Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Hackamore

The true hackamore, or bosal, evolved from vaquero horsemanship traditions.  It is a plaited rawhide noseband that fits around the bridge of a horse's nose, and is attached on each side to a headstall.   A solid knot of braided rawhide at the base is wrapped with mecate reins, traditionally made with horsehair.
It is usually one of the first pieces of headgear a trainer uses to start colts, as well as used in the transition phase between the snaffle and spade bit.
You cannot achieve suppleness, balance and flexibility in the bridle with a snaffle the way you can in a hackamore.   In a snaffle, you pull directly on the horse's mouth, drawing his head to his chest and causing him to yield to the pressure at his withers rather than the poll, which places more weight on his forehand.
The hackamore, on the other hand, applies pressure to the sensitive areas on the horse's nose, cheeks, and chin.  The horse seeks relief by flexing at the poll and moving into the pull, which promotes balance and preserves a young horse's sensitive mouth.
During hackamore training, a horse learns consistency in balance and feel, making this training stage crucial in a horse's foundation.   The type of hackamore depends on the horse's face structure, but 5/8 is a standard diameter to start with.  As for length, a 10 1/2 to 11 inch fits most horses.
When using a hackamore to start a young horse, you must start teaching him to give in to pressure at a standstill.  When you can get your horse to move its face in any direction without resistance, you have achieved lightness in the hackamore.
Horsemen have their own preferences when it comes to hackamore adjustment. Some place it higher on the horse's nose.  The reason for this is that when the reins are picked up and the horse begins to break at the poll, the hackamore will go into proper position. If the noseband is adjusted too high, the hackamore is not effective, thus the horse will never feel the pressure release and will develop resistance.  If the noseband is too low, it will cut off the horse's wind and damage cartilage.
Once the hackamore is adjusted properly, stand beside the horse and apply neck rein pressure.  Starting from the ground makes the horse understand the cue easier, then graduate into the saddle as he becomes more supple.   This technique differs from the old vaqueros starting out rank horses in a hackamore.  They would supple a horse from the back of another.  To a novice, a horse's response to the hackamore could be misleading.  If the horse responds to light pressure, it does not mean it's naturally light.  Some people ride with just their fingertips, thinking they are being light.   Make your horse aware of what's being asked and you want to get a response in achieving a high degree of feel.  You should be able to move the horse's face without any restrictions.  If you are able to do this while in the saddle, you have achieved lightness.
When the time for transition comes to move into a bridle, it mostly depends on the horse.  Each horse is unique, and some learn faster than others.  There is no set time or method in making a hackamore or bridle horse.  Do take into account what is comfortable for your horse at that particular time in its training.  It might take years for a horse to progress into a bridle.  Ultimately, there are no shortcuts when training a horse into a finely tuned team member that responds lightly to your pressure.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Sanctuary.  Its meaning stems back to biblical times.  A sanctuary has various meanings from being a designated holy place to a refuge for humans as well as animals.  For some, this comes as a need to want to offer help, be it monetary, or an offering of physical labor.   Finding a reputable sanctuary or rescue takes a bit of homework to ensure your donation has been used for the care of those animals in need.  Why a horse sanctuary?  According to Montana Horse Sanctuary, they believe in "positive options for both horses and handlers" by providing a safe sanctuary for horses in need, whether displaced from a loving home or turned over to law enforcement because of abuse or neglect.
     Recently, a rescue in Townsend, Montana was raided and over 25 horses were rescued by authorities.  The owners of Rocky Acres Horse Rescue and Sanctuary have been arrested and charged with 35 counts of animal cruelty. Monies that have been donated to this sanctuary were never used to care for these animals.  The sheriff's department of Broadwater County, Montana has requested help from Montana Horse Sanctuary in collecting donations from the public for the care of the seized animals from Rocky Acres Horse Rescue and Sanctuary.
     This is, however, not the norm for rescues.  A rescue itself is a wonderful concept. There are many, many rescues out there doing wonderful work. The good, far outnumber the bad. But, our advice is to look into it before you spend your hard earned money on it. Check with the local businesses and the Better Business Bureau, as well as the local authorities of the rescue/sanctuary you would like to donate.  There are many reputable charities out on the web, and with some researching and a few phone calls, you should be able to find out the reputation of that business.  Word of mouth is the best way, and not just the web.  Trust your instinct, and those that you speak with.  Doing your homework will save you money as well as heartache for the loss of an animal in someone's care who does not care!
  You can help those horses that were seized during the March 12th raid of Rocky Acres Horse Rescue and Sanctuary by contacting Board President Jane Heath at  info@montanahorsesanctuary.org.  
                                                   Montana Horse Sanctuary

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Horse Sense vs. Nonsense

No horse is a pleasure unless he is safe and is ridden safely.  Most accidents that occur happen with gentle horses.  And nearly all have been the fault of the human, not the horse.  
A few examples:
-A woman visiting a 4-H club pasture walked up, unannounced, behind a horse that was eating.  Lots of horses will kick when they are eating.  She suffered a broken jaw and ended up with eight false teeth.  
-A neighbor walked into a closed trailer, leading his horse right behind.  The horse jumped in      ( a well trained horse) and crushed the man, breaking his nose.
-Two girls racing their horses outside an arena during a horse show ran into another rider, killed the horse, and broke the rider's leg.
-A man walked up behind his young horse and swatted him on the rump without alerting the animal.  This was a professional trainer who knew better, but he had been talking with a friend and forgot.   The end result: a smashed face.

Here are some DO'S and DON'TS that will help you have fun with horses-SAFELY:

DO approach a horse from his left, saddle from his left and mount from his left.  This is a tradition that dates back to the knights who carried big swords on the left side and found it easier to throw their right leg over the saddle. 

DON'T walk up behind a horse unannounced.  Let him know you are approaching by speaking to him and placing your hand on him.  Horses can't see immediately behind them and instinctively kick to protect their blind spot.

DO keep your hands calm and your voice quiet.  Shouting or beating an excited horse will only make matters worse.

DON'T wrap the lead rope or reins around your hand, wrist or body. The gentlest horse will sometimes spook.

DO walk beside your horse when leading him-not in front of him- and grasp the lead rope near the halter or the reins near the bit.

DON'T tie your horse with the bridle reins. Use a strong halter and lead rope to tie him high and close to a post, tree, or similar object.

DO slow to a walk when riding on pavement, bridges, ice or anywhere you are not sure of the footing.

DON'T mount your horse in a barn or near fences.  It's a good way to get your head cracked or your leg cut.  

DO check your girth, cinch straps, curb chain and reins to make sure they are in good condition.

DON'T tease your horse or let him nibble on you.  A nibbling horse occasionally bites.

DO keep your head clear when bridling a horse.  He may throw his head to avoid the bit and hit you.