Origins of the Hackamore

By B.E.Sinnett Passive Horsemanship.co.uk

The hackamore, has an extremely ancient origin, which was introduced into the America’s by the Spanish and its use had travelled up into North America from Mexico, probably with the Jesuits on a burro or mule as they founded their mission’s up the North American West Coast. The Spanish Crown before the Mexican-American War, had given over massive land grants of many thousands of acres in what is now Texas, New Mexico and California to encourage the first ranchos to be founded by the Spanish Vaqueros’ (Criollo people of mixed Native American and Spanish blood) who became the first North American Cowboys. To follow the history of the hackamore, we need to know that Spain and Portugal in the Old World are situated on what is called the Iberian Peninsula, it has the Mediterranean Sea to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The Moors (Berbers and Arabic people) invaded the Iberian Peninsula across the Gibraltar Straight (The mouth of the Mediterranean Sea into the Atlantic Ocean 9 miles wide) from North Africa in AD711 and they renamed it Al-Andalus, which means

“To become green at the end of summer”.

It is also said the name could also have some connection to the Vandals (v-andal-ism) who were an indeterminate northern people who invaded North Africa from the Iberian Peninsula. Today’s Andalusia is the south western region of Spain but Al Andalus was originally a much larger area, and at one time it named the whole of the Iberian Peninsula and beyond. The Moors ruled it in part, for seven hundred years; but after the Battle at Tours which took place in AD732 against the Moors, when they had tried to expand further and invade the Frankish Kingdom of modern day France. They were stopped by the Frankish infantry under the leadership of Charles Martel (The hammer of the Franks), he had formed his infantry into a phalanx (a close moving square of heavily armoured infantry), and amazingly this was even then a thousand years before an Ancient Greek Hoplite concept of warfare. The Moors were predominantly a mounted cavalry force and were thoroughly routed by the Franks, this was the beginning of the end of their expansion into Europe and the beginning of their expulsion from Iberia. Their success had been rapid and it had undoubtedly been down to their expert knowledge of horsemanship and its control, which exemplified their extreme fighting mobility.

This fact had been recognised and envied by the Franks and it represented a secret equestrian knowledge, which undoubtedly was a world changing even! The Moors rule in Iberia finally ended in 1492 and in 1521 a Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez in turn with this superior knowledge of horsemanship ended the Aztec civilisation in Mexico with only 15 horses. Charles Martel was not a king he was a mayor who was employed by the king of the Franks to run the country; in my opinion, he was the original European Renaissance Man. Charles was an extremely educated individual and his ability to visualise the future or indeed understand the lessons of the past. He did something very unusual and unexpected after his encounter with the Moors at the battle of Tours seeing that he had just won a battle with infantry against a cavalry, and it was that he had his army diligently collect all the Moors horses tack and armour together and within three years, he had created a superior cavalry force of his own.

It’s interesting to understand, geologists and historians today do not mention the hackamore and its use as a horse training device, as being the most important artefact that Charles must have collected after this battle. To this they are ignorant, and this is why it represents a secret in plain sight, and it’s easy for me as a horseman to imagine him interrogating his Moorish prisoners after this battle about what was the secret of their superior horsemanship, and being told that it lay in the use of the hackamore to train horses. The hackamore was a superior communication device that could trigger a passive symbiosis between man and horse of unbelievable power.This event was the start of the feudal system, which supported the Medieval Chivalrous culture in Europe, and the feudal system was only in reality a form of government, which was a community agricultural effort to support a “mounted” fighter to protect the state.

Interesting, most people today think of chivalry as being a medieval mind-set or a moral code of honour in battle and a reverence to the protection of women. Sadly; in reality, it was just the French word for horse, which is cheval. Undoubtedly, the equine culture the Moors left behind was very quickly adopted all across Europe and I feel certain the way they trained horses, had by the time the first Spanish Conquistadores transported their horses into South America, that the training of horses with a hackamore for the eventual transition into a spade bit had already turned into a considerable art form.

