Horse Bosal: What is it, How to Use it & Common Questions
by Parelli Natural Horsemanship on Oct 05, 2022
What Is A Horse Bosal?
A horse bosal is a braided rawhide or kangaroo nosepiece combined with mecate reins to make a version of a bitless bridle. When a bosal is attached to a hanger or a mecate, it becomes a Spanish hackamore. The bosal works by applying pressure to the horse’s nose and jaw, encouraging them to move away from the pressure.
You need four parts to use a bosal correctly: rawhide nosepiece, mecate reins, fiador (optional), and hanger (similar to a headstall). The bosal is attached to the hanger, which goes over the horse's poll and keeps the bosal in place on the horse's face. Mecate reins (or McCarthy, for Anglos), which are 22-24 foot rope reins made of braided horsehair, are wrapped around the heel butt of the nosepiece and are used to guide the horse. When tied correctly, you’ll have a rein loop and a lead rope on the other end. The fiador, which is usually used by vaqueros or buckaroos working daily with a hackamore on their horse, is designed to prevent the bosal from slipping under the horse’s chin when dismounting to do any ground work such as fence work or cattle work. The trainers usually do not use a fiador as they want the bosal to rest against the chin for release.
What does a bosal do?
Horseback riders choose bosals to encourage the horse to work on light touch and become more flexible in their neck. For example, instead of using direct rein, riders can lay the mecate across the horse's neck, apply leg pressure, and encourage the horse to move away from the nose pressure. This enables the horse to listen for subtle commands and the rider to use soft hands during training and riding.
Bosals, hackamores, and bitless bridles can be excellent options for sensitive horses or horses with mouth issues. Many trainers will start young horses with a bosal or hackamore if deciduous teeth are still in the horse's mouth.
Horseback riders have used bitless bridles, hackamores, and bosals for centuries. Bosals are part of the vaquero tradition. Originally from Spain, bosals evolved in California and became an important part of western horse training. You're very likely to see bosals used with cow and reining horses. Western pleasure horses under six years of age are also allowed to compete in a bosal.
What is the difference between a bosal and a hackamore?
Hackamores and bosals are often confused as they are both bitless bridles. However, there is a big difference. A hackamore is an entire piece of equipment, while the bosal refers to the specific rawhide nosepiece. Both communicate with your horse without a bit.
The hackamore is a transitioning tool used over several years to move the horse from the snaffle (if used at all) into the bridle, usually with a Spade Bit. However, the purpose for hackamores among those wishing to develop a California style bridle horse is solely for self-carriage.
Bosals can be used in place of a rope halter to do groundwork with your horse. The mecate is a single long rope attached to the bosal heel and creates a loop of rein and a lead line which makes moving from the saddle to groundwork easy. Moving from groundwork to riding work and back to groundwork, especially with green horses, can be very helpful.
Bosal vs. Bit
Bits apply pressure in the horse's mouth and over the poll, while a bosal applies pressure to the nose and cheeks. The snaffle bit and the bosal give lateral control, meaning the horse is often ridden with two hands and a direct rein to change direction. The bosal operates a bit differently than the snaffle because it works when the lower part leans against the cheek or jaw bone on the opposite side the rider wants the horse to go. The horse learns to move away from the pressure and is rewarded when the rider immediately removes the pressure.
Some people believe pressure on the horse's nose is gentler, but in the wrong hands, pressure on the sensitive areas of the horse's face can be damaging. You must train your horse to give into the pressure and soften before using a bosal. Just as with any tool, there is a right and wrong way to use it with your horse.
Can you start a horse in a bosal?
Horses can be started with a bosal or snaffle bit. Much of this choice will depend on the trainer and training philosophy. Many trainers will start green horses with a soft-side pull hackamore and transition to a bosal once the horse knows to soften to the pressure and become supple. When used appropriately, the bosal can be a good option for both a green horse and a finished horse.
How do I pick the right bosal?
Picking the right bosal depends a bit on your horse and training. If you are purchasing your first bosal, make sure it is:
- a medium-soft nosepiece
- made with good quality materials (no cables in the nosepiece)
- not too stiff (can cause sores) or too flimsy (will be ineffective)
The Parelli Foundation Bosal is the perfect bosal to transition from a side-pull hackamore or snaffle bit.
How tight should a bosal be?
It is important to fit the bosal properly to your horse's head to avoid agitating your horse, hitting their jaw, and applying constant pressure. One or two wraps of the mecate rein around the bosal heel should be the right fit. The bosal should be loose enough that it will hang loose when the rider releases the pressure of the rein.
Do bosals have different sizes?
Bosals come in several different sizes ranging from 10 inches up to 12 inches. A 10-inch bosal will fit most small horses and ponies, an 11-inch is for an average horse, and a 12-inch will fit large breeds. Some riders prefer a longer bosal, as this allows you to wrap more of the mecate around the bosal heel, which provides more downward weight.
Can you direct rein in a bosal?
Most horseback riders who use a bosal exclusively use a direct rein. You hold your hands at hip width and give direction to your horse with light pressure from either hand. This is very similar to the direct rein method used with a snaffle bit, though your hands are a bit wider apart.