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The use of the Curb bit at lower levels.

edit-5911-2 Bethe Mounce Question---"why the curb chain and not a plain snaffle? This is lower level dressage, right?"

This question is in reference to riding Western Dressage tests in a curb bit or snaffle bit. I am not sure if I fully understand the question, but  you mention a curb chain… I think you might have meant the curb bit, but I wanted to talk about the chain or strap anyways, so I’m glad you asked.

Let me tackle the easy question first. A curb bit or "Bridle" is basically ineffective without the strap. The strap is what makes the whole thing work properly. For further explanation of the curb bit and strap. Go Here...

Now for the greater picture.
Should western horses compete with a curb bridle at lower level dressage tests?

False Assumption:
Let me qualify this question further. There seems to be a misconception from the general public. The public thinks that lower level tests are only to be ridden by young, green, inexperienced horses and riders. We are also seeing more and more western riders riding horses in curb bits at lower levels. The false assumption or fear is that riders are improperly using the curb bit on young horse before a horse is ready. 

What does lower level dressage really mean?
Western Dressage competition is not a beauty pageant, it shouldn't be about who has the fanciest horse or the nicest clothes. The judge could care less if you brought in a donkey or $1.2m WB stallion. Competing at a dressage show is really not competing. The purpose of a dressage show is for a qualified USDF judge to watch you ride and see how you can improve through the progressive concepts of the training scale. The judge will give you positive tips and helpful feedback so you can go back to the barn and work on the suggested improvements.austin4
To answer the original question, let's ask more questions..
  1. What is the purpose of lower level tests?
  2. Are lower level tests only for young horses?
  3. Can only green horses ride lower level tests?
  4. Can Grand Prix horses with green riders ride lower level tests?
  5. Can Grand Prix riders ride green horses at lower level tests?
  6. Should a young green horse be put in a curb bit?
  1. Answer: To get feed back on the performance of you and your horse..
  2. Answer: They are for all ages.
  3. Answer: Everyone seems to think so, but a beginning rider would do better if they started with a well-schooled horse.
  4. Answer: The truth is that lower level test are not just for green horses and green riders. This is a new sport and we have a whole group of new people riding the test for the first time. Many of them have advanced well broke horses. These new people need to learn the letters and a new playing field. There are times when a person will buy a safe well-schooled horse to learn on (Reining or Grand Pix horse). A green rider cannot ride an upper level test even if their horse can. The truth is that the horse preforms at the level or expectations of their rider. A green rider needs lower level to learn how to ride their horse. You would never limit a green rider to upper level  just because their horse is capable of competing at Grand Prix.
  5. Answer: Of course professional riders or trainers need to school young horses, so yes this is what its for.
  6. Answer: This is also a no brainer. Not unless you have fully schooled that horse in upper levels two handed first.
Now let's talk about a Western Dressage Bridle Horse.
A Bridle Horse is an advanced two handed snaffle horse that rides in a curb bit one-handed!

Remember and understand this very important concept: A curb bit is designed for use with one hand. There is a transitional period from the snaffle to curb. Can you use two hands? Yes, but only when you are teaching the horse how to respond to the different feeling that he will experience the first few times you put the curb in his mouth.  After that, you should use two hands only to make momentary corrections, not to ride with.  I've heard it said that riding two handed gives a more balanced feeling for the horse and that it is possible to ride with two hands and still keep your hands light and soft but the truth is, 98% of riders out there ride with too much contact on the mouth… especially some dressage riders. If you put that much contact on a curb your horse is going to be very uncomfortable. Too much or unnecessary contact will cause the horse to gape their mouth or possibly drop way behind the vertical to avoid the connection.  Tail wringing and stiffness is also a common symptom and I SEE IT ALL THE TIME when riders use two hands on the curb.  When you ride with a curb, your horse needs to carry himself through your seat and leg aids (and no I’m not talking about kicking to go faster) 

austin5What is a WD Bridle Horse?
In Dressage, the top performing horse is a "Grand Prix" horse. Likewise in Western Dressage, the top performing horse should be known as a "Bridle Horse" that can perform advanced movements one-handed. The basic concept of a Bridle Horse is to have your horse soft and supple, using one-hand, in a curb bit (with a strap lol). A WD Bridle Horse is an advanced horse that has been schooled with a snaffle or hackamore and has moved on to the bridle. The trainer of a Bridle Horse should have schooled the horse through levels equal to 4th level dressage or above with two hands. Note that the curb bit has very different signals than the snaffle. Basically once this horse has been put into the bridle, we need to re-school the horse through all the levels again. Just because you have an advanced horse that goes well two handed in a snaffle does not mean that same horse and rider can do it in a curb bit one-handed.

