Every horse owner is acquainted with the Halter. Its the basic piece of equipment we use to handle the horse while on the ground. There are several construction types of halters. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Leather Halters are commonly used when presenting a horse at a show. They can be quite fancy, decorated with silver, rawhide and other types of "bling". It isn't very practical to use them for daily use as the leather requires more maintenance than other materials.
The old mainstay is the web halter. they are constructed using wide nylon webbing and metal buckles. They come in a rainbow of colors and because they are usually about an inch wide nameplates can be attached and Logos sewn into them. The down side is the wide webbing isn't desirable for training as it gives the horse a comfortable surface to resist against.
Rope Halters have become the choice of horseman. They have no buckles to break as they are made from a continuous length of line or rope. The disadvantage is they are tied with a simple knot to fit them to the horse and some people are knot challenged and prefer a buckle.
Although most people use a one size fits all approach to rope halters they do come in sizes and can also be adjusted to properly fit each horse.
As a training tool the rope halter is preferred to a web halter because it doesn't provide that comfortable flat surface to pull against. Not that rope halters are harsh, they are simply thinner so when teaching a horse to flex or send it is much less comfortable to pull against allowing the handler to more easily teach the horse that giving to pressure makes them comfortable. It is the release from pressure that teaches the horse NOT a harsh device. We use equipment that is capable of showing the horse when we are applying pressure and we reward the give to pressure by releasing and letting the horse rest. If pain were the motivator we would have harsh wires or spikes as training devices. Unfortunately such things have been used and some still believe pain and fear should be the motivator. These barbaric tactics simply don't work.
The good news is Natural Horsemanship Techniques work. More and more the heavy handed are learning they will be more successful by adopting these kinder methods. These techniques actually allow a horse to learn more and learn faster because time isn't wasted fighting and resisting. The horses learning curve is accelerated through positive reinforcement. The horse learns to seek the right answer. This is bad news for manufacturers of bits, tie downs, cavesons, martingales and many other training aids. We find gimmicks are not needed.
A horse can be taught to be soft and collect in a halter or better in a Bosal also known as a Hackamore from the spanish word Jaquima. Hackamore describes any head gear that uses a nose band as the primary communicator to the horse. This would include any Halter, Sidepull, Bosal or any similar piece of gear. Like bits there are devices that go too far trying to mechanically solve the challenges of horse training and communication. Mechanical Hackamores should never be used!
It is possible to start and train a horse with out a bit. Some feel very strong about not putting a bit in their horses mouth. This is fine but I want to say that the right bit for the horses level of training when used properly is not harsh or cruel. Few truly understand how to apply bits. My article titled Bits and Head Gear discusses bits and their proper use.
What I like about the Vaquero Hackamore is it has the advantages of several pieces of equipment all in one. I use them as my everyday halter but unlike my rope halters I leave it on when I bridle the horse. It has a clean traditional look with the Rawhide Pencil Bosal or Bosalito and thin Yachting Cord. The Rawhide Bosal holds its shape giving an advantage over a rope halter.
Later we will talk about using the two rein for advancing a horse into the spade or shank bit as a finished bridle horse. First let start at the beginning. A young or untrained horse.
When starting horses I like the side pull loops on the sides of the Bosal to attach a set of reins. They give a better angle when teaching a horse to flex. A regular rope halter is usually a bit loose to do flexing using the lead rope only will spin the nose band around the horses face. I recommend loosing the knots on a rope halter and adjusting it so it properly fits each horse. www.vaquerogear.net has instruction for adjusting their Vaquero Hackamore, these instructions can be applied to rope halters.
I actually use a set of reins in the side pull loops when starting horses. But I have also introduced the snaffle bit and have taught the horse to flex in the snaffle and in the Vaquero Hackamore before the first rides.
The first few rides the horse carries the bit but is being guided by the Vaquero Hackamore as a Side Pull. After a few rides I will begin to ride in a two rein setup with the side pull reins as primary and the snaffle as secondary. Over the next rides the horse is transitioned to the snaffle as the primary. Use of seat and leg cues from the first rides is important so the horse learns collection early. The leg cues become the signal part of the cue. Learn more about seat and leg cues by reading my article titled Collection.
It's important to keep your arms in close to your ribs from the beginning. Many of us develop the bad habit of reaching out to the side to aid the horse to flex or bend its neck while riding. If you have to do this go back to flexing and improve correct form. The reason is to teach the horse correct rein input also the rider tends to lean when reaching to the side. This puts horse and rider out of balance.
This is the same technique that we use to transition a horse to a high port or Spade Bit in a few years. It is not necessary to put a horse into a High Port or any Shank Bit. The horse can be trained to an equally high level in a Snaffle Bit or a Bosal.
We teach flexing early as the beginning of showing the horse to give to any pressure. The horse learns to understand that softening to pressure is what we are after. Then we can use the same technique to move all the horses body parts and we develop communication using the horses language. It's body language and expression the horse uses to communicate. Once we speak in the horses language true understanding is accomplished.
