Have you been struggling to have your horse accept its normal bridle? Maybe because it has oral issues or recently suffered an injury to its face. Or, are you trying to find a way to better the communication and handling between you and your horse?
Well, fitting a hackamore might be the answer you’ve been looking for.
Continue reading to find out more about hackamores, why they are used, and how to correctly fit a hackamore to improve your steering and performance.
What Is A Hackamore?
A hackamore bridle is a type of bitless horse bridle.
It helps you communicate with and steer your horse and works by applying pressure to your horse’s nose, poll and chin groove. Because it lacks a bit – seen in a traditional bridle – it does not apply any pressure or leverage on the horse’s mouth.
The bitless bridles are great for horses that struggle to accept a bit – especially when they have mouth injuries or a fractured jaw. It is also believed that a horse’s behavioural problems – such as headshaking, rearing and excessive salivation – may be eliminated by using a hackamore.
The typical hackamore consists of a leather or braided rawhide noseband and a headstall. The headstall is fitted over the horse’s head and is then attached to the noseband, while the reins are attached to the sides of the noseband.
Why Do We Use A Hackamore?
You use a hackamore to improve steering and control by applying pressure to the horse’s nose and face.
These braided rawhide hackamores are widely used in all horse riding disciplines – such as trail riding – but are not allowed in dressage events.
Though these are bitless bridles they can still apply heavy pressure on the horse’s face. It’s advised that riders use proper care when fitting a hackamore to ensure the horse’s comfort.
If placed too low the hackamore can irritate the horse, cause excessive head tossing, and make it difficult for the horse to breathe. Furthermore, if placed on the sensitive cartilage on the horse’s nose it can also cause scar tissue.
Properly Fitting A Hackamore Bridle
Introduce the hackamore gradually to allow your horse to get used to the new equipment.
Initially, focus on short rides to allow the animal to get used to the hackamore then gradually increase the amount of time you use it. Each horse is different and will react differently to the feel of this bitless bridle, so allow sufficient time for your horse to get conditioned to its new bridle.
Most importantly, if you are not sure about how to properly fit your horse’s hackamore, ask a professional to show you how to fit it.
Follow these steps to fit your horse’s hackamore:
1. Make sure you have the right sized hackamore
Hackamore bridles are available in different sizes. Using the manufacturer’s sizing chart, select a hackamore by measuring where the hackamore will sit on your horse’s nose and choose the correct size.
2. Adjust the hackamore noseband
Horses have a thin, hard bone and cartilage structure between their nasal cavities which, if the noseband is fitted incorrectly, can damage the cartilage. This can also affect the horse’s breathing.
The noseband should be positioned above this softer cartilage: On the horse’s face, feel for a V-shaped bone (above the cartilage and soft tissue of the nose) and ensure the noseband sits about two finger widths above the nasal bones.
Additionally, ensure that the noseband sits about two fingers’ width below the horse’s cheekbones. If the noseband sits too high, it can interfere with your signals and irritate the facial nerves in the cheekbones.
The shanks or metal pieces should sit about one finger’s width below the cheekbone.
The noseband should fit snugly and not be too tight or too loose. Ensure that it sits comfortably on the horse’s nose and that it does not twist.
3. Check the headstall
Check that the leather headstall fits comfortably around the horse’s head. Allow about two fingers’ width between the horse’s head and the headstall.
4. Attach the reins
Next, you attach the reins (also known as the mecate) to the noseband, ensuring they’re even in length. You should be able to fit two fingers between the chin and the mecate or heel knot. This heel knot should rest on the horse’s chin when the animal is at rest.
5. Ensure the bridle sits comfortably
A correct hackamore fit will ensure that the bridle does not rub, irritate or cause your horse discomfort. Adjust the hackamore until it fits your horse comfortably.
Types Of Hackamore Bridles
There are many hackamores to choose from, each providing a different amount of pressure.
1. Mechanical hackamore
This type of hackamore has shanks which allow riders to apply pressure to the horse’s nose, poll and chin. They are usually lined with fleece or have a padded noseband to help distribute pressure evenly along the animal’s face and help reduce excessive rubbing.
2. S Hackamore bridle
This hackamore bridle has a unique shape which allows it to apply less pressure to the horse’s face in comparison to a mechanical hackamore.
The S hackamore is popular with endurance riders as it allows the horse to eat and drink while being bridled. It allows riders to improve steering and communication sensitivity with their horse. It does not need a lot of pressure and has a contoured noseband with padding for added comfort.
3. Flower hackamore
This hackamore’s unique cheek design allows riders multiple adjustments to increase or decrease poll pressure.
The flower hackamore has a synthetic chin strap which can be used on most horses. It is, however, advised that you switch it out with a curb chain if your horse is stronger and you want to have more control.
Is it safe to ride with a hackamore?
Yes, because a hackamore lacks a bit, your horse would be less prone to place its tongue under the bit or show other evasive mannerisms. Some horses also tend to block the commands of a rider by biting on the bit, which also reduces your ability to control the animal.
Will a hackamore give me as much control as a bit?
Yes, your steering abilities are greatly improved when using a hackamore which also allows you to easier slow down or stop your horse. Many horses that tended to “run away” when fitted with a bit have stopped this behaviour when a bitless bridle was used.
Can you use a bitless bridle for showjumping?
Yes, because it is so essential in showjumping that your horse responds to your commands, a bitless bridle would work perfectly for showjumping. A hackamore also allows your horse to be steered quickly and easily while competing.