I am often asked the question “How do I know what hackamore to get?” There can be several different answers addressing several different concerns.
The first concern would be to have one that fits correctly. When we talk about measurements there are different lengths of bars, different diameters, lengths of the nosebands; all make a difference on how a hackamore fits and functions. The correct length of the bars can depend on where the hackamore is placed on the horse’s nose. Just above the horse’s nostrils and around under the chin is considerably smaller than just below the eyes and just under the jaw muscle. The horse has a bit of a cone shape to their nose.
So maybe the first question should be, “Where should the hackamore sit on the horse’s nose and why?” If we look on the bridge of the horse’s nose about halfway between the top of the nostril and the bottom of the eye, there will be a slight bump. Above this bump is bone; the bump itself is where the cartilage starts to overlap bone and the further below the bump you go, the thinner the bone gets and the heavier the cartilage gets.
The bone and cartilage will have a different sensation and response. To understand this if we push our finger hard between our eyes and the top of our nose you get one sensation, then push hard on the tip of our nose on the cartilage. It’s not that one is any more sensitive than the other but the bone can tolerate more pressure and the cartilage will start a fight sooner. If we are operating off of feel, we can get a better response by keeping the noseband up on or above the bump, or about halfway between the bottom of the eye and the top of the nostril.
So, the hackamore should sit about halfway between the bottom of the eye and the top of the nostril.
How loose or tight should the hackamore fit?
If it fits too tight, there isn’t enough signal, if it fits too loose, the signal is delayed and sloppy. So we may want to be like our little friend Goldilocks and have one that fits in the middle.
If the heel knot is resting on the chin we should be able to raise it about halfway up the jaw and if it stops, this means the horse can open his mouth to lick his lips without being restricted like a cavesson. If the heel knot cannot raise far enough from the chin, it can be very irritating to the horse and they can get upset from that alone. If we can raise the heel knot all the way up to the jaw muscle, then the signal can’t be too slow and sloppy.
If we just remember halfway up on the nose and the jaw more or less. The hackamore should sit about halfway between the bottom of the eye and the top of the nostril, and about halfway up the jaw when it is pulled tight with the mecate tied on.
So we could take a string and circle around the nose at those two points to get the measurement that tells us how much area we need inside a hackamore, plus the room for the wraps of the mecate and from this we can know the length of the hackamore we need.
Our average riding horses will measure around 22″ to 23.5″, or a fraction more or less, where the hackamore should fit. So if we do the math and allow for the wraps of the mecate and rounding smaller fractions, we come up with the measurement between the inside of the noseband to the inside of the heel knot for the various diameter hackamores as standard, (allowing that the mecate is the same diameter as the hackamore, times 3 or 4 wraps).
Arabs and ponies may be smaller, 21.5″ or less; warmbloods and draft crosses may be larger, 24″ or more, but a wide range of horses will have the same size of muzzle even though the length of their head may differ, but this quick measurement will tell you.
The length of the noseband can make a difference on how the hackamore hangs and functions. The shorter the noseband, the closer the hanger is to the horse’s eye. This seems like it would be a bad thing, but the closer to the eye, the better the hackamore hangs. The hanger creates a fulcrum and the further forward the fulcrum point is, the quicker the heel knot drops when we release the reins and the better our signal can be.
The shape of the noseband makes a difference on how the hackamore fits and functions. We can have a noseband that is the same diameter through the middle as it is toward the ends. This helps to allow the hackamore to fit the contour of the horse’s face better. This gives more contact and more feel between the rider and a more sensitive horse.
Most nosebands will be raised on the ends. This sometimes is referred to as nerve knots. This may sound like a training secret, but the truth is when we are constructing a hackamore, it is a foundation knot under the end of the noseband to hold it in place. Without this, it can draw shorter and not stay in place.
You can touch a horse around the nose and they are not going to respond differently when you touch the area of these “nerve knots.”