After the first rides we begin to teach the horse to guide, stop and back up. We have taught all these things from the ground before riding the horse, now we transition those ground skills to under saddle maneuvers.
Riding in a two rein setup takes a little practice. I use a loop rein attached to the side pull loops of the hackamore and split reins attached to the snaffle bit. This makes balancing the adjustment between the two reins easier. Cross the split reins to form a loop rein adjusting them slightly shorter or longer than the side pull rein and hold both sets of reins in the center. You then can slide your direct rein hand down both. When changing sides move the direct rein hand to grasp all the reins in the center then the other hand becomes the new direct rein hand. Remember a snaffle bit is a one hand at a time device. This is perfect because so is a side pull.
I grasp the shorter rein with my two little fingers. Your little finger can transmit a nice feel. This allows me the ability to slip one rein or the other if I want more or less bit. As you advance the bit will become the primary (shorter) rein. As you take a soft hold the horse is signaled by a light feel then you can relax the grip on the primary rein only and let it slip increasing the pull on the hackamore as enforcement. If seat and leg cues are used the horse will learn to begin the maneuver before you pick up your hands.
Once the horse becomes better trained it will respond to light contact from both right and left reins together but I will still alternate my hands and not pull the snaffle bit with both hands at once.
Use of a Pelum bit with a two rein setup is not the same as a bit and bosalito combination. The pelum used with a direct rein (snaffle) as the primary and the secondary attached to the shank only serves to aid the rider in applying too much pressure if the horse is not responding. The key to two rein training is to not over use the bit and enforce with the hackamore. The horse doesn't learn to fear the bit.
There is much debate about bits of various type or even if they should be used at all. Once the horseman understands the intent choosing the proper communication method becomes easy. There is the key, what we seek is communication, not forced control.
The training process is simple. We use a three part cue 1. signal 2. cue 3. enforce. Depending on what we are actually doing each component of the three part cue will vary but the theory and use of feel, timing and expression when executing your cue is the same even in executing the most complicated maneuvers. We are taking advantage of the horses nature to anticipate. After a short time the enforcement part of the cue becomes unnecessary because they execute the move after the signal and we never get to the enforcement part before releasing and rewarding the horse. My articles on expression and collection talk more about how we cue the horse.
We always need to find a starting point with what we are teaching. What does this mean? It's simple we cue the horse looking for any attempt at the horse doing the right thing. Then we immediately release. The horse may not make the connection at first and you may struggle some until you get another place to release. Be patient after a couple of properly timed releases the horse will figure out that searching for what we are after leads to us leaving the horse alone.
Let's get specific. I use the same progression with any horse of any age. I teach head lowering then flexing in the halter then yielding in the hind and fore quarter. That's the basics. Improving and reenforcing foundation never ends.
After head lowering we work on flexing in the halter. I use the Vaquero Hackamore with the lead rope and a rein attached to the side pull loop. I like this because the pressure to the side of the horses muzzle is more even and the Bosal doesn't spin around the horses nose . I find the first flexing session can be tough with some horses. This setup helps the horse understand what I'm after sooner.
Stand beside the horse with your chest touching the horses flank. You stand this far back so you are out of the horses way when it's head comes around. Put one hand over the horses back, this hand holds the slack from both the lead and the rein. You use the slack hand to adjust the length between the rein and lead rope. Also the hand over the horses back helps you to keep in contact with the horse. In your early attempts the horse may step away from you in the hind quarter. It's important to keep in contact and follow the horse if it steps around until it stops moving. Then get a proper flex before releasing.
Adjust the lengths then slide your hand nearest the horses head grasping both lead and rein with your little finger closest to the horses head.
Take a soft feel pulling lightly at first. This is your signal. If the horse tips it's head immediately release by dropping the leads with the hand closest to the head. It's more likely the horse will resist as you begin step two. Step two after we have signaled is to put steady pressure on the two leads. I prefer the side pull be the primary rein. As you increase the pressure to bend the horses neck the horse will resist and probably move its hind feet in an attempt to release the pressure. It's important to get the horses head bent around and then hold it steady. I put my rein hand on the horses back to be sure it cannot pull my hand away. It's important to follow the horse and only release when the horses feet have stopped moving and the horse gives to the pressure by creating slack in the leads. Then you immediately release at the slightest try. Bobbing the head up and down doesn't count only release to a true give. Anchoring your hand to the horses body helps because if your holding out in the air your hand will follow the slight release and it will go unnoticed. The enforcement comes from the steady hold and I sometimes give little bumps on the stubborn ones.
After the first flex pet the horse execute some head lowering then start again after a few minutes. After several successful flexes change sides. One side will be easier than the other so be patient. The first flexing session can take awhile.
After a few successful sessions the horse will flex softer and the need for a steady hold will go away. Flexing takes on a calming affect to the horse. I flex every horse every day both from the ground and under saddle it's entire life. Flexing is effective at calming a horse that's becoming frightened at a new object or situation.
