BITS 101

BITS 101






Bits 101
There are basically two types of bits.  Snaffle bits and curb bits.  Snaffle bits have rings and are non-leverage bits. Curb bits have shanks and are leverage bits. 
All bits except the Pelham are one type or the other.  A Pelham, used with two sets of reins, is both.
Bit Straps:
Straps, under the chin, are used on both types of bits. These straps can look identical but have different uses and names when used on each type of bit.  On snaffle bits they are called chin straps. On curb bits they are called curb straps.
Straps are not always used on a snaffle bit. When they are used, it's basically used to keep the ring from slipping into the mouth, if  the horse opens its mouth to escape the sideways pressure of the ring against the outside of its mouth.  This usually happens if the rider, under stress, is a little to heavy handed when doing a one rein safety stop.  Or if the horse hasn't been trained to give to light pressure of the ring against the side of his face he may fight it and open his mouth to escape the pressure of the bit.
Curb straps are nearly always used on a curb bit.  It adds pressure under the sensitive part of the chin to divert the horse's attention and stop him.   In a way, it is a type of a twitch.
Snaffle Bits:
Snaffle bits provide no leverage to the reins.  They have no shanks as a curb bit does (shanks are the hangy-down part of the cheek piece that the reins attach to on a curb bit) and no purchase, as a curb bit does (the purchase is the part of the cheek piece that sticks up above the mouth piece of a curb bit and attaches to the headstall) .  
A snaffle bit has some type of a ring that is attached to the mouth piece.  The ring is, in effect, the cheek piece.  The rein and the headstall both attach to this ring. 
The amount of pressure you pull on the rein is the amount that the horse feels in its mouth or on the side of his face. This is called direct pressure.  This goes directly back against the horse's tongue and/or jaw when using both reins to pull back.  It puts pressure on the side of his face when using one rein at a time. 
A snaffle does not tighten down the headstall in the poll area (behind the ears) and it does not tighten the chin strap against the bottom jaw.
The snaffle applies and releases pressure much faster than a curb bit.  It doesn't apply as much total pressure as a curb bit, as the snaffle has no compounding leverage. 
This fast application and fast release of pressure is one reason that makes it such a wonderful training tool. The other reason is that one rein can be used to provide pressure to a single spot on the side of the face.  These aids and cues are very simple to understand from the horse's perspective.
When pressure is applied to a snaffle bit it creates no pressure  points with the chin strap or on the pole strap of the head stall. The only pressure is on side of the face, and the bars of the mouth, or the tongue, depending on the type of mouthpiece the snaffle has.
A snaffle bit can have several types of rings and several types of mouth pieces.
Common rings styles are the Loose-O-Ring, D-Ring, Eggbutt, and Full Cheek.
The most common mouth piece of the snaffle is the broken mouth piece (center jointed).  But the straight solid, the mullen (curved), and the double french link are also common styles of mouth pieces in snaffle bits.
Snaffle bits are usually used two handed, using direct and indirect rein pressure on the reins, to communicate with the horse. 
Pull one way to turn the horse and pull the other to turn the horse the other way.  Training starts with simple direct reining and should end up with more advanced indirect reining.
Neck reining can also be done to some degree in a snaffle bit and I suggest that neck reining training should be started with a snaffle bit.
To get vertical flextion (bend at the poll) with a snaffle bit you have to ask for it with both reins.  This is where it is at a disadvantage when neck reining.  If a horse is not bent at the poll they tend not to be as attentive to slight neck rein cues.
A horse should never advance to a curb bit untill it is well schooled in a snaffle bit and is totally compliant and unspookable in the area or element that it is expected to work.







