Introduction to Broken-Mouth Curb Horse Bits
As the horse progresses and acquires more experience, you can start using bits with thinner mouthpieces and longer cheeks Sometimes called a “cowboy snaffle” bit, many experts do not regard this as a snaffle at all because it applies leverage and chin pressure. Others don’t classify the bit at the left as a Pelham because it has only one-rein capability even though it combines both curb and snaffle action. In short, regardless of the mouthpiece, to call any bit that has leverage action a snaffle may be erroneous.
For purposes of this discussion, we will call a bit with a jointed mouth AND leverage cheeks either a Curb Bit with Jointed Mouth OR a Shank Snaffle Bit. Either way, it is placed squarely in the Curb Bit category.
Longer cheeks (shanks) add more leverage to the bit so that more pressure on the horse’s mouth is achieved with less pressure on the reins from the rider’s hands. A bit that offers “direct” pressure gives the horse the same amount of pressure as the pressure exerted through the reins by the rider (ie: simple snaffle bit=1:1). A bit that has “leverage” passes more pressure to the bit than the rider is applying to the reins – amplifying the effect of the rider’s hands. This is important when competing in horse classes where obvious or perceptible cuing is counted against the score of the rider.
When the chin strap is engaged by this type of bit, it presses on the poll and drives the bars of the bit deeper into the bars of the horse’s mouth. It also imparts discomfort to the chin groove and exaggerates the downward tongue pressure or upward palate pressure at the joint of the mouthpiece.
If the butt of the mouthpiece is set solidly into the cheeks, the bit becomes a standard curb bit. We are not discussing them here.
Loose-shanked or loose-cheek snaffles retain independent lateral movement on each side. When you want to influence one side of your horse without disturbing the other, a loose-shanked bit is best because it will pressure just one side of the face. That makes these bits better turning bits than fixed-shank bits are.
It takes a tremendous amount of time and training to get a full sliding stop from a horse trained only in a simple snaffle (If it is even possible). Most people opt for a shanked snaffle, which can help perfect your stop or serve as a bridge from simple snaffle to curb bit. It adds the advantage of curb action to the snaffle action as well as giving a more definitive stop cue without as much rein pull by the rider.
However, there are some disadvantages to a broken-mouth shanked bit. A novice trainer should never use one. And an intermediate rider should probably not use one that has shanks more than about 4″ long. Any longer will add too much curb pressure. Additionally, a one-handed pull with a shank snaffle is much more lopsided than the simple snaffle direct pull. The shank snaffle fails to pull through to pressure the other side of the face but instead, it has a tendency to dig into the horse’s upper face and pinch his skin between the upper shank and his molars. Even if a bar is used across the rein loops to hold the shanks together, it has a tendency to press down like a lopsided ladder and confuse your horse about the direction of the pull.
Additionally, the snaffle action is exaggerated in the mouth. A simple snaffle breaks the mouthpiece in the middle sending the nutcracker up or down depending on the angle of the pull. With a shank-snaffle the bit breaks in the middle and the nutcracker is shoved DOWN into the tongue.
It can be quite harsh, and horses who wear them often develop bit avoidance manifested in tossing the head, opening their mouths and general irritability. Many will become hard to tack when they know the bit is coming. Unfortunately, riders who use them every day use them because they feel insecure about controlling their horse. They are the same riders who are always “in their horse’s mouth”, restraining, jerking and generally abusing both the snaffle and curb action.
There is an answer to the poor turning performance of a shank snaffle and the high stopping ability of a curb snaffle. The double-rein loops of Pelhams and similar bits give you control two ways, maximizing the turn and the stop. It takes more coordination on the part of the rider to control two reins, but adds so much precise communication that it is often worth it. It is especially important and favored in dressage training.
If your horse is still exhibiting bit-fatigue symptoms, you might try a 3-piece mouthpiece with a shank. Relaxing the nutcracker may be all it takes to shake off the “head-tossing-blues”. You will still have the leverage of the poll, bars, and chin. Sometimes a less-severe bit with different pressures is better than continually moving toward more severity.
Kimberwick bits also add mild curb pressure to direct reining, and the Kimberwick slotted D uses only one rein to combine both traditional snaffle and curb action.
Ideally, a horse should be able to feel you take hold of the reins before the bit does anything (signal time). If properly adjusted, a shank snaffle will swivel approximately 45 degrees toward the chest before engaging chin pressure (assuming you are using two hands – low). That gives a horse some time to compute the coming request and comply before the bit “takes hold”. Having the bit in his mouth eventually becomes just a reminder of what is asked and not the primary motivator.
Truism: The less severe your bits, the longer you will have a light-mouthed horse.
Correction Mouth Snaffle
This correction training bit has a jointed, ported mouthpiece for a horse who has mastered his exercises in his 2-joint snaffle but is difficult to control or needs a lot of stopping refinement. It is a loose-cheek snaffle with two-rein-loop capability for raising or lowering the leverage action.
These types of bits employ milder or severe tongue pressure dictated by the sharpness of the under-joint on either side of the port and the leverage used. (This bit shown has sharp under-joints for more intense tongue pressure.) It has a tall port for palate pressure although it has a palate roller to keep the palate pressure from stabbing.
This particular bit also indicates that it may be for a high-strung, nervous horse. It’s fat copper bars lessen bar pressure while increasing salivation for poll and neck relaxation.
I would call this a very severe bit, and use it for brush-up and polishing skidding stops only. This would rarely be an “every day” bit. A horse that needs this bit constantly either has little mouth left or could probably use more basic training.
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