Flexing in the Vaquero Hackamore is the beginning of creating a pattern for all ground and under saddle cues. Softness in the head and neck leads to softness and collection in the body.
The light contact at the beginning of the three part cue is important. Never snatch up the horse. When done properly a horse will respond to the signal and soft cue and the enforcement will be unnecessary.
Although the horse can be ridden only in the hackamore I recommend everyone introduce a snaffle bit and teach the horse to be soft and collected in the bit. Then you can use a Bosal or other bittless bridle.
It's important when using a Bosal to set it up properly. The Bosal should always be setup with a Fiador. The Fiador balances the Bosal and creates the throat latch going over the poll allowing the Mecate to be used to tie the horse. The Mecate and Rein attachment along with the Fiadore properly size the Bosal to the horse. The Vaquero Hackamore has the Fiadore built in.
I own a couple of hand braided rawhide Indian Hackamores they are beautiful but dont offer a true release. Many of the bittless bridles on the market have taken their inspiration from the Indian Hackamore and have the same problem of no true release.
When I take young horses on trail rides I will start out using the snaffle only or a two rein with the Vaquero Hackamore. Then later in the day I may remove the bit and ride only in the hackamore. If snaffle only is used I have a bridle that has split reins with snaps so it can be shifted to the hackamore side pull loops. Or my two rein has snaps on all. The lead is always attached as a Mecate for convenience when dismounting. This eliminates the danger of tying a horse rigged with a Mecate and Rein attached to a Snaffle Bit. Never tie a horse with anything attached directly to the bit. If the horse pulls back it will cut its tongue!!
Once you have the horse soft in the Hackamore the Snaffle and the two rein you can look to introducing a shank or spade bit. This is after several years of riding. Most horses are five or six before introducing the Spade Bit With the Bosalito and Two Rein. Maturity is important a seven year old horse is very different mentally from a three year old. What you've learned at this point is if you've done the work the horse can be ridden bridless, so what's in the horses mouth isn't a big deal to the horse if you use the high port shank bit or spade bit as it is intended. They are a "signal" bit. This means they are a signal amplifier, they are supposed to be used applying soft light input to effortlessly signal the horse the maneuver. What gets missed is the seat and leg cues are what really moves the horse.
We use the same progression as described above. I use the two rein in the side pull loops at first then later you can tie a rein as a traditional Hackamore. Remember we are teaching not showing the horse. If you are preparing the horse for a Cow Horse or Ranch Horse or Stock Horse two rein class you will Change the rig later. First we teach then we refine.
Advanced maneuvers are just several simple maneuvers combined and then refined. Therefore we can train each component of the maneuver separate then put them together. When wanting the advanced maneuver better break it down and improve all it's parts. As an example a reining horse spin doesn't get better from practicing endless spins as if we are at a show.
Notice that most of our training involves lateral movement. Move the hip over for lead changes. Move the shoulder for a turn around or roll back. Lateral work is important. Two tracking shoulder in and out and side over exercises helps all maneuvers.
Teaching the horse to collect to your leg cues is a key component. The horses body has to remain in frame to execute any maneuver properly. We can quickly teach the horse to flex right or left and lower it's head from only our seat and leg cues. This aids in shaping the horse, keeping the horse in frame and collected.
Use of the Two Rein gives the horse great security during the training process. It gives the input to the horse in more levels. We are able to communicate with soft subtle cues. The horse becomes confident in our leadership. We become a partner not a bully.
I want to note that any Bosal, Hackamore, Bitless Bridle or Halter is capable of rubbing the horses skin raw. This can happen easily especially in the beginning. If this does happen I will pad my bosal with vet wrap or tape. Sometimes i will let the horse heal up a couple of days. If this problem persists its a sign you've skipped some steps and the horse is a little too reactive. Drop back and improve everything. Head lowering Flexing ect and the horse will learn not to lean on the halter, Hackamore or Bosal. If I've done a good job teaching flexing and head lowering i seldom have a horse rub off its hair on the jaw.
The Bosal and Bosalito should be comfortable to the horse. As with the jaw hair you should not see hair rubbed off over the top of the horses nose. This area is not as sensitive as the sides of the face. Notice we teach softness by flexing the horse laterally. Later we combine right and left lateral flexing together to get a vertical flex. This proves that the knots on the rope halter, how many or where they are places aren't really very important.
Avoid getting drug around by a horse that's pulling while doing ground work. To fix this send the horse away driving the horse laterally directing your expression at the heart girth or drive line, let it be a little reactive so it wants to hit the end of the lead and pull. Then take a hold turning the horse sharply and immediately release. The horse will learn to stop pulling. They actually face up to you looking a little disappointed that the game of tug a war never got started. Don't let the horse turn tail to you the horse will gain the advantage and pull. If the horse is moving laterally a moderate tug will upset its balance The old idea that if a horse has a sore spot they will not lean on it isn't true. We don't want to cause pain. That is not communication.
I have a training video in the works to demonstrate these techniques. Check back. Here and on my website www.naturaltrainer.net