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Stupid question: Western bits

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  • Stupid question: Western bits

    I was wondering about this last night, as you do when you have insomnia. I know how to approximately judge how harsh/mild an English type bit is, and could recognize most of them, but anyone have any good pointers or websites for understanding bits in the Western world?

    I tried googling, but most of what I found seemed to be either people selling bits, or people seeming to repeat what they'd been told, rather than addressing what makes bit X mild and bit Y harsh and so on.

    So what would be a typical mild (as in actually mild, not what everyone thinks of as mild) bit?

    (I understand the basic action of a curb but then you add a broken mouthpiece and I start getting confused about what puts pressure where.)

  • #2
    The shank
    Main article: bit shank
    A decorative fixed shank on a western Salinas-style curb bit

    A curb bit is a leverage bit, meaning that it multiplies the pressure applied by the rider. Unlike a snaffle bit, which applies direct rein pressure from the rider's hand to the horse's mouth, the curb can amplify rein pressure several times over, depending on the length of the curb's bit shank. Shank sizes vary from the Tom Thumb (2 inches long) to more than 5 inches. The longer the bit shank, the more powerful its potential effect on the horse. For this reason, overall shank or cheek length, from the top of the cheek ring to the bottom of the rein ring, usually cannot exceed 8½ inches for most horse show disciplines.
    Leverage principles
    Bit shanks, such as those on this spade bit, work as a lever
    Main article: Lever

    The relation of the upper shank (purchase)—the shank length from the mouthpiece to the cheekpiece rings—and the lower shank or lever arm—the shank length from the mouthpiece to the lowest rein ring, is important in the severity of the bit. The standard curb bit has a 1½" cheek and a 4½" lower shank, thus producing a 1:3 ratio of cheek to lower shank, a 1:4 ratio of cheek to full shank, thus producing 3 lbs of pressure on the chin groove and 4 lbs of pressure on the horse's mouth for every 1 lb placed on the reins (3 and 4 newtons respectively for every newton).

    Regardless of the ratio, the longer the shank, the less force is needed on the reins to provide a given amount of pressure on the mouth. So, if one were to apply 1 lb of pressure on the horse's mouth, a 2" shank would need more rein pressure than an 8" shank to provide the same effect.

    A long lower shank in relation to the upper shank (or purchase) increases the leverage, and thus the pressure, on the curb groove and the bars of the mouth. A long upper shank in relation to the lower shank increases the pressure on the poll, but does not apply as much pressure on the bars of the mouth.

    However, longer-shanked bits must rotate back further before applying pressure on the horse's mouth than shorter-shanked bits. Therefore, the horse has more warning in a long-shanked bit, allowing it to respond before any significant pressure is applied to its mouth, than it would in a shorter-shanked bit. In this way, a longer shank can allow better communication between horse and rider, without increasing severity. This is also directly dependent on the tightness of the curb chain.


    A Wiki explanation.


    • #3
      Also this article on how to compare severity of different bits based on a formula. No it is not difficult, just time consuming.

      Never argue with a fool. Noone can tell who is who.


      • #4
        Actually, while it is 'generally' true that bits without shanks are less severe than bits with shanks, the same rule applies for either western or English: it is fundamentally the rider's hands that make the difference on abuse, not the hardware in the horse's mouth.

        The worst damage I've seen in a horse's mouth (pointed out to me by the vet/dentist working on teeth that day) was done exclusively by a mild snaffle, as attested to by the incredulous owner of the particular horse, an 8 yo she'd had since it was started as a dressage horse.

        Sadly, the reason for that is that people incorrectly assume that because they have a mild bit on the horse, they can't possibly hurt the horse.


        • #5
          Some of the best books on western bitting are by Ed Connell:
          Hackamore Reinsman and Reinsman of the West, Bridles and Bits.

          It is not only the shank, but the purchase of the bit that determines leverage. The most "severe" looking bits are for finished horses where only a light touch would be needed to transfer the signal to the horse.
          Proud to have two Takaupa Gold line POAs!
          Takaupas Top Gold
          Gifts Black Gold Knight


          • #6
            A lot of the " harshness" associated with the Western type curb bits depends on how they are used and the mechanics of the port, shank, etc... You need to take into consideration the shape of your horse's palette and what you want to accomplish. Are you wanting to show in it or are you wanting an everyday bit for riding? I would stay away from Tom Thumb or snaffle/curb hybrid type bits since they are mechanical nightmares in my opinion. Google a Mark Rashid article on the Tom Thumb bit, it's great!

            Generally a low port, shorter or slung back shanks and thicker, soft curb straps are in the less harsh realm.
            Claire Pelton
            The Pelton Equestrian Experience
            Precision Training and Management of Horse and Rider Teams


            • #7
              I found the Myler brothers' bit book very easy to understand and helpful for under $20. It mainly covers Myler bits, but made a lot of sense for someone who isn't very familiar with Western bits.
              Somewhere in the world, Jason Miraz is Goodling himself and wondering why "the chronicle of the horse" is a top hit. CaitlinAndTheBay


              • #8
                Another point to consider (perhaps add to the confusion ) is the sweep of the port. A port that sweeps backwards (curved away from the palate, towards the tongue when in the horses mouth) is going to come in to action slower and therefore be more mild than a very upright port.


                • #9
                  I don't think this is a dumb question. As other posters said, harshness depends on the user.

                  Some western spade bits that I would think look horribly severe, but they were created for use on a highly trained bridle horse (8 yrs +) by a highly skilled rider.

                  I admit I used to see them & couldn't imagine what possible legitimate use they could have, but I thank Mugwump, who I read on occasion, for a bit of info on an entire training tradition that I was mostly unaware of. Since then, I have noticed references all over the place (including in the French School thread). I am intrigued, to say the least.



                  That said, unfortunately I see a lot of potentially harsh bits used by poor horsemen for all the wrong reasons (and not only in western riding!). When I see a spade bit for sale at the Horse Expo, I wonder what % of them are sold for their true purpose.

                  The broken mouth curb, which for some reason is often called a snaffle, is often thought of as less severe than a curb with a port, but in actuality, it can be a lot worse. The shank creates a lot of leverage, so you can really get a nutcracker effect going.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Hippolyta View Post
                    The broken mouth curb, which for some reason is often called a snaffle, is often thought of as less severe than a curb with a port, but in actuality, it can be a lot worse. The shank creates a lot of leverage, so you can really get a nutcracker effect going.

                    From what I have read, the broken mouth curb does not work the same as the solid mouthed curb because the bit collapses. It would therefore not engage the curb chain/leverage as it would if the mouth were solid.
                    I suppose this all has been debated ever since man domesticated the horse.
                    Proud to have two Takaupa Gold line POAs!
                    Takaupas Top Gold
                    Gifts Black Gold Knight