Understanding the function of the leverage or curb bit is a good first step in deciding if it could be a good fit for your horse. Bitting expert Anita Marchesani breaks it down.
Last month we looked at the first of the bitting groups–the Snaffle, and how to define and describe one, as well as how they work and what they are good for. This month, we are looking at Leverage or Curb bits in the same way.
The Leverage or Curb bits again have wide variations within the group, from long-shanked western styles to the Weymouth in a double bridle, the Pelham and the misnamed Dutch Gag. Leverage bits employ pressures across the lower jaw and tongue, the poll, and if a curb chain or strap is fitted it also applies pressure to the curb groove. The curb chain acts on a nerve that runs under the jaw and combined with the action of the mouthpiece, encourages relaxation and flexion of the jaw, and retraction of the nose. Any bit with long shanks–Weymouth, Pelham, Dutch Gag, Elevator bits–employ a leverage effect with pressure on the poll and across the lower jaw with this level of force getting stronger the longer the shanks are.
How? Well imagine you need to change a flat tyre. You try to loosen the nuts with your fingers (direct pressure, like a snaffle), but the nuts won’t budge. So you go and grab your tyre iron–the added length of the iron increases the pressure through leverage force, and the nuts loosen. You haven’t gotten any stronger, but the length of the iron increases the pressure applied on the nut.
This is what happens with leverage bits as well. To try it out for yourself, take a Pelham bit or a Weymouth and pop your foot in between the mouthpiece and the curb chain, as if it was the horse’s lower jaw. Now take up the reins and see how little you need to move your hands to get a big result on your foot!
DO try this at home!
This is how a leverage bit works, by giving the rider additional power through the rein aids. It can mean a more subtle, harmonious ride if used by the rider with thought and care, or it can lead to the horse backing off the bit completely, or rolling and tucking the nose under the evade the pressure if not.
Leverage or curb bits are generally a bit that asks for head lowering, and can be useful with horses that tend to travel with the head up or strung out. The Weymouth bit in a double bridle helps refine and define the head carriage and overall collection. A Pelham can be a useful bit for a strong horse going cross country that tends to stick his head up and not look to the fence.
Contrary to popular thought, the Dutch Gag is not a gag, but really works as a leverage bit, employing sometimes severe pressure and force across the lower jaw, thus creating a head lowering effect. Ideally, a Dutch gag of the 3 or 4 ring variety would be ridden with two reins (one of the snaffle, and one on the leverage rings) to prevent overbending and give relief to the horse from constant pressure.
Next month, we will have a look at how a true gag works, and where they may be useful.
About Anita: Anita Marchesani is the bitting expert behind Bit Bank Australia, a specialist web shop that sells only horse bits and accessories. She is a published author and a regular presenter, including at Equitana Asia Pacific, on her favourite topic of, you guessed it–horse bits! Having lived and worked in the UK as an event groom, she now lives in Perth, Western Australia, with her family of one beagle, one fat pony, a gold fish and her wonderful husband.