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Getting started with the curb bit - this is how you can successfully adapt your horse to the new bit

It is not without reason that the change from snaffle to curb bit should be approached with respect and caution. This is a big step in the training of your horse, which can quickly overtax not only your horse. Lessons that have been easy until then suddenly become a challenge. This article is intended to help you to make the transition to the ported & mullen mouth bit and that you can avoid common mistakes.


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Double bridle - what does it look like, how does it work?

A curb bit is an unbroken mouthpiece with port. This can vary in the degree to which it is shaped. The ported & mullen mouth bit has transverse legs on the left and right, which lie outside the horse's mouth. The bridle is attached to the upper trees. There are also the hooks for the curb chain. The curb chain runs in the horse's chin pit and makes the (sometimes enormous) leverage of this bridle possible. The reins are attached to the lower trees, better known as shanks. The curb bit is often used with bradoon . Less often they are used bare, for example in the higher classes of the Working Equitation.

The curb works in three ways:

  • Pressure on the mouth in the direction of the rider's hand
  • Leverage on the neck via the bridle
  • Pressure between mouthpiece and curb chain on the lower jaw and chin

The intensity of the effect depends on:

  • the strength of the ported mouthpiece
  • the expression and form of the port
  • the length of the transverse legs or their ratio to each other
  • the setting of the curb chain

The bar thickness can vary depending on the model and manufacturer. You should adjust the thickness (and width) to your horse's anatomical needs and preferences. Some prefer a thinner mouthpiece that takes up less space in the horse's mouth. If you feel your horse is not comfortable with the model you have chosen, test different thicknesses to find the right one. The bradoon also needs to be accommodated, which further limits the space available. The width of the ported mouthpiece should be about 0.5 to 1 cm less than the bradoon, as it is located at a narrower part of the mouth.

If you like our ported & mullen mouth bits, like Baroque curb bit, Spanish curb bits or Pump curb bits, blank, we recommend that you choose the size you are used to - and not smaller! Many customers who were not quite sure of their size have found it helpful to measure their existing bit . You can then compare the value with the measurements in the size guide (found at each of our bits).

The word "port" is rather misleading in relation to the curb. Because the more pronounced the port, the sharper the effect. By accepting the reins, the position in the mouth changes and the port can press on the tongue or against the palate. The anatomy of your horse also plays a major role here, and you should take this into account when choosing a reins. Does it have a thick, rather fleshy tongue and how much space does the palate offer?

The length of the shanks influences the strength of the leverage. The longer the shank, the harder the leverage. Short shanks give a more harmless impression, but have a more direct and possibly harder effect.

Left: Spanish sliding cheek curb bit with a top/bottom ratio of 1/1.2Right: Baroque curb bit with a ratio of 1/2.4
Left: Spanish sliding cheek curb bit with a top/bottom ratio of 1/1.2
Right: Baroque curb bit with a ratio of 1/2.4

The most important thing when buckling the curb chain is that it is correctly turned out and adjusted to fit. It lies in the horse's chin and should not be too tight, but also not too loose. When the reins are accepted, the curb bit should be at about a 45° angle to the horse's mouth. To prevent the chain from pressing uncomfortably or if your horse has sensitive skin, a soft chinchain pad or a leather-covered curb chain can be used.

The pairs of reins differ in width and finish. The leather curb reins is narrower and sewn at the end. It is usually equipped with a movable stopper/slider to adjust the reins to a certain length.

The snaffle reins, on the other hand, are usually wider and connected at the ends with the traditional buckle. If you have small hands, try out which reins you can manage without getting a space problem.

When are we ready? - The curb maturity

Before you start to ride your horse on a curb bit, certain conditions should be met. Otherwise it will quickly mutate into a torture tool that can cause enormous damage in the worst case. You should always be aware of this and ask yourself whether you are ready as a team.

Here are some pointers for orientation:

  • The basic prerequisite should be respectful and considerate treatment of the horse.
  • The rider should be familiar with the buckling and action of the curb bit.
  • The rider's hand must not be restless or use strong rein aids (sensitive influence).
  • The rider should be able to influence the horse independently of the reins only through the seat and in all gaits (independent seat).
  • The horse must be able to be turned away with weight and thigh aids.
  • It must not lean on the rider's hand because it is not yet balanced.
  • The previous lessons should be successful in good self-carriage with a light lean on bridle .
  • It should already show the first signs of assembly
  • Looseness, carrying and pushing power should be sufficiently developed.
  • The horse should be given enough time to get to know the new bit

If you are unsure, it is advisable to consult with an experienced instructor before you start.

Note that the curb bit is not a tool to solve rideability problems. It is neither used for correction nor as a brake to prevent violent horses from going through. If there are already gaps in the basic training, riding on a curb bit cannot close them. A certain mental maturity in the horse and trust in the rider must be present. In inexperienced or even rough hands it can become a hard tool which can cause enormous damage to the horse. In the worst case, even the lower jaw can break.

