Two Hands are Better than One

Story and photos by Leslie Desmond Published in the September 1996 issue of The Trail Less Traveled


Congratulations, you've made the transition from the snaffle bit to the hackamore. As your horse becomes a more reliable partner you'll get more work done riding in one hand--whether you're doctoring cattle, working colts with a flag or performing any other chore requiring a free hand.

In this phase of preparing your bridle horse, you'll refine the maneuvers that you began in the snaffle bit (see Preparation of the Bridle Horse). Buck Brannaman says you continue riding with two hands in the rawhide hackamore and develop your horse's responsiveness to the feel of your seat and legs in both forward and backward maneuvers.

At the same time, work to cultivate lightness and flexibility in his lateral and longitudinal responses to your legs and hands.

In time, your horse will be willing and supple enough at the lateral and longitudinal flexions to respond to a new and distinctly different feel for both postures at once. A horse that can carry himself comfortably in this way can travel through basic maneuvers in balance, combining lightness and boldness.

The inside rein: New feel and new function

Imagine being a horse and trying to sort out the meaning of these two strikingly different physical sensations. The new feel comes from the inside rein pulled up alongside his neck on the inside of the turn to create longitudinal response while the supporting rein tips the bridge on his nose in a new lateral direction. The old feel came from the inside direct rein that takes his head laterally--out and around to the side.

Since you always want him to willingly curl his flexible neck around and toward the inside rein with a simultaneous longitudinal response, it is very important to apply the feel of the supporting rein accurately from the start. To avoid confusing the horse, do not bring your supporting rein or hand across the neck towards the side you want to go. This may cause him to think you want to go in the opposite way.

75059e377bLateral flexion (in the rawhide hackamore) to the right with a "leading" rein.
hrs11 4bLongitudinal flexion (in the rawhide hackamore) at the walk. Note equal firmness on both reins.
hrs11 4cLateral and longitudinal flexion (in the leather hackamore) combined in one hand. The inside rein draws the bridge of the nose into vertical alignment while the outside support rein (right rein) sends the bridge of the nose to the left. The supple axis joint in the poll allows the jaws to rotate towards the outside of the turn as the nose tips in, which minimizes "braciness" and promotes a flow through the turn from nose to tail.

Your work in one hand will reflect the degree of accuracy you reached with two hands. You are working towards the goal of light, accurate footwork from a gentle, willing partner. Therefore, what you mean by the 'new feel" of your reins must be translated with a great deal of patience and without thought to the time it will take.

After the lateral and longitudinal work is solid, offer direction and support at a spot higher up on the neck and with the hands closer together than was necessary for work in the snaffle or starting out in the rawhide hackamore. Gradually, you'll start to ride more effectively in one hand.

Continue this refinement using the "floppy" hackamore, which is a bosal made of soft, pliable leather.

Part four of this series, Riding in the Two-Rein covers the transition from the hackamore into the "two rein."