Liz Graves was wonderful enough to spend a lot of time with me on the phone to a couple of times and she filled my head with as much Hackamore knowledge as I could handle, and then some. Although she had told me a few years ago that the Bosal was not something you just use without knowledge, I didn't understand why one would fail without it. How hard could it be, right?
So where does one start? With the construction. A good working Bosal is made completely from rawhide, from the core to the plaits. An exceptional Bosal is generally made of Kangaroo, as it is softer, yet strong. Bosals come in a variety of sizes, both in the diameter of the rig, to the interior dimensions. Diameters are 3/4", 5/8", 1/2", 3/8" and 1/4" which is called a Bosilito (these are used with a fully trained bridle horse and a spade bit). A horse is generally started in the 3/4" or 5/8" and as they progress, the diameter goes down to the 1/2" or 3/8" once a horse is considered "finished". The rawhide core can be soft, medium or hard, which will determine how well a Bosal will shape and maintain its shape overtime. Liz recommended I start with the 5/8" Bosal with a medium core. The next consideration when purchasing a Bosal is the plait count. What's a plait? Plaits are the braided strands of rawhide covering the core. The higher the plait count the smoother the Bosal will be against your horse's face. A cheaper Bosal will be 12 plaits or under, a high end Bosal will usually have a 36 plait nose, 24 plait cheek. 16-18 is still considered a lower end Bosal. G's is a 32 plait nose, 16 plait cheek. Why not use a cheaper Bosal? Well, simply stated, you can rub your horses face raw with the coarseness of the braids. The horse should feel the pressure/bump from the Bosal and respond, but not be hurt by it.
The key to a good fitting Bosal is that it fits the horse similar to a hat. Not too loose, not too tight. Now how do you get one to fit. I was fortunate that Liz has had her hands on G and told me what size she thought would work for his face. There are plenty of sites that explain how to measure. Once you have one with the right dimensions, fill your kitchen sink with hot water and weight your Bosal down into it. Let it sit for 30 minutes. Place a Bosal shaping block to the interior, strap it, hang it upside down in a shady but warm spot and let it dry for a few days. For G's Bosal we used a 5.5" wide x 6" long pine block. Hubby used a 2x6 piece of pine and just cut the length. He also grooved the bottom corners to accommodate the Bosal (he's such a sweetie). You may need to adjust the block size to get the right shape for your horse's face, but you can start out with a standard block. Try it on your horse and adjust your block and fitting as needed.
Especially when starting out, it is important to use a Fiodor. The fiodor's purpose is to balance the Bosal on the horse's nose properly as the rider gains the proper feel of the reins. (the black and white candy stripe throat latch is the fiodor). The fidor goes over the horses poll like a throat latch and is attached to the heel knot of the Bosal. This particular one is made of Mohair, and very soft.
The mecate are also very important to the balance and feel of the Bosal. The diameter of the mecate should be the same as the diameter of the Bosal. So if you're using a 5/8th Bosal, you would want 5/8th mecate. As with the Bosals, mecates come in a variety of materials and quality. It was recommended I buy the best quality I could afford. What you see here are Joe Ortiz, 5/8th 6-strand mane hair mecates. I bolded the word mane, as some braiders use tail hair, which is much coarser. As you can imagine, these little hairs feel prickly to your hands, until such time that they break off, which they are meant to do in time. You can wear a pair of lightweight gloves if it bothers you, but I found the prickly hair makes one hold the reins with a ligher feel. These little hairs also signal the horse when they touch their neck, and when they touch under their jaws. As far as strands, just as plait count is important in the quality and feel of the Bosal, the strand count is of importance to the mecate. The 6 strand gives you a good feel, without being too stiff, nor too limp. The key is the slightest flex of your fingers on the reins should elicit a response. This won't happen right away, same as when you introduce a horse to a snaffle bit, you need to do lateral and vertical flexion from the ground before attempting to do the same under saddle. A friend of Liz's who is has been riding his horses in Bosals for many many years, recommended that I check into Richard Caldwell. I picked up his DVD Jaquima a Freno Series - Part 2 Starting the Horse in the Jacquima (Bosal) and it has been very enlightening. There are those who use other materials for Mecate, but I think the horse hair are not only more traditional, but they do have a purpose feeling the way they feel. One more piece of the puzzle is the Headstall. It should be soft and very pliable as the Bosal needs to fall forward so it releases at the chin groove (see pic above). Using a regular headstall doesn't work well as it doesn't allow proper movement of the Bosal on the face.
So far I've been sticking to working with G in the arena where he feels safe and relaxed. Unfortunately, if a horse runs through the Bosal immediately, they will never respect the feel. That said, yesterday it was a beautiful afternoon and G was super relaxed so we walked out of the arena and down along the paddocks. When we got to the end I cued him to lower his head and graze, I sat and relaxed as he grazed down and around the corner. I rode him up the hill out back and then back down, paying close attention to his body and any time I felt him get a little bit tense we did some lateral movements to get his mind back on me. I'm not sure G will ever be a confident enough horse to ride the trail in the Bosal, but you never know. And if not, we've both learned a new art form!
There is so much more we need to learn in our journey, but I feel that with Liz and Mike's help, we're on the right track.