My experience with a curb bit!
I have been wanting to try out a curb for a long time. Just so happens a girl I know who rode western (the only one!) is having a break and selling all her gear, so I got a one ear bridle, curb bit, and split reins for about $80. The bridle and reins are made by cowperson tack – good brand? They are lovely quality, such thick leather, and the reins are weighted beautifully. The bit is quite short shanked, and a double jointed mouthpiece with a copper roller in the middle. I am well aware of all the controversy over Tom Thumb type bits, and it wouldn’t have been my first choice, but it was a good opportunity to get one for cheap so I took what was given. I also don’t believe in totally discounting something until you have tried it.
So! I went out yesterday arvo to try it out. You will kill me – I forgot the camera! But I will take it with me tomorrow and chuck it on between runs and take some photos. Silly me forgot that you need a curb chain/strap – We had an old broken one off a hackamore so I tied it on with baling twine :] Luckily the bridle/bit fitted him well, as I forgot to ask what size they were.
He didn’t mind the mouthpiece much – Only chewed a little bit and I think that was more about anticipating a treat than the bit. I jumped on and walked him around the silos. Gosh it is a strange feeling riding with one hand because you need to – Not just because I’m being lazy! It is also very strange having to consciously remember to leave a drape in the reins. Steering was ok – He does neck rein well but isn’t used to doing it exclusively so had to use an open rein a few times to show him what I wanted. He is quite responsive to my seat to didn’t really have to touch the reins much for a halt.
We rode out on the trail – He went much like he usually does, not change in head carriage or comfort. He didn’t understand the lighter stop cue when I lifted my hand, so I had to get a bit stronger a few times until he understood that the shift of weight on the bit was a cue. He chose to ignore the cue a few times so I gave a good tug and the first time he threw his head up – but after that understood a lot better and listened for that light cue.
We rode to the local agistment paddocks where they have a sand arena so I did some proper work with him. I had to be a bit stronger on the first few stops but after that he was stopping as well, if not a little better, than he does in the snaffle. I think he liked having a bit more freedom in the head for the stop, he still did a couple on his forelegs but generally they were of marginally better quality. He LOVED being able to carry his head low! He really would be a natural western horse – I would love to try reining on him.
Steering was much like earlier – mostly neck reined well but needed a few leading reins to clear it up.
We did some rollbacks – This was a bit different. He started going forward through the turn as I didn’t have a hold of his mouth like usual – But I used a method similar to that used by Larry Trocha in his spinning video – Asking for the turn with the reins and if he doesn’t, pressing with the spur. He got it pretty well – it was hard for me to ask for a rollback with no contact to stop forward movement – A few times I unconsciously lifted my hand a whisker too much and he hopped instead of moving flat around. I actually really like his slow turns in the bridle – We got the best foundation for a pin we have ever got. When I try it in a snaffle he tends to get bogged down in the contact, and moves forward if I don’t have contact, but it worked much better in the bridle and we got a 360 decent quality walking speed spin – I.e. with his planting the correct foot and not blowing out. I moved up to a trot and did some stops and rollbacks. I have to keep my hand so much stiller in this bridle as he was taking every little movement as a cue to start a turn – I think I am just not used to having weighted reins where they can feel the slightest shift. The only issue I had here was difficulty in getting him to lead with his nose – The leading rein helped him get around but didn’t really encourage him to tip his nose in the direction we were turning.
Backing up was horrible at first – he just didn’t get it. So I strengthened my cue and he got it slowly – by the end his backing had improved to what we get with the snaffle. I would use my blocking seat, put leg on and lift my hand a little, and when I asked for faster I bumped with my legs and wiggled my finger on the rein a little. We got a super quick back-up at the end when I asked for more – I loved it.
So – To sum up. I did no transitioning – just put the bit in and went. It took maybe one or two tries at each thing before he understood what I was asking. I could see that direct reining was not ideal in this bit – A leading rein worked ok, but it was harder to get lateral flexion like I do in the snaffle. The only time he seemed uncomfortable was when he got strong and ignored cues and I had to give him a reminder – A sharper tug, And still he only chucked his head once. Apart from that he was very comfortable in the head, even when stopping and turning in the new bit. I liked the results I got in stopping and slow turns, and especially the foundations of a spin. It will take us more time to get used to lateral flexion, faster turns (haunch turns), and constant neck reining. I liked it enough that I will keep using it sometimes at home to see where it can take us.
While this bit wasn’t a tom thumb – it was double jointed – It is similar in mechanics. I didn’t find much confusion in my horse, but he was already accustomed to working off seat and leg, long reins, and bridleless; I also kept direct reining to a minimum. I can definitely see the capacity for confusion in a horse that is ill-prepared (not prepared as such – more so ill-educated in the necessary skills) for the bit, and is steered mainly via direct reining. After I’ve ridden in this bit for a while and am used to it, I’ll look around for a mullen mouth curb and give it a try to see if I notice much difference.
There is an amateur reining club near me and one day I would love to take Bundy along – I think he would really take to it.
Promise pictures after this weekend!