What is a bridle horse?   Leave a comment

Looking into a bridle horse 

It has come to my attention that this is a term that not all people know. There is a big difference in horses and how they are “made”, “trained”, “started”, or finished.  So many “horse people” are quick to take a horse from a snaffle to a grazing bit and call them trained. They may ride okay but most are a long way from the refinement of a true bridle horse. Not all horses will make a bridle horse – just as not all humans will be an Olympic sprinter. It takes a longer for some horses then others. But there is no time limit and it is constant patients and practice. Some horseman will even say no horse is ever completely finished as with humans none of us are perfect we all need an adjustment from time to time.

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Bridle Horse

The end result of a true bridle horse is called “straight up in the bridle”. This means to have a horse educated enough that he can be ridden and work in a spade bit..Although the path may change from person to person the most common sequence is snaffle bit, hackamore, two rein and then straight up ..

The original vaqueros developed their ways during the 1800s, and the vaqueros were in no hurry. Rushing never worked with animals,  Horses and cows don’t wear watches. We need to work for our horses. To build that true relationship and that takes time.  As the hustle and bustle of everyday life gets in out way of slow and steady many horses are not given that chance to refine to the horse they could be.

The goal of the Vaquero was to get a horse that worked one-handed (since they needed to rope) with the lightest of cues. The spade bit that is traditionally associated with the Vaqueros was intended not to be harsh (despite their appearance) but, rather, to communicate very subtle cues from the rider to the horse. A working bridle horse will look very similar to a Dressage horse in that it operates in a very collected manner. The difference is that a bridle horse does this with very little rein input. The cues to collect are mainly seat and legs with only a miniscule input from the reins. (the finished horse can actually be ridden bridleless and show his refinement – but having a bridle horse is an honor and a way to show off some fine crafted silver, leather and rawhide.) The traditional Vaquero training procedure was to start a young horse (about 3 years) in the snaffle bit and start teaching it to work off a direct rein. Then, still in a snaffle, they start using more neck reining. After the horse is going good in the snaffle (a year or more) they will switch to the bosal. This moves the cues from the cheeks to below the jaw and starts to prepare the horse for the feel of the spade bit. You also continue the change from direct rein to neck reining since you can direct rein in a bosal without mouth pressure. Next they go to the two-rein where the bosal and spade bit are used simultaneously. You start out with the horse just carrying the spade and the bosal providing the cues and end up with the spade providing the cues. Finally, the spade is used by itself. Despite the apparent size of the spade it DOES NOT jab the horse in the roof of the mouth. The side of the spoon (the end of the port) presses against the roof of the mouth over a fairly large area. The other areas of pressure are the bars and the chin- just like any curb bit. The other parts of the bit like the roller (called a cricket) in the port are intended to give the horse something to play with their tongue and help keep the mouth wet. You can hear them buzzing as they play with them even when standing still. The braces (curved wires going from the hinge at the cheekpiece to the spoon are intended to help keep the horse from ever getting its tongue over the bit. It doesn’t have a pressure function.

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Hackamore Horse

Note some vaqueros skip the snaffle and start their horses in a hackamore/Bosal to stay out of their ever changing mouth through the young years of a horse.

The Vaquero tradition obviously started via Spaniards who came in through Mexico. However, there is much comparison to European riding after the mid-1800’s since the Vaquero style evolved because of the needs of working cattle on the large land-grant ranches in California. For example, the Texas style of riding was completely different and more like the rest of the country than the California Vaquero despite the fact that many of the riders in Texas also imigrated from Mexico.
The word “Buckaroo” is the anglicized version of “Vaquero.” Just like “McCarty” reins are not named after anyone but are the English version of “Mecate.”

Further definition os the hackamore, a bitless bridle worn in a horse’s first phase of training. During this period the rider and mount learn to communicate with each other without the use of force, and without the metal bit that is rough on a young horse’s ultrasensitive mouth. Subtle body cues are exchanged as horse and human progress together.

 

Hackamores come in many different sizes and diameters, as well as different materials. Natural products are a must. They are more forgiving in nature, breath as they should and adjust to the shape and temperature of the animal.

