By Tanya Randall
The traditional mechanical hackamore leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to barrel racing. With few alternatives available, trainers began to experiment with their own versions—ones that catered to the demands of the sport.
Some of the most popular barrel racing hackamores include the Jim Warner hackamore, developed by trainer and futurity competitor Jim Warner, the Stivers hackamore, created by trainer and futurity competitor Bobby Stivers, and the Bozo sidepull, created by Steve Lazor and made popular by Women’s Professional Rodeo Association four-time world champ Kristie Peterson. Here, Warner, Stivers and Peterson talk about the nuts and bolts behind these popular tools.
Jim Warner Hackamore
Perhaps the most popular barrel racing hackamore, the Jim Warner hackamore is found in tack rooms across the country.
“Every time Reinsman sends me a royalty check, I think that surely everyone must have one by now,” laughed multiple futurity champion Jim Warner.
Warner developed the hackamore in the early 1990s when he was living in Gainesville, Texas. Rod Teuscher of RT Bits & Spurs in Gainesville made the initial prototypes and Warner had a few made elsewhere before Reinsman bought the rights to the hackamore.
“They really did me a favor by asking me about it,” Warner said. “I didn’t have a patent on it or anything, and they could have taken over without even asking me. I couldn’t even begin to keep up with the numbers. I don’t even have a clue how many they’ve sold.”
As with all great ideas, there’s generally a muse that generates the flurry of thought behind the design. For Warner, it was a 3-year-old Jet Of Honor colt he was getting ready for the 4-year-old futurities.
“[Jet Of Honor offspring] have always been a little funny about their mouths,” Warner said. “I tried a hackamore but it was too stiff, and that’s what got me to thinking, ‘Man, if I could just get a hackamore with a little more bend.’ I thought wouldn’t it be neat to make a hackamore that would give you more side pull, and that’s where we came up with the shanks that swivel. It seems to give you a lot more bend and flex than the traditional hackamore.”
Through a lot of trial and error, a hybrid hackamore and sidepull was born.
“The shanks swivel out just enough that you can get more nose,” Warner said. “I wanted the noseband to set free so it would stay in place and work better [when the shanks turn and swivel]. The main thing was the flex, because every other hackamore I used made a horse as stiff as a board.”
The hackamore comes in long and short shanks with the rope noseband and short-shank version. Warner wanted the long-shank version for people who may need a little more whoa, but the short-shank is much more common.
There is also a bicycle chain noseband version. This is more severe than the rope noseband, but it’s not as severe as it sounds. The chain conforms to the nose to touch more pressure points, thus adding control. It doesn’t add control by causing pain. And since few people, especially those outside the industry, understand this, the chain is most often covered by black electrical tape. Thus, many associations, including the WPRA, require that all metal touching a horse’s head be wrapped. Vet wrap can also be used to control the severity of the noseband of both the rope and chain versions.
Warner doesn’t compete with his hackamore much, because he rides a lot of young horses.
“Most people use it on older, finished horses,” Warner said, who also has a Warner gag he designed made by L&W Bits. “I’ll tune a horse in it. I’ve got a mare right now that has a very sensitive mouth. If you ride her with a bit, you will sore her mouth up without even trying. I tune on her a bunch in this hackamore and slip a bit on her to run her.”
Warner suggests playing with the fit of the hackamore. He said the lower on the nose it’s placed, the more severe it is. He doesn’t advise adjusting it down so low that it’s on the soft part of the nose. He also suggests riding the horse in it before trying to make a run.
“I don’t think a hackamore is something you can stick on a horse and just go run them in it unless they’ve been ridden with a bit with a noseband before,” Warner advised. “If you take a young horse that’s only been ridden with a snaffle or a bit of some type, that’s never worn a noseband of any sort, and you put a hackamore on them and think they’re going to work right off the bat, I don’t think that’s going to happen. It’s totally different pressure on their face. It’s something they’re not used to, and you’ve got to work them in it some. If it’s an older horse that’s used to some type of noseband, I think you have a better chance of going right away.”
With so many new people entering the sport, few people know the Jim Warner hackamore was developed by a very successful trainer and futurity competitor. Warner, who has nearly $700,000 in barrel racing earnings, not including the thousands of dollars he won before Equi-Stat began tracking barrel racing in 1988, doesn’t compete as extensively as he used to and has switched his focus to the car business.
“I stay busy with the cars now,” Warner said. “Horses used to be the main deal and cars were the sideline. Now, horses are the sideline and the cars are the main business. I hardly have any outside horses. If I have a good one for the futurities or one I can make into an open horse to sell later, I’ll go. But, I won’t haul across the country with just one anymore.”
Warner and his wife, Stacy, live with their 11-year-old daughter, Lana, in Troy, South Carolina.