Curb bits:
Curb bits are any leverage type bit.  It compounds the pressure on the bars of the mouth by the leverage of the shanks when the reins are pulled.  Similar to a pry bar resting on a block or stone and used to lift an object off the ground. 
The full amount of the compounded force of a long shanked bit is much greater (more severe) than a shorter shanked bit.  The longer the purchase of the bit is, the greater the pressure that is put on the poll area as well as the jaw ( bars of the mouth).
The shank portion of the cheek piece hangs down below the mouthpiece. The reins attach to the bottom of the shanks. 
Another part of the cheekpiece sticks up above the mouthpiece. This is called the purchase. The headstall is connected to the top of the purchase.
The bit pivots on the mouthpiece between the shanks and the purchase.
As the reins are pulled the shanks rotate to the rear. The bit pivoting on the mouthpiece.  As the shanks  move to the rear, the mouthpiece tightens against the tongue and/or bars of the mouth, while the purchase is pulling down on the head stall against the pole area (behind the ears) and is lifting (tightening) the curb strap under the chin.
Other than to say "Stop", or "Hey! I want your attention, collect up!" (half halt),  a curb bit has little direct communicative value.  All other cues and aids to the horse must be through the laying of the reins on the neck,  leg cues, and body language. That is not necessarily a bad thing. 
The beauty of the curb bit is the mouthpiece of a properly constructed bridle bit. It has a port (or spoon in the center of the solid mouthpiece. This is a curve or "bump up" in the center of it. 
When balanced with the correct rein weight and hanging properly in the horses mouth, the horse must bend his neck at the pole to lower his nose and keep the bit comfortable in his mouth.  When his head is held in this correct position the bit does not bump the roof of his mouth or compress on his tongue. 
When the horse bends his neck at the pole (vertical flextion) it puts him in an attentive and obedient attitude as well as help collect him up.  In this way he is able to listen to slight neck rein cues, leg cues, and body signals of the rider.  This enables the rider to ride one handed, freeing up his other hand to do whatever is required in his work.
So the curb bit automatically keeps him in an attentive frame of mind.  A slight lift of the reins to halt or half halt the horse is all that should be required.
A curb bit is a poor choice for an untrained horse.  It is also a poor choice for a horse that will be in high stress situations as it should not be use for direct reining to turn him or do a proper one-rein-safety-stop.
When you try to direct rein with a curb bit , as you pull on one rein the shank will pull the horses head that direction, but the purchase part of the bit also pushes back against the horses upper jaw as it twists in his mouth. This forces him to turn the opposite way as well. Very confusing to the horse. Especially in a high stress situation.
A curb bit is a good choice for a well trained horse that is at ease in the element that he is working.
Curb bits can have either straight or curved shanks.  Curved shanks allow the horse to carry his head a little higher so as to better see what is going on around him. Bits with these curved shanks are often called Grazing bits as they tend not to bump the ground if the horse takes a bit of grass.
Straight shanks make the horse carry his head lower and closer to vertical which makes for a more obediant horse but one that  cannot see around himself as well.
Jointed Curb bits:
Some horses fight the effect of the ported curb bit.
They have not been trained into the curb bit and fight against flexing at the poll to find comfort.   The trainer often gives up on its use and uses a curb bit that has broken or jointed mouth piece instead of going through the proper training methods and steps. 
The most notorious of these bits is the TomThumb bit.  It is a poor choice all the way around as it sends the same confusing signals when direct reined as a curb bit does, and it does not require the horse to bend at the poll for a proper attentive, obedient, attitude.  So what you have is a horse that is not required bend at the poll and no good way to communicate to him.  Not a good combination when you get in a tough spot. It combines the severe part of a snaffle (the jointed mouth piece) with the severe part of the curb, (the shanks).
Kimberwick bits:
These bits at first glance look like a D-Ring snaffle bit as they have a D for a cheekpiece.  But in actuality they are a curb bit. They come in most styles of mouth pieces.
On close inspection you will see that the mouthpiece does not connect in the center of the D but rather up, towards the top corner of the D.  Then you will find that there is a short purchase sticking up from the D that the head stall would attach to.  The curb strap is a chain that hangs from the purchase.
The reins attach to the D as in a snaffle but this bit has a slight curb (leverage) effect when the reins are applied.  Some kimberwick bits have uxter slots in the Ds. The reins can attach to these slots to prevent the rein from slipping up the D when drawn back.  This gives the uxter style bit even more leverage.
The advantage of the kimberwick is that it does have some curb action to it and at the same time is also good for direct reining (if not using the uxster slots). Due to the very low purchase point it does not twist and give confusing signals when direct reining.
The one down side to the kimberwick is that even with a ported mouthpiece it is not balanced well enough to automatically cue the horse to bend at the poll.  This vertical flextion must be asked for as with a
snaffle bit.  They do tend to respond quicker to the flex than with a regular snaffle.
This bit is not necessarily intended to be used with two reins (Pelham style) but it does work well that way.  One rein hooked to slobber straps on the Ds, and the other rein hooked to the bottom uxter straps.
I use sport (rope) reins.  My snaffle rein has the center cord pulled out to flatten the rein and knots are place in it at several measured points.  This is tied on to the slobber straps around the Ds.  The round rope curb rein is then attached to the uxter slots.
The snaffle rein is used for direct reining while the curb rein is used to ask for vertical flextion and, in extreme circumstances, to ask for a stop when other cues are ignored.
Pelham bits:
A Pelham bit is both a curb and a snaffle bit that simulates a double bridle, but only has one mouth piece instead of the two bits of the double bridle. 
A double bridle is two bridles on a horse at the same time.  One head stall is attached to a bradoon (snaffle) bit ,and the other headstall is attached to a Wymouth curb bit. Sometimes one headstall is used, but has separate straps coming down to hold each bit.
Each bit would have its own set of reins. They are used simillarly to how I explained in the Kimberwick paragraphs.
The Pelham bit has a purchase and shank that a headstall strap and a set of reins attach to.  It also has a D or O ring centered on the mouth piece. This ring also has a headstall strap and a set of reins.
Again one rein is used for direct reining and the other is used for neck reining as well as getting the horses attention with the curb action. 
The snaffle rein is usually heavier and wider than the curb rein.  ( I use the rope reins. One flat  with knots and one round without knots.)
A Western style Pelham only has one headstall attached to it (at the purchase point) and has a ported mouth piece.  It still uses two sets of reins. Therefore the snaffle reins on it still has a slight curb effect, similar to a Kimberwick bit.
The English style Pelham usually has a smooth mouthpiece and a double headstall.
In old battlefield pictures you will often see Pelham bits being used on the war horses. George Washington used Pelhams and double bridles.
Gag bits:
A gag bit is basically the English version of a western curb bit. Normally it does not have a port in the mouthpiece that a western curb bit does.  Therefore vertical flexion must still be asked for by the rider.
It is a poor choice for direct reining.  A gag bit's mouthpiece is usually smooth straight, mullen, or broken, never ported.  Sometimes the mouthpiece can slide up and down the cheekpiece as the curbs are engaged, doubly compounding the leverage.
Note: The bits in these photos can be purchased at