Hackamore for English Riding
I recently started riding an OTB Thoroughbred with a very sensitive mouth. Currently, I ride her in a rope halter with reins attached, and this has worked fine for stopping and turning. My trainer has suggested foregoing a bit altogether because she's so sensitive. I have never ridden in a hackamore before, always snaffle bits. I was doing a little research, and it looks like there is a hackamore with shanks and a fleece nose, referred to as an "English" hackamore, then there is a jumping hackamore, which appears to just be a noseband to which you attach reins. Any ideas about which one would be better or advantages/disadvantages to either? I would like to eventually do low level eventing with her, as well as trail riding.
for dressage you will need a bit, but if she is very sensitive you can try a very mild three piece bit or check out some of the myler baby buts (comfort snaffles) that reduce and will actually limit the nutcracker action. great for a sensitive horse (some are dressage legal you would have to check).
for jumping and xc a hack is fine. there are some mild hacks, to some harsher ones just like with a bit. remember a padded nose is better and a shorter shank is milder so keep that in mind since your horse is already sensitive. good luck to you!
I use a hackamore from time to time on my guy too - especially when I jump or go out on trail with him. I use the fleece padded version and then even have a sheepskin wrapped around it.
My hackamore has short shanks as he is quite easy to control. Short shanks are softer singe there is less leverage when you put pressure on the reins. If you start doing eventing, and feel that you may need a little more control you could always switch to longer shanks, or a stiffer nose part. Also, if she is very thin skinned, and sensitive, you may also want to put a (gel) pad under the curb chain, as that could rub her.
Make sure to have your hackamore sit properly, and not too low on her nose, as you could potentially break the nasal peak (the pointy bone on the top of the skill pointing at the nose).
There are other bitless options available besides the sidepull (Google Image Result for http://www.galadriel.shaftnet.org/horses/duchess/jumping-hackamore.jpeg) and the hackamore (Google Image Result for http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_TN_TvoKQItc/S80sabvq_nI/AAAAAAAAAOQ/noQZJDWX5j8/s1600/hackamore.png).
You could consider an indian bosal (Google Image Result for http://www.fast-autos.net/diecast-cars-models/diecast-car-image-large/rope-bitless-bridle-hackamore-indian-bosal-side-pull_320506094407.jpg), with or without extra nose knots. It works much like a rope halter, but with better steering. If you choose to get one, make sure to choose one with metal rings, not rope loops, for the cross-under straps to pass through so there's less friction, giving better release.
Another option to consider is the cross-under bitless style (Dr. Cook's, Nurtural) (Google Image Result for http://www.naturalhoof.co.nz/pictures/bitlessbridle300.jpg). Beware though, the release can be slow on this bridle,and some horses don't like the 'whole head hug' action. It's up to you though, it may work in your situation!
There is also the lightrider bitless (Google Image Result for http://www.lightriderbridle.com/uploads/3/6/0/3/3603905/4812848.jpg), which is also pretty mild, basically just a step up from a noseband with rings.
The LG Zaum (Google Image Result for http://equineink.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/lg-bridle.jpg) is another to consider. It is basically a hackamore with virtually no shanks, so it does have leverage, but very little of it. This is the bridle that first came to mind when I read your situation.
Explore all your options and choose the bes for you. Good luck!
Thank you everyone for the very helpful information. Aspin, thank you for the explanations with the pictures! I am thinking to start her on something very simple at first to get her used to it. She is very fussy with her head. Any thoughts on which one is best for that? I like the look of the bitless bridle because it resembles a regular competition bridle.
Thanks again everyone!
If you're looking for the simplest out there, go for a sidepull- it's basically like riding with a halter. Make sure to get one with a flat nosepiece though, not a waxed cord nose- those can break the skin if used too roughly, and it doesn't seem like it would work with an uber sensitive horse anyways. If you need something with more oumph after trying the sidepull, you might consider a lightrider or a scawbrig. I don't think you'll really need more than that though.
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