Last time we talked about the two basic types of bits. The snaffle which works off of direct pressure on the horse’s mouth and the curb which works off of leverage. Today we are going to talk about the uses for the different bits.
A snaffle is much milder than a curb and should be used for the majority of a horse’s training. Young horses should always be started in a snaffle, never a curb. Horses should be taught to respond to subtle cues using a very mild bit. This will create a horse with a soft mouth. Most pleasure horses, if properly trained, are able to do their jobs perfectly well in just a simple snaffle. Beginner- intermediate riders should always use a mild snaffle bit. Stronger bits must be reserved for advanced riders who have learned how to control their hands and properly use the reins softly and lightly. Most pleasure riders, if properly educated, are able to do just fine in a snaffle bit and never need to progress to using a curb.
Taking this into consideration, there are times when curb bits are appropriate. Curbs are often used is western speed events and when doing things such as calf roping or herding. In these events the horse is generally moving at very high speeds and the curb allows for a greater refinement in the cues need while moving at such high speeds. This allows the rider to be able to turn and maneuver quickly and efficiently. Curbs are also see in the double bridle which is often used in upper level dressage. Again the curb allows for a greater refinement in the cues from the rider and helps to achieve the collection required for movements such as piaffe, passage, canter pirouettes, and the airs above the ground.
There is an art to using a curb bit. The curb is meant to be loose a majority of the time and pressure should only be applied when necessary. As soon as the horse responds, the pressure should be released. There should never be continuous pressure on the bit. This is, of course, true of the snaffle bit as well but is even more important with a stronger bit such as a curb. Improper or over use of a curb bit will very quickly develop a hard mouthed horse. A snaffle bit is much more forgiving. For this reason, riders should not begin to use a curb until they have developed quiet, controlled hands. Only then can the rider properly use a curb.
Even a horse that is trained to work in a curb or double bridle should be able to perform all of his movements in a snaffle. For example, my horse Ilustre is trained in high school dressage and is able to be ridden in a double bridle. However, I am able to perform all of the same movements in a snaffle including piaffe and passage. I make it a point to regularly ride him in just a snaffle bridle so that I do not become dependent on the curb. The curb is there simply to allow for extra refinement, not as something to be relied upon. It is my belief that all horses should be able to work in a snaffle. The horse is created with the snaffle and polished with the curb.
In the right hands, a curb bit can be very effective. Unfortunately it is very easy to misuse. A curb bit should not be used to simply get better control of a misbehaving horse. If a horse cannot respond to a simple snaffle, using a stronger bit is not the answer. If a horse is misbehaving it should first be checked to eliminate discomfort as a cause. Make sure the bit and bridle are properly fitted. Have the horse’s teeth checked by a vet to eliminate pain as a cause. After discomfort, the most common reasons a horse doesn’t respond properly to cues from the bit are it simply doesn’t understand what is being asked of it or it has learned to ignore the cues from the bit. Either way, you must go back to the basics and teach or re-teach the horse to respond to subtle cues from a mild snaffle. Using a bigger bit will only make the problems worse. Take the time to properly train your horse to respond willingly rather than simply using a bigger bit to force him to do what you want. If you are not sure how to do this, find a trainer to help you!
If you are at all in doubt as to what kind of bit to use for your horse, find an educated, experienced trainer to help you. Using the wrong bit or using a bit improperly can have very negative effects on you horse. A good trainer will help you find the right bit for your horse’s individual needs.
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!