Welcome to Kentucky Paso Fino Horse Association
Visit KY PFHA on Facebook

Jacqueline Holland
ph. 859-816-1095

Andy Smith
ph. 859-494-5748

Ashlee Derthick
ph. 502-741-8422

Sue Snodgrass

Moira Judas-Smith
ph. 931-580-1163

Member at Large
Jill Dyer

Trail Ride Manager
Al Freibert
ph. 502-348-8621


Breeder's Fund/Futurity
Candy Gibson
ph. 606-634-7521

KyPFHA Board

Kentucky Paso Fino Horse Association
Paso Fino and Gait Related Articles

Kentucky PFHA members and their Paso Finos enjoy a ride together!

Kentucky Paso Fino Horse Association
Articles by Lucio Andrade

*Author: Lúcio S. Andrade – BS in Animal Science (Brazil) and specialization at Texas A & M University, writer (more than 50 printed and ebooks), publisher of Gaited Horse Digital Magazines and an experienced judge of four beat gaited horses, mules and donkeys.
Website: www.fourbeatgaitedhorses.com
Email: luciozootec@gmail.com

Articles, letters, and opinions appearing in this website do not necessarily reflect the views of the Kentucky Paso Fino Horse Association or its Board of Directors.


The snaffle is the amateur bit, for beginners - horse and rider. The curb is the professional bit, able to completely finish the training, with refinement. It helps the trainer to get the maximum of the gait potential.

The curb bit action is complex, as it involves multiple effects, such as: the pressure of mouthpiece on the bars, the corner of the lips and tongue; the port acts directly on the palate; the pressure of curb chain on the chin groove. This complex mechanism of action, based on pressure over multiple control points in the mouth and outside the mouth (chin and poll) is triggered by another effect, known as leverage effect, derived from the movement of the shanks by the reins. The longer and straighter the shanks, the greater the leverage action, and the curb bit may be of severe action, which is not desirable for natural gaited horses if ridden only for pleasure riding.

But the secret to the correct use of the curb bit is so simple, being based upon the correct fit of the curb chain. It must be adjusted with the gap of a finger, between the chain and the chin. So, each time the rider pulls the reins, if the port is high enough to touch the palate, the pressure must be simultaneous with the pressure of the chain on the chin. If the chain is too tight, the first and primary effect will be the pressure of the chain, causing great discomfort on the chin. Conversely, if the chain is too loose, the port will scratch the palate, causing discomfort and even injury. In both situations the horse shows attitudes related to bad head posture and opening the mouth; both signals of an attempt to escape the discomfort.

The curb bits are not the same for all breeds of gaited horses. Actually, there are significant differences, especially the curb bits used in the Paso Fino breed. It is interesting to point out that some models of curb bits are related to the origin of the breed and influences of old breeders. The non-natural gaited horses use a much more severe bit that is needed to perform the broken lateral gait. The different curb bits, in relation to the breed of gaited and non-gaited horses, will be discussed in a future article.

Knowing how to choose a curb bit is a science, guided by the knowledge of each part of the curb bit; what is the action and the evaluation of the control points in the mouth. The mode of action is variable. For example, the mouthpiece may be mild, the shanks severe and vice-versa; the mouthpiece may be of mild action in relation to thickness and of moderate action in relation to height of the port; the shanks may be severe in relation to the length, but moderate in inclination and so on. Therefore, the mode of action of the curb bit is much more complex than the snaffle, because it has multiple points of action – bars, tongue, corners of lips, palate. Outside the mouth, the pressure is on the chin and poll. However, the primary action is on the corners of lips, chin and palate. In addition, the curb bit action on the poll is much more effective. The snaffle exerts lifting of the head and the curb bit exerts the reverse action, because it flexes the poll much easier.

Like the snaffle, the curb bit may also have different degrees of action: mild, moderate, severe. Without considering the possible integrated actions between the component parts, we have the following references of measures:

Shank Length – As a general rule, if the lower part of the shank is less than 2½ times the length of the upper part (purchase), the leverage effect is mild. If it is between 2½ to 3 times the length, the leverage effect is moderate. Above 3 times the length, the effect is severe. However, it depends on the degree of its inclination.

So, the length of the shank is directly related to the severity of the leverage effect and how quick the bit will respond to the rein command. A long shank increases the pressure by the curb chain on the chin and the mouthpiece on the bars, lips, tongue, and may also increase the pressure on the palate (depending on the port’s height). In the most used curb bits, the purchase is short and the lower part of the shank is too long – the response to the rein commands will be quick and the leverage action will be severe.

Shank inclination – the angle of 90 degrees, in relation to the mouthpiece, is the lowest possible grade which indicates mild leverage action. An angle of 180 degrees (straight shank) is the maximum degree possible, indicating severe leverage effect. An intermediate angle indicates moderate effect of the leverage action. The most commons shank shapes are the straight, 7-shaped and S-shaped.

Shank joint – If the shank is jointed to the mouthpiece, it will rotate on the mouthpiece before the pressure is done, and the action will be less severe. But if the shank is fixed on the mouthpiece, it allows less lateral flexibility and the leverage action is more severe.

Height of the port – The general rule is: less than 1.5 inch - mild action; between 1.5 and 2.0 inches - moderate action; above 2.0 inches – severe action. The bits of moderate and severe action have a high-ported mouthpiece that presses the palate.

Mouthpiece shape – If the mouthpiece is an inverted V shape, it tends to be more severe than an inverted U shape, on both palate and tongue. The wider the port the less will be the pressure on the tongue. The mildest shape is slightly curved, but generally it does not fit correctly in relation to the width of the palate. The spade-shaped ports may be more severe and have a more complex mode of action. This type of curb bit is often used in the training of the Paso Fino horses and will be the subject of a following article. One of the main differences is that the horse is trained to pick up the curb bit. It is not the basic training to respond to the curb bit’s interactive pressure between the mouthpiece and the curb chain.

