AskDefine | Define hackamore

Dictionary Definition

hackamore n : rope or canvas headgear for a horse, with a rope for leading [syn: halter]

User Contributed Dictionary



Perhaps from Spanish jáquima ‘halter’.


IPA: /'hækəmɔ:/


  1. a kind of bridle with no bit
    • 1992: Before they could agree or disagree he’d hauled the horse around by the hackamore and was pounding off up the track. — Cormac McCarthy, All The Pretty Horses

Extensive Definition

A hackamore is a type of headgear for a horse which does not have a bit. Instead, it has a special type of noseband that works on pressure points on the horse's face, nose, and chin.
Hackamores are most often seen in western riding and other styles of riding derived from Spanish traditions, endurance riding, and are occasionally seen in some English riding disciplines such as show jumping and the stadium phase of eventing. While usually used to start young horses, they are often seen on mature horses with dental issues that make bit use painful and on horses with mouth or tongue injuries that would be aggravated by a bit. Some riders also like to use them in the winter to avoid putting a frozen metal bit into a horse's mouth.
Like a bit, a hackamore can be gentle or harsh, depending on the hands of the rider. It is a myth that a bit is cruel and a hackamore is gentler. The horse's face is very soft and sensitive with many nerve endings. Misuse of a hackamore can not only cause pain and swelling on the nose and jaw, but improper fitting combined with rough use can cause damage to the cartilage on the horse's nose, or even break the fine bones that protect the nasal passages.


The word "hackamore" is derived from the Spanish word jáquima,, meaning headstall or halter, itself derived from Old Spanish xaquima. The Spanish had obtained the term from the Arabic šakīma, (bit), from šakama (to bridle). From the Americanized pronunciation of jaquima, the spelling "hackamore" entered the written English language by 1850, not long after the Mexican-American War.
The first hackamore was probably a piece of rope placed around the nose or head of a horse not long after domestication, perhaps as early as 4,000 B.C. Early devices for controlling the horse may have been adapted from equipment used to control camels. Over time, more sophisticated means of using nose pressure were developed. The Persians beginning with the reign of Darius, circa 500 BC, were one of the first cultures known to have used a thick-plaited noseband to help the horse look and move in the same direction. where it is still part of the modern mecate rein of the modern bosal-style hackamore. The techniques of horse-training refined by the Persians later influenced the works on horsemanship written by the Greek military commander Xenophon. This heavy noseband itself came to be known by many names, retaining the name hakma in Persio-Arabic tongues, but becoming the cavesson in French, and the bosal in Spainish. From this tradition, the American cowboy adopted the hackamore and two schools of use developed: The "buckaroo" or "California" tradition, most closely resembling that of the original vaqueros, and the "Texas" tradition, which melded some Spanish technique with methods from the eastern states, creating a separate and unique style indigenous to the region. Today, it is the best known of the assorted "bitless bridling" systems of controlling the horse.
The word "hackamore" has been defined many ways, both as a halter and as a type of bitless bridle. However, both terms are primarily descriptive. The traditional jaquima hackamore is made up of a headstall, bosal and mecate tied into looped reins and a lead rope.

Types of Hackamores

Today, hackamores can be made of leather, rawhide, rope, cable or various plastics, sometimes in conjunction with metal parts. There are three main types: the bosal, the sidepull, and other assorted designs, often classed as "bitless bridles."


The bosal (, or sometimes ; Spanish: ) is the noseband element of the classic jaquima or true hackamore, and is seen primarily in in western-style riding. It is derived from the Spanish tradition of the vaquero. The fiador keeps a heavy bosal properly balanced on the horse's head without rubbing or putting excess pressure on the nose. However, it also limits the action of the bosal, and thus is removed once the horse is comfortable under saddle. The terms mecate and fiador have at times been Americanized as "McCarty" or "McCarthy" and "Theodore," but such usage is considered incorrect by hackamore reinsmen of the American West. Because of its long, metal shanks and a curb chain that runs under the jaw, it works similarly to a curb bit and has a similarly high risk of abusive use in the hands of a rough rider. While the bosal hackamore is legal in many types of western competition at horse shows, the mechanical hackamore is not allowed; its use is primarily confined to pleasure riding, trail riding, rodeos and other types of competition.

Other equipment

Like the mechanical hackamore, the various modern headstall designs known as "bitless bridles" are also not a true hackamore, even though they lack a bit. These devices use various assortments of straps around the nose to apply pressure by tightening the noseband in particular areas. They are not as subtle as a bosal, but serve many of the same purposes as a sidepull and are generally milder than most mechanical hackamores. Some people also ride horses with a halter. A closely-fitted halter with two reins attached may act in a manner similar to a sidepull. However, use of a halter as headgear to control a horse is, as a rule, a dangerous practice because a halter has no way of increasing leverage to exert control by the rider if a horse panics.



  • Bennett, Deb (1998) Conquerors: The Roots of New World Horsemanship. Amigo Publications Inc; 1st edition. ISBN 0-9658533-0-6
  • Connell, Ed (1952) Hackamore Reinsman. The Longhorn Press, Cisco, Texas. Fifth Printing, August, 1958.
  • Miller, Robert M. and Rick Lamb. (2005) Revolution in Horsemanship Lyons Press ISBN 1-59228-387-X
  • Miller, Robert W. (1974) Horse Behavior and Training. Big Sky Books, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT
  • Rollins, Philip A. (1922) The Cowboy: His Character, Equipment and His Part in the Development of the West, C. Scribner's sons, 353 pages.
  • Williamson, Charles O. (1973) Breaking and Training the Stock Horse. Caxton Printers, Ltd., 6th edition (1st Ed., 1950). ISBN 9600144-1-1
hackamore in Danish: Grime (hovedtøj)
hackamore in German: Gebisslose Zäumungen#Kalifornische/manuelle/klassische_Hackamore_.28Bosal.29
hackamore in Spanish: Bozal
hackamore in Sicilian: Mussagghiu
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