will talk about the different types of hackamores and their uses so keep reading to learn if this is the right choice for you and your horse!
History of the Hackamore Bridle
The hackamore has been around for centuries and its use can be found around the world. There are many different cultures that use the hackamore bridle.
It is thought that ancient people first used a form of the hackamore bridle as they began to ride horses. The hackamore was easy to make from materials that were readily available.
Some suggest that the hackamore came into prominence when ‘Spanish Cowbys’ began using the bridle in Mexico due to its gentle nature, causing less discomfort for the horse.
Today, you will find the hackamore being used on ranches and for simple pleasure riding.
What is the Hackamore?
In its most simple form, a hackamore is a bridle or headstall that has no bit. They work by applying pressure to your horse’s nose, chin, and poll.
This is similar to how a traditional bridle works but without any form of pressure or leverage on the horse’s mouth.
Hackamore Bridles Can Be a Useful Tool for Training
Hackamores are a great tool for working with young horses or for creating additional softness in finished horses.
Hackamore bridles can be much more forgiving and give the horse an idea that pressure is being applied before the full amount of pressure is directly applied.
Another benefit of using a hackamore or bosal is that the pressure will feel similar to the pressure applied by the halter; this can be useful in teaching a horse pressure and release.
The old California and Texan Vaqueros often rode their horses in hackamores. The word hackamore is even derived from a Spanish word meaning halter or lead rope.
Types of Hackamore Bridles
While hackamores can look very different from one another in style, there are a few different types you should know about.
There are technically only two types of hackamore, although some people argue for a third type.
- Mechanical hackamore bridle
- Bosal hackamore bridle
- The “multi” or changeable hackamore bridle
Within these main types of hackamore are additional styles to fit each rider and horse.
There are a plethora of styles of mechanical hackamore available, and many are considered multi or combination mechanical hackamores.
The traditional mechanical hackamore has both chains and levers. This is why the mechanical hackamore is called mechanical.
The reins connect to the levers and when the reins are pulled the lever moves down. This applies pressure to the horse’s nose and underneath their chin and horse’s jaw.
While there is a form of bit “mechanism” the mechanical hackamore is still considered and classified as a hackamore.
The bosal hackamore is commonly referred to as the original hackamore, the traditional hackamore, a true hackamore, or a cowboy hackamore.
They are most commonly used in Western riding disciplines such as Western pleasure, trail, or casual riding.
The traditional bosal hackamore consists of a rawhide bosal on a bridle with mecate reins. There are no levers involved with a traditional bosal hackamore.
A bosal also has no metal or chain and is considered a much softer and gentler option for bitless bridles. A bosal works slightly differently than other hackamores.
You ride the horse usually with a fairly drooped rein and pull upwards to engage the rawhide bosal.
The bosal can bump the under portion of the horse’s chin and apply pressure on the nose.
What is so wonderful about a traditional bosal is that the bosal gives the horse the ability to react to potential pressure before they feel a bump or apply pressure underneath their chin.
The portion under the chin of the bosal is called the heel or the knot. The bosal is stiff but has the ability to bend, making it a gentle training tool.
A traditional bosal also has a third “rein” that is really a lead rope that connects to it.
Multi or Changeable Hackamore
The multi or changeable hackamore is a mechanical hackamore that offers multiple locations for rein placement.
These styles are also perfect for both English and Western riding styles and are very diverse.
How to Choose the Right Hackamore Bridle
Picking a hackamore is a fun process, but you need to consider a couple of factors when making a choice. Consider this list of questions to ask as you shop.
- What discipline do I ride or want to ride?
- What kind of hackamore is commonly used and recommended in your discipline or for the breed of horse you own, rent, or take lessons on?
- What size is the horse’s head?
- Do you want a very soft, traditional style of hackamore or do you prefer slightly more control with the horse?
- Why are you going bitless? This question may also aid in your decision if your horse has health problems or mouth issues.
- How well-trained is your horse? What are your goals with using a hackamore?
This will also help you narrow down options regarding a traditional bosal hackamore or a mechanical hackamore.
Types of Horses or Disciplines That Benefit from Using a Hackamore
You can find hackamores or bosals being used in just about every discipline.
From western pleasure horses, primarily using western hackamores or bosals, all the way to dressage horses using English hackamores.
Some disciplines in particular that use hackamores are barrel racing, trail riding, and endurance riding.
Green Horses and Hackamores
Green horses (untrained horses) can benefit from using hackamores because a hackamore will essentially act in a similar way as a curb bit and curb chain without the added mouth pressure.
