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This Horse Has A Lot of Curb Appeal...


The final step in finishing a horse for the show ring is getting them to wear a full bridle. Because it is a required part of the tack of a show horse, excluding driving horses and western and hunt seat disciplines, all horses must learn to wear them and wear them well. The issue at hand is for the horse to work and perform as well or better in the show(full) bridle as he performs in a work or snaffle bridle.

The show(full) bridle consist of two bits, a snaffle and a curb, both placed in the mouth at the same time. The concept is for the snaffle bit through direct pressure on the bars of a horse’s mouth to lift or elevate the horse’s head while the curb bit is designed to flex the horse at the poll and bring its nose in through indirect pressure from the curb chain and jaw by leverage. This can sometimes be a confusing task for the horse to learn when asked. It’s like having one foot on the gas and one foot on the brakes. Most horses learn from the pressure principal to move away from pressure. By those simplest terms, when any pressure is applied to the horse’s face, he wants to back away from this pressure. With a full bridle the rider asks the horse to move up to and through the bridle while maintaining forward momentum and more importantly his motion.

A few of today’s top trainers took time out of their schedules to address the following questions and share their knowledge, likes and dislikes. 1. When and how do you introduce a curb bit to a colt? 2. Generally, what type of curb do you use first? a) How do you apply it? b) How often would you use it in the beginning of a colt's training? 3. With an aged horse that already wears a curb bridle how often do you work him/her in it? 4. What type of stall bridle do you use? a) What type of horse needs to wear one? b) How often do they wear it and how do you apply it?

Jim Cherry- Encinitas, Calf., “When it comes to breaking colts to wear a curb bridle, the biggest thing a colt must do is tip over and go forward. Whether I work them in a snaffle bit or a curb bit, I want the colt to be relaxed to tip over at the poll and to go forward,” says Cherry. “That may happen in one week, that may take a month, but no matter how long it takes, you do not want the colt to be jammed up and tense. If that is the case you will not have control of the horse’s shoulders, ribs, and hips.

When introducing the curb bridle, I first apply it in the stall without a curb chain in order for them to become comfortable. After that is accomplished, we lead the colt around outside the stall. After that, we just get right on and ride.

Cherry prefers a simple grazing curb bit with a low port. “All my horses start in a simple grazing curb with a low port and quite a few of them are still in the same bit. All that I want is for the colt to accept the bridle, soften and flex at the poll. After this is accomplished, I then try to organize the rest. I want the colt to be comfortable, so that I can gain and maintain control of his shoulders and hips while maintaining flexion and softness.

“When it comes to aged horses, I stay with the same program with a few alterations. Every time I ride the horse I ride him in a curb. And for a stall bridle i use a larger port bit with a roller and I don’t use a curb chain or side checks. I let them wear it in their stall and when I hear them rolling that roller, I know they are ready to come out of it.

“When using a curb bit you don’t want to hurt the horse’s mouth and you should set attainable goals for each horse. You can’t expect them to do everything you want on the first ride or at the first show. Be happy with the colt that is willing and making progress and making improvements from the last ride.” Peter Cowart, Statesville, N.C.- "The colt needs to be steady, strong and smooth in his gaits before I put a full bridle on them whether or not that is three or five gaits," said Cowart. “If they are good thinkers they can learn to wear a curb bit as early as two-years -old.

“I start with a slip shank curb bit with small bars as well as the curb chain wrapped in latex. When applying it the first time, I like to ride them. I can release the pressure if needed so they don’t hurt themselves, unlike stall bridling or long lining. After the colt becomes comfortable with wearing the curb, I will change the routine and progress to long lining or stall bridling with the curb bit.

“I use a wide array of stall bridles ranging from the broken mouth piece western curb with a leather chin strap, to the special "Johnny Lucas" bridle that has both the snaffle and curb bits as well as a leather strap which added poll pressure,” continued Cowart. "Most all of the horses that are stall bridled I remove the caveson, this allows the horse to chew on and stay behind the bridle and be relaxed.

“I may use the full bridle two days in a row at first, then move to two different times a week due to the fact that the customers come to see or ride their horses. When a horse is seasoned to the curb bit, I may only work them one time the week before we plan to show just to remind them how to wear the bit.

“I think there are three kinds of horses: one, the nice mouth that you seldom use the curb bridle; two, a strong or problem horse that needs the curb bit to be used as an equalizer; or third, a green horse that just needs to get broke or seasoned to the bridle. Every horse should fit in one of these categories. The nice mouthed horses only need a refresher right before the horse show. The strong/problem horse may have to work consistently in it as an equalizer or to help keep them balanced. And finally, the green horse needs to learn to wear the bridle and be relaxed. They must always go forward, never learn to stop an/or suck back out of the bridle."

John Conatser, Nicholasville, KY-

“I introduce a colt to the curb bit when the colt is mentally mature, enjoys his work, and guides with confidence. The colt needs to be confident and responsive with snaffle. Yes, this can be as early as two depending on the colt.

“When introducing the curb bit the first time, I use a Pelham bit. The way I try to prevent an accident is to connect the lines to the bar or mouth piece of the pelham bit. I begin at the walk and work on guiding until the colt shows confidence and is relaxed. Once the colts shows confidence and goes forward readily, then I start working him in a circle.

“When I first use a curb I apply it as a stall bridle or in long lines without a curb chain. Only after a few days applying it in this fashion do I add the curb chain and continue working him from the bars from the bit. If the colt is not flexing to my specifications I may chose to run the lines back as draw lines. After the colt is accepting and relaxed working with the lines at the bar rings then and only then will I move the lines down to the end of the shanks. Keep in mind, each day I start with the lines at the bar rings until the colt is relaxed and then move down to the shanks for the first few days.

“When it comes to application it may sound simple, but I use it as often as needed unless he resents it. As for seasoned horses, they are worked in a curb as often as feasible. I will also use it when they are not responsive to the snaffle.

“I use a stall bridle on a horse that tends to argue with his bridle. This is the horse that needs to work in a curb bridle more often. I apply a stall bridle every day before I work them. Ninety-Five percent of the time that is a snaffle bit,” concluded Conatser.

Hope you’ve enjoyed these tips from a small cross-section of trainers. As you can see there are many different ways to approach this and these suggestions may help you to increase the percentage of success when it comes to preparing and educating a colt to wear a full bridle.

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