Transitioning from Snaffle or Hackamore to a Shanked Bit

Have you ever wondered if you’re transitioning your colts from a hackamore or snaffle to a curb bit at the right time? Follow along on the video as Chris Dawson of Dawson Performance Horses shares with Dennis Moreland how he determines when his young horses are ready to transition, and, what type of bit he transitions to.

A snaffle bit works by applying direct pressure at the point of contact of the rein and at the opposite side of the face. Unlike a curb bit, a snaffle does not function with indirect cues from the leverage component of the bit, which makes it easier for a green horse to learn to respond by yielding to pressure. When a rein is pulled, pressure from the snaffle mouthpiece may be applied, depending on amount and direction of the pull, to the tongue, sides of the lips, and to the bars and palate, but, pressure won’t be applied to the chin from a curb strap or to the poll from the headstall crown until leverage from the shanks of a curb bit comes into play.

When a horse is transitioned from a snaffle to a leverage (curb or shanked) bit, it must learn to respond to the indirect contact of the rein on his neck. It must also learn to respond to the pressure on the chin from the curb strap and to the pressure on the poll from the headstall crown when the reins are taken up and the bit rotates in his mouth.

Chris says he decides when a colt should be transitioned in a comparable way to every change of equipment he makes. “Before I change equipment; I want to be sure that horse is basically doing everything I want it to do in the first piece of equipment” says Chris.

He starts all of his colts in a loping hackamore, and when he has them stopping and guiding the way they should he will move them to snaffle bit. Once they’ve progressed in the snaffle and are driving into the bit and stopping and working cattle well, he will move them into a California hackamore.

“There really isn’t an age, a lot of my three-year old’s will spend a lot of time in a California hackamore. And when it comes to determining when they are ready for the bridle, it’s about the feel. Maybe you feel like your snaffle isn’t working like it used to and you’ve gotten everything out of that snaffle that you can get, and you feel ready to go ahead and step them up and ride them one handed in a bit a little bit more and give the horse a little more accountability” Chris says.

When it does come time to move the horse into a bridle, Chris recommends using a short shank bit with a solid mouthpiece and a leather curb. Shown in the video is the Steel Argentine Bit with Silver 1-2B.

“I’m a big believer in the solid mouthpiece first” Chris says. “A lot of people will say to use a short shank snaffle, or a correction bit and I just feel like the line of communication between you and the horse is just so much more honest and true when it’s a solid mouthpiece.”

“The whole feel is going to be different than it is in the snaffle, regardless of what kind of mouthpiece it is and I feel like this is the most comfortable bit for a horse to get started in the bridle in. It will lay straight in their mouth and help them better understand what we want them to do when we ride them one handed in the bridle” says Chris.

Each individual will learn to respond to a curb bit at a different rate, but, as with all training, it’s important to take your time and be sure the horse understands before moving on.

Dennis Moreland Tack makes hackamores, snaffles, curb bits and bridles for each horse’s needs. If we can assist you with your selection or help with questions call 817-312-5305 or email dmtack@vrfmail.com.

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