With the vast majority of trainers nowadays implementing the snaffle-to-bridle method, it’s almost forgotten what precedence the hackamore once held in the horse industry. Many people today wonder why they would put their horses in the hackamore at all. However, by design, the snaffle bit enables a horse to become heavy in hand and lay into the bit. Envision a racehorse ““ the desire is that he be bold and get into the jockey’s grip. But in the western horse school of thought, the coveted lightness in a riding horse re- quires that he balance himself, staying off the rider’s hands and never leaning into pres- sure.
Stretch a scarf or bandana across the table. Then take the end of the bandana in your fingers, and pull it toward you ““ this rep- resents the lightness and feel of a properly trained hackamore horse. As your hand closes around the mecate and draws the rein around, your horse follows with no resis- tance ““ only absolute sof tness. This is the feel so revered by the hackamore man and a sof tness that carries into the bridle as the horse progresses in his work. To achieve such willingness without force takes more than an average trainer; it takes a student of the art.
Before the age of futurities, it was common- place for all western horses to be ridden in the hackamore. It made sense to keep a bit out of a young horse’s changing mouth, pre- serving his bars, pallet, and chin groove for the bridle. It was understood in those days that training required time to take effect. Horses weren’t forced through cram courses, with trainers feeling pressured to make hors- es perform by predetermined show dates. Back then a horse simply learned what he learned when he learned it, and his compre- hension and retention were understood to be no more coercible than the weather.
No two horses respond to training at the same pace; some soak up their educations as if they’re sponges while others fight or fail to grasp the concepts for a time. With many gimmicks on the market today to help force horses into submission, patience has taken a backseat in many programs. No matter how many gimmicks might be used, not one is a substitute for a solid training foundation. Just as a house built on muddy slope eventually slides down an embankment, a horse rushed into performance can last only so long. Tak- ing the time the horse needs and showing him consistency in command, consequence, and reward might be a slower process, but in the end makes a better broke horse than does hurrying a horse to perform. The purpose of the hackamore, then, is to set the stage for a bridle, and when done correctly, makes the transition easy.
As you move ahead into the techniques of hackamore training, be mindful of the under- lying theories and embark on each training session with an analytical, yet compassion- ate and empathetic eye.
About the Authors
Benny Guitron is the fifth of Felix Guitron Sr.’s six children. Young Guitron, inspired as a youth by the great horsemen of his day””Jimmy Williams, Harold Farren, Red Neal, Don Dodge and perhaps most significantly, vaquero trainer, Tony Amaral Sr.””became fired by a dream. Determined to achieve his dream, Guitron set out to be like those horsemen and to train horses in ways honorable to tradition.
Al Dunning is credited with 32 world- championship and reserve-championship titles. The knowledge and passion he shares in his clinics, videos, and lessons have molded not only average students, but also some of today’s most successful professional horse trainers.
Dunning’s ability to reach people comes from his love of horses and out of respect to the mentors in his own life.