Using combination bits with horses

Continuing on our series on horse bits, here we’ll learn about combination bits!

A closer look at a kimberwicke bit
A closer look at a kimberwicke bit

In a recent Michigan State University Extension article we discussed the three major types of bits used when working with horses. This article will discuss another popular option: combination bits.

As the name suggests, combination bits use elements of both snaffle and curb bits. Using both the direct pressure of a snaffle bit and the indirect pressure of a curb bit, combination bits are often used on horses with a higher level of training. Skilled riders can use these bits to apply a specific type of pressure in order to get the desired result. Below we will discuss a few types of combination bits.

  1. Kimberwicke: The bit has short shanks - allowing leverage to be added to the pressure of the rider's hands on the bit. Kimberwickes also have D-shaped rings where the reins attach and a curb chain. Unlike a snaffle bit, the D-shaped rings on a combination bit have fixed places where the reins attach, not allowing them to slide freely along the ring. The fixed reins are what allow the bit to act on leverage as it engages the shanks. However, the leverage action is minimal to mild because the shanks are short. The curb chain acts as an addition pressure point (under the chin) to help a rider communicate with their horse. A kimberwicke is used with one set of reins.
  2. Pelham: Unlike the kimberwicke, a pelham is used with two sets of reins. One rein is attached directly to the ring of the bit which allows direct pressure of a snaffle. The other rein is attached down on the shank of the bit, allowing that rein to work using leverage. When two sets of reins are used the snaffle rein is generally wider to help the rider distinguish it from the curb rein. Additionally, this bit uses a curb chain.
  3. Liverpool: A Liverpool bit has several rein-attachment slots on the shanks, giving a choice of leverage. A Liverpool may even be use as a snaffle when the reins are attached directly to the ring of the bit; used primarily when driving harness horses. This bit is especially useful when horses are working in team, allowing the driver to adjust the rein slots according to the horse’s individual needs.  This allows the rider to apply a similar pull on the reins, but the horses to feel a different amount of pressure based on their needs. This also allows the reins of the different horses in a team to be joined together, minimizing the number of reins the driver has to manage. The Liverpool also uses a curb chain.

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