my facebook page, and quite a few people were interested to learn about bits. So, here's the first big lesson: what makes a bit a snaffle or a curb.
Most people look at a bit like this, see the mouth piece with multiple parts, and assume that means it's a snaffle. I have heard them called things like "Shanked snaffle" or in one case a "Western Snaffle" but that's completely wrong.
That bit, is a curb bit.
The difference between a curb bit and a snaffle bit, is whether or not it has leverage. It has nothing to do with what goes into the horse's mouth. A shank is leverage. It causes the bit to pivot around a central point, and this puts pressure onto different parts of the horse's face then a direct pressure, or snaffle bit, does.
Here is my pretty orphan baby (not so baby any more) Cayenne. The bit in her mouth here is a curb because it has a shank, and shanks mean leverage. What you can't see, is that it has a mouth piece very similar to the one above.
Now, in all honesty, I can't recall if she had a curb chain on for these pictures, as they were just for pretties (and she hates bits for riding) but lets assume that she does, and we just can't see it. I'm pretty sure it'll be all in our imagination though.
So, the way a curb works is to pivot around a central point, the mouth piece, and create pressure to guide the horse. When the rein, which is attached to the lower ring is pulled back towards the rider, the upper ring will push out toward the horse's nose.
This is how lever action works on a bit. And the harder you pull, the more you pivot the bit, and the more pressure is applied at all of these points.
Now, compare that to a direct pressure bit. This is what we normally call snaffle bits (although, it's horse tack, so we can always get more detailed. We like our complex names for everything!).
This is Poko in a snaffle bit. You can see how the rein attaches directly in line with the pull on the bit. The bit does not pivot in the horse's mouth, rather it simply goes where it is pulled. The resulting pressure on a horse is much more simple and straight forward.
Can you see now how a snaffle might be considered a more simple and direct aid to a horse? There's no pressure across the head, just a simple and plain pressure on the mouth.
Now, of course there is some shifting of the bridle, and you can see that in this picture, but the shifting puts minimal pressure on the horse's face. It's minimal enough that we can discount it as an aid in most horses.
And as you can see here, there are many ways of attaching a bit to the bridle. Gag, D rings, O rings, multiple rings. I am going to get into all of that later.
Today I just wanted to talk about the 2 classes of bits. Now, not all bits fit clearly into one of these categories. Some bits, such as a Pelham, can fit in both depending upon how they are used.
Katy here has the rein attached to the curb ring. If she was ridden like this, then the bridle would only have leverage action, and would be no different then a normal curb. The mouth piece on the particular pelham is exactly the same as the above, with a broken mouth and french link, or dogbone.
If I moved the rein up to the larger ring that is adjacent to the mouth piece, then the bit would work exactly like the snaffle bit. The leverage action would never be called into use, because the pressure would always be from a point inline with the mouth.
The beauty of the Pelham though, is that you can use multiple sets of reins on it. I love using these bits to bring a snaffle horse up to using a curb. While some horses take the change easily and in stride, others do not. Cayenne is one example of a horse that had NO interest in the multiple pressures of a curb bit on her face.
I also like this bit for hot headed horses. My darling jumper mare, Ash, used to ride in a Pelham when she was still jumping (she's retired now). I rode mainly on the snaffle rein, but after a combination, she would get so excited that she locked her neck, hollowed out, and blundered around. A touch on the curb would send pressure across her crown and chin resulting in her ducking her head back and coming onto the bit again. Now, Ash was not a fancy mover, and her main style of going was to lock her neck straight out like a 2 x 4, so for her, a duck back into the bit was necessary to keep proper contact on her bars, not her lips.
So think of the categories of bits as a broad concept. One of the analogies I like is the categories of dogs in the AKC. You can have a "herding" dog, or a "sporting" dog, but that doesn't necessarily tell you the exact breed of dog. If the herding dog a border collie, or a corgie? Snaffle and curb bits are the same. Inside each of those categories are other sub categories, such as the type of ring attachment (O, D, Eggbut) or style of shank (elevator, grazing, etc).
We'll talk about all of that stuff over the next few days, and possibly months. And of course, please let me know if you want me to talk about something in particular.
A Note about Sugarbush Draft Horses
I see it over and over again, and no matter how many times it's said, it's still wrong. "Sugarbush Drafts are just an Appaloosa Draft Cross". Uh.... no. The Sugarbush Draft Horse was a breed created many years ago in Ohio. While the initial cross was made using Percherons to Appaloosas, in the many generations following, the breed has been solidified into a consistent type. Saying these horses are "just" a draft cross makes as much sense as saying that AQHA horses are "just" a Thoroughbred cross, American Cream Drafts are "just" a dilute Belgian, or that Morgans are "just" a grade.