...but if the idea is to use the least amount of force/correction/whatever to get the biggest results, then why aren't these hot shot trainers riding around in a snaffle?...
There is no connection between using the least force and using a snaffle. A snaffle isn't gentle, and a curb isn't mean. It depends on the horse, the training and the rider.
Mia is an independent mare. I like
that. When we are together, I'm constantly aware that she is a thinking, interested party and that we are riding together
. But she knows she can clench her jaw, stretch her head, let the snaffle pull against her molars - and ignore it. If she is feeling like doing what I want, then the tiniest pressure works with a rope halter. If not, then she will fight and ignore a snaffle because she knows she can.
Use a bit that adds pressure on the poll, and all that changes. She doesn't try to fight it. As a result, every time she listens and good things follows, she becomes more willing to do things my way - because my way works. In that sense, I'm using a curb for training. And that training is gentler than when training her with the snaffle because I don't have to darn near rip her head off to get her to obey.
But a finished horse is different. A finished horse IS listening. So now it becomes a matter of how much movement you want to communicate something to the horse. And there is a lot more to how a bit can send signals that just pressure on the bars with a snaffle.
A common misconception is that the high part of the mouthpiece is used to create pain in the mouth. In reality, those "Big Bits" (sorry, Tiny!) make it easy for a horse to hold the bit in his mouth, rather than having it held by the rider. And now, tiny motions of the riders hand, transmitted via slack reins, will feel different on the horse's tongue and face, and he'll respond. It works because the bit in a trained horse is for communication
, not punishment.
Mia and I are not there yet. We may never be, because my goals for Mia are pretty simple and my riding style reflects my low expectations.
I captured this picture for a different reason, but this is not my approach to riding. Doesn't make it wrong, and I consider myself a very novice fan of competitive dressage...but this is not my goal in riding:
In some ways, a snaffle is the harshest bit. It communicates with the horse thru the mouth. Curb bits add the poll and sometimes the jaw, and thus some of the communication is outside the mouth. And if you have the skill and patience to teach a horse to respond to the vibrations of a bit the horse is carrying on its own, you are probably getting the most sensitive & gentle bit possible.
Truth in advertising: I rode Mia in a rope halter for 3 years and she steadily degraded during that time. I rode her in a snaffle for about a year, and she mostly did fine. But that other 1% was terrifying. When your horse is galloping down a trail, headed for a sharp turn she will never make at speed, and you are pulling so hard on the snaffle that your back will be sore for 3 days, and she is swerving and fighting to RUN
...it gets your attention.
BTW - I used the pulley stop that day to keep her from killing both of us. You can never have too many tricks in your bag of skill...
"Mia the PITA" at the end of today's good practice session: