Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Star Wheel Hackamore

I started riding in Zilco's flower hackamore a little over a year ago.  I started with that type of hackamore for two reasons:  it was inexpensive and it was recommended by Yvonne Welz over at The Horse's Hoof.  She mentioned it in an article and said that she believed the action of the wheel-type hackamores (e.g. flower hackamore) was very similar to a bit.  So I decided to give it a try.  And I've been very pleased with the results ever since.

Zilco's flower hackamore on my endurance bridle

I will say that I have to do two things differently than I did when I rode with a bit.  The first is that I have to use my hands together and ensure that I maintain equal pressure on both reins.  I would argue that is what I should have been doing anyway when riding with a bit, but because of the way bits work, I was able to cheat a little and get away with it.  Not so with the flower hackamore.  If I fail to provide at least approximately equal pressure on both reins, Nimo will immediately run through my aids and acts as if there is nothing on his head.  So, I'm pretty sure I'm a better rider now because of the way the hackamore works.

The second is that I can no longer wiggle my little finger to try to release Nimo's jaw.  I think that was probably a kind of cheat anyway, so it's for the best that my ability to use that wiggle is gone.  Now, if I want Nimo to relax his jaw (and by extension his poll), I had better be using my seat and legs effectively and working on suppling him through exercises.  So, again, I'm a better rider because of the hackamore.

When I originally started using the hackamore, I thought I might return to using a bit for dressage work.  As I mentioned in yesterday's post, Nimo made it clear that he would no longer accept a bit, so I became committed to doing dressage in the hackamore for the rest of Nimo's life.  But what if I want to show?  (Because I always have so much fun!  hahahaha...)  Well, as luck would have it, there is a dressage schooling show series at the barn I board at and the manager of the show allows bitless competitors.  And, she even places them.  As I have no dreams of wowing the USDF or the USEA or the FEI with my now improved riding, that works out pretty well.  I don't know that I will compete this coming year, but at least it's an option.

Anyway, I was getting tired of swapping out the hackamore between my endurance bridle and my dressage bridle.  So I wanted to get a second hackamore.  And that's when I happened to remember that there were more choices out there.  I figured why not try a slightly different hackamore just for the purposes of comparison?

I ultimately choose the Star Wheel Hackamore from The Horse's Hoof online shop.  It was one of the hackamores that Ms. Welz recommended and I liked the cleaner look to the wheels.  It doesn't have quite the same leverage option as the flower hackamore, but particularly for dressage work, I really don't need it.  Nimo is quite responsive without it.  Plus, it is quite reasonably priced.  I opted for the model with leather straps and neoprene on the noseband.

It arrived quickly and then it sat around my house for awhile because I ended up either doing conditioning rides or not riding at all.  After a couple weeks, though, I had a lesson, so I did what any responsible horse owner does.  I threw the hackamore in the truck with the intention of hooking it up to my headstall and reins once I got to the lesson:)  Luckily, it wasn't difficult to put on the headstall or adjust.  And the website is correct about the generous sizing.  I had a huge amount of excess chin strap, which was awesome for showing off how prepared I am for my lessons:)

My instructor has gotten used to me showing up with new and untried tack, though, so she was unphased.  In fact, she noticed the new hackamore right away and commented about how she liked it better than my old one because it seemed sturdier and more stable on Nimo's head.  And then I had my lesson.  And it was great.  There was literally no difference in Nimo's responses.  The transition to the new hackamore was completely seemless (except for the flapping chin strap which I later secured with yarn because I keep forgetting to look for spare leather keepers).

Here's a picture of the hackamore on Nimo:

Looking at the picture, I think I might adjust the straps a bit because I feel like the headstall is a little closer to Nimo's eye that I would like.  I'll play around with either lengthening the strap over the nose (and tightening the chin strap) or just shifting the headstall connection one ring back.

Anyway, I love this hackamore.  I agree with my instructor that it is a little heavier duty than the flower hackamore (both in terms of the thickness and width of the nose strap and the weight of the metal wheel).  For dressage work, I think this is a great hackamore.  The one thing I will point out is that Nimo has a pretty big head.  You might find that for small, fine-boned horses, this wheel will be too big and the flower hackamore or another wheel hackamore might work better.

For endurance, I plan to stick with the flower hackamore for now, but I am contemplating trying the s-hack simply because wheel hackamores like the ones I have do require that the noseband be pretty snug.  If the noseband isn't snug, the whole contraption is unstable on the horse's face.  One reason I like using a hackamore is to give Nimo a better environment to eat and drink on the trail.  While he doesn't need to do that in the arena, I'd like to try the s-hack to see if the looser noseband is more comfortable for him.  I don't think the s-hack would be as great for dressage work on contact, although I do know people who use it that way and like it.

What I love about the tack market now is that there are a lot of choices for people who want to ride bitless.  Each type of hackamore/noseband works a little differently, so you can experiment, just like you would with a bit, to find out what action/contact/leverage your horse prefers.

If you have a hackamore experience you'd like to share, please feel free to leave a comment.  I'm always interested in the perspectives of my readers because you often have insights I haven't thought of:)


  1. My horse and I love the s hack. She can be a bit competitive and I don't think I would have brakes at rides without a bit of leverage... Plus I don't always ride on contact on the trail, so it works just fine. (though when I need to she doesn't mind continuous contact in the s hack) Do you have decent emergency brakes in those types?

    1. Thanks for your comment, theotherhorse:) I would not consider the wheel hackamores to have the same degree of leverage that an s-hack or other mechanical hackamore would have. I would consider wheel hackamores to be closer to snaffle bits and s-hacks to be more like curb bits, in terms of stopping power. It's good to know your horse does well in contact in the s-hack. I have a feeling I would need to spend some time getting Nimo used to the chin strap leverage but I do hope to at least give it a try this year:)

  2. I like my s-hack quite a bit. It's easy to put on and Nilla can eat and drink easily. I do need the extra stopping power and would not feel safe out on the trails without the leverage. Nilla is totally fine and could be in a halter until she decides she doesn't want to do something and then you need that leverage. I'm thinking about trying the dr cooks in the arena, but I'll stick to the s-hack for trails. I also added the zilco noseband to the s-hack.

  3. The star hackmore with the browband combination looks so snazzy on Nimo (: I've thought about trying a wheel hackmore with Quest but the single-rein stop is effectively used as our emergency brake/brain check when she gets competitive. It seems like the s-hack is the way to go though if we ever want to switch!

    1. Thanks, Grace:) And yes, I think lots of endurance riders use the s-hack because it has a little more leverage than other types of hackamores:)

  4. My mare wont carry a bit due to a broken upper pallet as a foal. Was using a difepull when i found a star wheel used at a tack shop. She and i have been in love with it ever since. We neck rein and the response she gives even when she is tweaking out with excitement is insane. I love this hack.

    1. That's wonderful! I'm so glad you found something that works so well for your mare:)

  5. Hi i have heard that you have to do the chin strap up quite tight. Is this the case?