I believe the first hackamore device (primitive nose band) originated in prehistoric times and was invented by a Sub Saharan African people when the Sahara was a green and pleasant land. The African wild Ass is the true ancestor of the modern donkey, which are considered to be the first African equines to be domesticated some three thousand years ago. The African wild Ass is the true ancestor of the modern day donkey. It is believed they were the first African equines to be domesticated some three thousand years ago. It is probable that the first equines to be guided by a primitive noseband originally happened some thousands of years earlier and certainly before horses were domesticated. It is also certain the Berbers were the descendants of Sub Saharan Neolithic African people, who originally developed how to guide equines passively with a primitive nose band.

It is of course my supposition, the African Wild Ass is not only the progenitor of the humble modern day donkey, in a time before metal bits were in general use, but this was also how horses became trained to eventually respect metal bits but still to be guided by neck rein pressure. Much later metal bits were primarily a device that caused horses to hold a head set for collection and engagement, it was of course still the act of reining which guided horses. The nose band was as such introduced as a training / riding aid into Iberia by the Berber / Arabs into modern day Spain, where eventually in turn the Spanish conquistadores introduced the hackamore into South and North America, along with their Andalusian bred horses, carrying the unmistakable influence of the Barbary blood.

For an artefact that is still in use today, the hackamore must rank as one of the most evolved pieces of human- horse equipment that has ever existed. It also marks a time when hunter gatherers changed from a nomadic existence to an agrarian (cultivated land) settled society. It should be understood that the Berbers have a history of extreme horsemanship, they rode bare back with only a rope around the horse’s neck as the ultimate light cavalry. They wore no armour only a small round leather shield worn high on one arm with a fist full of arrow like javelins to be thrown with the other arm, their only other weapon a short sword. Their tactics were to skirmish with the enemy, fane a retreat to separate the enemy to follow, only to turn their horses on their haunches and kill their enemy with devastating efficiency. They were known by the Ancient Greeks to be superior horsemen, the Greeks had settled on the North African coasts, well before the Phoenicians (Carthaginians) and Romans. My belief is the Berbers trained their horses with a noseband, to such an extent that when the horse was fully trained they found any sort of rein tied to the horses head an encumbrance, such was their superior balanced control. If the Romans admired Greek culture, which they certainly did; the Greeks aspired to Berber – Numidian horsemanship, copying their equestrianism, round shield and weaponry.

Alexander the Greats horsemanship was certainly influenced by this style of horsemanship in his light cavalry, and his ability to lead from the front and change direction at the charge represented the same sort of control, and was legendry in the many battles he fought. The Berbers were also Hannibal’s Numidian light cavalry against the Romans when he invaded Italy. In reality they were practically far more important than his elephants, not that the elephants didn’t have a devastating psychological effect.

The Numidian’s could drop their horses to the ground and hide in short cover and swim them across rivers thought impassable. This is how they helped ambush the Roman army at the Battle of Lake Trasimene 217 BC. Eventually, when the Numidian’s changed their allegiance and fought for Rome, the hapless Hannibal was easily defeated at the Battle of Zama 202 BC in North Africa, and his Elephants charged off through the Roman ranks harmlessly into history.

Schools of thought

There are two traditional schools of thought when it comes to using the hackamore 1. It is purely a training and transitional device and that the snaffle is the starting point and 2. The hackamore is the starting point with the transition into snaffle/ bridle. However, we also believe that once a horse has been spared the snaffle and starts in the hackamore that it may continue indefinitely without moving into the snaffle. There are celebrity horsemen who are adamant the snaffle should be the initial introduction with the aspiration of obtaining a classical profile and others who extoll the virtues of the hackamore preserving the mouth and attaining lightness and feel. Such opnions can provide confusion to those currently riding their horse in the hackamore and for those considering starting with a hackamore. These are two very different perspectives when it comes to consideraing both the mentality and physicality of your horse and your own personal ambition.

For the ideals of our form of horsemanship, the hackamore is the perfect solution for starting a horse and preserving their tender mouth( 2 years -permanent teeth start revealing, 3.5 years to 4.5 years - incisors start breaking through, year 5 full set of teeth) and for developing a horse that understands a true passive control.