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by Downunder Horsemanship

Training Tip: Ask Clinton: A Bit or Hackamore?

Q: I’m ready to start riding my horse. Should I use a bit to begin with or do you recommend I use a hackamore? – Kathy C. 

A: I like to ride all of my colts in a hackamore during their first 10 to 15 rides because it gives them a chance to learn how to give and soften to pressure while I’m on their backs without having to deal with a bit just yet. It also allows a smooth transition for a colt going from responding to a halter on the ground to responding to the same type of pressure under saddle. The softer you can get a horse in a hackamore, the softer he’ll be in the bridle.

The hackamore is also more forgiving and allows for mistakes on the rider’s part. In the early stages of riding, especially for more inexperienced riders, you don’t want to haul on the colt’s mouth or pull when you shouldn’t be pulling. If the horse is wearing a hackamore and you accidentally pull when you’re not supposed to, you’re not going to be in danger of causing a major wreck.

Even if you are experienced and have good feel and timing, I still recommend starting with a hackamore to develop that softness in your colt before moving to the snaffle bit. I don’t recommend putting a bit in a horse’s mouth until you have him flexing well from side to side, you can stop him by sliding one hand down the rein and he’s following his nose in the hackamore.

When a colt can do all of those things, then I switch to a smooth-mouthed snaffle bit. I move all of my horses out of the hackamore at this time because I think that you can get more softness and collection in a bit compared to the hackamore. Now that isn’t to say that you can’t start a colt in a snaffle bit straightaway. I certainly have started plenty of colts this way, but I think you get a better result if you start in the hackamore first.