Preparing Your Horse for the Hackamore and Bridle

Written by Martin Black

This article originally appeared in Eclectic Horseman Issue No.30

The Spanish-type hackamore and bridle are both traditionally designed to operate from feel not force. When they become a forceful tool, the outcome will be reversed from the original intent.

Both the hackamore and bridle put pressure on the outside, the jaw and the neck, which if yielding to pressure, the horse will tip the nose to the outside. When he has learned to follow a feel, the nose will tip in the direction of travel while turning and the horse will stay balanced. When these tools are used forcefully as leverage devices, the leverage of both the hackamore and a neck rein on a bridle will tip the nose to the outside while pulling the neck to the inside. Two things that tell the tale if the horse has been brought along with understanding is first, the poll will be supple, and second, the jaw will be relaxed, not clenched.

In order for a horse to accept the bridle, he cannot be intimidated by it. When a horse is started properly and brought along through the hackamore and two-rein, a lot of time is spent for the horse to learn through experience and not fear. Bits that inflict pain such as tongue relief and that pressure the more sensitive bars of a horse’s mouth cause the horse to raise his head initially, especially with a quick movement from the reins.

A straight bar lying across the horse’s tongue, like the traditional Spanish bits, allows the horse to hold the bit off the bars by flexing the tongue and holding the bit. A roller or cricket encourages the horse to work his tongue by giving him something to play with. He learns to enjoy the sound of a loud cricket, and when we pick the reins up, he can pick up the bit and roll the cricket which helps him to keep his mouth moist and his jaw relaxed.
Young horses that have not had their mouths violated by harsh bits or harsh hands will learn to enjoy and play with the bit. The horse that dreads the movement of quick or heavy hands or more severe bits will not likely, if ever, play with and enjoy the bit.

When we push a horse beyond his confidence level, especially when training him in the hackamore or bridle, to the point of fear and confusion, we must be very careful and back out of that area to minimize the damages. When the horse loses his confidence and we punish him and cause panic or resentment, we may create a situation that could take a multitude of good experiences to offset the one bad experience, and he may never trust that it won’t happen again.

We cannot force a horse to relax. When his self-preservation is engaged they are tense, tight, flighty, and maybe even fighting. He needs to be confident that his safety is not being jeopardized, not just in his work, but free from pain being inflicted on him from quick or heavy hands. Pain and especially quick, unexpected pain or a surprise makes it difficult for the horse to relax.

A very simple test is to take one rein to bring the head laterally. The one eye should look up the rein, while the face remains somewhat vertical, not looking away, and the head should not start toward a horizontal position. When you ask for vertical flexion, he should break in the poll without elevating the head first.

The horse can bend his neck laterally and vertically without bending his poll. Bending the horse’s neck does not mean he is supple in the poll. Flexing should be a test, not an exercise. When the horse has the proper preparation and understanding, there is no reason for his poll not to be supple.

In the training of a hackamore and bridle horse, a supple poll is the trademark of a horse that has learned to accept and operate with these traditional tools the way they were intended.

This article originally appeared in Eclectic Horseman Issue No.30

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