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Differences Between Curb and Snaffle Bits

| Updated September 26, 2017

Curb and snaffles are two styles of horse bits that each have their own uses. Snaffle bits are mild, simple round-cheeked bits, while curb bits are harsher and normally have metal shanks coming down from the cheekpieces. Choosing the right bit can make a big difference in how your horse performs for you when you ride.

Snaffle Bit Basics

The snaffle is generally considered one of the gentlest types of bits. Snaffles are often used on young horses and those in training. A snaffle is a direct pressure bit; it can have a broken or jointed mouthpiece, or a straight mouthpiece. The cheekpieces of snaffle bits are rings. The rings, which come in various shapes and sizes, attach to reins.


  • The shape and size of the mouthpiece will affect the severity of the input of the bit. Specifically, thicker bits are milder than thinner ones. The thinner a bit is, the harsher it is.

Curb Bit Basics

Curb bits are also known as shank bits. Curb bits work by using indirect pressure to direct a horse. The shank on a curb bit delivers leverage that increases the force of your commands. The shank is the piece of the bit that protrudes down from the cheekpiece of the bit. The length of the shank will affect the amount of leverage the bit delivers. Curb bits are often used in conjunction with curb chains, which are twisted metal chains or flat leather straps that attach to the cheekpieces of the curb bit and go under the chin of the horse. Curb chains further increase the leverage of the bit.

When you use a curb bit, it applies pressure to the mouth as well as underneath the horse's chin and on the poll, which is the area at the top of the head, between the ears. The length of the shank will affect the amount of leverage the bit delivers. Curb bits are normally used on horses who are already trained.


  • You should not use a bit you have not been properly taught to use by a horse trainer or a professional instructor. If you are uncertain which bit you should be using on your horse, talk to a professional and have them help you make the decision. Both snaffles and curb bits are useful tools when used correctly.