At Dover Stables recent Lunch and Learn the topic of discussion was the different types of bits and how to know which bit was right for your horse. So I thought I’d share some of what we discussed.
There are dozens of different types of bits and whole books could be written about the subject so we are going to focus on the two basic types of bit- the snaffle and the curb.
We’ll start with the basic snaffle. The snaffle applies direct pressure to the bars of the horses mouth. Direct pressure means that if you apply 1lb of pressure to the bit via the reins, then 1lb of pressure is applied to the horse’s mouth. Snaffle bits are usually jointed in the middle so that the bit is better able to form to the horse’s mouth. This allows for a greater degree of refinement in the cues given to the horse through the reins. It is a common misconception that it is the joint that makes a bit a snaffle. This is not true. Snaffle bits can in fact be one straight piece. On the other hand there are several types of curb bit that are jointed. What makes a bit a snaffle is the fact that it applies direct pressure to the horse’s mouth.
Snaffle bits are generally considered to be the most mild type of bit and generally this is true. However there are some things that can make a snaffle bit more severe. The size of the bit makes a difference. A thinner bit is going to be more severe than a thicker bit. Because the bit is thinner, there is less surface area so the pressure is applied to a smaller area of the horse’s mouth. A thicker bit will spread the pressure out over a larger area. Snaffle bits can also be made more severe by adding twisted wire or metal or other sharp projections to the bit.
The curb bit works of off leverage. A curb bit has what is called a shank which extends below the horse’s mouth. This is where the reins are attached. A curb bit also has a curb chain or chin strap which goes underneath the horse’s mouth. The shank and the curb chain work together to form a lever. What this means is that the pressure
applied to the reins is multiplied when applied to the horse’s mouth. For example when 1lb of pressure is applied to the reins, 3lbs of pressure is applied to the horse’s mouth. The amount that the pressure is increased differs for each bit and is affected by two things- the length of the shank and the tightness of the curb chain. The longer the shank of the bit, the longer the lever is which means that the pressure will be increased to a greater degree than a bit with a shorter shank. Shanks can range in length from one or two inches to five or more inches. The longer the shank, the more severe the bit is. Having a very tight curb chain or chin strap will also increase the amount of pressure applied to the horse’s mouth. Pelhams, Weymouths, and Kimberwickes are all included in the family of curb bits.
There are also a variety of types of bit-less bridles. These work in different ways depending on the design of the bridle. It is important to note that just because a bridle does not have a bit, does not mean that it is a gentler bridle. Certain types of bit-less bridles excert a great amount of pressure on the bridge of the horse’s nose and can do quite a bit of damage if used incorrectly.
So now you know the difference between a snaffle and a curb. A snaffle works off of direct pressure and is generally the most mild type of bit. A curb bit uses leverage. Either one can be straight or jointed in the middle.
Next time we will talk about how to choose the right bit for your horse. Stay tuned!
To learn more about how to achieve a better relationship with your horse, visit our website or blog, where we feature information about French Classical Dressage training, as well as care and maintenance of the horse!