Choosing headgear for your horse can be an overwhelming task. There are so many options that it can make your head spin. Should you use a traditional hackamore, a snaffle bit, a shank bit, a mechanical hackamore, or a sidepull? If you ask 100 different people, you may get 100 different opinions about what works best.

If you want the nitty gritty, I made a comprehensive video where I break it all down.

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It Doesn’t Have To Be Complicated

The truth is, what you use on your horse’s face is not near as important as HOW you use that piece of equipment. With that said, we’ve still got a choice to make.

A hackamore and snaffle bit both have a 1:1 ratio

This means that if you pull with one pound, the horse feels one pound of pressure. The length and configuration of a shank bit increases that ratio so if you apply one pound of pressure, the horse may be feeling 5 pounds or more. So, until your horse is already light and responsive and is ready for some refinement, a shank bit may not be the best option. 

If you have to depend on a leverage bit for the response, it means there are training issues that need to be resolved. It means that your horse’s education is lacking some key elements and using a harsh bit as a crutch or band-aid will not solve the root of the problem. So, it will only continue to cause more problems down a long, frustrating road. I’d recommend a 1:1 ratio traditional hackamore or snaffle bit.

In a nutshell…

If your horse can’t be ridden in a hackamore, snaffle or halter, then you shouldn’t use a leverage bit (shank or mechanical hackamore). Why? Because he doesn’t actually know what to do. You’re just putting him in an impossible situation and forcing him to comply.

I am a huge fan of traditional hackamores

There’s a lot of confusion out there about this terminology. To clarify, a bosal is the nose band that goes around the horse’s poll. Attached to it is the leather hanger that goes around the horse’s ears. Once you tie on the mecate reins, it becomes a hackamore.

In my experience, hackamores are less distracting to a horse than having a bit in his mouth. So, after the first few rides in a rope halter, I start all my colts in a hackamore. But, even if your horse is not a colt, and you have been riding him for years, a hackamore could still be a real asset. To be clear, I am not talking about a mechanical hackamore. In my opinion, that is never a good choice because of its severity and limitations.

A snaffle bit can also be a great tool.

It is a 1:1 ratio bit and successfully used to build some nice horses. The main difference I have found is that in a snaffle bit, the horse is thinking more about the coming pressure. In a hackamore, they are thinking more about the coming release.  

So, I find that a hackamore is less distracting to their learning process. If a horse is light and responsive in a hackamore, you can pretty much know that they actually understand, more so than a snaffle bit. A snaffle bit gives you the opportunity to apply a little more force while a hackamore requires the rider to operate more off a feel, which is the ultimate goal.

In conclusion…

I encourage you to try using a hackamore on your horse. Invest in a quality bosal and mecate. There is a lot of information out there that makes it seem like using one is some mystic art. But it is actually a very basic and simple piece of equipment that you and your horse will both learn to love.

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Hackamore Vs. Bit | What Size Hackamore Do I Need?

Where to get a quality hackamore

I’d recommend a ⅝” rawhide core 16 plait bosal paired with a 22 ft. mane hair mecate. These items can be difficult to find if you don’t live in certain parts of the United States.

Fortunately, there are a few online stores I’ve found that generally carry these items. I’ve included a list of them below:

Making Sure Your Hackamore Fits Your Horse

Carson James
Carson James

Carson James' background is in Vaquero Horsemanship, and for the majority of his career, he worked on cattle ranches where he rode horses all day, every day. His knowledge comes from real life experience using traditional Buckaroo horsemanship to train horses and fix problems. He is now taking all of this knowledge and experience and sharing it with horse owners through his blog, his Insider list, and his Buckaroo Crew. He has a unique way of breaking things down where they're easy to understand, both for the horse and the human.