The Making of a Bosal

Montana braider Nate Wald outlines how he constructs a rawhide bosal and offers tips on keeping one in good shape.


In the tradition of the California bridle horse, a horseman upgrades a horse's headgear as training progresses. A young colt begins training in a snaffle bit, then advances to the hackamore. The rawhide bosal - the hackamore's noseband - can be a work of art, albeit functional, and an outstanding example of the rawhide braider's craft. Here, Montana braider Nate Wald explains his method of creating a bosal:

The first step in making a piece of rawhide gear is to skin the critter. Then I flesh the hide, de-hair it, soak it in water and clean it. Next, I stretch the fresh, wet hide on a frame to dry it. Finally, I cut (uniform circles of rawhide) that'll eventually be made into strings.

I cut half-inch strips to begin with, making sure to keep the thickness of the strips consistent. The hide varies in thickness. In turn, different parts of the bosal are made with different thicknesses of hide. The braided rawhide core is made with a much thicker string than the finer finish work that covers it, for instance.

The dampened strings must have the right moisture content, and be split to a certain thickness beveled on the sides to give me the final string that I braid with. I always split away the flesh side because it's the hair side on top that I'll eventually use for braiding; it's the stronger side of the hide.

To begin the bosal, I braid the core first. Then, while it's still damp, the braided core is stretched and nailed out straight on a post, and allowed to dry before I begin the body work. I never braid over a wet core. That causes the bosal to twist and warp as it dries unevenly.

Once the core is dry, I braid the body and dry it completely before braiding the nose button and side buttons. The foundations for all the button work and knots are made of leather that's been beveled and shaped.

Up to this point all the braiding has been done while the bosal is still a straight piece. It's not until the final stage that it's bent into its teardrop shape. I use a wood form to shape the hackamore, then I tie the strings on each end together in a large Turk's-head knot followed by several more layers of braiding before the final finish knot is tied to complete the bosal.

The process of creating a standard working bosal takes several days to complete, with more than 12 hours of labor spent on the braiding alone.

Durability

Rawhide takes a lot of abuse. A person shouldn't worry if his horse gets it a little wet when he's taking a drink or you get caught in a rain shower. When rawhide gets wet, let it dry naturally indoors, not out in the sun. And make sure the piece is hanging straight. For instance, don't allow a pair of reins that have been sweated up to hang draped or they'll dry that way.

The same with a bosal. It should dry on a block that will hold its shape while it dries. Remember that it takes over an hour of soaking in water to really soften a piece of dried rawhide, so a little bit of water isn't really going to hurt it at all. Keep it conditioned with rawhide cream from time to time and if you live in a place with high humidity, it's a good idea to store your rawhide tack indoors, preferably in an air-conditioned room. A well-made piece of rawhide tack should last for many years with basic care.

Fit

People tend to hang the bosal on their horse's head like it's a bucket when it should fit like a hat.

The bosal should be kept on a block so it stays shaped to fit the horse. I like to tie a piece of lacing across the middle where the side buttons are to hold it together when stored. This gives it a closer fit on the horse.

There should be a natural bow in the bosal when viewed from the side as well. It's also important to untie the macate after each use and hang it separately.