Nose Pressure Counts In Sidepulls

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Sidepull hackamores are ideal starting bridles. They teach a horse to follow his head while letting the rider communicate with the nose instead of the mouth.

Some trainers prefer a sidepull over a bosal because the sidepull lacks the curb type pressure of a bosal heel knot rising on the horse’s jaw, but it gives clear lateral signals. Both require plow reining to teach the horse to follow his head and then can be used with neck reining as the horse learns to move away from neck rein pressure.

The sidepull directs the horse’s head to the side when the rider extends his or her rein hand; the noseband presses against the opposite side of the nose and the active rein moves the head in the correct direction.

For slowing or stopping, pressure back on the front of the nose is accompanied by minor rising and upward pressure along the cheeks (if the horse’s head is poked too far forward out of position). The pressure, and sometimes the vertical rolling motion of the noseband on the bridge of the nose, helps teach the horse to flex at the poll. In this way, the sidepull is more like a snaffle without leverage, while a bosal is more like a curb with jaw leverage.

If a colt tries to buck, the rider can raise his head by lifting one or both reins — the noseband is held in place by the chin strap, which prevents it rising and allows the rider to lift the horse’s head. A sidepull can also be used for ground driving, much like a snaffle can.

While we like sidepulls, the ones we tried left us frustrated with nose-pressure problems and searching for one that combines function with comfort at a price we can easily afford.

Among those we tested, the quality of workmanship within laced headstalls varies quite a bit. Sewn headstalls are generally all high-quality. The choice of lacing versus stitching is more personal preference than function.

For rope nosebands, the softer the rope and the wider the surface area, the milder they should be.

However, we were disappointed to find that even the most flexible rope nosebands (Big Horn, Cowboy Tack’s single rope, and Tory) seemed to place disproportionate pressure on the bridge of the nose. Pressure was present even when the reins were slack.

Additionally, our horses were reluctant to chew while wearing these rope sidepulls. A soft, chewing jaw is a sign of a comfortable, relaxed mouth. Even when the chin straps were loosened beyond riding adjustment and manipulated, the rope nosebands roughed up the hair on the nose.

Many manufacturers agree that a soft noseband is desirable. One pointed out that an overly soft noseband could sag in the front and hurt the end of a horse’s nose bone or restrict his breathing if improperly adjusted. We agree, but we did not find anything approaching this consistency or balance. Another suggested stiffer nosebands should be used in transitions to bosals.

Although bosals are shaped to fit the nose by blocking and tying them to a form (a can or appropriately sized piece of wood), this process doesn’t work well with sidepulls. Circle Y said their nosebands will soften with time, but we hate for our horse to wait that long. Both Libertyville’s leather-over-rope nosebands were soft enough to be comfortable to the horse on the first ride, as evidenced by the horse’s soft chewing.

The metal nosebands are potentially more severe, and we wouldn’t use them on young horses. Manufacturers suggested that two- and three-year-old stud colts, or horses with holes in their training, might benefit from the stronger metal nosebands. While we realize a noseband is only as severe as the hands that use it, given the unpredictability of colts and the occasional need to get strong on their heads, we are going to avoid metal nosebands. A made horse who needs a break from a bit might go well in them but only with educated hands.

Metal nosebands did offer two advantages over rope nosebands. They ceased to apply pressure to the nose when the reins were released. This also allowed the horses to chew softly while working, which we consider appropriate. Also, the metal nosebands hung in a well-balanced manner. Although most of the rope nosebands also hung balanced, they created friction on the nose.

We expected some of the fatter chin-strap/rein-ring knots to come into contact with the horses’ cheeks more frequently than the less bulky ones. Our initial inspection showed that some knots, like Circle Y’s, were designed to lay smooth. Cowboy Tack’s double rope noseband’s rounded knots come in against the cheeks when both reins are used firmly. We believe this to be a natural result of the design of sidepull hackamores. But because of the stiffness of all of the nosebands, we found no significant difference in the function of the various thicknesses and designs of knots.

We first believed rope nosebands with a second ring for the reins (Big Horn, Circle Y, Tory) would give a better feel while riding than single-ring nosebands. We also guessed that the more flexible the attachment of the second rein rings (Circle Y and Tory were more flexible), the softer the feel.

While we tested the sidepulls using reins with snaps for ease of attachment, we found no difference in feel between the single- and double-ring nosebands but instead found the metal nosebands with the links to give a softer feel. Given the potential severity of metal nosebands, this is good, but we wouldn’t mind seeing more flexibility in the rope noseband connections.

One manufacturer suggested that the second rein ring allows the noseband to roll across the horse’s nose, giving a better head position. However, we found the snugness of the chin strap to be the only significant factor in the noseband’s lateral movement in all the rope noseband sidepulls.

All the headstalls, except Libertyville’s, were well-sized and adjustable for different-sized horses. Libertyville lists their sidepulls as being adjustable to fit all horses, but we found this was not case.

We easily punched enough additional holes in the single height adjustment at the poll for the headstall to fit some small horses, but the sewn-in throat latch was a problem. Its height (15” from the bottom edge of the noseband) forced the browband up to or above the base of the ears. We recommend measuring your horse’s head before ordering these bridles.

