Why a Shanked Bit May Not Be Severe

It’s important to know why the 2nd Generation Imus Comfort Gait Bit ™ is NOT severe just because it has shanks.

When a rider takes on the reins of curb bit, there are three actions that follow:

  1. The headstall takes at the poll, asking the horse to lower his head.

  2. The curb strap takes under the chin, asking the horse to slightly tuck in his now.

  3. The mouthpiece takes hold, communicating the rider’s desire for a turn, halt, half halt, etc.

If the purchase portion (the part of the shank above the mouthpiece of a bit), is too short- less than 2” minimum, 2-1/2” maximum- or if there is not enough difference between the length of the purchase and the length of the lower shank (which should be 2 or 2 ½ times the length of the purchase), then there’s little or no time between the rider taking hold of the reins and all three of these actions grabbing hold all at once. The horse more or less is just being yanked around, which understandably causes resistance and stiffness. Now some stiff horses can be very quick and light feeling to the rider, but are responding out of anticipation to pain/discomfort rather than giving themselves softly and willingly to the rider’s hand.

If, however, the ratio of the purchase to the lower shank is appropriate, then there’s an interval of time between each action of the bit. This allows the horse to prepare both physically and mentally, step by step, for the rider’s request- resulting in a willing, soft response.

This is the dynamic that also makes it possible for a horse ridden in a well-designed curb to be softer and more giving than many snaffle bit horses. Of course, the ultimate response received from any bit largely depends on the skill of the rider, so please don’t think I’m saying there aren’t great soft snaffle bit horses out there. But for our gaited purposes, specifically, a good curb bit is an invaluable riding aid. It’s important to judge a bit based on its overall design, rather than simply concluding that a long shank always equals a severe bit.

Related: 10 Common Myths About Gaited Bits