The Savvy Station

Horse Training with a Hackamore: What You Need to Know

by Parelli Natural Horsemanship on Apr 05, 2023

Horse Training with a Hackamore: What You Need to Know

By: Ryan Pfouts — 4-Star Senior Parelli Professional & HDS

Natural Horsemanship is filled with people who desire to train their horses in a kind and ethical manner. Riding with a hackamore is one of the ways we can do this.  When we put a bit into a horse’s mouth, we’re entering the most emotionally sensitive part of our horse, which is why riding with a hackamore is often an appealing alternative. Besides being considerate of the sensitive area of zone 1 (a horse’s nose and inside the mouth), riding with a hackamore has an even bigger purpose as it offers a great deal of control. Hackamores are deeply rooted in the Vaquero tradition and play an instrumental role in developing a horse from the very basic level all the way to a finished bridle horse. The word hackamore means “bit-less bridle.” What does this “bit-less bridle” have to do with you and your horse? 

The Parelli Program teaches your horse to yield appropriately to pressure on the ground while wearing a rope halter. Pat Parelli engineered this rope halter to offer a great deal of feel to the horse and rider while also being soft and virtually weightless when the horse responds correctly. The yachting braided rope, with its unique core, causes the horse to yield to pressure without promoting excess pulling or leaning. The Seven Games teaches the horse to yield to pressure, solve puzzles and ultimately become your perfect partner. 

The Porcupine Game is Game #2 in the Parelli Program, and focuses on steady pressure which is often referred to as “feel” in the horse training industry. Pat Parelli designed the Parelli Program with a sequence and a purpose where everything you do in one training area complements the other. In this case, the training you do on the ground, or On Line, directly correlates to riding, or FreeStyle riding. Playing with your horse On Line in a rope halter prepares your horse perfectly for FreeStyle riding in the Natural Hackamore. 

Not all hackamores are created the same; some may be made of different materials such as leather and rawhide, and others can even be considered a mechanical hackamore because it has a metal shank. The Natural Hackamore is made with the same material as the halter and is paired with reins that time your communication perfectly by slowing down the request (or by using phases) and speeding up the release (horses learn by the timing of the release). This concept is consistent with the horse psychology principles taught in the Parelli Program. 

The Natural Hackamore is an excellent choice for young horses, trail rides, and FreeStyle riding in Level 2 of the Parelli Program. This tool gives you the latitude to learn to ride with one rein at a time, which is a critical concept in your development to becoming a horseman. Pulling back on both reins causes more anxiety and can actually teach your horse to pull and lean into pressure, the exact opposite of what we want to train our horses to do. We want horses that are calm, confident, and responsively yielding to pressure. Using the hackamore, you can focus on the basics, such as Lateral Flexion. 

Lateral Flexion is one of the most essential skills when starting a young horse or learning to stay safe on a seasoned horse. Lateral Flexion does a few things; first, it teaches you to overcome your primal instinct to grab and pull instead of combing the rein, one at a time. Second, it teaches your horse to follow a feel, one side at a time, and not to lean. The Hackamore, not having any shanks or points for leverage, allows the rider to focus on lateral maneuvers, which is fundamental in the beginning stages of development. Lateral Flexion, Direct Rein, Indirect Rein, and basic downward transitions are all crucial skills to master in a hackamore before riding with a Snaffle Bit. Riding without a bit is not only comfortable for your horse, but it showcases your emphasis on the important elements of the foundation before jumping to tools that promote refinement. 

Coupled with the Parelli Program, the hackamore will not only be used with the basic rein positions, but you’ll find yourself playing all Seven Games in the saddle, trail riding, navigating obstacles, and so much more. You will learn to use one rein at a time, slowing down and applying feel while refining your timing for the release. The snaffle bit comes in soon with rein leathers attached, but this is after you’ve mastered the basics. Because of its construction and placement in the sequence of the Parelli Program, the training you do On Line will only benefit your FreeStyle riding and vice versa. The 12’ mecate attached to the hackamore allows you to step off your horse and play on the ground or safely tie while you're taking a break from your ride. This makes the Parelli Natural Hackamore a versatile tool perfect for the Natural Horsemanship student. 


  • Nancy Sayers
    Dec 01, 2023 at 09:49

    The Parelli program builds confidence in the horse&rider whether you ride English or Western. It has helped me immensely especially now that I’m starting over with a new horse.


  • Pat Wagner
    Dec 01, 2023 at 09:49

    Great information


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