Q: What is a hackamore?
A: Many horsemen the world over opt to use a hackamore, particularly when starting a young horse. This is, importantly, not be confused with a mechanical hackamore. The hackamore provides a way of teaching the young horse to respond to the rider’s hands without risk of dulling a sensitive mouth. The hackamore is, in essence, a simple headstall with a noseband, called the bosal, which is made of braided rawhide. Some hackamores also have a fiador, which is a rope piece that serves as a throatlatch, and goes down to tie to the heel knot of the noseband.
The hackamore method was extensively employed in California and Mexico, by early Spanish-influenced riders like the Vaqueros, who started all young horses in the bosal.
The most important part of the hackamore is the rawhide bosal. Similar in shape to a tennis racket, the ‘handle’ is a short rawhide knot (heel knot) that rests under the jaw. This knot balances the hackamore and keeps the reins from sliding off the bosal. Over time the rawhide shapes itself to the horse’s nose and jaw and stays properly shaped; it won’t put pressure in the wrong place.
The reins (mecate) consist of one-piece of approximately six metres of hair rope. One end is left free for use as a lead rope and is attached to the saddle when the horse is ridden. The bosal rides high on the nose where the bones end in cartilaginous tissue. The heel knot and the rope wrapped around it to form the reins, are the necessary weight to make the noseband fall away from the horse’s sensitive jaw area whenever rein pressure is released. The normal position of the noseband is tilted, with the front part on the nose well up and the heel knot lower down.
The word ‘hackamore’ comes from the Arab word hackma, which is the name for the headgear used on camels in some countries. The Moors invaded Spain over one thousand years ago, bringing their horsemanship tools and style with them. In Spanish the word hackma became jaquima (the Spanish ‘j’ is pronounced as an ‘h’). When the Spanish term came to North America, it was pronounced ‘hackamore’.