The Hackamore: A Dying Art

by Sheri Forrest

The hackamore. It's no gimmick or shortcut, and it certainly isn't for the hasty or impatient horseman. For some who have taken the time to master its language, this fabled piece of tack has helped produce many extraordinary equine athletes and legendary training programs.

More than just another piece of equipment, the hackamore, a bridle that relies on nose pressure instead of a bit, represents a certain consciousness in horse training-one that many argue is in danger of extinction. In today’s performance horse world, fewer and fewer individuals incorporate the hackamore into their training programs. The mega-futurity and derby purses have driven the industry to push young horses faster and harder, leaving little room for time-intensive training tools. Faster has become better and the hackamore accompanies no quick method.

Consequently, we are faced with an emerging generation of trainers who have never been educated in the art of the hackamore, and a coalition of old-school trainers who question if the younger generation even understands the need.

Once upon a time, it was common knowledge that it took six or seven years to properly mold and finish a top-notch performance horse. A fine prospect was allowed-nay, encouraged-to evolve at his own pace. He was started in a snaffle bit, put into the hackamore, then, eventually, the two-rein. Finally, he was ridden straight up in the bridle with a traditional bit. It took time.

And taking time equates to approaching the task of training in distinct stages. Putting a horse into the hackamore is not only one of these stages, but according to masters of the skill such as Bobby Ingersoll, who trains in Reno, Nevada, it is the most essential.

“I was taught to ride in the Spanish style of training,” says Ingersoll. “It emphasizes using certain equipment depending on a horse’s age and his level of maturity. In order to properly put a horse into a bit, you need to go through very specific steps, and the hackamore is, perhaps, the most important one. It’s during hackamore training that a horse learns to be consistent with his balance and feel.

“I put my horses into the hackamore when they have gotten as good as they can be in a snaffle bit. If one isn’t responsive in the snaffle, I won’t move on to the hackamore. A good foundation in the snaffle eliminates a lot of the natural brace in a horse’s neck and poll areas.”

The hackamore also serves another very important purpose. It preserves a horse’s mouth.

“People don’t realize that the most sensitive part of a horse is the bars of his mouth, where the bit lies,” stresses Ingersoll. “People overlook this because they can’t see it. Once you callous or hurt the bars of a horse’s mouth, his mouth becomes hard. The whole key to training is to preserve the mouth, and the hackamore helps to do this.”

Like Ingersoll, Benny Guitron is a National Reined Cow Horse Association judge, and is also considered one of the most fluent individuals in the hackamore method of training. He studied under his father, Felix Guitron, and other such masters of the stock horse trade including Don Dodge and Tony Amaral. Benny, who lives in Merced, California, also subscribes to the belief that the hackamore stage is one that can’t be overlooked. He says the popularity of the two-rein competition serves to make it even more crucial.


Reprinted with permission from Performance Horse.