The term hackamore has become something of a catchall to describe a bridle that does not have a bit. However, if you go into your local tack store and request a hackamore, you may or may not wind up with the piece of equipment you had in mind. Several different styles of hackamore are commonly used today, and they're not interchangeable. You need to choose the one that's right for you as well as for your horse.
The Basic Hackamore
The basic hackamore, sometimes called a sidepull, looks a regular bridle minus the bit. Pressure is applied via a nose band rather than in the mouth. The general principles are the same as with a regular bridle except that you may have a difficult time making your horse pay attention if he is not fairly well trained and responsive. Rope hackamores are similar to basic bridles, except that the entire thing is made out of a rope. Knots are tied in the noseband at strategic locations in order to apply pressure to pressure points to control and steer the horse.
The bosal is a traditional Western bitless bridle that dates back to the old West. It is made of rawhide, rope, leather or a combination of any of the three. The bosal itself is a fairly thick, teardrop-shaped noseband that functions by applying pressure on the horse's nose, chin and face. Bosals are often used on young and green horses. They are gentle but can still deliver enough pressure that even very young horses are able to understand what is being asked of them. Bosals are traditionally used with mecate reins that fasten to the bottom of the bosal and form a large knot underneath the horse's chin.
The Mechanical Hackamore
A mechanical hackamore is made of metal and should be used only by very experienced riders who are mounted on well-trained horses. Mechanical hackamores are very similar to shanked curb bits, except that they apply pressure on the nose instead of in the mouth. The mechanical hackamore significantly amplifies the amount of pressure that you are using. An improperly used mechanical hackamore can severely damage a horse's nose and even break it if too much pressure is applied.
Some Thoughts on Hackamores
A hackamore is only as effective as the rider using it. A hackamore may be a useful tool in fixing problems that are truly being caused by a bit, or if your horse has a medical condition that a bit might aggravate. If your horse does not listen to your cues or you have a difficult time controlling your hands while you ride, the hackamore is unlikely to solve your problems and you will need to improve both your own skill and your horse's training to really address them.
Jen Davis has been writing since 2004. She has served as a newspaper reporter and her freelance articles have appeared in magazines such as "Horses Incorporated," "The Paisley Pony" and "Alabama Living." Davis earned her Bachelor of Arts in communication with a concentration in journalism from Berry College in Rome, Ga.