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Making Traditional Rawhide
The vaquero’s secrets of making Central Coast Ranch Rawhide were nearly lost in time. Unlike any other, it is renowned for its life and flexibility. A long journey with the help of “los viejos” has led to the making of CCRR once again amid the oaks and sycamores.
Our California climate is perfect with warm to hot, arid summers and cool nights for making the renowned CCRR developed originally by the vaqueros of this area. Our winters are often warm with moisture. This is ideal for raiding as our style is done “mojada” (“wet”).
A sustainable product, carefully chosen mature California hides are worked hot off the cow to prevent the break down of the hide caused by rotting fat and tissue. We don’t apply lime, salt or other chemicals used in commercial rawhide to help slip the hair quickly.
Why not? These fast and cheap methods permanently alter the inherent skin structure which results in a hard and brittle rawhide without remaining “life.”
Hair for our CCRR hides must be removed by hand. Care is taken to not scuff or damage the grain side of the hide. Damaging the grain side through overly aggressive scraping or use of chemicals reduces the strength as well as the appearance of the string. The majority of tensile strength of the rawhide comes from the top portion (hair/grain side).
Our authentic, traditional California vaquero way is a slow process, but the results are worth the time and effort in the land of mañana.
Unique to California
The California vaqueros knew what was essential to make a true hackamore or spade bit horse. When designing gear to this end, they looked to ancient elements from the Middle East, Africa, Spain and Mexico. Californios had livestock, varied terrain, a temperate climate amid the isolation of the missions and ranchos without the pressure of time. They used the natural materials that were readily available for what they needed.
What developed was simple, but unique equipment specifically created for ranch durability and the goal of the bridle horse. It worked. This is our legacy. It still works today and the vaquero culture renaissance is spreading around the world.
Bosal or Hackamore?
In some regions when used alone, the larger bosals are known as “hackamores.” This can cause some confusion when ordering (especially true in many areas of the Pacific Slope). For clarity, please bear with us.
If you want to ride in the tradition using the hackamore, you will essentially need an appropriately sized and made bosal with a hanger and a mane mecate close in diameter with enough twist and weight to tie up as a hackamore rig.
“Bosal” merely means “nose band.”
“La jaquima,” or the Anglicized “hackamore” means “halter” or “headstall.”
Choosing Your Bosal
For clarity, when you order a bosal you decide:
Additionally, you may order a brow band and throat latch or a fiador.
- diameter (for the level you and your horse are on)
- interior length to fit your horse and appropriate level of progress, ex. CC 5/8ths interior length average is 11 inches. It is less for smaller horses and bosals & longer for larger horses.
- number of plaits
- nose button treatment
- basic hanger and tie back (traditional w/o hardware), included keeps the hanger away from wide set eyes (if not needed, secure over the crown; don’t cut off),
*see Tying Back the Hanger
- color: lighter tan/brown toned with cream reverse or black with cream reverse natural strings
For the bosalita you may wish to add a center hanger, a figure 8 hanger, or possibly add decorative colored knots or silver or for your mature bridle horse, a special 8 plait bosalita made without a core (not for starting in the two rein)
Bosals are measured by the diameter of the bars (not the nose button). Typically, these include the sequence of:
- 3/4 inch (for a few tougher or larger horses),
- 5/8ths inch (most horses today are started in the 5/8ths which is the size used for 75-80% of the work),
- 1/2 inch (finish work 20-25% leading into the two rein),
- 3/8ths inch (for the two rein and leading the bridle horse)
Strings or Strands?
References to strands or strings are interchangeable. When the CCRR is ready, then strings are cut, sized and prepared to use for braiding. The various diameters of bosals each have different sizes of braided cores and widths of strings. Once braided, the number of strings are counted and referred to as “plaits.”
Does More Mean Better?
No. Don’t be fooled: more plaits do not necessarily mean a “better” bosal.
If you are following in the California vaquero and Pacific Slope buckaroo traditions, you need truly authentic rawhide gear created for this specific style, not imitations missing critical details that support increased performance and comfort.
For example, although attractive, foreign made bosals made of too many strands, cut narrow and thin, create more edges. When these are beveled and braided, the edges lay close together. Since these strings are cut so thin the initial finish is very smooth, but with use the edges will tend to curl up creating an extremely rough surface. Quite often the lower end foreign bosals are made of horse bellies or goat hide and are generally chemically dehaired.
