One of the most misunderstood pieces of tack is the bit. I've seen so many people use a random bit in their horse's mouth, but they don't have any knowledge of how it works or how it differs from other bits. The biggest problem that I hear is people not knowing the difference between a snaffle bit and a curb bit. Many people assume that because a bit has a single joint in the middle, then it's automatically a snaffle, when in fact, that couldn't be farther from the truth!
Simply put, a snaffle bit works on direct pressure, and a curb bit works off of leverage. If a bit has leverage, then it's a curb, no matter what kind of mouthpiece the bit has. Both snaffle and curb bits can have any type of mouthpiece. The mouthpiece isn't what defines the bit, the cheek piece does.
There are many different types of snaffle bits, such as D-rings, eggbutts, loose rings, and full cheeks. Any of these bits can have any mouthpiece you can imagine.
- Single joint
- Double jointed (this includes French links, Dr. Bristols, half moons, rollers, etc.)
- Mullen mouth
- Rubber or Happy Mouth
- Slow twist/twisted wire/corkscrew
On the other hand, a curb bit can also have any of the above mouthpieces, along with a dozen others. Just because a curb bit has a single jointed mouth piece, doesn't make it a snaffle! A single joint is the most common mouthpiece for a snaffle bit, so many people assume that if they see a bit with a single jointed mouthpiece, that's what makes it a snaffle. Curb bits also come in many different cheek pieces. The shanks can be long or short, and they all can have different shapes of the shanks.
When talking about direct pressure versus leverage, this all depends on the cheek piece of the bit, and where your rein connects to the bit. On a snaffle bit, such as a D-ring or eggbutt, your rein connects directly to the mouth of the horse. When you pull back on the reins, you are creating pressure on the corner of the lips, the bars of the mouth, the tongue, and sometimes the roof of the mouth, depending on the type of mouthpiece. These all create direct pressure on the mouth of the horse.
A curb bit puts very different pressure on the horse's mouth and face. With a curb bit, you are connecting your rein to the end of the shank, which is a lever. You are pulling up and back on the bottom of the shank, underneath the mouth, rather than directly pulling on the mouth. When you engage pressure on a curb bit, the first place the horse will get pressure is under the chin, from the curb chain/curb strap. Depending on the type of mouthpiece your have on your curb, it will put pressure onto the roof of the mouth or the tongue. A curb bit will also put pressure on the horse's poll, at the top of their head. How hard/far back you pull on a curb bit will affect how many pounds of pressure the horse feels on his poll and chin.
There are also a few bits that fit in both the snaffle and curb category, and are in their own type of 'in-between' category. Some bits have both snaffle and curb characteristics. Pelham, Kimberwicke, and Elevator bits are some examples of bits that have qualities of both types of bits. With a Pelham bit and Elevator bit, you should use two reins, one on the snaffle ring, and the second on the curb ring. You can use your snaffle rein normally and apply direct pressure to the mouth, and use your curb rein as needed, to add pressure to the chin and poll and create leverage.
If you don't know exactly how your bit works, do a little bit of research! It's always helpful to educate yourself and know how your bit works, and what you are actually putting in your mouth. Just because it's a snaffle bit doesn't always mean that it's a mild bit, and a curb bit doesn't always have to be harsh!