Friday, July 11, 2014

Horse Jewelry

A glossary of tack terminology, from bridles to spurs. Many of these terms are not strictly Westernisms, but your Western characters would most likely know them – and if they’re riders, they’d probably know how to use most of these items.

Bar-bit: a straight or nearly straight bit, at either end of which is a ring for bridle and reins

Bit: the metal part of a bridle inserted into the horse’s mouth

Bozal, bonsal, bosaal, bosal: a strap of leather or rawhide which goes around a horse’s face immediately above its mouth, used in place of a bit, usually when breaking or riding an unruly horse; an essential part of a hackamore

Bridle chain: a short chain attaching the reins to the bit of a bridle

Bridle ring: a ring at each end of the bit, to which the reins or chains are fastened

            1. Split-Ear: a leather strap goes over the horse’s head, down the cheeks, and is attached to the bit; over the top of the head, the strap is split so that one part is behind the ears and the other (a narrower strap) is in front
            2. California Bridle: “a more elaborate affair, as we would expect from the colorful Californios.” Made of leather or woven horsehair of varied colors. A strap hangs down from the horse’s crown, behind the ears, and is held in place by a band across the forehead.
            3. Hackamore: (the conventional Anglo variant of the Mexican word jacima) a halter without a bit, composed of a braided rawhide noseband (boza) “with two strips of latigo whang interlaced on either side to act as cheek-plates and tie at the poll to hold it in place. Buckles are seldom used. Some may have a browband of the same narrow whang, or a throatlatch” (Mora, 1950). The reins are made of light-weight hair rope (mecate or McCarty) and a blind (tapajos) can also be added.

Caberos: originally a soft halter of rope, the term came to mean a hair rope itself. The original word cabestro was also retained and in many areas was used to distinguish a hair-rope halter from one made of rawhide or leather, although it was sometimes applied to a form of realta, which properly was made of hide.

Chileno: a ring bit

Curb bit: one with an upward curb (port) in the middle; a curb-strap passes from the bit underneath the chin

Curb-strap: a strap passing under the lower jaw, attached to the upper parts of a bit; useful in controlling a difficult animal

Ear head: a headstall (bridle) with a loop for one of the horse’s ears, but without nose band, brow band, or throatlatch; used only on well-broken horses

Fiador, fiadore, Theodore: “a small diameter hair rope, or one of rawhide, or of white cotton sash cord … it acts as a throat-latch and converts the hackamore into a strong halter, as it goes around the neck and leads down under the jaw to tie into the bosal at the heel knot. The cord leads double all around and the knots used in the ties are very tricky and smart-looking” (Mora, 1950).

Freno: usually referred to the bit, but could also mean the whole bridle

Hackamore bit: a bit, usually with a padded noseband, no part of which went into a horse’s mouth; used for a soft-mouthed horse, particularly in the training of young horses to bits and lines

Hackamore rope: often a light-weight rope of hair, attached to a hackamore

Halfbreed bit: a corrugated bit that was hard on a horse’s mouth

Kellys: bits and spurs made by P.M. Kelly and Sons, El Paso

Martingale: a breast-collar or strap used with a saddle, with attachments running to the cinch between the horse’s forelegs and one running to the noseband on the bridle; it checks a horse from throwing its head up and rearing

Mexican bit: a bit that used a curb-ring in place of the Anglo curb-chain and curb-strap

Naja: a small decoration hanging from the headband of a bridle onto the horse’s face, rather like an inverted horse-shoe or crescent moon, reminding one of similar decorations worn by the Moors

Ring-bit (also called chileno in California and the Southwest): a metal ring used in place of a curb-strap around the lower jaw of a horse; perfectly acceptable in the hands of a skillful horseman, torture for the horse with a rider who “rode the reins”

Spanish bit, Spade bit, Spanish spade bit: a bit with a large port which, if wrongly used, could agonize a horse’s mouth; often there would be a roller or cricket on the port, which the horse could play with its tongue. In California, horses were broken with a hackamore and so were soft-mouthed for a gently-used spade bit

Spurs: though all spurs consist of a heel-band, a shank and a rowel, the Western versions of these devices for giving the get-go to a horse are various. Historically, the main differences were between two styles: the Plains style, east of the Rockies, and the Californio style. In general, the California spur was larger. People who don’t ride often assume that spurs are cruel, especially big ones. In fact, they are only as severe as the men using them, and the ones with more points prick less. They are properly used as reminders and emergency-starters. Common nicknames: buzz saws, can openers, cartwheels, Chihuahuas, diggers, gads, galves, goosenecks, grappling irons, gut hooks, gut lancers, gut wrenches, hell-rousers, hooks, Kellys, pet-makers, persuaders, rib-wrenches, steel, sunbursts, tin bellies, wagon spokes

Spur chains: usually two or three of these, they go under the arch of the foot

Spur leather, Spur strap: a piece that goes over a rider’s instep to hold it in place, sometimes elaborately tooled, carved or ornamented with conchas

A Dictionary of the Old West, Peter Watts, 1977
Dictionary of the American West, Win Blevins, 1993

J.E.S Hays


  1. Very interesting, thanks. I picked up a few that I had not been familiar with. Very much Spanish influenced obviously.

  2. Fascinating and usual. Thanks

  3. Thank you, a really useful post as usual.


  4. Happy to be of assistance to my fellow Westerners!

  5. Such an interesting horse jewelry post, Thanks for sharing here.