Previous to the last few months I had only ridden in a hackamore once. And it was NOT a good experience to say the least! It was around six or seven years ago on my (now retired) Thoroughbred X, Oscar. He was soooo light in a French link snaffle, as a young teen (only 5’2… yes I haven’t grown since then! On a 16.1hh horse) I could school him walk, trot and canter with my pinkie. One winter he was getting quite chapped lips and rather than give him the time off I thought I’d try him bitless. We ventured into the arena and he was incredibly heavy in it. But I seemed to have steering and brakes so when my friends invited me out to tag along with them to the beach I accepted. Well, we hit the sand and he just went. Flat. Out. Gallop. No steering. No brakes. I clung onto the neck-strap on my martingale for dear life, jumped several breakwaters, lost a stirrup and finally fell of when he swerved to head up the shingle. I vowed never again!

Then along came Micky. I feel like Micky needs a whole blog dedicated to him… which he will probably get soon! But as a quick introduction I purchased him very cheap as he had some severe behavioural issues and wouldn’t even walk on with a rider on his back as a 9yo. His previous owner had all the triggers checked. Back, eyes, teeth, feet, lameness work up… he was even scoped for ulcers. Nothing showed. We’ve overcome a lot and I won’t stick too many spoilers in here as I’m getting carried away… but the cut a long story short… I decided to try him in a hackamore. And for about a month, it was the perfect solution. He has now moved back to a bit and hacks out bitless occasionally.

 After a positive experience I thought I’d try it with my number one (don’t tell the others) girl, Roo. She’s quite a sensitive mare and goes a lot from my seat, and I’d ridden her without a bridle a few times, so I thought I’d try her in the hackamore. On the flat she can become too light in the contact, draw in and become tense in the neck. I hoped that the hackamore would encourage her to take more of a contact and relax through her jaw and neck more. We’ve been toying around with it for about a month now when out hacking and jumping at home. She’s become so much happier in it! We’ve even popped 1.20m in it and went to a local unaffiliated showjuming to try her in a competitive environment with it. I found it hard to get her ‘sat up’ enough when out and about so we had 1 pole down in the 90cm and I rode better for a clear and 6th place in the 1m.

I’m unsure as to whether we’ll stick to it at competitions, especially cross country as on some tricky lines with skinnies etc I just don’t know if I’d have that last bit of input. BUT since working in the hackamore, she’s become much happier in a bit on the flat. So whether we stick to it competing or just play with it training at home…it has made a valuable difference to our training programme.

Every horse is individual and it won’t suit all of them (I know a few of mine that I wouldn’t have the balls to ride without a bit on!) but it has been a very valuable training tool. I think we should all at least give it a go… you never know what you might learn from it.