The snaffle bit allows me to work his head side to side and get him to begin to utilize his neck. The difference is that, with a snaffle bit, if I pick up the reins and I putt ten pounds of pressure on the rein, that’s exactly what the horse feels, ten pounds of pressure. It’s pound for pound. If I pull a pound here he feels a pound there. With a leverage bit, if I pull 1 pound he feels 10 pounds down there. That’s a big difference. When I train my horses, I’m always using a snaffle bit. Do I ever ride in a shank bit? Yes, because I show my horses and when I show it’s required.
What a leverage bit does is give me the feeling of having more control than I actually have. But it doesn’t. The bit doesn’t give me any more control than any other bit. If I have to pull 5 pounds to stop my horse on that bit, I still have to put 5 pounds on this bit. Except I’m only pulling about a pound’s worth, because a pound from me feels like ten down there because of the leverage this bit creates. It makes me feel like I have more control. It makes me feel like the horse is softer and more responsive, but pretty soon the horse will start pulling on this bit, if I allow him to, just like he does on the snaffle bit. (28:30)
A leverage bit will allow me to teach him to keep his head straight and break at the poll – but that’s about all I’m going to be doing. I do use a leverage bit, if I want to work on keeping horse’s head in position or to keep him square between the reins. But while the bit might be keeping his head correct, it’s my body, my seat that’s telling him where to go. For instance, if I were riding toward you and I tell the horse to take his hips to the left and his shoulders to the right or the left, then it’s my body that’s telling the horse how to move, not the bit. The bit is just keeping him “in frame.”
The reason then that I don’t train in a curb or leverage bit is that I can’t work the horse side to side; I can’t work him vertically and I have no way to correct him. If I’m using a leveraged bit and the horse doesn’t move off my leg, I’m not able to pull his head off to the side and correct him. All he feels when I put pressure on the reins is pressure on both sides of his face and he’d keep driving his head down.
Regarding snaffle bits: It makes no difference what type of snaffle bit you use. You can use an O-ring or D-ring or full cheek. If it’s an O- or D-ring, use a chin strap to keep it from pulling through the horse’s mouth if you were to pull and it was to open it’s mouth too wide.
Some horses will panic when they feel that sort of pressure. So, in that respect, a snaffle bit will actually get a horse to calm down faster because the bit doesn’t scare them. I do work with a leverage bit about one day out of each week so that when I show my horse doesn’t panic from the pressure. It’s a different type of pressure because it applies pressure at different points of the horse’s head, and it’s a lot more severe because of the leveraged effect. With a snaffle but I can pull like crazy and the horse will just lay on it. But, if I can get a horse light in a snaffle bit, then I put a leverage bit in their mouth, the horse is much more sensitive. It gives me a little extra edge in the show ring, in my stops for instance.
About the authors
Josh Lyons: One of the most sought-after clinicians in the world, Josh Lyons offers you and your horse a second chance or an enhancement of your existing relationship. His gentle and objective methods, pioneered by his father John Lyons, have helped novice rider and pro alike. Josh continues the “Lyons Legacy,” teaching the John Lyons Certification Program in Parachute, CO and touring often. He is a frequent contributor to national publications like “Perfect Horse” and “Horse & Rider.” Find out more about Josh Lyons.
Keith Hosman: If your horse won’t speed up, slow down, stop or turn, you missed the latest training methods from Josh and John Lyons. Have you lost your confidence? Want a horse to brag about? Invest one weekend to make big changes with John Lyons Certified Trainer Keith Hosman. Keith is based near San Antonio, TX and is available for clinics, private sessions and training. He frequently partners with fellow Certified Trainer Patrick Benson for clinics and demonstrations — with nearly 30 on his 2006 schedule. For more horse training articles, or to attend a clinic or find a John Lyons trainer living in your area, visit horsemanship101.com now. No part of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of Josh Lyons and Keith Hosman. To contact us regarding reprints or syndication of our articles (in print or online), please contact us via www.horsemanship101.com.