Garrick Pasini of 'West Coast Traditions', talks about the tradition of the hackamore on the west coast of California, USA. Garrick will take you on a short trip through the history of the hackamore as it arrived in California. Learn how it's made, and some of the basics of using it as a tool for your horse.

As you read this, I am probably hidden away in my workshop braiding another hackamore. The tradition of rawhide braiding dates back to the beginning of man, and the tradition of braiding the hackamore goes back as far as the late 1400s, starting with the Moors of Iberia. The Spanish adopted the art during the Spanish war with the Moors and then took their skills and tools with them as they travelled to the new world. Here in California, the art of braiding and the hackamore arrived in 1769 when Father Serra and the Spanish army were taking part in the Catholic Crusades. With ebbs and flow in popularity, it is still in use today.

In recent years the hackamore has made a big comeback in California, after almost disappearing during the 1970s and 80s. Once again it's proving itself a great tool for horse development in any discipline. I have used it to start western horses, but I have also used it during colt start contracts, on horses that were bred to go on to careers in jumping and dressage. One of the beautiful aspects of the hackamore is that it does not favour particular breeds or disciplines; it simply works.

So what is the traditional hackamore?

The name "hackamore" refers to the combination of its three component parts. The first part is the bosal, the second is the hanger or headstall, and the last is the mecate or hair rope.

The bosal is a length of braided hair that is looped to make an oval shape, and then secured at the bottom. The shape resembles a horse's muzzle and should fit ever so lightly around the muzzle, much like a hat on your head. The size of the bosal changes throughout the training process, gradually decreasing in size as training progresses. The bosal size refers to the diameter of the cheekpiece or body. Most traditional trainers start with a diameter of five-eighths of an inch and will drop to three-eighths of an inch as the training process continues. The bosal itself has its own anatomy; the core, body, nose button and heel knot. All of these parts are in contact with the horse's face and all have different designs and measurements, depending on the horse it's made for.

The hanger, or what most riders would refer to as a headstall, is traditionally very simple. It is merely a leather strap that wraps around the horse's head and ties on one side to keep the bosal on; there is no browband or ear wrap connected to it. The last part would be the mecate, or rope, in Spanish. The mecate is traditionally made of horse mane hair and should be about the same diameter as the bosal it's placed on; a traditional five-eighths mecate will have a length of 24 feet. The mecate wraps around the bottom of the bosal and becomes a continuous rein and lead rope to the rider. Today, mecates are made from a number of different animal furs, although horse mane hair is still the most traditional and effective.

Riding with the hackamore

Riding a horse with a hackamore is fairly straightforward, although there are a few basic principles to follow for beginners.

The first is to lift your turning hand; if you wish the horse to turn right, try to slightly lift your right hand at a 45-degree angle, as your left-hand stays level with your waist. This difference in hand or rein height cues the horse to turn its head to the direction of lift, and also results in the horse picking up its turning shoulder, to make a correct and balanced turn. Make sure that you, as the rider, also look slightly in the direction of the turn, and more importantly, slightly lift and turn your shoulders in the direction of the turn.

The hackamore is a signalling tool, meaning that it has no leverage on the horse. With no leverage to direct him, the horse needs your body position and rein cues to inform him of your request.

Lastly, make sure you are using your thighs and legs to assist the turn cue. As you put these principles together, you will eventually find a connection with your horse that becomes light and effortless. This is the magic of the hackamore and how it can help a rider become a great horseman or woman, facilitating a fantastic partnership between horse and rider.

My wife, Katie, and I teach workshops on how to ride in the hackamore, and I also use it to start colts. More recently, I have used my experience to add another dimension to our work with hackamores. I now make them for the public, under our new business, West Coast Traditions. Perhaps whilst you read this, I'm making your hackamore!




Garrick lives in northern California with his wife and two daughters. He lives and studies the art of riding in the Californian tradition. Garrick is a farrier, professional trainer and clinician, and who has now added gear making to his portfolio.

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