Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hackamore or Bosal? And What’s the Difference Anyway?

I’ll Take Bits & Rigs for $500, Alex.  

What is a Hackamore

Geography and custom and other outside influences play a significant roll in the nomenclature of tack or equipment. For the purpose of this post, we’re not going to use the word nomenclature again, besides, most of us just want to know what to call it. Instead we’re going to focus on Western Tack. But, we’re sure the English riding world has it’s share of anomalies as well and would love for someone to share with us what some of those are.

We’ve spoken about the history of tack before on our blog. And, we know that much of the common Western tack of today has evolved out of, or derived from the Spanish Conquistadors and the early Vaqueros of the 1700’s and 1800’s. I hesitate to use the word “evolved” simply because some of today’s tack is just a shadow of it’s former self and it’s not always changing for the better. Of course, there are exceptions, and it’s not going out on a limb to say that “they just don’t make ‘em like they use to”.

As for the topic at hand. These are some examples of equine equipment that were born out of necessity (working cattle) years and years ago and the common names used today.

Espuela is Spanish for “spur”. The word spur isn’t exactly English. The early cowboy crowd “co-opted” the word and shortened it. It’s simply “slang” for Espuela. Same thing with the word Cincha. (I still say Cincha. I like being the odd man out). Most people say cinch or girth. (Girth is actually a different piece of equipment. It’s English).

Here’s a cute 5 minute video that will help clarify the difference between a cinch and a girth.

Riñones is Spanish for reins. Even the word tack has roots in the Spanish word tachuela.

Here’s a few more.
Brida = Bridle 
Silla de montar = Saddle
Latigo = Latigo 
Estribo = Stirrup
Vaquero = Buckaroo
Jaquima = Hackamore

Freno = Bit This one deserving of a blog of it’s very own. Look for that one soon. wink*

Now, the reason we bring all this up is because there’s always confusion about what terms to use and what particular pieces of tack are referred to. Just like there is confusion when someone calls a young horse under the age four, regardless of it’s gender, a colt. (If it’s a female, it’s a filly. After 4 years of age, it’s a mare.) You have a horse “by" a Stallion and “out" of a mare, not the reverse. There’s no such thing as an “own” grand daughter. It’s simply a grand daughter. Now, there are “own” sons and daughters. Grulla and grullo are the same color. They are just feminine and masculine versions of the word...again, Spanish in origin. Some refer to breast collars as breastplates (breastplate is English, breast collar is Western.). A bridle is a headstall and a bit together. Not just a headstall alone. Regardless, you get the idea. It’s more convoluted than The Matrix.

Back to Hackamores

For hundreds of years now, a hackamore or jaquima has as always represented a rig that consists of a thicker bosal i.e 5/8”, a hanger or headstall, and a mecate (Spanish for rope--usually made out of horse hair). The entire set-up is referred to as the hackamore. The word Bosal is Spanish for only the noseband portion thereof. This in turn, is not to be confused with the Bosalito which references the pencil thin braided rawhide noseband that is worn under the bridle in the two-rein set up. When “most” people see a traditional “hackamore” to avoid confusion, they refer to it as a bosal. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The bosal is the rawhide band that has a heel knot where the mecates are connected.

Now, what difference does the name make? Sometimes preserving tradition is important. but more important still, is understanding the origins of the equipment because that pertains to its proper usage.

If we think of the hackamore as merely the bosal, we lose in that translation, the fact that the hackamore has many parts that work together for a purpose. All it’s pieces working together represent the idea that control is not simply garnered from yanking on that one piece of braided rawhide (bosal) but, rather, control is established with a combination of things that all work together (hackamore) to ensure softness and lightness for that partnership you’re establishing with your young horse.

Hackamore aka jaquima on a young horseIn simplest terms, it’s a means of communication. A responsive system for imparting the riders intentions to the horse with a minimum of cues, ideally. The lighter the cues, the more the rider is rewarded with the animal’s attention and willingness to participate free of the distraction of being annoyed or experiencing pain.

Here’s a great quote from Gwynn Turnbull Weaver describing the process of training the hackamore horse.

“The most valuable contribution the hackamore makes in the training process is the deficiencies it reveals in the rider. Few know or understand this principle. When using the hackamore it is essential that the rider set up his maneuvers correctly and fully support the cues he gives his mount. The rider’s body positioning, weight placement, timing and sensitivity must be correct in order for the hackamore horse to translate those cues.”

The hackamore is the WHOLE setup AND an integral part of that is the system in which it’s used. The bosal is just one piece of equipment needed to achieve that goal within a system.

Now, what of the mechanical hackamore?

The mechanical hackamore has been around since the early 1900’s. Relatively modern when compared to the true hackamore of centuries earlier. The mechanical hackamore is more akin to a bit when we compare the two. The mechanical hackamore does not work with the weight or balance of the reins, but with leverage created across the nose from the length of the shanks. It also creates secondary pressure across the jaw with the use of the curb strap, and on the poll. Obviously, the longer the shanks, the more leverage that is felt across the bridge of the horse’s nose.

Mechanical Hackamore with Short Shanks
The mechanical hackamore has huge stopping power and is the choice of many riders who ride horses that, for one reason or another, cannot be bitted i.e. tongue or mouth deformities, etc. It’s also a choice of many riders who feel the mechanical hackamore is a more gentle alternative to riding with a bit.  While it is bitless, it often can be harsh in the wrong hands.

With most issues of bitting and riding, there are pros and cons to each piece of equipment. You can probably sense my trepidation with mechanical hackamores. With that said, I have seen horses ridden in them that look happy and very well-adjusted. But, things like direct reining and intricate training exercises are not translated easily to a young horse with a mechanical hackamore. I’ll leave it at that.

If this topic has interested you, we suggest you read the book Hackamore Reinsman by Ed Connell. His book is one that every horse owner should read at least once and every horseman should refer to time and time again when they want to go back to the basics. Or just learn a little bit about the history of Western Riding and the more traditional methods of bridle horse training. And, if you’re ever on the game show Jeopardy, you’re sure to answer the Spanish translation category correctly, too!

One of our favorite Ian Tyson songs about the Bridle Horse and the Vaquero Tradition.  Hope you enjoy it as much as we do.