A hackamore—or bosal—is a loop-shaped rawhide noseband that communicates cues to a horse by applying pressure to its nose and jaw. Vaqueros and buckaroo cowboyshave traditionally used the hackamore, along with a small headstall and a mecate rein to start their horses prior to introducing the horse to the bit. Training a horse in the hackamore is the critical beginning stage to creating a finished bridle horse. As a horse progresses in its training, increasingly lightweight hackamores are introduced until the horse reaches the “two-rein” stage, in which it is ridden both in a light hackamore and a bridle simultaneously. Eventually, the horse will be fully transitioned to the bridle.
The nose knot—or nose button—is an oblong woven knot that covers the wide end of a hackamore and makes contact with the horse’s nose. When adjusting the hackamore on a horse, the nose knot should be positioned to make contact with the boney area above the horse’s nasal cavity. When properly positioned, the nose knot will put gentle pressure on the nerves in a horse’s face when the rider gives a signal with the reins. Nose knots can have many subtle variations: longer or shorter, thicker or thinner, smooth or with bump-like “nerve buttons” that some trainers believe create better contact.
The heel knot is the round, woven knot that forms the base of the hackamore. The weight of the heel knot creates a counterweight to a pull on the reins, allowing the horse to feel a distinct pull and release sensation when the reins are worked properly.
A mecate (sometimes “McCarty”) is a long rope typically made of twisted horsehair that forms the reins of the hackamore outfit. The weight of the mecate is considered critical, as a heavier rein has more feel and allows for better communication with the horse. As a horse progresses to using lighter hackamores, the size and weight of the mecate will also be scaled down. Though four- or six-strand twisted horsehair is the traditional material, some mecates today are made out of braided nylon paracord.
A style of braided rawhide reins typically used with a traditional bridle outfit, which would feature a spade, half-breed, or other high-ported bit. Romal reins converge in a romal—a stout whip or quirt—which is carried in the hand not holding the reins. Romal reins are decorated with a series of rawhide knots or “buttons,” which are not only attractive, but add weight to the reins, increasing the feel and communication between horse and rider.
A rope made of braided rawhide used for roping cattle. Reatas are significantly less stiff than most nylon or poly ropes, and require fine-tuned technique to be used effectively. Aside from their historical value as the original vaquero lass rope, reatas are prized for having a distinct “life” or “feel” to them, and their weight makes them useful for roping in windy conditions. Because reatas can snap under sudden tension, they cannot be used with rubber horn wraps—only mule hide, latigo, or a similarly slick alternative. The average length of a reata is 65 feet.
Rawhide artisan Bill Black is considered by horsemen to be one of the greatest hackamore makers. Writer Andy Rieber had a chance to meet the legend, and tells his story here.