December 18, 2017

It’s A “Bit” Confusing…

It’s A “Bit” Confusing…

     As some of you know, I am a CHA Clinic Instructor. What this means is that I go out into the horse community around the country and conduct Riding Instructor Certification Clinics. These clinics consist of 40 hours of testing, evaluating and teaching the instructors who are seeking certification. One of the required topics is Bits and Bitting. Sometimes my clinic staff partner or I will present this lecture. Usually, we will have a participant present it.  It is during these presentations that I have found what I consider to be the most common misconception regarding bits. The difference between a snaffle bit and a curb bit. Many people believe that a bit with a jointed or “broken” mouthpiece is a snaffle and a bit with a solid mouthpiece is a curb. Many of the tack catalogs illustrate and group bits that way. Many trainers and instructors explain it that way. I hear this over and over again at clinics and the many events I speak at every year. It is very frustrating to hear so many professionals giving out the wrong information.

What Is The Difference Between A Snaffle And A Curb Bit?

     A snaffle bit is a direct pressure bit. A curb bit is a leverage bit. That is the only difference. If you remember nothing else, remember this- It has nothing to do with the type of mouthpiece the bit has.  It doesn’t matter if the mouthpiece is jointed or not. A jointed mouthpiece bit can be either a snaffle or a curb. A solid mouthpiece bit can be either a snaffle or a curb. Some bits can be both a snaffle and a curb. Both English and Western bits can be curbs and/or snaffles. Bits with solid, ported mouthpieces can be snaffles.  Pretty crazy, huh? How do you tell them apart?

     You can tell the difference between a snaffle and a curb bit by how and where the reins attach to it. If the reins attach to the same ring as the mouthpiece, it is a snaffle. Keep in mind that the rein can’t be restricted by another ring or loop within or attached to the bit ring. It has to be the same ring and the reins must be able to slide on that ring. If the reins attach to a slot on the same ring as the mouthpiece, it’s probably a curb bit.  I say probably, because humans being what they are, the lines can get blurred sometimes. In an effort to make show horses look like they are working in a mild snaffle bit, some curb bits are made to look like snaffle bits. They aren’t snaffles but they look like they are. They have a hidden restrictor ring that the reins go through. This ring prevents the rein from sliding on the ring.

     A curb bit will have reins that attach below the mouthpiece, usually at the end of a long piece called a shank.  A pull on the reins will apply pressure to three areas of the horse- the mouth, the curb groove (under the chin) via a curb strap or chain and on top of the poll via the crownpiece of the bridle. It is this increased number of pressure sites that drastically changes the way a curb bit works. Curb bits are usually considered more severe than snaffle bits due to this increase in pressure points. Due to the leverage these bits apply, the amount of pull a rider puts on the reins is increased. More pressure is put on the horse than the rider put into the reins. It is for these reasons that curb bits require more training for the horse and rider.

     Some bits have several different rings to attach the reins to. I call these combination bits.  These combination bits can be a snaffle, curb or both depending on how many reins you use and where they attach. These bits were designed to give the rider more versatility in the use of the bit. The same bit can be used for several different training levels for the same horse. It can also be used to move a horse from one type of bit to another, without having to buy multiple bits. English Pelham bits are a good example of this type of bit. A Kimberwicke is also a combination bit. I like these types of bits because they are so versatile. When I purchase this type of bit I get more “bang for my bit buck”.

     Here are some pictures of bits. Can you pick out the snaffle, curb and combination bits? I left the reins off so you will have to figure it out for yourself. You should have enough information now to do a great job. Check them out and do your best. Scroll down for the answers but don’t cheat!


Snaffle, Curb or Combination?







Answers- Left to Right

1. Combination   2. Snaffle    3. Curb

4. Snaffle            5. Curb        6. Snaffle

     Cheryl Rohnke Kronsberg is a Certified Horsemanship Association Master Instructor and Clinic Instructor. She is also a registered AQHA Professional Horseman. Cheryl has been teaching riding and horsemanship for over 30 years. Currently she and her husband own and operate CRK Training Stable in Yorba Linda, CA. We welcome your comments and questions. Please feel free to share this article with your friends, but rights to publish this article are restricted.