Sometimes, a traditional bit bridle can provide too much stimulation for an untrained horse. This will also set up a younger horse to learn about the release of pressure in the training process.
An essential step towards training a horse is their interaction with the bridle. Many trainers and riders alternate between a hackamore, bosal, and normal bits, such as a snaffle bit or curb bit.
Main Differences Between a Traditional Bridle and the Hackamore
One of the main differences between a traditional bridle with a bit versus a hackamore is that most hackamores work off of direct contact or pressure.
But, just like regular curb bit bridles, the length of the shanks of the hackamore will either increase or decrease the amount of pressure applied to the horse’s head.
A traditional bridle works by applying pressure to the mouth and pressure points on the horse’s face, and the hackamore relieves all pressure applied to the mouth.
A hackamore can be used on green horses, highly advanced show horses, or for riders or trainers looking to create more softness from their horses.
Popular Bitless Bridles
There are many options to choose from when shopping for this type of bit. There are a couple of well-known and loved brands that provide high-quality products.
- Zilco hackamore bridle
- Dr. Cook bitless bridle
Both of these bridles are good choices, but there are many options to choose from.
Common Mistakes People Make Using a Hackamore Bridle
People will falsely assume that because there is no bit, there is no pressure or misuse that could happen.
People will oftentimes give inexperienced or beginner riders hackamores without teaching them how to use gentle pressure.
In the wrong hands, a hackamore could become a very painful tool. Most of the time, it takes an experienced rider to properly handle a bosal or hackamore.
You want to learn how to use the right amount of pressure to see the benefits of using a hackamore.
It is also important to keep in mind that while a hackamore is a great tool, you need to remember that there is far less stopping ability with a hackamore.
If you have a very spooky horse or one that does not listen to pressure, a hackamore may not be a great option.
How to Fit a Hackamore
Properly fitting your hackamore will be essential in making sure that this piece of tack is effective and useful for both you and your horse.
Whenever you purchase a new piece of tack, you need to make sure it fits properly.
Hackamore bridles come in the standard sizes of cob (or pony), Arabian, and full. You may also be able to find them in draft horse sizes.
Due to the hackamore primarily functioning off of pressure points, you want to make sure that the size you purchase is fairly close to the size you actually need for your particular horse.
This is important so you won’t have to try and adjust too much the pressure points the hackamore will apply to your horse’s face.
Key Points to Properly Fit a Hackamore Bridle
- Make sure that the pressure points are being positioned correctly. The nose, the side of the face, the chin, and the poll (area behind and between the ears) are the points of pressure.
- When placing the noseband on the horse’s face, ensure that it is centered on your horse’s nose.
You do not want the noseband to be too low; otherwise, it can affect the horse’s breathing ability.
If the nose piece is set too high, it will not be as effective and can rub on the bones of the horse’s face.
This can cause discomfort. Discomfort can lead to rearing, head flinging, and many other problems.
- The noseband and bridle/ headstall should not be sliding around. You want to ensure that your hackamore is tight enough but not too tight.
You can use the bones of your horse’s face as a reference point. The hackamore should basically sit directly below the cheekbones.
The nose band is seated around the middle or partway of the nose and around the poll area. It should be seated within an ear’s length (bridle path area) on the horse’s head/neck.
Related Hackamore Questions
Would a hackamore be the right choice for a horse with mouth injuries or dental issues?
Hackamores have been used routinely with horses who have mouth injuries or dental problems.
Before you switch to a bitless bridle, you should speak with your horse vet and ensure that there will be no issues that can arise for your specific horse.
Can I use a hackamore with a sensitive horse?
While every horse is different, the hackamore is well-known to be a sensitive horse-friendly bridle, but the severity of the hackamore will really be more dependent upon the rider’s hands.
Even a snaffle bit or curb bit can be gentle with the right hands. These types of bridles are used as an addition to the leg, vocal, and seat aids instead of as a constant contact type of bridle.
Why has bitless riding become so popular?
Bitless riding has always been popular, but lately, it seems that it has become commonplace.
In many riding disciplines, bitless bridles are used on futurity or maturity horses in the show pen or for training at home.
Many trail riders also prefer to use hackamores, especially if they plan on camping with their horses overnight.
This allows them to leave the headstall on their horse and allow them to graze or tie them up without the risk of a bit in the horse’s mouth.
The Hackamore Bridle Can Be a Good Choice
The mechanics behind how and why a hackamore works are pretty amazing.
Picking the right hackamore and getting accustomed to using it is a fun and sometimes challenging process.
Once you get the hang of it, it’s a very enjoyable way of riding and can provide many benefits for both you and your horse.