Have you ever wondered how to make a rope bosal?
Bosals can be expensive pieces of tack, so maybe you’re tempted to try making your own to save money. It’s just a simple loop around the horse’s nose with a couple of overhand knots and rein loops, right?
Unless you’re skilled at rope braiding or at working with rawhide, it will be tough to make a bosal as good as any professionally made one, but read on for some ideas.
Table of Contents
- Handmade rawhide bosals are expensive pieces of horse tack. And that’s just the noseband. It does not include the bosal hanger or the mecate reins.
- A well-crafted bosal is worth having.
- Loping hackamores and other types of rope nosebands are versatile pieces of horse tack, useful for introducing young horses and/or inexperienced riders to the bosal. They are more forgiving of mistakes than traditional rawhide ones.
- You can make your own rope bosal, but anything requiring braiding requires ropework skills and time.
A traditional Western bosal is made out of braided rawhide. The core is usually rawhide as well, but some have leather or metal cores. You can buy the cheap mass-produced ones for as little as $30.
However, a cheap horse bosal is not recommended. It’s important that the bosal hold its shape and soften with use, and you need quality rawhide to do that. Otherwise, it could rub the horse’s nose, the balance won’t be right, and it won’t work as well.
Trainer Elaine Heney explains, “There are lots of cheaper ones out there you need to avoid. I’ve even seen very expensive ones at the big horse shows (over €500 euros) that are awful and made with cheap material! But they are not going to work either.” (1)
The well-educated hackamore horse responds to the smallest changes in the position of the bosal and the heel knot.
Therefore, the bosal must sit correctly on his face, and the weight of it must be exactly right. Unfortunately, there isn’t a cheap way to get a properly-functioning traditional bosal.
If you want a rawhide bosal, I urge you to buy from a specialist rawhide braider. You can easily spend from $200 to $500 on a high-quality one. And that’s not the complete bosal set (which would include mecate and hanger). That’s just the noseband.
A handmade bosal by Martin Black and Steve Guitron is highly regarded, but there are many other skilled makers, mostly around North America.
Most trainers recommend that you start out in a 5/8″ bosal. As your horse progresses in his training, you can change to a narrower one such as 3/8″.
Hand-crafting bosals are an art form that takes many years to learn (which is why they are expensive). I’m not going to go into the craft of rawhide braiding here.
Rope Bosals or Loping Hackamores
What if you want to try training your horse to work in a bosal but don’t want that initial big financial outlay?
You’re not completely out of luck.
A lariat bosal, Indian bosal halter, or loping hackamore is much cheaper, running between $100 and $200 for the entire bridle.
Instead of a stiff rawhide noseband, they have a much softer one made out of braided nylon or rope, but it still has the reins attached with a heavy knot at the bottom that works much the same as a rawhide bosal.
They usually don’t have the mecate reins with the extra lead. My loping hackamore has long split reins made out of nylon.
A loping hackamore is a useful tool in and of itself. It’s more forgiving than a rawhide bosal, so it’s ideal for breaking in green horses or for learning how to ride in a bosal yourself if you haven’t much experience with it.
Some riders use them to give finished horses a break from the bit.
Trainer Richard Winters explains how they work and why he likes them.
As he says, they are made from a variety of materials.
Read this article by bridle maker Dennis Moreland, where he discusses the different types of nosebands and their effect on the horse. (2)
How to Make a Rope Hackamore
It is certainly feasible to make your own rope hackamore. There are several ways to do it.
Making a Hackamore Out of a Single Rope
This video shows you how to make a simple hackamore-style bridle out of one piece of thick rope.
- Start with twelve feet of rope and measure out six feet.
- Tie a knot with a loop on one end to form the noseband.
- Pull the remaining rope over the horse’s pole to form the crownpiece.
- Tie another half-hitch to the bottom of the noseband on the other side.
- You now have a simple rope hackamore.
Braiding a Hackamore
Actually braiding your own hackamore requires a lot more craftsmanship and practice. Les Stewart, a Western bridle horse trainer, explains how you make traditional rope reins, which can be used for reins or for the bridle itself.
It’s also possible to make a hackamore noseband out of paracord. You need to weave the paracord around a core, usually some nylon rope.
This video demonstrates how you braid the paracord around a rope halter:
This guy shows you how to make a lariat rope bosal:
And the Simplest Bosal
The easiest way to make your own bosal is to tie mecate reins to the bottom loop of any regular rope halter.
This video demonstrates how.
It will have a similar action on the horse’s face to a bosal, but rope halters twist, so neither the pressure nor the release will be as precise as it would be with a stiffer noseband. The horse won’t develop the same level of self-carriage.
Nonetheless, if you’re trail riding, or if you are playing around with a different bitless bridle, it’s a cheap and easy way of introducing yourself and your horse to a bosal.
Is a bosal harsh?
It is not, but if you don’t have light hands and develop a soft feel, it can rub the horse’s face.
How tight should a bosal be?
It should be loose enough to release when the rider lets go of the rein, but tight enough not to twist sideways. You should be able to fit a couple of fingers between the heel knot and the horse’s chin.
How long should bosal reins be?
20 feet is traditional.
Can you use a bosal in western pleasure?
Horses under six years of age are allowed to compete in western pleasure classes with a bosal.
While it is possible to make DIY hackamores or simply tie mecate reins to a rope halter, none of these will offer the same level of refinement as a hand-crafted bosal or a well-made loping hackamore.
If you’re experimenting with bitless riding and want to see how your horse moves with the bosal’s action, then a rope halter with mecate tie-in is by far the cheapest and easiest thing to try.
If you want to use the bosal to train the horse towards the lightness and self-carriage that underpins the vaquero tradition, you should get a quality rawhide one that gives the horse the feel he needs.
1. Elaine. Where to find a great rawhide bosal (hackamore)? [Internet]. Listenology by Elaine Heney. 2021 [cited 2023 Jan 26]. Available from: https://elaineheneyhorses.com/good-western-rawhide-bosal-hackamore/
2. A A LOT OF PEOPLE USE HACKAMORES TO RIDE [Internet]. Available from: http://www.dmtack.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Tack_Talk_May_08-Hackamores-A-Heck-of-a-Hackamore.pdf
Emily is a native of Colorado, currently living in Glasgow, Scotland, working as a freelance writer. She is a long-time horsewoman, having started riding at the age of 6, then competing in dressage around Colorado and Massachusetts, where she finished her undergraduate degree in psychology.
Following a move to the UK and a PhD, she worked for a few years as a freelance horse trainer in Central Scotland. She’s interested in holistic horsemanship, fostering better communication and understanding between horses and humans, riding with lightness and softness, and she’s forever seeking out the newest research into equine behavior and psychology. When not writing, she can be found at the barn with her two equine partners, Foinavon, an ex-feral Highland pony, and Hermosa, a young Andalusian.
Follow on TWITTER and FACEBOOK
Read her Latest articles
Learn more about HER