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So why do western riders really do the shanked bits?

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  • So why do western riders really do the shanked bits?

    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?

    Tx.

  • #2
    I've often wondered this as well. Why not just use a snaffle....the shanked bits seem like a good way to harden mouths
    Charlie Brown (1994 bay TB X gelding)
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    • #3
      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).

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      • #4
        Don't quote me on this, but I think it's similar to using a double bridle dressage. A curb is a finished horse bit, something that is (supposed) to be progressed up to through training.

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        • #5
          If you get out in the real world, with working cowboys, you see everything used, bitless, mechanical hackamores, bosals, assorted snaffles and curbs. The curb bit, however, is a requirement in many competitions and all shows, except futurity classes and the bits must meet standards which I no longer remember. That said, I did chase cans and never used anything more than a *GASP* driving bit (half cheek snaffle) on my horse, a real oddity amongst the hackamores and curbs.
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          • Original Poster

            #6
            so have I seen English riders pull and yank to their heart's content with plain snaffles.

            Absolutely true, Mr. Blue.

            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.

            OK, now I'm getting some understanding on this. I really appreciate you all discussing this w. me.

            And, gotcha on the reason for a dressage bridle, Alter.

            OK, here I go, western bridle with D-ring snaffle - look out.

            (I guess a loose ring would look better, eh?)

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            • #7
              I am guessing that for the horses that are trained properly and progress to using a shanked bit there is hardly ever any pressure put on the bit. I think the well trained western horses go almost completely off of seat and legs and are ridden on a loose rein. I'm no expert but that is what I think is the case.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by altermeup View Post
                Don't quote me on this, but I think it's similar to using a double bridle dressage. A curb is a finished horse bit, something that is (supposed) to be progressed up to through training.
                This. Seriously, if you've ridden a horse that is well-trained to the bridle, it's amazing just how light those signals on a draped rein can be. The time I really got to try it was an eye-opener.
                Proud member of the Snort and Blow Clique

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                • #9
                  From what I understand, a curb bit is mostly used with finished horses. These horses work off a lot of seat/leg aids with minimal rein aids. The weight of the reins are heavier so they can keep a loose rein and a little hand movement will affect the bit much more than it would with regular English reins and a snaffle. With a long shanked curb you are not meant to ride on direct rein contact like you are with an english bit/rein set up.

                  I think that is correct.
                  come what may

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                  • #10
                    Check out Buck Brannaman sometime. Horses are light and finished the old fashioned vaquero way progressing from bosal, snaffle to shanked bit. They do not travel "on contact" but are trained to carry themselves from behind, correctly. Using a light touch and body cues is all thats necessary.

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                    • #11
                      And what goes around, comes around. Calling all Dressage-niks, take a good look at the old prints of LaGuerinere and anyone else from the Classical Age sometime--they all rode with humongous shanks, a nearly straight leg and a saddle with super-high pommel and cantle; and in Spain and Portugal, where Western came from, still do!

                      It is All One, Grasshopper!

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                      • #12
                        As a reining trainer told me, his horse was in the top five in the Snaffle Bit Futurity, working cowhorse that is, he trains practically all time with a snaffle thru the horse's life.
                        Then he puts a curb and the horse is trained in the finer points, then back to the snaffle for more intensive training again.
                        When in the curb, that is used to generally ride one handed, as a signal bit, not guiding bit and the range that hand should move is about 4" around at most.

                        Now, there are so many hybrid bits out there today, part snaffle, they don't have a solid mouth piece, so the leverage may be all over the place and part shanked bit, that have a "broken" mouth piece but still are supposedly working some by leverage if the reins are set there.

                        Then there are still other combination bits out there, like correction bits, partial gag bits, etc., each one with yet a different purpose in mind.

                        When it comes to western bits, it is a jungle out there.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by wylde sage View Post
                          Horses are light and finished the old fashioned vaquero way progressing from bosal, snaffle to shanked bit. They do not travel "on contact" but are trained to carry themselves from behind, correctly. Using a light touch and body cues is all thats necessary.
                          Because shanked bits-- and the best are custom, built to work with the horse's anatomy from lips to tongue to shoulder as well as his personality-- are signal bits.

                          In truth, all bits are "signal bits." If you are riding a horse and expect to physically hurt him enough to make him stop or turn, you are doing something really, really wrong. We teach horses the "signals" given by even fattest, most stable snaffle, too. We also expect the horse to change the feel we get back on our hand, but we really want him to rearrange his whole body all the way back to the butt.

                          I really like the philosophy used by the old school vaquero or California types who make up a finished horse. I don't need to ride my English horses in leverage bits to use their ideas. But, man, when you have ridden a nice reining horse controlled by your body and moving you hand within a 4" little box in front of the saddle horn.... then you learn what "broke" is.

                          Please don't let the hardware put you off. There is a reason for all of it. The best trainers can explain exactly what bit they chose and why. And you will be able to understand their explanation.
                          The armchair saddler
                          Politically Pro-Cat

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by mvp View Post
                            Because shanked bits-- and the best are custom, built to work with the horse's anatomy from lips to tongue to shoulder as well as his personality-- are signal bits.

