What is a mecate? The mecate is the rein portion of a hackamore, which is a type of headgear for the horse. The unique part of the hackamore is that it does not have a bit, but uses a braided rawhide noseband called a bosal. The bosal works on pressure points on the horse's face, nose, and chin. The mecate is a rope made from horse hair or soft feeling rope that serves as reins and lead rope, should one need.
The Persians in 500 BC were one of the first to use a thick plaited noseband which was called a hakma. On the hakma a third rein was added at the nose. Later this third rein moved from the top of the noseband to under the chin, where it is still part of the modern hackamore set up with bosal and mecate reins.
The Hackamore used in the United States came from the Spanish Vaqueros in California. From this, the American Cowboy adopted two different uses, the "Buckaroo" tradition closely resembling that of the original Vaqueros, and the "Texas" tradition which blended some Spanish techniques with methods from the eastern states.
The bosal hackamore uses the Vaqueros tradition of the braided noseband and the mecate rope. The mecate is tied to the bosal in a specialized manner that adjusts the fit of the bosal around the muzzle of the horse and creates both a looped rein and a long free end that can be used for a number of purposes. For the mounted rider, the free end is coiled and attached to the saddle or tucked under your belt. When the rider dismounts, the lead rein is not used to tie the horse to a solid object but used as a lead rope and a form of lunge line when needed.
The traditional mecate used by the California Vaqueros was made from the long hair of a horse's tail and was hand braided. Modern mecates are made with horse hair and synthetic rope with a horse hair tassel at one end and a leather popper at the other end.
A variation of the mecate is when it is used in conjunction with the snaffle bridle. The mecate reins are to be used with slobber straps, which protect the mecate and helps provide a quick release for training the horse. This variation is popular in the natural horsemanship world and has become very popular with Nevada and high desert Buckaroos.
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