How to Use a Hackamore

By Abigail Boatwright

The bosal (a rawhide nosepiece) combined with a mecate (or rope) together make a hackamore.  The hackamore is one of the most enduring pieces of West Coast vaquero equipment and is one of the pillars of reined cow horse training equipment, but it’s useful for much more. However, the hackamore, or bosal, needs to be introduced carefully and used with discretion, or this important training piece can render less-than-desirable results.

Reined cow horse and reining trainers Steve and Carol Metcalf of Pilot Point, Texas, are collectors of hackamores and bosals. Learn how to choose, introduce and use the hackamore with their help.

Bosal Background

Bitless bridles have been used by horsemen for thousands for years. Spanish vaqueros brought the rawhide noseband to California, where it has evolved and continued to be an important part of western horse training – particularly for reined cow horses and reining horses.

Uses for the Hackamore

“I believe that the hackamore has made me a better horseman,” says Steve, who is also an AQHA Professional Horseman. “It’s made my horses better. I believe in this process.”

  • Horses that hide from the bridle or get stiff in the front end.
  • A horse that has an injured mouth.
  • A horse that needs help with stopping.

Choosing a Bosal

The Metcalfs provide their insight when choosing a bosal for your horse:

  • A medium soft hackamore 5/8-inch in diameter to start.
  • Good quality, without a cable through the nose-piece.
  • Not too stiff, or you’ll sore the horse up.
  • Not too flimsy or big, or it won’t be effective.

Proper Fit

Some riders prefer their hackamore to be loose and low, while others want it to fit more snugly.

  • One or two wraps of the mecate on the bosal bulb should provide proper fit.
  • A bosal too low could be agitating.
  • A bosal too high could hit the horse’s jaw.
  • A bosal too tight lays constant pressure and renders ineffective for training.

Introducing the Hackamore

The Metcalfs stress the importance of properly introducing the horse to a bosal before jumping into heavy training with it. The horse needs to learn to give its nose in response to your cue on the reins.

  • Take your time. Don’t try to steer or force the horse into the hackamore. Rushing the process could cause your horse to run through it.
  • Begin with a “rag” – a hackamore with a rawhide nose on top and a cotton rope around the jaw.
  • Go from the ground up. Establish suppleness in both directions on the ground first.
  • Cover the basics from the saddle. Introducing the hackamore while in the saddle is similar to introducing a snaffle or a bit: walking circles and pulling the nose left and right.


“The tough part is a hackamore does require some instruction, and some feel, and if you are green and don’t have the proper information, you can create more problems than you can help,” Steve says. “Seek out an AQHA Professional Horseman who has worked with a hackamore for help, or you are going to do more damage than good.”