We have had some of these brought into the shop with evidence of blood showing. Depending upon the chemicals and irritants used to make some rawhide, your horse can become inadvertently exposed.
An 8 plait is fine for the bars of a 3/8ths bosalita, whereas a 12 plait is serviceable for bosals and 16 plait shows a more finished look showing pride of ownership.
Nose Buttons Offered
You may select all rawhide, latigo or refined roo nose buttons braided over the rawhide body. Most of our CC nose buttons, prior to being bent into shape, are made 6-7 inches in length.
A closer fit of the nose and sides of the face results. Keeping the gaps out of the bars sprung open by an overly long nose button, prevents the resultant discomfort and soreness of the bosal balancing on one spot on the nasal bone (remember, it is only covered by thin skin).
Each horse and rider will have preferences as to exactly where the hackamore/bosal should rest. Many horses and riders prefer to vary this over the course of training or during a long day of work.
A shorter nose button lessens the potential for wobble, “static” and rubbing allowing for a quick signal and response between horse and rider. It also spreads the pressure over a larger area for more comfort.
The nose button length determines the attachment position of the hanger. “Los viejos” (“the old ones”) learned that where and how the hanger is attached alters the balance point of the bosal's action. Each horse and rider will have preferences as to exactly where the hackamore/bosal should rest. Many horses and riders prefer to vary this over the course of training. Resist the use of headstalls and thick latigo hangers. They were never made for this purpose, and actually impede the critical lift and release action of the bosal.
If you have a very large or small equine, the nose button length on your bosal can be determined at the time of your order. You can easily adjust the inside bosal length (within reason) via the number of mecate wraps used. We prefer 1/2-3 wraps. More tend to throw the bosal out of balance.
The number of plaits on the nose buttons of HH bosals or bosalitas vary from 24 to 32 depending on the order.
Heritage Hackamores do not feature large, abrasive lumps near the end of the nose buttons. This is where most braiders turn back the ends of the strings to be secured. Would riders feel comfortable with lumps rubbing on their faces? No. Likewise, horses should be comfortable while working in hackamores/bosals.
The upper hackamore is typical of a foreign made version.
The lower photo shows the skill of the braider and
the Heritage Hackamore design elements with
attention not only to detail, but the comfort of the horse.
Two-Tone and Color
The contrasting two-tone leather on rawhide bodies was made popular on the Central Coast by Ernie Morris’ family, Chuck Irwin, Wes Wimmer, Frank Mayfield and others. This look has spread. It is often imitated, but not replicated. Our hats are off to these families for their encouragement and trust in passing down vaquero secrets to us.
Traditionally these braiders used a CA tanned latigo for contrasting buttons. The historic tannery recently closed. We have found roo to be a wonderful alternative while retaining the classy and classic look. The tensile strength of roo allows it to be cut thin providing an attractive finish.
(See mini article on Leather vs Rawhide)
Our rawhide hackamores, bosals, romal reins, etc. can be ordered with natural light or dark hide skins. We won't bleach hides, as it weakens the rawhide and impacts the feel and longevity of the gear. You may elect to order naturally colored cowhide bosals or interweaves for nose buttons. For example, the black color is cut from a black hide. The UV reaction should be minimal with no drying of the rawhide occurring (unlike natural or commercial dyes that often dry and fade). Colored roo leather can be used for color.
Shaping the Bars
Our Heritage Hackamores are versatile. They can be widened or narrowed with your hands in the bars toward the nose or the heel knot. This is a boon for those who ride several horses.
Reshape to conform to the next horse and mount up. We started to notice folks riding multiple horses with one hackamore/bosal did best with the short roo leather nose button. That was an “ah hah!” moment for us.
For those who don't consistently ride quite a bit, a clean heavy bottle or can may be helpful in molding the bars for a better fit and thereby comfort for your horses. Gently insert in form you desire and tie the bars to shape around it overnight. If an adjustment in fit is needed for the nose and side buttons, squeeze them and tie them overnight. Repeat either or both of these in combination with hand shaping for a perfect fit.
The California Classics’ heel knot is neatly made allowing for the critical lift and release action needed. There is a small space between the flexing bars as they come out of the heel knot in a V shape. However, the slight flexion of the bars is not stiffened with a trendy and moisture/insect hiding “plug” or spacer. Ernie Ladouceur and friend Bill Dorrance had experimented with this idea. Bill rejected it returning instead to the time-tested and proven traditional style.
