Get a Handle on Hackamores

Last Updated on August 21, 2023 by Allison Price

Learn the basics of traditional hackamore and improve your horse-headgear skills.

A handsome, well-made hackamore is the most Western of all Western things. A bitless setup, which includes a bosal and hanger as well as mecate, is used by riders to aid in everyday riding, as well as as to help them transition from a traditional snaffle bit into a bridle. If used properly, it can dramatically improve the horse’s training.

This section will explain the basics of the hackamore. Its anatomy, uses, and best practices are all covered. This information will enable you to use a hackamore on your horse to improve his feel and your horsemanship.

The hackamore consists of many components that can come in a variety of materials and styles. You should first learn about your horse’s temperament and preferences before you choose the hackamore that will best suit him.

The oval- or teardrop-shaped bosal noseband. It can be made from rawhide, rope or leather, or a combination of both. It is measured in plaits. This refers to how many strands were used in braiding and can be found in sizes between 1/2 and 1 in. Bosals have a flex, which is its ability to return to form after being bent or used.

A single-line rope made from horse hair or another material is the mecate. To create reins and a lead line, the 22-foot rope is tied above the heel knot. The mecate can be tied to adjust the bosal. You can make the bosal tighter, looser or looser depending on your horse’s nose.

The heel knot connects the cheekpieces together. It is located just below your horse’s jaw.

The portion of the nose button extends over the bridge of the horse’s nose. The nose button is the most prominent, thickest part of a bosal that isn’t entirely made from the same material. The first photo shows the nose button. It is narrow. To prevent the hanger riding up your horse’s nose and into his eyes, you can use a jowl string.

The cheek hanger is the soft-leather strap, adjustable headstall piece that attaches to either horse’s bosal or behind his ears.

Hackamore is a rocking motion that applies pressure to the nose of your horse by rocking across its bridge. Clear cues are important because the reins attach at the same place underneath the horse’s jaw. The hackamore is not like a snaffle, which allows for direct rein to cue for lateral movements. The hackamore can be a great tool to help your horse become more responsive and free if you have the right trainers.

The two-rein is used to switch between the hackamore or the bridle. It is similar in design to the hackamore. The nosepiece won’t rub when it is placed under a bridle by using a smaller bosalito (or pencil bosal) with a smaller diameter. You can use two sets of reins or switch from the hackamore to the bridle until your horse is more comfortable and responsive to the hackamore.

Before you introduce the hackamore to horses, get them used to it on the ground. His nose will feel different from anything he is used to. Therefore, it’s important to train in the hackamore before introducing it to your horse. Remember that pulling with both the reins and steady pressure will not only brace his bosal against his nose bridge but also eliminate any play or rocking. This will teach him to resist your cueing or brace against hackamore. Instead, apply single-side pressure with a support neck rein.

When outfitting your horse with his hackamore, there are three things to be aware of: the fit of the bosal, nosepiece, mecate and hanger.

Bosal size, thickness, and flexibility vary. Your horse’s preference will determine the size of your bosal. For sensitive, feely horses, a small, light-diameter nosepiece will be the best. Horses that require more signal will benefit from a larger, stronger bosal. A bosal that has more play on the horse’s nose will give a stronger cue.

Left: There are many ways to attach the mecate’s lead rope to your saddle. It can be tied to your horn (shown here is a half-hitch), rolled on your left or “on” side (shown at the top photo), or tied through your saddle’s gullet. Right: I wrapped the mecate in a gullet, and tied it to my horn. This reduces drag by reducing the length of the lead rope.

The mecate must be tied so that the bosal can rock back and forth on horse’s nose. The nose space will shrink the more wraps that you place around the bosal’s heel knot. You should have enough space between your horse’s nose and the bosal to allow you to slide your index finger into the space. You shouldn’t tie the mecate so loosely that the bosal slides down your horse’s face when you pull on them. This will prevent you from being able to cue your horse effectively. For proper adjustment, allow it to slide about halfway between the horse’s jaws and muzzle.

Adjust the hanger so that the nosepiece is just above your horse’s bridge. It should not be too low as it will restrict your horse’s airway. Too high and the horse won’t be able to transfer cues.

Your hackamore’s health and longevity will be ensured by careful care. The hackamore should be kept clean, including the nosepiece, hanger, and mecate. Clean up dirt and hair from your ride. Apply rawhide cream to all rawhide parts.

Before you store, remove the mecate. Hanging your hackamore with the tightened mecate can cause it to twist and lose its shape. If your hackamore becomes too narrow, you can whittle a small stick to attach across the nose. To keep it in good shape, wrap the noseband around an empty can of coffee or oatmeal.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!