Most traditional hackamores are made of braided rawhide. The good ones are braided around a natural core. That core might be a piece of worn out reata, twisted rawhide or perhaps an old piece of worn out horse hair mecate. They may be braided from eight to thirty-two strings with the average number of strings used hovering around twelve to sixteen. Sometimes another leather is used to make the strings and may be used in combination with the rawhide or alone.

The diameter of the hackamore needs some discussion. There are basically three types of braided “hackamore” type pieces of equipment. The hackamore, as we are discussing in this article, is the piece of equipment used alone, in the earlier stages of training. It is held to the horse with a simple leather “hanger” – a simple headstall, usually made of a softer leather and tied at the near side of the horse’s head. It is used with a horse hair mecate, traditionally. The hackamore is usually 3/8″ to 7/8″ in diameter.

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Two-Rein

The next level of equipment, for definition’s sake, is the small “two rein” variety, usually 1/4″ to 5/16″ in diameter, and is worn with the bridle and a small mecate. The third piece of equipment often confused with the hackamore is the even smaller “underbridle bosal” used with a shorter lead mecate for finished bridle horses. It is often delicate, usually not more than 1/4″ in diameter, fitting subtly beneath the bridle. It is a lead as well as a mark of distinction for the bridle horse.

The “true” hackamore of this article is the larger of the three.

The spade is not a bit for the beginner, either human or equine. It does not come with a set of instructions. Only the passing on from one generation to the next, there are no books that truly explain the delicate use of the spade bit. It is an illusive world of “feel” and sensitivity.

To understand the spade you must first understand what it is not. Most other shanked bits are what are known as “leverage” bits. The standard curb, the Texas born grazing bits, the Buster Welches and the new flexing “broken ports” are but a few examples of the low port leverage bits of our modern day.

A leverage bit works predominantly off of pressure on the curb strap. This is supported by the fact that leverage bits typically have a low port and are often coupled with a chain curb strap to increase the intensity of the pressure when needed. Since it is the pulling or in some cases yanking on the reins that immediately engages the curb strap or chain

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Bridle Horse

pressure, a port of any size is of little importance.

The horse trained and ridden in a leverage bit is not taught to carry the bit or have any sensitivity to its shape or configuration. They most often just respond to the curb strap pressure. A rider’s goal when using a leverage bit is to engage the curb strap as quickly as possible to achieve the expected results, that is to stop or at least slow down.

The vast majority of horse owners use leverage bits. The leverage bits are simple to understand; pull until they stop, and if that doesn’t work, pull harder. For those who only want to dabble in horse ownership, those who do not want to completely submerge themselves into horsemanship, the leverage bits are probably the best answer. They will require more effort and energy to operate but require less preparation, sensitivity and knowledge to learn.

The spade is what is known as a “signal” bit. The long tapering port, complete with spoon, cricket and copper covered braces is configured in such a way as to encourage and allow the horse to “pick up” the bit in his mouth and “carry it.”

Horses trained in this discipline are not to be yanked on. Their mouths are respected and protected; saved at all costs. The sensitivity of the spade bit horse is prized. That sensitivity would not remain if the process of making a spade bit horse was severe. The truly great “velvet mouthed” spade bit horses have benefited from a long  series of training steps that have prepared them to carry the spade.

A good bridle horse will search for that comfort zone and in so doing correct their way of going and enjoy the ease with which they can travel and work in that way. It is not unlike the ballerina who walks with a book on her head. The book is not painful, it merely reminds her to maintain a posture required for the dance.

There is weekend cowboys and cowgirls that ride with their hands and not their bodies, some if you took the reins out of their hands they would fall off. The Vaquero style of riding is body and leg ques. So many are happy with just riding and not becoming refined this is a choice each of us make of wanting to stay where you are in your horsemanship or go further and learn more about you and your horse and truly become one.

Of course this is a “feel” that not all riders will have or be able to learn. If you are gifted to have this feel for horse you will be able to have a true bond and relationship with your horse like no other.

We all need an open mind and stay in a frame of learning.  So many horse people think they have it all figured out with horses, about the time you think you have it all figured out is when a horse can and will show you different. We can all learn new things from a horse each day!

By Traci Davis – Horse Broker and Author at TnT Ranch Weatherford, TX

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