Organic hides vary in firmness a great deal. Those with a tighter cellular structure are firmer. The age and condition of the bovine when the hide is taken does impact the rawhide. In making a bosal, the particular hide, the core, variation of the number of plaits, plus the tightness of the properly prepared string and braiding techniques are the keys to the flex of the bosal.
Our Heritage Hackamores offer you and your horse the “Californio” feel. These are for those with many “mañanas” and horses that have been brought along slowly without pulling, jerking or desensitizing of the face. For this, the best place to use the hackamore is riding out after the start (rather than remaining confined to an arena).
Our Heritage Hackamores are built on a traditional braided rawhide core. Braided cores maintain a more consistent feel over the lifetime of a bosal than a folded or twisted core. Cheap bosals often use rope or twine. They become tend to break down and become raggy with use.
The final feel of a bosal can vary even if made by the same braider. A hide suitable for your desired core will be selected based on your needs.
For those under the time pressure of competition, who seek a firmer tool with more “authority,” or who are restarting an older horse, an appropriate combination will be tailored within our Californio range.
Dwight Hill's up and coming bridle horse shows
off a Heritage Hackamore at one of Tye MacDonald's clinics.
What is Included?
If you order a 3/4, 5/8ths or 1/2 inch stand alone bosal, a hand braided on latigo hanger is included with a tie back. With a 3/8ths bosalita, a hand braided on latigo hanger is placed behind the crown of the headstall in the two rein. A tie back is not needed for the two rein.
Resist the use of looped on latigo hangers and leather headstalls. They do not allow the proper action of the bosal.
If desired, a hand braided latigo browband with throat latch can be made for your 3/4, 5/8ths or 1/2 inch for a small additional price. This can be a good idea when riding out.
A forelock hanger may be specified with your CC 3/8ths bosalita order for advancing two rein horses or bridle horses for leading.Fancier versions can be crafted for you by special order. Call and visit with Aaron for your needs and a current quote.
Silver can also be an option, although here the heritage remains that horses must “earn” their silver, so it is usually not used until the two rein stage.
Mane mecate "sleeves" may be added to new CC mecates to protect the tender chin of the horse from potential abrasion (as suggested by Dick Deller in his book One Man's Opinion).
We are pleased to announce the Joe Bruce approved fiador. Following tradition, Joe never rides with a hackamore without a fiador.
This poly rope or mane mecate rope is tied and secured with a browband to support and retain the bosal. A browband is used to keep the crown portion aligned. A fiador can also help with limiting the "static" and bounce found most often with horses subjected to ill fitting bosals and animation in movement.
The fiador is used when riding out to help prevent you from walking home. The colt can’t pull or rub the rig off over his head. This option is for a little more protection for those who want to start their colts directly in the hackamore. It serves for restarts on older horses, too. As the horse progresses, the fiador can be removed allowing for more fluid action of the hackamore.
Heritage Hackamores - Made in USA by an American Craftsman
Aaron Winchell travels throughout California, hand selecting only the finest fresh hides to make into California Classics' exclusive Central Coast Ranch Rawhide. Once he has found suitable hides for his purpose, he returns to the mission country ~ the cradle of the vaquero tradition. Back at the ranch, he begins the preparation process using traditional methods passed down through generations of los viejos as part of our cattle culture. After preparing the rawhide using painstaking methods, he cuts his strings by hand to create the unique gear necessary for the education of the legendary horses of the Pacific Slope.
Aaron employs techniques developed over many a lifetime to produce the finest using bosals on the market. He pays homage to his teachers and those who have gone on before. Since he makes the bosals to order, you are assured of a good fit. Heritage Hackamores feel good in your hands and on your horse. Once you hold one, you will know the difference. To visit a gallery of Aaron's work, please click here.
"Made in the USA" – it means so much to all of us. Our CCRR rawhide is only made from California produced hides, thus supporting our state's continuing cattle culture. Many foreign made bosals are braided from chemically treated hides of a variety of species (horse bellies, goat hides, etc.). While some foreign braiders are talented, very few have ever ridden a horse let alone used a hackamore effectively. As a result, their bosals often look and feel more like dog toys than usable equine equipment.
Our CC Heritage Hackamores are tools of our tradition, made in the USA, braided in California, by an educated horseman with an eye tothe horse's comfort in the process. Is it any wonder they're sought by expert horsemen around the globe?