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 con- fusing him, you need some reliable get-started techniques.
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” below.)
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 “V” 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 achieve this.
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 contact rein.
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 bosal 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.
A bosal is the leather- or rawhide-covered noseband portion of a hackamore, which is a form of bitless bridle.
A bosal is designed for two-handed riding, using a continuous rein that’s tied to the bosal’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 bosal 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 bosal shaping, purchase yours from a vendor who knows the procedure and will do it or teach it to you.
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.