O Cothers -
I am going to try an English hackamore (lightweight, with a padded noseband and a curb chain) and see if Madame approves. She is entirely happy with her snaffle, but we have Great Plans for long trail rides this year, and perhaps she would like to not have a bit in her mouth for all that time.
I will ask my trainer (when she gets back from warm sunny parts of the country), but because I know there is so much hackamore experience here, what might I expect in terms of transitioning her from snaffle to hackamore? What do I need to know to be appropriately light but clear in my communication? Is she likely to understand the hack's cues off the bat? She is an intelligent 20-year-old. Your typical sweet Arab mare -- she will tell you (oh, yes) if she doesn't like something, but is generally very willing and forgiving of her mom's learning curves.
Your mare probably won't have any questions about the new equipment. I like a hackamore as an option, especially in winter when I don't like to shove a cold bit into a horse's mouth.
Be aware: your lateral rein aids won't be as "there" as with a bit. Also, a few horses object to the feel of the noseband. (My mare's one of them; she tolerates it, but doesn't like it; I just got a "jumping hackamore" which has less stopping power, about like riding in a halter; she likes it better so it's a good winter alternative.) As with any hackamore, make sure that you adjust it so it's high enough that the noseband is on bone, not cartilage.
I rode for years at a stable that used hackamores most of the time, most of them the English hacks. We rode with as much contact as with a snaffle. Note, however, that we used the double-wide curb chains -- more surface area makes them not at all severe. English hackamores come with a single chain curb or a leather strap -- if your mare needs "less", get a fleece cover or a double-wide chain curb.
I switched my arab over with similar motives (was fine in the snaffle,but I wanted to get out of her mouth if I could on the trail, especially now that we do dressage in the arena) and it wasn't too bad.
Did some one handed work with the snaffle doing bending exercises with my leg etc then put the hackamore on her in the arena and did the same. She didn't seem too confused.
I initially tried the hackamore about a year ago. Did OK for the first ride or 2, but during a pleasure ride with a couple of friends, she made me nervous how she was carrying her head, seemed confused at times at what I wanted etc. so I put her back in the bit for trail work.
Just tried the hackamore again cold turkey on the trail at the beginning of this year and what a difference! About six months ago I started dressage lessons and since she goes off my seat and leg so much better, the hackamore thing works much better. I've done all of my work with the hackamore on the trail since the beginning of the year.
I still won't start an endurance race with a hack, but definately considering switching half way through. Even if I can only condition with it, it's a HUGE chunk of time I can give her mouth a break.
I guess my point was, if it doesn't work the first time, try again later and you might be suprised.
BTW - I use a sliester mechanical hack. Straighter shanks than the S-hacks. I don't like the S-hacks at all and how they lay against the nose, at least on this particular horse.
I switched my mare from a full cheek snaffle to a riding halter. She was never a fan of a bit, and the transition was not an issue. We did one day of games in the arena, then I just rode her with the halter. I kept a bridle on just in case for a ride or two, then rode with it in my saddlebag for another ride or two. Jet responds at least as well if not better with just a normal halter (it doesn't have knots, but has a braided nose band). I love it - it's simple and easy.
I don't think you will have an issue. I like riding in a halter just for fun. If I am training a new horses or something, I just put the halter on and ride around in the ring see how they do. Usually if they are nice and light and responsive in with a bridle, they will respect the hackamore just the same.
I have a bitless bridle, and a rope halter hackamore. I like to use them in the winter because I dont like cold bits and I dont have to clean them! My TB doesn't care for the Dr. cook style of the cross under jaw, but he is fine when it have just nose pressure like a halter.
The english hackamores with shanks have way more power than just a rope hackamore or simple bitless, so she might be pretty sensitive to the whoa and potentially toss her head.