WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #101
How do you get a horse responsive in a bosal after starting him
in a snaffle bit? Learn the basics from a top trainer of Arabian
Western pleasure champions.
BY TOMMY GARLAND
When you want to transition your horse successfully from snaffle
to bosal, you first need to know how to position the new
equipment on his head. Then, to teach him bosal communication
without scaring or confusing him, you need some reliable
I'll help you with these intro steps here. They're the ones I use
when preparing my Arabian futurity and junior Western pleasure
horses to be shown in a bosal after I have them going well in a
snaffle bit. (If you're completely new to the equipment, I
recommend you read "Bosal Basics" at the bottom)
To function properly, your bosal needs to rest and balance at a
specific point at the front of your horse's face. I'm pointing to
it in the photo immediately to the right. Set too far above or
below this spot, your bosal won't function properly.
Locate this spot on your own horse's face by running the first
and second fingers of your right hand up the non-bony "Y" of
flesh that extends from the top of his nostrils to the bony
bridge of his nose. The front of the bosal should rest just above
this spot. Adjust the headstall or bosal hanger as needed to
When reins are slack, you should be able to slide one finger
between the bosal and the side of your horse's jaw. This space
provides pressure relief whenever you release the reins while
riding. But when you lift the reins, the bosal's front will
rotate on the nose as its sides make contact with either side of
the horse's jaw.
From the saddle, and at a standstill, begin teaching your horse
how to give his nose and flex his poll in response to pressure
applied with one rein. Pressure from your right rein will be felt
on the left side of his face, and vice versa. As you make contact
with one rein (you might need to take it more to the side at
first than up), allow the other to remain slack. Reward with
release of pressure when your horse gives you the desired
response of flexing away from the face pressure and toward the
Repeat the same pressure-point lesson at the walk, using leg
pressure to encourage your horse forward as your rein pressure
tips his nose. Your goal is for him to be able to track forward
with his nose held near the point of his shoulder. If he tries to
escape flexing by raising his head instead, don't jerk or bump
the bosof hard - that would scare him and make him bunch up
instead of relaxing into the flex. Instead, keep rein contact
steady while squeezing more with your legs, until he figures out
that he only gets relief by flexing toward his shoulder.
When your horse will flex to and follow the contact rein well in
both directions at a walk and jog, use changes of bend and
direction to improve self-carriage and collection. Release him
from a bend, tracking straight for two strides. Then take a firm
enough feel on one rein (here, it's my right) to initiate a tight
circle, and press your same-side leg against the girth to help
push the shoulders over for several strides. Release; continue
forward; and with no interruption of flow or cadence, switch bend
and direction the other way. Repeat, from left back to right,
right back to left, and so forth.
As you practice the frequent changes of bend, your horse will
learn to rely on his body core for balance and will feel lighter
and more responsive to your cues. I recommend you intersperse
walking with jogging at first, before graduating to lots of
steady jogging with direction changes as part of each training
ride. You'll eventually be able to compress and collect your
horse with just a fingertip feel of inside rein and leg at the
girth, for a beautifully balanced jog like this.
The Virginia-based trainer had a spectacular season last year
with Dancin To Victory, the Arabian stallion used to demonstrate
bosal-training tips for this article. The duo won Western
pleasure titles at such prestigious shows as the Scottsdale
(Arizona) All-Arabian Show and the U.S. Arabian Nationals; the
aptly named bay also made victory passes with amateur rider -
Natalie Hunt in the saddle. A popular clinician as well as a show
trainer, Tommy stresses confidence, patience, and respect via his
CPR Horsemanship program. Learn more at tommygarland.com.
JANUARY 2011 HORSE AND RIDER
* A bosal is the leather or rawhide-covered noseband portion of a
hackamore, which is a form of bitless bridle.
A bosat is designed for two-handed riding, using a continuous
rein that's tied to the bosai's heel.
* instead of delivering rein pressure to the corners of a horse's
mouth and to his tongue, as a snaffle bit does, a bosal's contact
points are on the bridge of the nose and on each side of the jaw.
* A horse feels single-rein pressure on the side of his face
that's: opposite the contact rein.
* When equal pressure is applied to both reins, the basal engages
its headstall, or hanger, to put pressure on the poll as well as
the nose bridge and each side of the jaw.
* For best results, a new bosal should be shaped with its heel
knot pointed down and the noseband area rounded to fit the face.
If you're unfamiliar with basal shaping, purchase yours from a
vendor who knows the procedure and will do it or teach it to you.
To be continued from time to time