Thursday, April 2, 2009

Never a Bit of Pain





When humans fear something, we tend to stay away from it. And that includes using bits that would benefit our horsemanship skills and the horse's skills. And that's sad.... really.
The bit on the right for example, when ready, would perfect and maintain the mastery reinsman skills obtained by a rider who's dedicated years to their craft. (Bit by Terry Burton). My hat is off to the vaqueros who spent years training a horse to the skill level required to be able to use this Hill Frog bit with perfection. Truly a work of art!

The bit on the left is a snaffle bit with a bicycle chain mouthpiece. Ouch. It even sounds harsh.
 I've even seen a barbed wire snaffle. Yikes! It's a snaffle bit so it must be mild..... right?
A lot of people would say that a snaffle is milder than a curb bit. So this bicycle chain bit is milder than the Hill Frog curb bit on the right? right? ....humm.......

Anything in the Wrong Hands

Any bit, even the snaffle bit pictured above could cause pain in the wrong hands. Even the mildest of bits could be used as a weapon. The rider's hands or unskilled hands could do quite a bit of damage to a horse's mouth if they intended it.

Any bit could cause pain in the wrong hands no matter what the mouthpiece.

So the point is not to use a bit to cause pain..... period....

"But I don't see why I can't stay in a snaffle bit"
I had a student recently ask me several times over a course of a lesson why they couldn't stay using a snaffle bit to do reining maneuvers. The student wanted to show this year in reining in Ontario and couldn't see why they couldn't show in a snaffle.

The student went on to explain that they heard that natural horsemanship was about snaffles and no spurs. They knew I'm a big advocate of effective horsemanship and was surprised that I mentioned to move up to a curb bit when possible.

One item I mentioned to the student was that showing reining in Ontario required by the rules was to show the horse in a bridle (which means a curb bit). (ORHA does have snaffle bit classes but that is a special case).

Shawn Flarida told me once a few years ago that he would keep all his horses in a snaffle if he could but the rules require us to show in a curb bit.
So I stated that since showing reining requires a curb bit to be used, it's a good idea to progress a horse's and a rider's skill up to the curb bit level when possible. Part of the small goals to get to the big goal of showing reining in Ontario would be to move up to a curb bit and perform all the maneuvers in a curb bit.

"But a curb bit can cause pain" the student commented. Here's the fear or ignorance talking.... I mentioned that any bit in the wrong hands can cause pain even a snaffle.
Other Reasons to Stay In a Snaffle Bit
I also mentioned that staying in a snaffle bit is fine for other sports that use snaffles like team penning or polo, for example, where they use 2 hands, and have quick and frequent movements with their hands.

If someone wanted to just ride for recreation and their skill level is at the snaffle bit, 2 handed stage and they are quite happy to be at that level.... then great.... they can stay using a snaffle.If it works well... then great! I can do all the reining maneuvers on my show mares in a snaffle. Just can't show in a snaffle. Although.... I wouldn't be progressing or my horses wouldn't progress if I stayed using a snaffle. See below.

"We try to use the mildest bit we can that's effective to save the sensitivity of the horse's mouth".

Reason's to Move Up to A Curb Bit
Other than for showing.... if a rider wanted to improve their horsemanship skills (reinsman skills) and move up to using 1 hand, then a rider needs to move up to a curb bit.
You can certainly ride 1 handed in a snaffle.... for sure.... But to keep your hands light and quiet.... like the masters do..... you need to use a curb bit to send an effective signal to your horse what you would like them to do.
Some would still argue... and that's ok :)... that they can still be effective using a snaffle for the most advanced maneuvers including reining. .... true enough.... I can do that with my horses. But over time..... the horse will 'dull up' or become less responsive to the snaffle to the point where the snaffle no longer becomes effective.

It's all about effectiveness.

And then you have to constantly tune them up or lighten them up to be effective. And that means constantly correcting them all the time. What fun is that? For them or you!?!

And remember that snaffles were designed to be used with 2 hands... not 1. They were designed to be used with frequent hand movement. Primarily for direct reining.

Also, if someone wanted to improve the skills or training on a horse so that the horse is able to perform their work with the rider using 1 hand, then a horse can be moved up to a curb bit after they have perfected their job as best they can in a snaffle bit.

So it really depends on where the rider wants to be or is at with their skills. And where the horse is at and where the horse is intended to be when they are fully trained as to whether a snaffle or curb bit is the final bit used.

So! You can see that it has nothing to do with inflicting pain or not on a horse. It's about advancing you and your horse's skill level to where you want to be and need.

Yourself, my students and horses never need to fear causing pain to a horse. Just get educated and be aware!!! Don't be fooled into thinking that staying in a snaffle will solve the problem of never causing pain to your horse. You just might be causing pain to your advancement in your riding skills!!

Next article, I will talk more about some of the more common mouthpieces that I use and recommend and what they are used for. Snaffles and curbs! :)

Questions and comments are always welcome.
If you have any concerns about using the wrong type of bit, please contact me and I will help you.
©Copyright KISS Reiners


  1. I also somewhat disagree with the curb bit rules of most associations. Basically the problem being the fact that they are normally based on a horse's age.

    I'd like to see a more flexible rule for the rookie and non-pro classifications. I'd also like to see the hackamore incorporated into show rules more often.

    For those that aren't at the pro level it can encourage too much hurrying to get into a full bridle. While a lot of pros will start a colt as a long yearling and have the time and resources to have a full time riding program, many non-pros do not.

    Going into a curb bit should be thought of as a "starting over" process". Almost everything done when the colt was started in the snaffle should be repeated in the curb. The time it takes should be less since we now have other cues to use such as legs and weight, but the horse needs time to get things figured out.

    Moving into a curb bit is usually a big deal for me. It gives me a sense that my horse has progressed to a high level. When they are ready they can perform every maneuver required in the snaffle bit. The curb can add a bit of refinement and allow more subtle cues but it is not a training device.

    Maybe a better rule would be that a horse has to go from a snaffle to bridleless before moving to the curb bit.