Fads can infect all styles of riding. I've seen western 'trainers' in videos use brute force and intimidation to make a horse look "soft" or to achieve a "frame" with slack reins. I wish we could focus on backs and talk about supple backs instead of frames. Particularly for beginning riders, or very part-time recreational riders like myself. How the horse's back feels is so much more important than where his head is. If only we could focus on getting the horse "eager" instead of obedient!
I admit, though, to tensing up when someone tells me THEY would never touch a harsh "leverage" bit. I sometimes wish I could change the terminology so that they would be called "signal" bits instead of curb bits. Then we could talk about a horse being "on the signal" for a horse who, on slack reins, is trained to listen to tiny movements of the bit, movements that take place before pressure hits the mouth. I view a well used curb as a pressure-less bit, not a leverage bit. If leverage kicks in, my horse and I have more work to do. And in honestly, Bandit and I do! But there are times when we both are looking ahead, and I can feel him considering options, and I think about them and suggest one with a small movement of my wrist or balance, and he takes it. Those are the moments that satisfy! That is what motivates me to mount up again! For a brief moment, we are one.
One of my best 'horse friends' is a gal who grew up in Pony Club and riding eventers and jumpers on the East Coast. When she moved here, she was in for a whole rude awakening on the lack of anything 'horsie'-- especially the lack of anything English-style riding other than Saddleseat or stock horse Hunters, which bear zero resemblance to A-show Hunters (which bear zero resemblance to a horse one actually would take hunting, but I digress...) She was aghast at the curb bits western horses here wear. Then her daughter decided she wanted to do 4H, and they bought her a Quarter Horse and started going to local shows and whatnot. I go over once every week or two in the summer and we work on tuning her lazy mare to respond with minimal cues. It took several months of struggle before my friend gave in and let me ride the mare in a curb to see what she knew, and the difference was amazing. The mare went from stiff-jawed and rooting her head and heavy on the forehand to lovely self-carriage, even with her young rider. She relaxed, dropped her head, pulled her nose back in, and went nice and soft and pretty. No resistance, no tenseness, and no anxiousness. She was back in a bit she understood better with a signal so she didn't feel she had to protect herself from a young rider who, while riding beautifully with generally soft hands, can sometimes make a mistake and ask for something harder than she should-- and the snaffle gave her no warning for that.
There was a hullaballoo a few months back for an event rider who does very well, but whose mare comes in from the cross-country regularly with a bloody mouth, and when you see the chain nosebands and drawreins and martingales and harsh mouthpiece bits she rides that mare in, on heavy contact, it makes one cringe. On dressage day, the noseband is so tight it's a wonder the mare can breathe. Ugh.
There are bad riders and riders who rely on overbitting rather than actual training in every discipline, but just because someone uses a leverage bit does not mean the horse is being overbitted, and not all snaffles are 'more comfortable' for the horse-- some of those mouthpieces are downright frightening. I think a lot of the abuses are due to lack of skill or patience in bringing a young, talented horse along-- especially if you don't own the horse and the owners expect results. Even moreso are the futurities and derbies. It's the very rare horseman who can get a finished-horse performance out of a 2 y.o. without resorting to some heavy-handed riding at some point.