Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Hackamore

Wednesday February 17 2010

Some of you asked about Jose's headgear. It's a short-shanked mechanical S hackamore. (And this depends on who you talk to... some say this is not a true 'mechanical' hackamore).

A hackamore uses leverage and pressure to get a response. It's designed, when you pull on both reins, to put pressure on the horse's nose (the noseband), the underside of the jaw (the chain), and the poll. You don't get communication with a hackamore like you do a bit, however. A hackamore is for control, not communication. If you can ride on a loose rein, and only need direct (vertical) pressure to slow down or stop, a hackamore may be for you and your horse. It doesn't work well for lateral steering.

This 'short-shanked' S-hackamore Jose is wearing is a less severe hackamore... but any piece of headgear, bit or hackamore, can be severe with heavy hands - just as a harsher bit or hackamore can be kind with light hands.

If you're a person who rides with contact, i.e. on the horse's mouth all the time, your horse will learn to brace against the hackamore - and learn to ignore it or run away from the constant pressure, or stick his neck in the air. (Of course, he'll do that with a bit, too.) And as always, you shouldn't be riding with just your hands anyway. Don't forget you also have legs and a seat.

Jose's noseband is a kind, flat one, and I keep the jaw chain fairly loose. Jose isn't normally a puller - unless he's on loop 1 or 2 of an endurance ride - in which case I start out with a bit, and change to the hackamore on loop 2 or 3!

The reason I use this hackamore is because this is what we have on hand, and Jose goes well in it. On Stormy I use a sidepull. I haven't tried a bitless bridle.

If you want to try a hackamore, be sure you try it out in a controlled environment until your horse gets used to it. In other words, don't toss one on for the first time and canter to the starting line of a 50-mile ride expecting your horse to understand it and respond to it immediately, as it will feel different to him and he'll have to get used to the new 'communication' and pressure points.

Best reason for using a hackamore is that the horse can eat and drink easily on the trail. Best reason for Jose is that he hates a bit!


  1. This was the best timing for this post as i have been looking/considering going to a hackamore for a bit, and with the AERC convention so close i might buy one to try out :)


  2. Thanks for showcasing this style of hackamore. It's not one that is seen often, at least not around here.
    I like hackamores, for the reasons you mentioned and they are helpful for horses who just don't like bits, but will still give some control.
    I used a a Dr Cook's Bitless Bridle on my mare and she was much happier in it than a bit, but sometimes I felt I could have used more control with it because she would tend to push back into the nose pressure when she wanted to head back home. We'd end up arguing as I tried to control her head and it would leave a mark across her nose after I took the Bitless bridle off.

    But she could just never settle down with a bit in her mouth either.
    I wonder if a hackamore is a good choice for neck reining.

    Thanks for the photos and explanation. I found it interesting.


  3. When out on trail, I also prefer to ride bitless. Either sidepull, or a mechanical hackamore (but with a leather strap)

  4. Merri, just an fyi, I have 2 friends who tried the bitless bridle and both had their horses noses swell up from the pressure, since it puts pressure on the nose and jaw all at the same time. If you are going to try one, make sure you can return it if it does not work (cooks bitless bridle does this) or as another friend did she made her own out of rope and put knots where her headstall was etc. She saw a couple on ebay. Me I would just stay with what works on the s hackamore. Take care and love your stories and pics.... pam

  5. Merri, what headstall are you using? Is it specifically made for a hackamore or just a normal add-on headstall. I've been looking for a halter/bridle combo to work with my s-hack (so I can remove the hackamore at vet checks); I can't get my current add-on headstall adjusted short enough for it to work.

  6. Es una embocadura muy util, puede beber y comer sin problemas. Para el Raid es muy practico.
    Saludos de Gabriel.

  7. Karen, this headstall is a normal one you can add the hackamore or a bit to. It's similar to this one at Griffin's Tack - and Henry can always make it to fit. The one I'm using has has button snaps to go around the halter at the top instead of these 'hook' snaps. But either are easy and fast to take on and off, really convenient.

  8. Dr. Cook's bitless bridle is my choice after having used bits, and several kinds of hackamores, including one with a fleece lined nose band. My gelding fretted so badly with a bit I changed him to the bitless bridle designed by Dr. Cook and completely retrained him according to methods in Basic Training for a Safe Trail Horse. He has become a champion judged trail ride horse without a bit or spurs. I used the Cook bitless to train my young mare also according to the above book, and she's never had a bit. Both horses respond well; I've never felt a lack of control. It's good to visit to find out how this bridle works.

  9. Have you heard any feedback or used the Vosal? Sportack and other such websites sell them. I am really curious about these. Pam

  10. Heidi, I will try that next time I ride Jose. And Pam, I don't know about the Vosal - haven't ever used one. zach, get your wallet out!

  11. I use the Sportack vosal and love it. Have one for each of my mares now.