A JOINTED MOUTHPIECE IS NOT ALWAYS A SNAFFLE
The distinction between a snaffle and curb bit is
really quite simple: a snaffle bit works on direct pressure while a
curb bit works on indirect pressure. Unfortunately this distinction
is commonly misunderstood among even some experienced horse owners
and trainers. And note that a broken mouthpiece does not a snaffle
Snaffle: A snaffle bit applies direct pressure from
the rider’s hands through the reins to the horse’s mouth, tongue,
and bars. A snaffle bit consists of two rings, on either end, joined
by a mouthpiece which can be either straight or jointed. The
mouthpiece can be made of several materials but is most commonly
available in stainless steel, copper, and rubber. Common styles of
snaffle bits include mullen, jointed, rubber, and twisted. The bit
rings can be round, D shaped, egg shaped, have extensions called
“cheeks,” and come in a variety of styles.
Snaffle bits are usually both mild and simple to
use and are often the bit of choice for green or inexperienced
horses and beginning riders. Remember however, rough hands
significantly increase the severity of any bit.
In general, the circumference of the mouthpiece
determines the relative severity of the snaffle bit: the thicker the
mouthpiece, the milder the bit. Twisted and wire snaffle bits can be
severe and should only be used by experienced riders.
Curb: Curb bits have shanks attached to the
mouthpiece which cause an increase in leverage, multiplying the
pressure the rider applies to the reins. These bits act not only on
the mouth, tongue, and bars, but also exert pressure on the horse’s
poll and chin groove. In general, the longer the shank, the more
severe the effect of the bit.
Curb bits can be more severe and should only be
used on horses that are accustomed to them and by experience riders
with sensitive hands.
Curb bits should be used with a curb strap or chain
which attaches to both sides of the bit and rests in the horse’s
chin groove. The curb strap squeezes the horse’s chin when the rider
uses the reins.
Curb bits may have a port (or bump) in the center
of the mouthpiece which can be low, medium, or high. A very high
port with spoon shaped molding is called a spade and can be very
severe. Spade bits should only be used by experts. Curb bits are
also available with a broken or jointed mouthpiece.
English riders often use an English curb bit in
combination with a snaffle bit (in a full bridle) for upper level
dressage or saddle seat. The Pelham is an English style bit which
combines both the curb and snaffle actions in one bit with a snaffle
ring for direct pressure and a rein ring (at the bottom of the
shank) for indirect pressure. The Kimberwicke also combines both
actions in one English bit.
Deciding which type of bit to use and purchase for
your horse can be a challenging and confusing task. It is best to
work with a professional to determine the best bit for both your
horse’s training and performance level along with your experience,
riding style, and discipline. It’s important to note, as with all
other tack, some bits are considered appropriate for certain
disciplines while the use of others may not be allowed in certain
When choosing a bit for your horse, take into
consideration the equipment that has been used on him or her in the
past and how he or she worked using that equipment. A common mistake
is to try to compensate for lack of training or ability of either
the rider or the horse by using a more severe bit than the horse
In a joint effort to help educate the horse world,
this tip is brought to you by the Kentucky Horse Council (www.kentuckyhorse.org)
and KAM Animal Services, home of KAM’s “Equine Learning Circle” FREE
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nonprofit organization dedicated, through education and leadership,
to the protection and development of the Kentucky equine community.
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