Familiarisation - giving the horse time

Getting used to the curb bit takes time and patience. One possibility, for example, is to bridle your horse for a few minutes at the grooming place. This way he can familiarise himself with the new feeling in his mouth and get used to it. You can repeat this a few times.

As soon as he is a little more familiar with bit , it is time to start riding. At the beginning, the leather curb reins can be adjusted to a certain length with the stopper and placed on the neck. So at first you only ride with the snaffle rein. Your four-legged partner must also get used to this new situation in movement. It feels different to work with the reins than before, if only because there is a lot more metal in the mouth.

Whole track, big lines and arches make more sense at this stage than demanding lessons and then leaving the track frustrated when they have failed. Be aware that this is not ported & mullen mouth bit is not for bending, but to refine riding at the highest level. Correctly applied, it helps to show the horse the way into collection and enables very precise aiding, especially in high lessons.

There is also a change for you. One pair of reins now becomes two, which means you have to be able to sort 4 strands and coordinate them independently of each other. You will soon realise that this is not so easy. It makes sense to work with a qualified trainer at this point.  

Make 4 out of 2 - Possible reins for curb bit and bradoon

Due to the different way the snaffle and curb bit work, the reins must also be handled differently. Instead of using both bits with the same leaning, as well as manner, differentiation must be made here. Especially when pulling on one side, the ported mouthpiece presses on the lower jaw on one side and at the same time against the upper jaw on the other side. The horse can become confused, which you should avoid at all costs.

This is especially true with today's common method of leading with split reins. In this case there are two reins in each hand (2:2) and they are normally only separated by one finger. Differentiation is therefore hardly possible and the independent use of the two bits is made difficult. Often when bending with the snaffle the curb bit is also used. In the same way, the snaffle rein is activated when parrying with the snaffle.

With the different variations of the lead, the curb acts in different ways.

2:2 rein guidance - the modern variant

The crossed rein, the most common form

In the riding arena, the most common way of leading is with crossed reins. The snaffle rein is classically held between the ring and little finger. The leather curb reins crosses the bridle rein on the inside from the bottom to the top and runs between the ring and middle finger. This lead is quite mild for the horse, as the rider's hand is usually tilted downwards when parrying. This creates more pressure on the snaffle bit than on the curb bit.

Here it is still possible to vary by guiding the leather curb reins between the middle and index finger. During a parry there is hardly any pressure on the ported mouthpiece.

The parallel rein

The snaffle rein is taken up as usual. The leather curb reins is brought into the fist below the little finger. The pairs of reins run parallel and do not cross each other. The effect of the curb is thus intensified.

There is also a variation here: The snaffle rein is passed through the fist from top to bottom, the leather curb reins runs from bottom to top. You should know that with this lead a parade has a very sharp effect on the curb bit, but this way you can separate the parade for bridle and the curb bit.

3:1 rein guidance - the classic variant

If you study the teachings of the old riding masters, you will come across the opinion that an unbroken mouthpiece can only be used properly when the leather curb reins is led with one hand (3:1). In modern riding this posture is hardly to be found any more.

The snaffle rein is traditionally held with both hands. The leather curb reins , however, is held with one hand. The reins are crossed upwards inside the snaffle rein and converge in a hand of your choice (usually the right).

The leather curb reins of the "curb hand" runs between the ring and middle finger. The 2nd leather curb reins is passed between the middle and index finger. Thus one bridle rein and both leather curb reins run together in one hand and the other bridle rein is in the other hand.

This guidance can lead to the gathering and rearing of the horse without being used for steering. For inexperienced riders, however, there is a danger that the coordination of the aids becomes more difficult and the reins can easily get mixed up.

You should choose the rein according to the desired purpose. After all, differentiation is important in order to reach the desired goal.

However, be aware at all times of the effect the bit has in your horse's mouth and the damage that can be done if used incorrectly. Many horses hardly show their discomfort and the small signals they give are easily overlooked. Look carefully. Don't assume that your horse is resisting out of unwillingness and laziness. Give him time to get to know the new conditions. Then you will continue to enjoy working together as a team.

Are you still looking for the right equipment? Discover Double bridles, ported & mullen mouth bits and snaffle bits from Picadera.

Laura Scharfenberg
Laura Scharfenberg

My name is Laura Scharfenberg and I come from beautiful Koblenz on the Rhine. I was infected with the horse virus even before I could walk. It was my father who brought the first horse into the family. My Friesian mare Renske (15 years old) and I have been a team since 2010. I train her myself, supported by lessons and courses. My guideline is the classicalacademic art of riding and elements of Légèreté. I also like to work out lessons on the hand and long reins.

Working Equitation is also very exciting. We try our hand at self-made trail obstacles and the theory is also very interesting. In general, I find theoretical knowledge very important to always broaden one's horizons as a rider. A horse is not just a hobby for me. It is a partner with whom I want to spend a good time for both of us. And one thing is important for that: listening to each other!

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