Sunday, October 26, 2014

Hackamore Aiden

It's a little hard to believe, but we've had Aiden for seven months now. In that time, he's transitioned from a scrawny, shaggy, wormy creature who would sooner walk over the top of you than listen to you, into a sweet, plump, soft guy who is respectful and quiet in most circumstances.

Not skinny anymore, but still intent on gaining weight.

Because of the way the number and type of horses we had over the summer played out, I've done most of the work with Aiden. Now that Oliver is gone and Brian is busy with Nevada and Laredo, this is going to continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, I'm finding I like Aiden more the more I work with him.

Since Aiden is getting ridden more by K than by me lately, I've been using our rides mostly to just check in with all the basics, polishing up anything that seems a little rusty, and then fiddling around with whatever I happen to be curious about or interested in on any given day. One of the Richard Caldwell videos we watched recently brought me some new awareness and understanding about how important it is to be able to influence and elevate the shoulder. With Steen, working on this has helped us have better balance in turns and better canter departures. So I've been playing on building that up in Aiden as well.

When I rode Aiden last weekend, I was feeling like the snaffle was getting in my way a little. The thing I don't always love about the snaffle is how noisy/sloppy it is. By design, it's got a lot of flex and pivot points, and where it sits in the horse's mouth is going to change depending on the horse's head position, the amount of slack in the reins, what the horse is doing with his mouth/tongue, etc..

Beyond that, more and more, I'm just increasingly attracted to the traditional Vaquero philosophy of training a horse via signal rather than direct pressure. There is a bit of a debate in the tiny sliver of the horse world we align and identify with on whether horses should be started in snaffles or hackamores and which method is superior in what ways. For a long time, I felt I didn't know enough to really have much of an opinion beyond repeating what I've heard said by horsemen I admire. While in reality, both the snaffle and the hackamore are just tools that can be used or abused in the hands of any horseman, lately both Brian and I seem to be gravitating towards a preference for the hackamore. Brian is starting Nevada in the hackamore, with no plans to introduce a snaffle anytime soon.

So, yesterday I decided to ride in a hackamore instead. Since Aiden is essentially new to the traditional hackamore, I used a 5/8" rawhide bosal with a 5/8" mane hair mecate tied on.

Aiden's worst habit under saddle is a tendency to get a little heavy on the forehand. Ride to ride, the extent to which this happens varies, but during my ride last weekend I worked on this a lot. At the start of the ride, he felt like he wasn't getting his haunches underneath him as much as I would have liked. The shoulder lifting exercises I mentioned helped, and by the end, we'd more or less worked through it. But yesterday, in the hackamore, we started out balanced from the get-go. Of course it's impossible to say whether or not the headgear had much to do with it (it's not like Aiden was heavy on the forehand every single ride until then) but one neat thing about the hackamore is the way the the knot hangs below the chin encourages the horse to find the point at which the noseband balances properly. A good bosal and hanger have been designed to help the horse find a balance point that encourages proper movement.

In addition to feeling like his balance was better, Aiden and I just had a particularly fabulous ride. We had some our best canter departures ever, and I worked for the first time on jumping him straight out of backing into the canter. I got all his leads every time, (we had a phase right after I took him back over from Brian when he wasn't wanting to give me the left lead). He was considerably softer to the hackamore than he generally is to the bit, and I felt he was moving off my legs with more life as well.

While I was trotting figure eights with essentially no input from the reins, it occurred to me that I can now get more done with Aiden than any other horse I've ever ridden (including Laredo) other than, of course, Steen. Now that Aiden is a healthy weight and his back has gained strength, he's a really balanced, robust horse with good movement and a really nice attitude. At times, I actually 'forget' from moment to moment that he's not Steen, and when that happens I find we get even further. It's amazing how subconscious expectations can hold you back.

Of course, there are other moments as well  moments when I shift my weight in a way that Steen would understand and Aiden doesn't pick up on the cue at all. But that's happening less and less.

We probably won't keep Aiden long term. But in different circumstances, I think he could have been a horse I could happily have invested a whole lot of time in.

