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The Hackamore Bitless bridle - Mechanical vs Traditional

June 03, 2021 6 min read

Bitless Riding

Bitless riding is becoming increasingly popular around the world. Before investing in your first bitless bridle, you should do some research of the types of bitless bridles available to avoid a bad experience. In this article we will have a closer look at one of the most popular bitless bridles: the hackamore bitless bridle. A high quality hackamore can be a good choice when training young horses.

 THE-HACKAMORE-BITLESS-BRIDLE

What is a hackamore

Hackamore bridles comes in a few different designs and shapes. What they all have in common though is that it is a type of bridle that is ridden with a curb chain or curb strap with no bit in the horse's mouth. The two main differences on hackamore bridles are mechanical hackamores and true traditional hackamore bridles. By definition a hackamore bridle is a bridle with no bit where the reins are attached underneath the horse's jaw (on traditional hackamores) or attached to shanks on the side of the horse's face (on mechanical hackamores). It has a similar effect as a curb bit, when the reins a pulled pressure is put on the chain strap, in the wrong hands this can be a very painful bit.

 

TYPES OF HACKAMORES

Mechanical:

  • flower hackamore
  • Traditional Mechanical Hackamore - It has both chains and levers (hence its name). The levers go down when the reins are pulled which then pulls on the horse's nose and pressure is put on the chain underneath the horse's jaw. Its still an 'external bit' as its still made of metal and causes pain to the horse when squeezed.
  • Length of the shanks

 MECHANICAL-HACKAMORE

Traditional - Bosal Hackamore

A traditional (also reffered to as true) is a hackamore used by western riders. The traditional bosals made up of a bosal with hanger and mecate reins ( with no levers).

The bosal hackamore has no metal or chains which makes it a much softer option for bitless hackamore riders. Any time you introduce metal on whatever bridle your're using, the bridle becomes a painful tool (even if its bitless). The bosal hackamore is very popular amongst western riders. The bosal noseband hangs losely and when the reins are pulled the horse feels the top of the noseband twist and they can respond even before the heel knot touches them. It bends as its made of supple soft leather or rawhide and forms around the horse's face naturally. There is no forced pain or leverage used. The horse's head is encouraged to go down as that's the direction the rein pulls them as the pressure comes from underneath the horse's head.

 If you ride with heavy hands this type of hackamore can still rub and make your horse's nose bald due to the constant pressure - if your horse is getting rub burns from a bosal then your hands are too heavy. The rope should be loose and only used lightly for turning and stopping. The traditional hackamore is suitable for sensitive horses as it doesn't cause pain cause pain when you pull the reins, even if the amount of pressure put on the reins is havey. The leather chin strap on the hackamore noseband should rest losely around the horse's nose and never rub when used correctly. A bosal hackamore usually the hanger, the bosal, heel knot connected to the mecate reins attached to it. The third 'rein' is actually a lead rope to be used for tying the horse up. Sometimes a bosal hackamore has a little swinging piece of hair hanging also reffered to as a shoe fly. It helps to get rid of flies around the horse's face. The bosal hackamore is a great option for both beginner riders and experienced riders.

 TRADITIONAL-HACKAMORE

Photo: The Equine Chronicle

Pros and cons using a hackamore

PROS

  • Traditional hackamores consists of no metal or chains which removed the pain and release element of the bridle (more comfortable fort the horse
  • Encourages horses to bring their heads down and work in a rounded frame
  • Works on pressure and release (which is how horses learn). Pressure is released as soon as you release the reins.
  • Mechanical hackamores are recognized as an acceptable 'bit' worldwide for most shows. (not dressage)
  • Traditional hackamores - Softer pressure
  • A horse gets softer to ride when ridden in a traditional hackamore

CONS

  • Mechanical hackamores can cause pain to the horse with the metal and chain attachments
  • Mechanical hackamores - the part on the horses face where the chain puts pressure (under the jaw) is very soft tissue and horse's can become numb in this area if they learn that they can run through the pressure if the rider has heavy hands.
  • Hackamore/bitless bridle riding is frown upon in some disciplines - so you may have to defend your decision on a daily basis and 'explain yourself'
  • The shanks makes the pressure put on the reins much stronger, so even a light hand will be strong depending on the length of the shanks (that works as levers)
  • Mechanical hackamores - pressure is put on chain, noseband and side straps when reins are pulled, when in theory this is not necessary as horses can be just as responsive with light pressure on the poll (which also makes it more clear for them to lower their head)
  • It can more difficult to turn
  • Traditional hackamores are not approved for english discipline showing
  • It can be more difficult to stop (especially if a horse is used to bitted bridles)
  • You may need to retrain your horse if its only used to be ridden bitted.
  • Bosal Hackamores - may be too soft on some horses (especially if they have been 'destroyed' by riders with heavy hands).
  • A mechanical hackamore can make a horse more dull due to the amount of pressure

 

How to fit a mechanical hackamore

Even though we favor the traditional hackamore in this article, the mechanical hackamore is still used frequently worldwide so its important to have it fitted correctly. When using a mechanical hackamore you put a lot of pressure on the horse's nose - and if you put it too far down you can do a lot of damage to the nasal bone and cartilage on the horse's face. This is the most common mistake we see hackamore riders do. The bottom of the shank should hand near the corner of the horse's mouth, depending on the length and shape of the horse's head. On a traditional bridle you adjust the bridle depending on the bit and side straps so can be a bit more tricky with a hackamore as you don't have the guidance of the use of a bit. You can also use the guide of having 2 fingers between the top of the shank and the facial crest (to avoid the shank rubbing if you are too close to it).

How to use a mechanical hackamore

A mechanical hackamore should be ridden with a more loose rein than a normal bitted bridle as the pressure should only be pressure-and-release style. Many riders and trainers recommend to use hackamores in combination with other bits so the horse doesn't get to used to it and become numb to is (stop respecting it). For example ride in a bitted bridle 2 days per week and mechanical hackamore 3 days just to change it up. The number one rule though is to remember, this is a strong bit due to the shanks and should only be ridden with gentle hands. The nose becomes compressed when the reins are pulled, so try to never pull back on both reins. Some horses start rooting their heads as they get annoyed with mechanical hackamores, if this happens then you want to either work with an experienced coach or change bit quickly before it comes a bad habit. This can also lead to rearing and bucking if not attended to straight away. It can be more difficult to turn too especially if you horse is used to a bitted bridle. In saying that though horse's can be trained to go well in most bits. If possible try to use a chin strap rather than a chain when possible and shorter shanks rather than long to make the hackamore a little bit softer on the horse. There are lofs of choices in terms of hackamore bridles and lots of different bitless options. All horses are different and keep on testing and discuss with your coach what kind of bridle you should go for next.