Showjumping is a thrilling, fast-paced technical display of horsemanship and physical athleticism from both horse and rider. The tack a rider chooses to train and ride his horse in can profoundly impact the quality and finesse of a showjumping round. The bit or lack of a bit can be the deciding factor between a winning round or a dangerous out-of-control horse.
Hackamores are bitless bridles. There are two main categories: mechanical and non-mechanical hackamores. Hackamores can cause significant harm to the horse if misused. A horse can be safely show jumped in a hackamore. The FEI has ruled that mechanical hackamores are competition legal.
Perhaps you are reading this article out of curiosity, or perhaps you are searching for answers on using a hackamore with your showjumper. Deciding to ride a horse, especially a high energy athlete, in a hackamore or other bitless bridle can be a difficult decision to make. The answer is multifaceted and nuanced.
A few of the questions to be considered are: Is a hackamore more humane than a bit? Can you safely jump in a hackamore? Are you allowed to compete when using one?
What Is Show Jumping?
Showjumping is an English riding discipline that requires a horse to jump several obstacles within a specific time limit. These jumps are made of lightweight poles suspended by flat half cups. Some competitors joke that the jumps are so light a whisper could knock them over. Horse and rider combinations accumulate faults based on an intricate set of rules.
To succeed in show jumping, horses must be talented, fast, powerful, and fully focused on their riders, especially at the upper levels. A rider that cannot control their horse will not win the class, no matter how talented the horse. A horse that is out of control is dangerous to himself, his rider, and those around him.
What Is A Hackamore?
The Moors invaded and held the Iberian Peninsula as the undisputed rulers for more than 700 years. Their military success was largely due to their expert horsemanship and finely tuned control of their mounts. The secret of the Moorish cavalry was a bitless camel bridle called a hackma, which they adapted for use on their horses.
The Spanish conquistadors learned many of their horsemanship techniques from the Moors. When the Spanish army invaded South America, they decisively routed the resident Aztec using a small light cavalry trained in the use of a jáquima. The Spanish version of the Moorish hackma.
As people migrated north, the concept of a bitless bridle was gradually introduced to North America. Mispronunciation of the Spanish word jáquima resulted in the English pronunciation and spelling of hackamore.
The simplest definition of a modern hackamore is a bridle without a bit.
For more check our post on what a hackamore is and what its used for.
Are There Different Types Of Hackamores?
There are two broad categories of hackamores, with variations within each group. The two categories are mechanical hackamores and non-mechanical hackamores, e.g., side-pull bitless bridles and bosals.
Mechanical hackamores, also known as German hackamores, have metal components attached to the side of the bridle’s noseband. These metal components use a lever-action to apply pressure to the horse’s face. The metal components are shaped like a flower or are long straight or curved bars. The reins attach to the metal components.
Mechanical hackamores use a lever-action to apply force to the nose, chin, and poll. When the rider engages the reins, a direct vertical force is applied to the horse’s face via the flower or shanks. The lateral and turning aids are minimal and unclear when using this type of bridle.
The reins of a side-pull bitless bridle are attached directly to the sides of the noseband without the interface of a metal leverage component. The reins are clipped to metal rings on the noseband. These rings do not act as levers and are simply an attachment point for the reins.
Side-pull bridles use direct lateral and vertical pressure when the reins are used. If a single rein is used, the noseband is pulled to the side, and pressure is placed on the opposite side of the horse’s nose, encouraging the horse to turn its head. Using both reins simultaneously causes a vertical force to be applied to the nose. No pressure is exerted on the poll or chin of the horse.
Bosals are made of plaited rawhide, shaped into a loop with a large heel knot located under the chin. The noseband of the bosal vaguely resembles a tennis racket. The bosals are fitted loosely over the horse’s nose and gradually soften and conform to the horse’s nose over time.
Bosals use a direct action for stopping. When both reins are used, the pressure is isolated to the bridge of the nose. Turning requires the rider to bring the rein out in an exaggerated turning motion. However, most horses trained with a bosal are taught to neck rein; thus, turning is not dependent on applying pressure to the horse’s face.
Why Would You Want To Ride Without A Bit?
A rider may choose to ride without a bit for numerous reasons:
- To spare a horse who has a mouth injury or teeth problems.
- To avoid damaging the horse’s palate and tongue, if the horse has a fleshy tongue or low palate with too little room in the mouth to accommodate a bit.
- To reduce the horse’s stress if the horse has had a bad experience with a traditional bit.
- To improve control.
- To encourage a horse to stretch their spine and lengthen their neck.
- Personal rider preference.
- To protect the sensitivity of a young horse’s mouth when doing the initial training.
Can You Safely Ride And Jump A Horse Without A Bit?
Always introduce new equipment slowly and carefully. If the rider utilizes a training system that advances the horse’s training in small logical increments, the horse will learn to remain in control when jumping in a hackamore.
There will be no difference in rider control when using a hackamore instead of a bit IF the horse is sympathetically and systematically trained and fitted with the appropriate hackamore. Some riders are convinced that they are more in control when riding with a hackamore than with a traditional bitted bridle.
The Dangers Associated With Using A Hackamore
If misused, the rider may lose control of the horse, endangering themselves, their horse, and others around them. A hackamore that is fitted incorrectly or used too harshly by the rider may obstruct the horse’s nasal passages and cause respiratory distress.
A mechanical hackamore with long shanks has the potential to damage or even break a horse’s nasal bone and, or jaw. Bruising and superficial damage to the skin on the bridge of the nose and poll may occur if the rider used the bridle with a harsh or uneducated hand on the reins.
FEI Rules About Showjumping In A Hackamore
Fédération Equestre Internationale or FEI is the international governing body for show jumping.
The FEI has ruled that mechanical shank hackamores are humane and reasonably and safely used within a competition. Hackamores may never be used in conjunction with a bit. The metal shank may not exceed 17 cm.
The hackamore must be fitted correctly according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. Veterinarian team at competitions have the authority to eliminate any horse and rider combination where the hackamore causes visible distress or injury. The rider may not compete a horse in a bosal or side-pull bridle.
When used correctly, hackamores are effective pieces of equipment. Like any piece of equipment used, hackamores are potentially dangerous pieces of equipment and needs to be used with great caution to avoid inflicting injury on your horse. It is not only possible but also competition legal to ride and show jump horses in mechanical hackamores.
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