The hackamore is a product of Vaquero Horsemanship. It was traditionally used in the progression of a horse’s training prior to introducing a bit. However, in today’s Western Pleasure world, most trainers prefer to start horses in a snaffle and then move to the hackamore in preparation for competition. Showing two- and three-year-olds in a hackamore is more of a tribute to the past than a necessity, yet many trainers find it has a valuable place in their training regime.
To understand why hackamores are used, it’s important to grasp the physics at play. Hackamores work by applying pressure and release to the sensitive parts of the horse’s nose, the sides of the face, and the underside of the jaw through a subtle side-to-side rocking motion. There can be direct pressure on the nose and chin caused by an even pull on both reins. There is also lateral pressure being applied to the nose by the direct rein. A third pressure comes from the bearing rein against the neck. In the right combination, the pressure, or more importantly the release of pressure, can create lightness and ideal body carriage.
Trainer Tate Oakley is a self-proclaimed hackamore nut. “I could go on and on about training, care, maintenance, tying, and every other detail for days,” he laughs. He’s firmly in the camp of introducing the piece of tack later in the training program. “I start all my colts in a side pull, just because I think the signals are a lot clearer to them than a hackamore indicates. If I can get them right in a snaffle, then I can get them right in anything.”
He says it’s a whole different ball game when he hangs the hackamore on a horse. There is a transition period for the horse to understand the different set of cues and pressure points. Some horses take to it very easily. They tend to be the ones that are really broke and ride well off your feet. He explains, “When we start our young horses in a snaffle, they get used to something being in their mouth and pulling on them. Those horses either learn to carry that bridle, or some like to try to take it and get away from it. When you put a hackamore on them, it’s around their nose, so there are no signals coming straight from the mouth. The hackamore is all about the pressure around their nose. A horse learns to ride in a hackamore by the release of that pressure.”