The Cowboy Tack sidepulls had additional jaw straps. In order to adjust them snugly, per the manufacturer’s suggestion, we punched two additional holes for some horses. The manufacturer explained that the jaw straps were designed to:

a) Keep the noseband from rising inappropriately on the horse’s nose,
b) Restrict inappropriate side-to-side movement of the noseband, and
c) Keep the cheek pieces away from the horses’ eyes.

We found that:

a) The shape of the horses’ heads and the combination of the noseband and chin straps prevented all the sidepulls we tested from rising inappropriately.

b) The jaw straps did limit the side-to-side movement of the noseband (particularly the metal noseband), while still making our signals clear to the horse. (The jury is still out on whether the side-to-side movement is an advantage or not.) However, we found the side-to-side motion on all the sidepulls was more a function of the tightness of the chin strap than of the jaw strap.

c) The jaw straps did move the cheek pieces farther from the eyes, but the design of the Cowboy Tack headstalls kept the cheek pieces properly placed even without the jaw straps.

Several of the noseband hangers (in front of the cheek pieces) were single thickness, while others were multiple thicknesses. In general, the thinner, the more supple the hangers. We conjectured that the hanger thickness and suppleness would influence how the nosebands hung and balanced on the horses’ faces. However, in the rope noseband sidepulls, we found that the hanger suppleness did not influence noseband balan ce. The metal noseband hangers were all two or three thicknesses of leather, and all hung well.


Big Horn #3441
• Excellent quality; professional hand-lacing.
• Noseband somewhat mild (two ropes wide and relatively soft).
• Knots on noseband are rounded (not flattened).
• Hangers could be more pliable.
• Noseband hangs well.
• Headstall cheek pieces hang close to horses’ eye on left and move toward the eye when one rein is used (as do most sidepulls), but this one caused horses to blink and pull away.

Circle Y #40420006
• Good-quality; buckles have rollers.
• Average workmanship: curb keepers are stapled, lacing ends stick out.
• Noseband not as mild (two ropes wide, but stiffer).
• Noseband shaped to the horses’ noses better than most.
• Knots on noseband are flatter on inside than most.
• Hangers are the most pliable of those tested (single thickness).
• On some horses, the noseband rode unnaturally high on the nose at the front and low at the rear, and the headstall cheek pieces hung close to the eyes.

Cowboy Tack #TSP1240
• Excellent quality materials and workmanship; stitching even; headstall keepers fastened with wide metal clamps.
• Additional jaw strap.
• Noseband least mild (rigid, narrow).
• End of noseband touches cheek when opposite plow rein is used; neither a problem nor an advantage.
• Ends of noseband don’t rub when both reins are used.
• Noseband hangs in good balance.
• Noseband fits smaller-nosed horses best.

Cowboy Tack #TSP1241
• Same quality workmanship and materials as above.
• Additional jaw strap.
• Noseband not as mild (is thin).
• Noseband knots rounded.
• Noseband hangs well on nose.

Cowboy Tack #TSP1242
• Same quality workmanship and materials as above.
• Additional jaw strap.
• Noseband somewhat mild (wide and somewhat flexible).
• Noseband knots rounded and large in keeping with double thickness of rope to knot.
• Noseband hangs well on nose.

Tory #880HL
• Excellent quality vegetable-tanned leather and workmanship; lacing is neatly done.
• Noseband not as mild (narrow).
• Manufacturer feels this relatively soft noseband is the most workable they have tried for most horses and most riders’ hands.
• Knots are flat.
• Our test model noseband had a twist in it, so it hung higher on one side.

Seminole #640
• Excellent quality materials and workmanship.
• Noseband is least mild (narrow and rigid).
• Noseband hangs in good balance on horse’s nose.

Seminole #645
• Same excellent quality as above.
• Noseband is least mild (wider but wire wrapped, flexible at hinge)
• Noseband hangs in good balance on horse’s nose.
• The shaped metal gives a slightly clearer lateral signal than other metal nosebands.

Libertyville Saddle Shop #3-0115
• Average-quality Havana brown leather (for the price we would expect more); but overall excellent quality workmanship and stitching.
• Leather covering the noseband is soft, smooth.
• Headstall has one adjustment at the crown piece.
• Noseband conforms softly and well to the horses’ noses.
• Smallest adjustment is 16 ??” from the base of the ear to the bottom of the noseband.
• Noseband hangs in a balanced manner.
• Noseband is softer and more flexible than the 3338 Libertyville hackamore. It is soft and mild.

Libertyville Saddle Shop #3-3338
• As far as we could tell, virtually the same item as #3-0115, except that this sidepull’s noseband is thinner, very slightly less flexible, and it is much less expensive.

Bottom Line
The Cowboy Tack TSP1241 single-rope noseband sidepull is our overall pick in rope-noseband sidepulls for our horses. This sidepull has the softest rope noseband in this field test coupled with the most functional headstall, all at a competitive $50 price.

The Libertyville Saddle Shop #3-3338 jumping hackamore for $29.50 is our choice for immediate-use nosebands and the Best Buy, but only if your horse has a big-enough head to fit it.

Also With This Article
Click here to view ”Make Your Own Sidepull.”
Click here to view ”Sidepull Specifications.”