Western Tack – the Bosal

The Bosal

The bosal is another piece of kit that you rarely find on anything other than a western trained horse. In fact, it’s a key stage in getting the western horse to work the way it does. Particularly, to have it give you its head and respond to neck reining which is the feature that most “English” trained riders first notice.

Vaquero origins

The bosal is another device that has a vaquero origin. They call it a jaquima. It’s the original “hackamore” (“j” is pronounced “h” in Spanish). That refined into something rather different. The bosal we use today is pretty much the same as it was in use a hundred years ago. Its survival as a first class training aid for all that time speaks volumes for its effectiveness. Provided it’s used properly – and that’s a big proviso…

The bosal itself (again, a Spanish word, meaning “muzzle”) is the nose band. Made of a braided rawhide covering over a composition core, it comes in varying degrees of thickness and flexibility. A mecate is the “reins” with a bosal. It’s a rope made of horse hair. That hair is mane for a softer touch and tail for a bit more spike. It’s about 25 feet long. The spikiness is there to encourage the horse to move away from its touch on his neck. Fitting the mecate to the bosal is an art in itself and the number of “wraps” around the bosal are used to adjust the size of the hoop to the horse’s nose.


Although the bosal may be used to apply direct pressure to the horse’s nose, its finesse lies in its ability to stroke the trigeminal nerve in the horse’s cheek. This encourages the horse to move its head away from the touch. Because of that, the bosal must be placed precisely on the horse’s nose. The top of the hoop rests on the end of the nasal bone and the knot sits in the chin groove. The wrap of the mecate must be adjusted so as to easily fit the flat of a hand between the bosal and the horse. All this is kept in place with a simple headstall.

The real facility of a bosal is the means of controlling the position of a young horse’s head without putting a bit in a sensitive mouth. It promotes softness in flexion of the horse’s neck. Also, it gets the horse to understand that it’s expected to move away from the touch of the rein on its neck. Properly used, the rider takes the mecate across the horse’s neck, keeping the hands in the same related position as if you’re also holding a pole between them. You do not ask for the head by pulling back on that side. The horse gets used to seeing one of your hands out to the side in the direction where he’s being asked to move as he feels the touch of the mecate on his neck on the other side.

A light touch

The whole point of a bosal is to get the horse working on a light touch. You should never get into a tug of war (which, let’s face it, is our first reaction when we feel the horse resisting us). But it’s because you have to put some weight into the mecate from time to time that bosals come in a range of thicknesses and flexibilities. You start thick/stiff and move on to thin/flexible.

And, speaking of tugs of war, it is of course a two-way street. You pull too hard and the horse will pull harder in the opposite direction. It’s a battle you can’t win. Some believe that is why we have curb bits in western riding.  Absolutely not true and a properly used bosal avoids the need to apply undue pressure to a horse’s mouth. Do that even with a snaffle and you’ll hurt the horse in ways he’ll take a long time to forget.


Doubling comes in if he’s being headstrong when he’s in a bosal. Needless to say, he will try his luck from time to time. To double, take the slack out of the mecate and give a good hard tug in the direction you’re asking for. But never, never snatch. Then, instantly, release and go to a light touch. It’s called “doubling” and it relies on getting what you want before he  starts a tugging match. With the light touch immediately replacing the hard, he gets the message quickly. He learns that it’s easier to react to the light touch in the first place.

A great way of going

It’s a great way of going. The real joy of it is that your horse is never too old to be introduced to a bosal. Even after you’ve moved on to a bit, he’ll always be glad of a bosal to tune him up.

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