When veteran barrel racer Bobby Stivers started training and hauling to futurities about 35 years ago, there weren’t many options when it came to hackamores. Stivers noticed the ones available tended to bind and pinch a horse, so he set out to make something better. After trying another homemade hackamore he saw at a futurity, Stivers finally bought some stainless steel rod and started trying to make one himself.
“It took me about two years to get the bend to do what I wanted—where I could pull a horse’s head around like they were in a halter, but you had enough whoa and bend that it would handle about anything you would need it to handle,” Stivers said.
Reinsman started making the Stivers hackamore at little more than a decade ago.
“At first I was making them for myself,” Stivers said. “Then people got to wanting them, and I couldn’t keep up. There were other companies that have made them before Reinsman, but they’d change something on it. They didn’t realize I had gone through years of changes before I found the right one. It took me a long time. It wasn’t something that came together overnight.”
The Stivers hackamore comes in long- and short-shank versions. Both can have mouthpieces added to them. He’s also developed a combination ring bit with very little gag that has a short-shank option. It too is available from Reinsman.
As far as placement, Stivers wants the hackamore to sit right above the soft part of the nose.
“It fits down on the nose right before it turns into gristle,” Stivers said. “I’ve seen a lot of folks put it down on the gristle and when they get a hold, it shuts the horse’s air off. The horse is still working, but the rider’s forcing it to do it, and it won’t stay working for long that way.”
Stivers stresses you can’t ride in a hackamore like you would a bit.
“Most people don’t know how to use a hackamore,” Stivers said. “If they did, there’d be twice as many people using them. When you start out with a hackamore, you need to start out loose and then tighten up as need be. A lot of people will start out with it too tight. When they take a hold of that horse, it will throw its head up in the air. They’ll say ‘Oh, he won’t work with a hackamore’ when it’s really not the bit, but the person using it. You’ve got to give and take. Do it with little quick motions to get them to pay attention and then give it back to them and let them do the rest of it.”
With more than $600,000 in lifetime Equi-Stat earnings and a slew of earnings before that, Stivers has trained many successful horses, from youth and futurity champions to WPRA circuit champions and Wrangler National Finals Rodeo backups. He says he rides about 80 percent of his horses in a hackamore, because he wants the horse to work freely.
“I like to take my time,” Stivers said. “There are some horses that will make futurity horses and be ready to run when they’re 4 years old, and there are others you don’t even need to try until the middle of the 4-year-old year or until they’re 5. I like to get a horse working on their own without me having to jerk, snatch, set down and do all that sort of stuff. I wanted a free-working horse, and the best way to have a free-working horse is to have something on them that doesn’t pinch them somewhere or raise that gum up three inches. If you make them mad so many times, they’re going to rebel. I know I would. I’ve just had better luck getting horses to do it the easy way; easy is better.”
Stivers, who resides in Scottsville, Kentucky, with his wife, Connie, is pretty choosey about his hauling these days, especially given his wife’s health. He still goes to several big shows a year, and if he’s got a good futurity horse, he’ll be at the big ones.
Known as both the Bozo hack and its early moniker the “Ugly Hack,” the Bozo sidepull was created by fellow Coloradan Steve Lazor, an avid team roper of Falcon, but made famous by Kristie Peterson’s four-time WPRA world champion, French Flash Hawk (“Bozo”).
“Even though I ran him with a bit some his futurity year, Bozo didn’t like a bit,” Peterson said. “Steve Lazor had an ugly hack he made, and it was ugly. When Bozo started winning, he made me a pretty one.”
The Bozo sidepull is currently manufactured by Classic Equine, and it’s exactly like the original, says Peterson.
According to the Classic Equine website, the Bozo sidepull “allows your horse to be comfortable enough to really run, yet gives you enough control to rate and regulate the run.”
“You still have lift, but you can get a hold of one. Bozo felt like he had more control because he could push on it a little, but I could still get a hold of him if I had to,” Peterson said. “In fact, a little kid walked in front of me as I was starting my run at Casper, Wyoming, and I got Bozo stopped immediately. No problem.”
The Bozo sidepull may interest barrel racers looking for a hackamore that will correct an over-bendy horse or are looking for a forgiving hackamore to offset heavy hands. However, it’s more applicable to finished horses and isn’t recommended for training.
“It usually fits a little lower [on the nose] than you would think and a little looser than you would think,” Peterson advised.
Peterson and her husband, Chuck, reside in Lott, Texas. Although she prefers starting barrel horses over hauling these days, her daughter, Jordon Briggs, is an accomplished futurity trainer and currently ranked among the WPRA’s best. At the time of the interview for this article, Peterson was about to become a grandmother for the sixth time.
Tanya Randall is an avid barrel racer and veteran contributor to Barrel Horse News. E-mail comments on this article to [email protected]