Dwyer on Curb Chains

This is probably the last blog I write on Francis Dwyer's book, “On Seats and Saddles, Bits and Bitting,” since I am riding again (YEAH!!!). Since the curb bit, in the past, was named after the curb chain, I will give you what Dwyer wrote about the curb chain so that there are seven blogs I've written about this book. I am sorry if there is some repetition from previous blogs but I am trying to draw the whole picture here.

On page 132-- “the lower lip is covered with a very thick skin, underneath which lie the roots of the beard, fat and membrane, and this structure is continued up into a certain depression under the chin known as the chin-groove, and called by the Germans the curb-groove. Now the portion of bone immediately beneath the thick and not very sensitive skin of the chin-groove is flat and rounded off in all directions, being, in fact, that point where the two branches of the jaw begin to unite together; and if a flat curb-chain, for instance, which has a proper width, acts in this groove, a considerable amount of pressure may be applied without causing any very unpleasant sensation to the horse.

“But if we pass out finger up out of this groove toward the angle of the jaw, we immediately find that both the character of the bone and that of the skin covering it have become very much changed; the former has got sharp, hard edges, and the latter, being no longer furnished with beard, will be found to be thin, and very sensitive; so that a very slight pressure of this thin skin on the sharp edges of bone causes very considerable pain.”

On page 168-- “The curb (chain) must lie in the curb-groove, without any tendency to mount up out of it on to the sharp bones of the lower jaw—otherwise, as we have seen it ceases to be a painless fulcrum, and render the best-constructed bit uncertain, or even still worse, in its action.”

On page 170-172-- “The best-fitting bit, even when placed in the proper place, will not work well unless the curb (chain) be properly constructed and exactly at the length required. Taking all in all, a double chain worked quite flat, without prominent edges, and which, when twisted up to its full extent, does not over-twist, is the best kind of curb (chain). Leather would be, in some respects, better than a chain; it is, however, not only perishable, but also subject to stretch or contract when exposed to moisture; and after having been once or twice thoroughly soaked, becoming hard and inflexible, it is more likely to injure the horse's mouth than a well-made chain.

It is very clear that the narrower the chain is made the more likely is it to cause pain, which is just what we want to avoid, and we should therefore, endeavor to make it as broad as possible. The vulgar notion of a sharp curb (chain) is...a monstrous absurdity. But there is a limit to this: if it be so broad as to fill up the curb-groove completely, there will be always a danger of its upper edge coming in contact with the sharp cheek-bones (lower jaw bone) at every, even the slightest, pull on the reins, and getting up a sore which immediately interferes with the action of the (curb) bit; we must therefore select a curb (chain) that does not altogether fill up the groove. It is not easy to give any special dimension for the width of the curb-chain: eight-tenths of an inch (Austrian inch?) will be found to answer the purpose very generally, but if we can use a broader curb (chain) without injuring the chin-groove, so much the better; it is more likely to be flat and painless....Single-chain curbs (chains) made of flat links may be good, if not too broad or sharp edged; the plain double chain will be probably better made, and therefore preferable: the great thing is to avoid the infliction of pain; and if we are sometimes compelled to use a very narrow curb (chain) on account of the chin-groove being sharp and narrow, it will be well to have a cloth case to run over it, which may be taken off after use each time.

It is not possible to give an exact dimension in inches for the length of the curb (chain);...it must always bear some special proportion to the width of the horse's mouth and the height of the bars.... In order to render the action of the curb (chain) as painless as possible, it is absolutely necessary that it should press upon the greatest extent of surface that can be made available for the purpose...If the mouthpiece have exactly the same width as the mouth, the curb (chain) will wrap close round the chin, pressing equably over a large surface; but if, on the contrary, it be too wide, the curb (chain) will trend away right and left; and if the excess of width (of the mouthpiece) amount to half an inch or an inch, it will bear altogether on one spot, and get up a sore.

It will be found that THE PROPER LENGTH FOR THE CURB (CHAIN) IS ABOUT ONE-FOURTH MORE THAN THE WIDTH OF THE MOUTH, the curb-hooks not being included in this; or, if we take these (curb-hooks) into account, the total of the curb (chain) and the two hooks will be once and half the same dimension (width of the mouth.)

the proper length for these (curb-hook) is three-fourths the height of the upper bar (cheek-piece of the curb bit), about 1 ¼ inches.”

I measured all the curb-chains I own. Five of them are 3/4” wide, and six of them are 5/8” wide. The lengths are 7”, 7 1/4”, 8”, 8 1/2”, 8 3/4”, 9” and 9 3/4”. Considering the length of the curb-chain the makers/sellers of the curb bits do not seem to have much rhyme or reason as to the length of the curb-chain that comes with a curb bit, as in some of the longer curb-chains came attached to some of the narrowest mouthpieces of my curb bits.

I am now waiting on the last single-jointed egg-butt bridoon I ordered, the 5” one. I decided to go with the egg-butt bridoons because I tend to have small hand tremors and I feared that a loose-ring bridoon would jiggle more in the horses' mouths. Now that I have the bridoon hangers (cob and full), a proper curb rein, many sizes of mouthpieces and several different length of curb chains, I will, with my riding teachers' permission, be able to ride with a double bridle again. But, since I started riding another horse at Debbie's stable, I will first have to get this new (to me) horse to reach for contact with a snaffle bit. This horse never had much formal training, and while he has good enough contact for beginning riders he does not have the quality of contact necessary for finer riding.

So right now I am teaching this horse (Cinnabar) that it is SAFE to reach out with his head into contact. Last week I introduced him to “combing the reins” (this just about requires smooth, plain reins) by taking one rein between my thumb and index finger and the other rein between my ring and little fingers, and smoothly slipping my hand to the buckle, alternating my hands until the horse reaches down and out with his nose (using my legs of course.) I am afraid that his lesson riders have been establishing contact by bringing their hands back instead of “driving” his mouth up to the bit.

If the horse does not voluntarily reach for contact on his own it is worse than useless to start on the double bridle. First things first, and then when his contact is up to my standards I can introduce the double bridle and expect that he will not get too upset. Then, keeping my contact with the bridoon, I can start lightly “feathering” the curb bit. Since I ride Forward Seat, anything other than light and sporadic contact with the curb rein is counter-indicated, as heavier contact with the curb bit could induce him to go behind the vertical with his head, completely erasing any possible improvements that I could get by using the curb bit when using a double bridle. Since I only ride this horse for 30 minutes each week this may take a while.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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