How to Tie a Mecate to a Bosal (A Simple and Secure Method)

Have you wondered how to tie a mecate to a bosal?

The mecate reins are a fundamental part of the Western hackamore and the training of the bridle horse.

Sometimes, they are called ‘McCarty’ or ‘McCarthy’ reins, an Anglicization of a Spanish word that translates to ‘rope.’

They are tied to the bosal with a special knot and it helps fit the bosal to the horse. It looks complicated, but it’s really not.

Key Takeaways

  • The mecate reins and the heel knot are intrinsic to the traditional bosal.
  • Mecate should be around 20′ long. Different materials have different properties, but the most traditional material is mane hair.
  • The knot looks complicated, but it’s actually really easy to learn.
  • You also need to think about how you are going to attach the lead rope.

A Bit About the Mecate Rope

Mecate reins are between 20′ and 22′ long. They are thick, much heavier than leather reins, and made out of a solidly woven rope, traditionally horsehair, but nylon yachting rope and alpaca hair are also common.

The rope should be the same width as your bosal. If you have a 5/8-inch bosal, you want a 5/8-inch rope. A 1/2-inch bosal should be accompanied by a 1/2-inch rope, and so on.

Expert bridle horse trainer Martin Black explains why he prefers mane hair, above all other materials.

As with all the traditional Vaquero gear, mane hair mecates give a pre-signal before the enforcing signal, or direct pull. Regardless of whether the mecates are on a hackamore or a snaffle bit, the reins have the weight to give a feel to allow the horse to respond. Poly, cotton, mohair, and other synthetics don’t have this weight or life. Also, most other materials have some give to them, so when you need a direct pull, there is some spring in them.

The mane hair mecate is like no other. Not only does it have the beautiful natural colors of horses’ hair, but it has weight, flexibility, and life in it like no other material. A nylon mecate has more strength and weight, much like hair, but it still does not have a life or the signal to it. (1)

However, horsehair gets heavy and stiff when wet. This is not a problem when you live in a desert (like Black does), but if you live in a temperate climate like the UK or Northwest US, the other materials might be more advantageous.

The weight of the mecate provides an obvious release to the horse, especially when combined with a hackamore noseband.

It also helps the horse learn how to neck rein since he can feel the mecate against the side of his neck, backed up by the rider’s seat and leg aids.

The most notable feature of the mecate, however, is the built-in lead rope. You should have a comfortable loop rein, with 12-15′ of lead rope coming off the front of the mecate.

Traditionally, this was useful for the working cow horse or ranch horse – whether it was jumping off your horse to sort out a cow, fixing a fence, or leading your horse over rough terrain. It also gave the trainer an extra lead rope when starting colts.

Tying the Mecate

Visual learners should carefully watch this video. I used this one myself to learn how to tie a mecate because it’s clear and easy to follow:

  1. Stick the tail end of your mecate (the end with the tassel) through the bosal, just on top of the bosal heel knot. You want it facing away from the horse and the bosal hanger.
  2. Wrap the rope around the bottom of the bosal, just above the tassel that you’ve poked through it. The number of wraps depends on the size of the bosal and the size of your horse’s nose. One or two is average. A larger diameter bosal may need more wraps.
  3. Make your rein loop by reaching through the bosal, grabbing a loop of mecate, and pulling it towards yourself. I pull out the loop so it’s roughly the length of both arms extended, but I am short, and so are my horses. It will vary depending on your arm length and the horse’s neck.
  4. If there is a twist in the reins, grab the loose end of the mecate and twist it back and forth until the reins are straight.
  5. Put in one more wrap, in the same direction but above the looped rein.
  6. Move the reins forward so a hole is created in the wraps underneath them.
  7. Feed the end of the lead rope through the hole. As you finish pulling it through, make sure the last wrap of the lead is above the last wrap of the reins.
  8. Tighten the mecate by tugging at each piece individually and making it snug against the heel knot.

Securing the Lead Rope

You have your complete bosal. The mecate reins, the bosal hanger, and the bosal noseband. Everything else looks like a normal bridle, but you’re probably wondering what on earth to do with the lead rope when you’re riding.

This video shows three common ways to tie up the lead rope. Whichever way you choose depends on your tack, your discipline, and your personal preference:

As you can see, there are multiple ways to secure it safely.

You can tie it to your saddle horn with several half-hitches. The disadvantage of this is that there is nothing in the system which will break if you fall off. It’s another thing that a loose horse can get tangled in.

It will also be in the way of a lariat rope if you are roping.

Needless to say, this method isn’t very useful if you have an English or Australian saddle.

You can shove a bite of mecate rope through your belt loop. This is simple and easy, no matter what kind of saddle you ride in. It also means that you’re attached to the rope, so if you do fall off, you have a chance of grabbing your horse.

That’s also a disadvantage. If you go with this method, make sure the rope won’t catch on anything and will run freely when pulled. You don’t want to be dragged by your horse if you fail to catch him.

Lastly, you can coil the rope and secure it to the saddle with a piece of latigo. Make backward coils, then tie the latigo string around it.

It’s important to be sure your coils are facing backward (as he demonstrates in the video); otherwise, they can run through the string and get loose.

Western saddles usually come with many strings, and you can easily attach a latigo to the front D rings of an English saddle.

Should things go very wrong, the latigo will break easily. It also leaves the saddle horn free for other purposes.


Is it possible to ride using only a bosal?

Yes. Plenty of people ride exclusively in a bosal. The horse moves first with the direct rein but can be trained to the neck rein.

Is a bosal harsh?

It is one of the gentlest bitless bridles, but a poorly-fitted one will cause rubs on the horse’s face, and under the nose button, and if your timing and feel aren’t precise enough, the horse will become heavy in the bridle and unresponsive.

How do you tie a horse with a mecate?

You safely secure the rein loops around your horse’s neck, then tie him with the lead rope as you normally would.
Trainer Clinton Anderson explains how to tie up the excess rope (the reins) so it’s safely out of the way. (2)


In conclusion, tying a mecate to a bosal is a simple process that involves creating a loop at one end of the mecate, passing it through the bosal’s heel knot, and securing it in place with a half hitch and square knot.

This will ensure the mecate is securely fastened to the bosal for use in equestrian activities.

horse with a bosal


1. Thomas E. Why Mane Hair Mecates? [Internet]. Martin Black Horsemanship. [cited 2023 Jan 27]. Available from:

2. How to Safely Tie Your Horse Using Mecate Reins | Downunder [Internet]. [cited 2023 Jan 27]. Available from:

Emily Donoho
Emily Donoho

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.
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