Now I know that NAWD allows the curb at their level 5, which is the equivalent of 2nd level dressage.  At this stage they add a shoulder-in in the first test and a haunches-out in the second.  They also ask for medium and collected canter and trot, also serpentines and 10 meter circles.  I am glad that in 2013 they are allowing horses that have successfully completed level 4 in a snaffle or hackamore to show in a curb at the lower levels.

I understand that they don’t want green horses with green riders in curb bits and I don’t either.  But ask yourself how you are ever going to learn to ride a bridle horse at higher levels if you do not first ride and perfect the lower levels first?  If you have never ridden a bridle horse should you be expected to ride a test only at upper levels?

Back to the original question: 
Should you ride in a curb at lower levels? The answer is overwhelming YES, but only one-handed, and only after the horse has adequately performed the same levels in the snaffle!! If the rider tries to ride one-handed in a curb before the horse is properly schooled and ready, the judge will spot the fault immediately and score the horse accordingly. 

Why do I ride in a bridle at lower levels?
I would like to say that Carbon is not a finished Western Dressage Bridle Horse. He is schooled (not tested) to at least USDF 4th level dressage movements two handed in the snaffle. He has just started his Bridle Horse career.  We’ve been competing using the USEF Morgan Division tests, which are the equivalent of Training/Introductory levels. Next year, we hope that more shows will add tests from North American Western Dressage www.northamericanwesterndressage.com and Eitan Beth Halachmy’s Cowboy Dressage tests are pretty cool too. www.cowboydressage.com  To tell you the truth, we’re getting pretty bored with the USEF Morgan tests.

As I said, Carbon was started and schooled in the snaffle until he was soft, supple, straight, and demonstrated thoroughness. I do not promote any horse starting out in WD using a curb bit… they need to be taught to carry themselves well, define gaits, lateral control, and develop the connection in the snaffle first. Then you restart the horse at lower levels in the bridle and work your way back up the level one-handed.

  My hope is that this adds a little perspective in regards to riding in a curb bit. 
I hope to see you down center-line at "8" or "X" with the bit of your choice.
Randy & Carbon...


0 #4 Bethe Mounce 2013-02-07 01:15
Curb bits come in varying types as I have discovered, in a full bridle there is an O ring snaffle with either one or two joints and a curb bit with no joints, a port or no port, short or long shanked and a curb chain. It is used with two hands as is an O ring snaffle, A western snaffle has a joint, a curb chain and shanks, A western curb has no joint, a curb chain and shanks. The only difference seems to be joint or no joint. Lower level dressage is about horse accepting the bit. From my perspective, an O ring or D ring snaffle is what is called for. As horse progresses, then the western curb can come into play. The contact changes at that juncture too. Less contact and a more flopping rein ridden one handed. Horse should not open his mouth for evasions......t hose western curbs, the ones I have seen, can be quite severe....I see immobility from the horses' head as if he were afraid to move it. You want lightness without contact seems to be the end result.
0 #3 Linda Morse-Robertso 2012-12-17 14:00

It is my understanding that the mouthpiece is immaterial as to what is considered a curb. My understanding is that if there is a shank, of ANY LENGTH, it is considered a leverage bit, no matter the mouthpiece. Leverage is leverage, chain, leather, curb strap again has no bearing on "what" the bit is...just makes a leverage bit work one way or the other, depending on the level of horse it is on....
0 #2 Randy 2012-10-02 19:50
Well said Bethe, I am in an agreement with you.. There are many types of bridles. I will expound on that at a later time.
+2 #1 Bethe Mounce 2012-10-02 16:52
Wow...what a rather detailed response. I believe we have confusion with bit definition. A curb, to me, is something like a Pelham; broken with one or two joints, short or long shanked, with a curb chain. A snaffle has one or two joints, is something like a D ring or O ring snaffle and it has no curb chain. I never think of a horse as being "finished." He is never completely trained or finished, there is always something to work on. At the lower levels of dressage, regardless of whether it is Western dressage or "USDF" dressage, horse learns to accept bit and then go on the bit, two completely different concepts. I will go to the full bridle once horse is correctly connected to refine what I already have. The correct head and neck position is the LAST thing to come when putting basics on the horse. It is the hind end that drives the horse forward. Thanks for response; dressage is quite black and white, no need for complication.

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