Hackamore- What, When and How?

In stereotypical Thoroughbred fashion, Oz gets bored with bits fairly quickly. As we’re focusing on different aspects of our training, I like to switch bits to help facilitate our training. It’s kind of like switching between running and walking shoes depending on what you’re training your muscles to do. I decided to share my research into hackamores in case anyone else is considering the switch!

What is a Hackamore?

A hackamore is simply a nose piece used to control the horse, rather than the traditional metal bit going through the horse’s mouth. Some call it a “hackamore bit”, but I’m going to reserve this term for the combination hackamore bit. Generally they work by applying pressure to the horses nose, and poll. There are several different kinds, with different purposes—just like any other type of bit.

English Hackamore: Flat nose piece, with a short shank and curb chain.

what is a hackamore english This hackamore is common for training purposes and is a great starter hackamore (it’s the one I use). It’s soft on the horses face, and can even come with sheepskin padding or without.
Pros: Cheap, Soft, Good for moderately strong horses – Snail paced
Cons: Can be hard to clean (sheepskin), curb & shank can be too much for some horses


german hackamore englishGerman Hackamore: The german hackamore has longer shanks and, although fairly straightforward, has a bit more “breaking power”.
Pros: Great take-and-give action for hot horses, soft steering
Cons: Need super-soft hands (not for amateurs), can be a bit heavy for sensitive horses, decreased lateral steering


sheepskinCompetition/Lambskin Noseband Hackamore:
This hackamore is similar to the German, with the longer shanks—this time curved for added steering & control. It doesn’t have to have the sheepskin nose piece, but sometimes acts as a shadow roll for spookier horses.
Pros: Sheepskin wicks away moisture & focuses attention, lots of woah, and good steering
Cons: Can be too much “woah” for sensitive horses, decreased lateral steering

english hackamore nosebandHackamore Noseband: More of a side-pull, a step up from riding in a halter
Pros: Easy to clean, very soft, easy to transition from bit, great starter hackamore for trained horses
Cons: Not much in terms of breaks, no leverage– horse can get heavy in it


combination hackamore bitCombination- Hackmore Bit: Just like it sounds, a combination of a bit and a hackamore. Get the benefits of the hackamore, with the backup of a bit! (Note: There are a lot of happy-mouth combination hackamore bits… I prefer the all metal, as they’re less likely to break in the horses mouth).
Pros: Great for horses that stiffen to bit pressure, Nose & Poll pressure for quick power-breaks
Cons: Can be harsh if used incorrectly, bit can cause rubs (bit guards recommended)
(Note: There’s many kinds and combinations of hackamores. These are just the common English ones)


When should I use an English hackamore?

I’ve focused primarily on Dressage all winter, focusing on the elasticity of Oz’s frame and working from the hind end. With show season creeping up, I’d like to start incorporating this work into our jumping flat work and encourage a little more self carriage. Oz has also suffered from ulcers/canker sores in his mouth which we (vet) think is the reason he sticks his tongue out the side of his mouth with a bit in his mouth.

Other reasons to use a hackamore:

  • Dental issues, Mouth or Tongue injury (teeth just floated, gum or tongue sores, etc.)
  • Horse stiffens to bit pressure
  • You live in Canada and don’t want to put a freezing cold bit in your horse’s mouth
  • You don’t have to wash your bit! (Just kidding, wipe it off after you ride. It’s good horsemanship)


When NOT to use a hackamore:

  • You’re only using it because you think its gentler than a bit (It’s not. The nose is just as, if not more sensitive than the mouth, and both bits and hackamores put pressure on the poll. Your bit is only as strong or light as your hands!)
  • Your horse is green and inexperienced (I’m not saying NEVER use one on a green horse, you’ll just have to train the horse to the different pressure points and if you’re not an experienced rider, or trainer, you should leave this task to someone who is or work closely with a coach)
  • You haven’t yet developed a steady hand


How to use a hackamore:

Just like when your horse was trained to wear a bridle with a bit, your horse will have to learn and become accustomed to a hackamore. Some horses transition fairly naturally to the hackamore, and some will require a little time, and training. Here are some tips from someone who recently transitioned:

1. Start on the ground. Turn your horse in both directions and do a couple transitions from walk to halt in hand.
2. When mounted, start on a circle. This will help prevent your horse getting locked into pressure on both reins at once. Depending on the type of hackamore, you’ll have to figure out the amount of leverage you need on each rein. Once you do, your horse will become supple and find their “Happy Place”
3. Do a million or so transitions from walk to halt, halt to walk, rein back, and transitions within the walk. Rome was not built in a day! Your horse needs to learn this new “language”.
4. Follow your horses head with your hands. You can go 10 steps backwards in your training very quickly by being too rough with your hands. Your horse has to learn they’re free to go forward.
5. Make sure your hackamore has the right fit! Often times I see the hackamore too far down on they horses face. It should be near the same position a noseband would be. Too far down and you could be putting pressure on the very sensitive segment of the nose that is more prone to injury, or even fracture from too much pressure
6. Don’t give up! You don’t have to ride in the hackamore every day. Try transitioning it in slowly. I’ve started doing 3 dressage rides in a snaffle, 2 flat/hack rides in the hackamore, and 1 jumping day per week. I usually do 1 “fun day” in the hackamore as well, but we’re not working.

I hope this helps anyone considering a hackamore! There’s plenty of different kinds, just like regular bits. It’s up to you and your trainer/coach to decide what’s best, and when to use it. Right now I’m sticking to flat work with mine and may never jump in it, but that’s up to Oz 🙂



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