The Vaquero Way and Bridlehorses



I recently picked up an Arabian and after having my dentist chiropractor horse whisperer Loren Hardie come inspect him, I decided to see what he knew. I realized that this horse had a lot of buttons, and I had no idea how to go about riding him. I took Loren's recommendation and got on him bareback with a halter and lead rope to.

When I purchased this horse, I was told that he is very responsive and was trained by hispanics down by the Texas/Mexico border. The can mean many things, so I still wasn't sure what I had.

Now, I have ridden this horse several times under saddle (Western and English) and tried three different bits on him. He hates bits. I have to give him treats to accept the bit. This horse was good, responsive, but not nearly as responsive as he was with nothing on.

He side passed, spun around both ways for me, and could perform a dead stop, not a sliding stop. A dead stop. So I asked around and learned that I have a bridle horse on my hands. How cool is that! So now I must learn.

The goal of the Vaquero was to get a horse that worked one-handed (since they needed to rope) with the lightest of cues. The spade bit that is traditionally associated with the Vaqueros was intended not to be harsh (despite their appearance) but, rather, to communicate very subtle cues from the rider to the horse. A working bridle horse will look very similar to a Dressage horse in that it operates in a very collected manner. The difference is that a bridle horse does this with very little rein input. The cues to collect are mainly seat and legs with only a miniscule input from the reins. (the finished horse can actually be
ridden bridleless and show his refinement


The traditional Vaquero training procedure was to start a young horse (about 3 years) in the snaffle bit and start teaching it to work off a direct rein. Then, still in a snaffle, they start using more neck reining.

After the horse is going good in the snaffle (a year or more) they will switch to the bosal. This moves the cues from the cheeks to below the jaw and starts to prepare the horse for the feel of the spade bit. You also continue the change from direct rein to neck reining since you can direct rein in a bosal without mouth pressure. The hackamore is usually 3/8″ to 7/8″ in diameter.

The vast majority of horse owners use leverage bits. The leverage bits are simple to understand; pull until they stop, and if that doesn’t work, pull harder. The spade is what is known as a “signal” bit. The long tapering port, complete with spoon, cricket and copper covered braces is configured in such a way as to encourage and allow the horse to “pick up” the bit in his mouth and “carry it.”

According to Traci Davis: "The end result of a true bridle horse is called “straight up in the bridle”. This means to have a horse educated enough that he can be ridden and work in a spade bit..Although the path may change from person to person the most common sequence is snaffle bit, hackamore, two rein and then straight up.

Next they go to the two-rein where the bosal and spade bit are used simultaneously. You start out with the horse just carrying the spade and the bosal providing the cues and end up with the spade providing the cues. Finally, the spade is used by itself. Despite the apparent size of the spade it DOES NOT jab the horse in the roof of the mouth. The side of the spoon (the end of the port) presses against the roof of the mouth over a fairly large area. The other areas of pressure are the bars and the chin- just like any curb bit. The other parts of the bit like the roller (called a cricket) in the port are intended to give the horse something to play with their tongue and help keep the mouth wet. You can hear them buzzing as they play with them even when standing still. The braces (curved wires going from the hinge at the cheekpiece to the spoon are intended to help keep the horse from ever getting its tongue over the bit. It doesn’t have a pressure function.

There is weekend cowboys and cowgirls that ride with their hands and not their bodies, some if you took the reins out of their hands they would fall off. The Vaquero style of riding is body and leg ques. So many are happy with just riding and not becoming refined this is a choice each of us make of wanting to stay where you are in your horsemanship or go further and learn more about you and your horse and truly become one."