Horseback Hours YTD: 204:35


  1. I'd argue it was less that he wanted to give you the left lead and more that he didn't understand what you were asking for. I'm of the mindset that the horse would always do what we ask, when we ask, if they understood what we're asking for. I think you are too, but words mean things, and the connotation in our mind can create problems for our horses that don't really exist.

  2. I'm still kinda blown away by how much different Aiden looks. I realize you're probably long past that now, but you see him all the time and I only see him when you post pictures. And it's pretty awesome he's developed into such a great horse.

    1. Actually, I'm not past that at all. Practically every day I'm like, "Woh, Aiden. You look so different/good." I just can't get over it. :)

  3. Random hackamore question. I notice you guys use just the bosal and a single loop hanger around the horse's head. I've seen some people use bosals with more "complete" bridles, browbands and a piece that goes from the knot on the bosal under the jaw, the spits and goes up over the poll. Are there different reasons for these different setups?

    (Probably not going to try using an actual bosal in the near future, but something I kinda want to experiment with eventually.)

    1. Yay for random hackamore questions. And now for my excessively detailed response:

      Basically there are three kinds of hackamores. Mechanical hackamores (which aren't really hackamores at all because they use leverage), traditional hackamores (like we use) and show hackamores.

      Show hackamores seem to be a relatively new phenomenon. I don't actually know a ton about them, but on certain show circuits and events, the rules allows use of a bosal instead of a bit. Because of this, there are now all sorts of embellished hackamore setups available. These will sometimes have things like browbands, ear loops, throat latches, etc., all there, as far as I can tell, just to be pretty.

      The problem with that kind of hackamore has to do with balance. If you're using a hackamore properly, the most important thing about it is the way it sends subtle signals to the horse. When you use only a hackamore hanger (as the thin strip of leather we use is called), there is a natural balance point where the horse will find the hackamore is most comfortable. This point is a combination of the weight of the knot below the chin, the weight of the bosal itself, and the angle of the hanger.

      If a hackamore fits a horse properly, that balance point, the place of comfort, is where the horse's head should naturally be held for the most proper movement. When you pick up on the reins, the knot below the horse's chin will lift, and this will shift the balance of the bosal on the nose before you ever take the slack all the way out of the reins. The bosal can pivot freely and evenly.

      When you add an ear loop or a throat latch or any other embellishments to the hanger, what you do is interfere with that balance point. A throat latch can pull the hanger out of position. An ear loop can cause one side of the bosal to lift differently from the other. Any strip of leather that connects to another strip of leather will cause a little stress point. Basically, you don't want that. You want a straight, unkinked, unbroken line from the top of the poll down to bosal, ideally passing just below the horse's eye.

      I suppose a perfect balance point is arguably a subtle thing to lose. Most of the people who seem to ride in the types of shows that use the embellished gear aren't really using the hackamore the way it was traditionally meant to be used anyway, so I suppose it's fine for them. However, you'll certainly never see an accomplished vaquero horsemanship practitioner use anything but a plain hanger. :)

      One other kind of hanger you will sometimes see in the vaquero world is one that is a single leather string that ties into the horse's forelock, goes straight down the nose, and attaches to the bosal at its center. These are most often used on finished bridle horses, where the bosalita is mainly there for decorative purposes.

      If you do ever decide to pick up a bosal, let me know if you want some suggestions on where to get good gear. Quality and proper fit are pretty important with the hackamore, particularly for more sensitive horses. My first bosal didn't actually fit Steen very well, and that held us back for a long time.

    2. OK, the balance point thing is what I was thinking it was about, but wasn't sure. And yes, I will totally ask for suggestions if/when I decide to try a bosal. I did some research on them when I was first looking for bitless options for Tranikla, and the main thing I learned is that you really need to know what you're doing for them to work the way they're supposed too. (And that good ones are easily over $100, and I didn't want to invest that much for something that may or may not work for me.)


    3. Yeah, they're not a super forgiving when it comes to making mistakes. And bad ones aren't worth using, but good ones are expensive. It's worth it if you're going to keep it forever (because they really will last an awfully long time) but maybe not if you're not sure it will work for you.


The Archives


Popular Posts