                            In truth, all bits are "signal bits." If you are riding a horse and expect to physically hurt him enough to make him stop or turn, you are doing something really, really wrong. We teach horses the "signals" given by even fattest, most stable snaffle, too. We also expect the horse to change the feel we get back on our hand, but we really want him to rearrange his whole body all the way back to the butt.

                            I really like the philosophy used by the old school vaquero or California types who make up a finished horse. I don't need to ride my English horses in leverage bits to use their ideas. But, man, when you have ridden a nice reining horse controlled by your body and moving you hand within a 4" little box in front of the saddle horn.... then you learn what "broke" is.

                            Please don't let the hardware put you off. There is a reason for all of it. The best trainers can explain exactly what bit they chose and why. And you will be able to understand their explanation.
                            That is true, but with a direct hand to mouth bit like a snaffle is supposed to be, you can guide the horse without needingly causing pain.
                            Is called a "direct rein".
                            That helps when first teaching a horse about what we are asking.

                            Curbs are not meant for that. The leverage a true curb brings to the picture can, if misused to guide, not just to signal, cause at least confusion by the conflicting signals trying to guide with it, to pain from the leverage if pulled or jerked with it.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Bluey View Post
                              That is true, but with a direct hand to mouth bit like a snaffle is supposed to be, you can guide the horse without needingly causing pain.
                              Is called a "direct rein".
                              That helps when first teaching a horse about what we are asking.

                              Curbs are not meant for that. The leverage a true curb brings to the picture can, if misused to guide, not just to signal, cause at least confusion by the conflicting signals trying to guide with it, to pain from the leverage if pulled or jerked with it.
                              I know! About the snaffle, that is. But I still think this is a "signal" of sorts. No one is aiming to drag that 45# head around. We want horses to have "power steering" where they choose to follow that direct rein because they feel it.

                              I also suspect that the best trainers spend a lot of time riding two-handed in a snaffle. I can't think of a way to teach a horse to bend through his body without that.

                              OTOH, my mom gave me The Training of the Western Horse, a long time ago, and those guys didn't talk about bending. To them, a circle was like an octogon (or similar): You rode in a straight line, turned a bit, rode straight again.

                              Apparently, this book was a classic. I still don't get what those guys meant. Perhaps no modern western types ride the always-straight horse anymore?
                              The armchair saddler
                              Politically Pro-Cat

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                              • #16
                                Of course, any bit, even snaffles, can and are used to signal also.

                                Until the last few decades, western riding was not very technical.
                                About half a century ago, some trainers/exhibitors didn't even know what leads were, some judges didn't either.

                                "We" have come a long way, have we.

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                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by sonomacounty View Post
                                  So why do western riders really do the shanked bits?

                                  Many of us use the bits that work and our horse likes.

                                  Now, I don't mean to stir the pot with that. I know that is their culture and custom - but I just can't.

                                  Yes you are...

                                  I'm all up for getting a lightweight western saddle (& bridle) and giving it a go but no 4+ inch shanked curbs.

                                  I use a low port grazing bit, with a 5" shank. My horse loves and respects this bit.

                                  Oh, and do any western riders show in a helmet?

                                  Why do dressage riders wear top hats?

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                                  • Original Poster

                                    #18
                                    Now, 7HL, this was a real question:

                                    Oh, and do any western riders show in a helmet?

                                    Why do dressage riders wear top hats?

                                    I'd be up for a little western show one day - western eq & pleasure, something like that, but I don't get on without a helmet. The dressage top hat people - I don't approve but I won't lecture anyone on it.

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                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by sonomacounty View Post
                                      Now, 7HL, this was a real question:

                                      Oh, and do any western riders show in a helmet?

                                      Why do dressage riders wear top hats?

                                      I'd be up for a little western show one day - western eq & pleasure, something like that, but I don't get on without a helmet. The dressage top hat people - I don't approve but I won't lecture anyone on it.
                                      Wear a helmet is a personal choice issue. This is an old arguement. I have seen western competitors wearing a helmet. I may not be many. I probably have seen more in the speed events like barrel racing and pole bending then anywhere else.

                                      No one is forcing you not to wear a helmet.

                                      Wearing a helmet just doesn't work in some competitions. Example, I was at an Arab show where they had a costume class, a helmet would look ridiculous.
                                      The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.

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                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by SAcres View Post
                                        From what I understand, a curb bit is mostly used with finished horses. These horses work off a lot of seat/leg aids with minimal rein aids. The weight of the reins are heavier so they can keep a loose rein and a little hand movement will affect the bit much more than it would with regular English reins and a snaffle. With a long shanked curb you are not meant to ride on direct rein contact like you are with an english bit/rein set up.

                                        I think that is correct.
                                        Pretty good summary. What's really cool to watch a good horseman do is the show-off trick of tying the rein to the bit with a single tail hair from the horse, and then doing some fancy moves and quick stops. On a made bridle horse, the rein and leg cues should be so small as to be nearly invisible.

                                        Of course, like pretty much all horse equipment, lots of people don't necessarily have a complete understanding of *how* it's supposed to work and the results can be less than spectacular.

                                        My experience is that a true curb (as opposed to a pelham, 3-ring, etc) responds differently to the rein. To me, it feels like the bit pivots in the horse's mouth more easily and the signal is much crisper, so it's easy to feel how the horse is carrying the bit just through the weight of the reins draped on your finger tips. Taking up English-style contact and having to close my hand was very odd!
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