It is interesting to note that both the height and the shape of the port must be proportional to the height and width of the palate. In many cases, a low port may not be acting correctly on a too high palate. In other cases, a port of medium height may be exerting extreme pressure on a low and narrow palate. Thus, an evaluation of the palate is recommended before choosing the curb bit.

Mouthpiece thickness - around 0.4 inch - severe action; around 0.6 inch - moderate action; above 0.8 inch - mild action

Single- or double-jointed mouthpiece – Generally, the most used is the single mouthpiece. But for some well-trained horses the milder double-jointed mouthpiece may be used, but by professional hands, because it acts with variable pressure to make specific corrections. It is known as the correction bit, to be used in some cases at the last stage of the training, to get the maximum refinement.

Chain thickness and size of the links - thinner the chain, the more severe their action; and smaller the links, more severe their action.>

Single- or double-links curb chains – The single-links chains are more severe than the double-links chains. The chain must be correctly fitted and lay flat on the chin groove.

Single or double chains– The single chain is loose, being adjusted to exert the correct pressure on the chin. But if the curb bit has a double chain, both shanks are joined by an underneath chain called “false chain.” The action of the curb bit will be more severe, because the leverage action exerts a jolt on the jaw, and a stronger pressure on the multiple control points in the mouth.

Colombian Curb Bit, of Spanish origin, used in the Paso Fino horses.
This bit is known as “Spoon Port Curb Bit,” being derived from the traditional Spade Port Curb Bit

There are several signs of resistance related to the bad use of a curb bit:

- Head too high: The discomfort caused by the bit may make the horse raise its head, trying to avoid the pain. However, this poor posture can also be caused if the neck has an undesirable conformation, like the so-called ewe neck, or upside-down neck, because it bends upwards, instead of down in a normal arch. The horse will be ridden ahead of the bit and there is a tendency for excessive elevation of the forelimbs.

- Nose pointed out: It's an attitude that can also be caused by poor flexion of the poll. The horse also will be ridden ahead of the bit. The halt, backing and gait transitions will not be easily performed.

- Head too low, nose close to the chest: The horse is ridden behind the bit and will not easily move the shoulders, arms and forearms. There is an excess of weight put on the forelegs and an extreme lightness of the hind legs, making it difficult to move the hind legs well-flexed and under the body, reducing the driving force.

- Shaking the head sideways: It also may be an indicative of a bad temper horse.

- Lack of alignment of the head and neck: The horse “twists the neck" while on gait. The causes may be reaction to discomfort of bit, bad lateral flexion of the neck, or injury to the neck muscles.

- Opening the mouth or chewing continuously: This is one of the most common signals of bad use of the curb bit. The cause may be an excessive pressure (severe action) of the mouthpiece, wounds, a highly sensitive mouth, teeth tips or simply because the horse is nervous. Firstly, it is recommended to evaluate the mouth. If the mouth is normal, there will be a need for bit transition to one milder or even the temporary use of a leather hackamore.

Usually, the mouth is not examined routinely, especially before the colt (or filly) is saddle-broken. Each part of the mouthpiece must make pressure on the correct control points in the mouth, without discomfort.  For example, if the tongue is too wide, a curb bit with a wider port is required; if the tongue is too thick, it will be more desirable to use a curb bit, not a snaffle bit. It is essential that the port must fit the palate correctly.  Thus, a curb bit of high port, will not necessarily be severe. However, it must be understood that the higher the port, the closer it will be to the second cervical vertebra, which forms the sensitive poll region. The professional training aims to flex and relax the poll, in order to facilitate the correct positioning of the head (an angle of 90 in relation to the ground), the good action of the bit and the high quality performance of the gait.

Only a horse that is properly trained is able to maintain the correct posture of the head, being prepared to show the maximum athletic potential, especially if mentally and physically integrated with the rider. The whole flexion and collection must be easily achieved – neck, body, front and hind legs – moving by soft equitation commands, with balance and energetic style.

Nevertheless, all we ask to be performed, it is important to respect nature and individuality, preserving the principle of integration between rider and horse. If there is any indication of resistance, the cause must be identified and remedied.

Some questions may arise:

  • Is the horse mentally prepared to perform well? He may be, but some days the behavior will not be the normal. We must remember that despite not having the instability of human behavior, because they are creatures of habit, horses are very sensitive.
  • And the tack, is it correct? Or is something bothering the horse?
    • Is the curb bit well-adjusted and well-adapted to the mouth?
  • Are the main equitation commands – hands, legs, seat - correct?
  • And the auxiliary equitation aids – whip and spurs - are they being applied properly?

If there is any resistance to the bit, do not continue the work, otherwise the performance will not be desirable there will even be a risk of developing bad behavior.

The mouth, mind and quality of muscling and bones, is the triad of major interest to horse trainers. The mouth must be prepared to receive, without discomfort, the bit pressure. The mind, because no trainer will succeed if the horse does not appear mentally conditioned to perform the required gaits and maneuvers.  In addition, each sign of the horse's natural senses and emotional reactions must be understood by the trainer. The bone and muscle conformation must first be evaluated and cared for, so that the horse can achieve their maximum athletic potential without damaging the hooves and legs.

However, there are no severe bits in the hands of refined sensibility, riding horses properly trained. The reins only reinforce and control the movements derived from the other two major equitation commands - pressure variations of legs and seat.

Copyright © 2012 - Lúcio S. Andrade

Click here for list of archived articles.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright Kentucky PFHA 2007-2016
Photos compliments of Kentucky PFHA members