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Working in the Bosal

How do I get my horse to give to the bosal (hackamore) and come on the bit as he would with a snaffle?

By Dale Rudin

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Q. I would like to know more about working my horse in a hackamore (bosal). I was wondering if you could give me some information on proper use of it when riding. How do I get my horse to give to it and come on the bit as he would with a snaffle?
 
A. A hackamore is used to transition a horse from the snaffle to the bridle, which is another way of saying the curb bit. The snaffle allows the rider to support a young or uneducated horse while he’s learning how to carry himself. When the horse is “on the bit” during the early stages of training, he is depending on the rider’s gentle yet effective guidance while he’s building his confidence and strength.

Training then progresses by developing total body control and proper balance, the building blocks of self-carriage—the horse’s ability to maintain a stable and correct frame on his own. Ultimately the horse becomes less reliant on the rider’s hands for support. Once the horse becomes less dependent on the rider’s hands in the snaffle, the hackamore can be introduced. Also known as the bosal, this piece of equipment encourages the horse to work without supportive rein contact. Unlike the snaffle, your horse won’t be “on the bit.” In fact, you’re looking for the opposite effect. You want your horse to carry himself in balance without leaning against the bosal at all.

Because of the bosal’s design, you cannot use steady or even contact. Its width and weight creates the potential for a horse to become heavy and numb if the rider takes a solid hold or uses a steady pull on the reins. Instead, a rhythmic bumping motion rocks the bosal across the horse’s nose so that there isn’t anything fixed for him to brace against.

Like the snaffle, the reins of the mecate are held in two hands. The mecate is a single long rope that is tied to create a loop of rein at one side of the bosal and a lead line at the other. You’ll almost exclusively use a direct rein. Hold your hands as wide as your hips and even with or slightly in front of the saddle horn. Lateral control of your horse’s face, neck and shoulders will be achieved by extending your arms away from his midline and tugging outward in a steady rhythm.

Once he understands the lateral cues, you can ask your horse for collection. You’ll use an alternate left-right motion on the reins to rock the bosal side-to-side and slightly rearward by angling your hands toward the outside of your hips. Also remember to keep your hands in front of the saddle and work each rein independently. Anytime you feel your horse lighten his front end and carry himself in balance between the reins, release all the contact to reward his effort. Focus on the basics and your horse will soon be accustomed to the feel and function of this new piece of tack.

Expert: Dale Rudin teaches her "Performance Through Partnership" techniques near her home in Tennessee and offers clinics nationwide. She also authors "Western Lessons" in Young Rider magazine. www.dalerudin.com
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