Are you wanting to ride in a bitless bridle, and do you need to know how to fit a hackamore?
Because hackamore bridles apply pressure to sensitive parts of the horse’s face – and in some cases, a considerable amount of it – it’s important to get the fit right.
Getting it wrong could cause your horse pain and discomfort, or just make the bridle ineffective.
There are two types of hackamores. Let’s talk about fitting both mechanical and Western hackamores.
Table of Contents
- The horse has delicate cartilage and tissue on the lower part of his nose. The hackamore noseband must sit above this.
- Hackamore cheekpieces like to get too close to horses’ eyes unless you have a jowl strap.
- The noseband should be tight enough to not twist or slide about, but loose enough to be in ‘neutral’ when you are not engaging the rein aid.
How to Fit a Mechanical Hackamore
Mechanical hackamores, which include English hackamores, German hackamores, and flower hackamores, use leverage and curb action, exerting pressure on the curb groove, nasal bones, and poll.
This video shows you how to fit one.
They absolutely must be placed in the correct place on the horse’s head. Horses have a thin structure made of bone and cartilage between their nasal cavities.
The leverage applied by a mechanical hack could potentially damage this delicate cartilage. Additionally, it can interfere with the horse’s breathing.
The noseband should therefore sit above the nasal cavities. If you run your hand down the middle of your horse’s face, starting in the middle of his forehead, you’ll feel the hard bone. You’ll feel a V shape. Then you will feel softer cartilage, and lastly, you will feel soft tissue.
Your hackamore noseband should be placed where you feel the bone, two fingers above that hard V.
However, you don’t want to place it too high up, either. This will muddle up the cues and also impinge upon the bundle of facial nerves that are roughly where the horse’s cheekbones protrude.
Hackamore shanks rubbing the cheekbones will also cause pain. If the noseband is in the correct place but the shanks are too close to his protruding cheekbones, it means that the hackamore is too big.
The noseband should be two to three finger widths below the cheekbone and the shanks must be at least one finger width below the cheekbone.
I like to fit one or two fingers between the noseband and the horse’s nose.
More importantly, you want the noseband tight enough to not twist or slip down, but loose enough to release pressure when you let go of the reins. You may need to experiment on your horse to find the sweet spot.
It’s important to make sure that the cheekpieces are far enough away from your horse’s eye. On poorly-fitting hackamores, I have had them dangerously close.
Many hackamores come with a jowl strap instead of a throatlatch. This helps pull the cheekpiece down from the eye.
Discover the essentials of how to use a hackamore and take your horse riding skills to the next level with our helpful article!
How to Fit a Western Hackamore
The Western hackamore, or bosal, works on direct pressure applied to the rawhide (usually) noseband.
Watch this video to see how you fit one.
CHECK: Best Western Hackamore Bridle
The bosal itself consists of the braided rawhide noseband. You can, however, find rope nosebands or nylon ones.
Quality rawhide bosals also have a rawhide core, which is important, because you will need to shape the bosal. Cheap ones won’t flex or hold their shape.
What do I mean by shape? Bosals come in a teardrop shape because of the way they are made, but no horse’s nose looks like that. In order to get the bosal to fit, you have to stretch and/or squeeze it into the right shape.
There are many techniques you can use to shape a bosal. This video gives an overview.
Essentially, you place a wooden block, or even something like a can, inside the bosal, then wrap it so the block or can straightens out the sides. You may need to leave your bosal tressed up for a couple of weeks before you use it in your horse.
Properly fitted, it should gently hug the horse’s nose. Trainer Brian Sinnett explains, “The side buttons beneath the nose button should not pinch the horse but rest as the cheeks against the side of its head.
They should be braided to secure the hanger/headstall between the button and the nose button but not prominent enough to create a sore point on the horse.” (1)
Just like with the mechanical hack, the noseband should sit above the cartilage on the horse’s nose.
The mecate reins are tied into the bosal with a special knot. You can use this knot to fine-tune the fit of your bosal.
Sinnett says, “There should always be space between the top wrap of the mecate and the horse’s lower jaw.” (1)
If the bosal is too small, then you need a bigger one. There’s not a lot you can do.
You can, however, make a larger nosepiece smaller using more, or tighter wraps. But you don’t want too many wraps, since that impacts the balance and release of the bosal.
Are you new to working with mecates and bosals? Our article ‘How to Tie Mecate Reins to Bosal‘ is a must-read for anyone looking to improve their horsemanship skills, with step-by-step instructions and helpful tips for properly tying your reins and achieving a comfortable fit for your horse.
This is the thing that attaches the bosal to your horse. You might think of it as a bridle or a headstall.
A bosal hanger, however, is usually a simple, narrow piece of leather that attaches to the bosal and goes around the horse’s ears. Most do not have browbands.
It’s not exciting and decadent like many Western headstalls. But it is practical.
The simplicity of it means that the horse feels the release immediately, the moment the rider slacks off on the rein. This helps the horse learn how to be responsive to the hackamore.
Because they are usually made out of thin leather or latigo, they will break easily. If you and your horse part ways and he gets tangled in the reins, you want something in the system to break. Ideally, you don’t want it to be the expensive bosal.
The position of the hangar will be determined by the size of the nose button on the bosal. With a shorter button, the hangar ends up too close to the eyeline. You can buy latigo jowl straps that pull the bosal down and solve this problem.
Watch this video to learn how to make your own:
How do you put on a hackamore?
Slide it over the horse’s head, as you would a bitted bridle.
Where should a hackamore sit?
Trainer Martin Black explains, “The Hackamore should sit about halfway between the bottom of the eye and the top of the nostril, and about halfway up the jaw when it is pulled tight with the mecate tied on.” (2)
Can you put a hackamore on a normal bridle?
With a Western hackamore, the short answer is no. With a mechanical hackamore, the answer is maybe. The cheek pieces might end up being too close to the eye, depending on how your bridle fits your horse.
Is a hackamore harsher than a bit?
It can be. The horse’s face has many sensitive nerves, and some hackamores, especially ones with long shanks, exert significant amounts of leverage.
Any type of hackamore can cause rubs and sores if used improperly.
Fitting a hackamore isn’t quite like fitting a bitted bridle. As you can see, it has its own quirks to it.
In the case of Western hackamores, it is also an exercise in patience. My bosal was tied around a shaping block for about three weeks before it fit my horse.
However, it’s extremely important to get it right. Horses’ facial nerves are extremely sensitive, and an ill-fitting hackamore could cause them a lot of pain.
1. Passivehorsemanship.co.uk. 2023 [cited 2023 Jan 16]. Available from: https://www.passivehorsemanship.co.uk/fitting-a-hackamore
2. Black M. How to Measure Your Horse for the Correct Hackamore Fit [Internet]. Martin Black Horsemanship. [cited 2023 Jan 16]. Available from: https://martinblack.net/martin-black-articles/how-to-measure-your-horse-for-the-right-hackamore-fit.html
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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