A bit is only as harsh as the hands at the other ends of the reins. You can still do damage with snaffle!
I've been a judge since 1996- most open shows do not disciminate against Western riders wearing a helmet. Breed shows may be a little pickier, but most judges are not going to hold a helmet against you.
I ride w/a shack bit. It is pretty benign. I can yank it and my horse doesnt care, so has very little "bite".
The difference is I mostly ride on the buckle. I am NOT in my horses mouth at all. I use very little pressure to signal that I want to turn, stop, etc. Mostly just raising my hand a tad, is all I need.
My horse rides off of my seat, so to stop, I just need to sit DOWN deep. I dont need to even pull back at all.
I would much rather ride like that, than constantly be in my horses mouth like so many English riders do.
I think my horse is happier too. I do not nag or bug my horse during my rides. I give clear cues to my horse.
I see so many people ride while using their hands to balance, or constantly pulling on their horses mouths. I think trying to say that shanks are "meaner" is pretty short sighted.
Like everything else, it depends on the rider......
Just is a different way of riding. Shanks need very soft and little contact to make it's point than other bits.
When I switched from English to Western it was the hardest thing to give up contact with my horse's mouth. The idea of a draped rein was totally foreign to me. The curb strap engages when you barely lift the rein, and that reminds my horse to pay attention to what my seat and legs are already saying. Hand down in front of the horn, barely above his neck, means "keep doing what you're doing". Lift it two inches or vibrate the reins means "hey, pay attention!"
It literally took a year for me to unlearn the notion of contact.
It's very cool to ride a horse that's trained to carry himself. Believe me, you're not just sitting there. It's work.
Yes, you are trying to stir the pot, you pot stirrer you.
I have seen plenty of western riders abuse shanked bits of all kinds, so have I seen English riders pull and yank to their heart's content with plain snaffles.
Bits are a tool and for your horse's sake, learn to use them and use the right one for the horse and yours, both of your stages of training.
That question of what bit to use and when and why would take a book, there are so many different ways we ride our horses and different bits for them.
It is perfectly fine for you to use a snaffle with your horse when riding "western".
There are very fine western snaffles with pretty designs on the rings.
Ideally, leverage bits are used for the more advanced horses and riders, to give a more subtle signal with the least movement of the reins, many of them thru drapey reins, not even with direct contact there.
To use those bits properly, it does take educated hands (and seat and legs and a well trained horse).
This. Too bad many novice/new to horses riders haven't been taught this.
Just a thought, those of you whom honestly think curb bits are EVIL, perhaps, you could ask to ride a trained western horse sometime. Not sure if any of you slum down enough to board at places that do not have all English riders, but you may be surprised in what you learn during a spin on the horse.
I swear, you are probably in your horses mouth sooo much more while riding in your "innocent" snaffle, than "we" are in our EVIL curbs.
Instead of knocking something that you do NOT know, try asking if you can hop on a western horse if the opportunity arises at your barn.
I know I'd let ya take my guy for a spin. You can see how it is to ride a horse that carries himself, is super soft, well mannered, and needs the slightest cue to do what you ask while you ride on the buckle.
My horse is NOT abused or unhappy in his EVIL curb, I promise!! LOL! He would get annoyed if I was constantly nagging him by being in his mouth, I promise!
Oh dear, why are you (some of you) in a tizzy. No one said/meant "evil" or anything of the sort. Chill.
You asked and thread title is....
So why do western riders really do the shanked bits?
You also included in your original post
Originally Posted by sonomacounty
So why do western riders really do the shanked bits?
Now, I don't mean to stir the pot with that. I know that is their culture and custom - but I just can't.
I'm all up for getting a lightweight western saddle (& bridle) and giving it a go but no 4+ inch shanked curbs.
(And I will wear a helmet, always, still.)
Does one really need those bits to turn/stop their horse? I hope not. I'm picturing a h/j horse going in a long shanked pelham but with just a curb rein. Yes, I know, they ride with one hand, not two but even so . . . I may truly just not understand something. If so, please clue me in.
Oh, and do any western riders show in a helmet?
The way you asked the questions and linking helmet wear with shanked bit set the tone. They are baited questions.
The idea that you will "give it a go" but... You said what you are NOT going to do, which implies others that do, are wrong.
Shank bits should be a right of passage, not a sign of flunking out.
If you think you need a shank bit to control your horse, you might need to go back to school...
In much English riding, most horses spend all their lives in a snaffle.
When you are doing something that your horse gets strong and harder to control, like hunting or more aggressive trail riding, or jumping, for many less experienced riders, the instructor will change the snaffle for some kind of a curb.
With ponies, it is common to put a kimberwick for trail riding, as they are more responsive for the smaller kids then.
For horses, a pelham is generally used, many times with a connector and one rein only, not two.
That change in bits to a leverage bit helps some riders do more and catch up with their riding experiences and become better safely.
That is not so at all with western horses.
The well trained western horse is generally trained and learns with a snaffle or bosal type hackamore and eventually, once it has become very light to seat and leg aids and is responding very well with the snaffle, they are introduced to leverage bits.
Those bits are not for direct control, but for the more refined aids with one hand, where your hand doesn't have to move around any more, the horse light in self carriage.
Those are ideal situations, the reality is all over the place, every rider and trainer uses some combination of what is done where they are, in their discipline and/or what works for their horse.
The kind of western technical riding we have today is relatively new, unlike the English kind, that is based on centuries of knowledge of how to ride and train and why.
I would say western riding and what you do with it and how is not standardized that much and still evolving.
Just look at old movies a few decades ago, how they rode and today's videos and there is a clear difference and things will change even more as time goes on.
I think anyone that has questions, as the OP here, really should come to ask them to learn why things are like they are, but keep an open mind, not come already ready to think everyone is doing something wrong just because it is different.
As for curbs in western riding being just for control and abusive, like with everything else, any we do with a horse can be abusive if not done right, not used properly.
If curbs were inherently abusive, the horses would tell by resisting, not working properly.
Since they don't, you ought to think maybe they are not as cruel as you think they are.
If you aren't showing, ride in whatever your horse is most comfortable with. I trained at home with snaffles all the time when I showed western and put the curb in for the showring. Western pleasure horses are taught to go around without contact, so as long as you aren't yanking on the curb, they won't really know any different (as long as you don't get crazy with the port). I also used to use a leather curb strap instead of a chain. Seemed to minimize head tossing if there was any.
Allah took a handful of southerly wind, blew His breath over it, and created the horse. Thou shall fly without wings, and conquer without any sword, O, Horse! Anonymous Bedouin legend