Research on Academic Curbs

The most important bridling for the academic art of riding between 1550 and 1789 was, beside the cave con, the simple snafflecurb, which was called in France "simple canon". (Caution: this term is used in modern France today for a snaffle bit!).

Because an art-rider needs a gathering effect of the bridle (I use "gather" here for the German word "beizäumen" and the French word "ramener"), to bring head and neck into a good uprighting for a suitable collection on the haunches, a curb is his means of choice.

Is only one rein is pulled at, only the leg on the same side is working, without tensing the curb-chain; by pulling both reins simultaneously, the curbing action with pressure on the curb-chain occurs. (Caution: For testing the degree of tension of the curb-chain therefore one has to pull both reins simultaneously, to avoid a gross underestimation of the degree of tension!).

The mouthpiece of the snafflecurb is broken once, it is called simple, if its legs are smooth, conically getting bigger from the middle to the outside, and holds no additional parts inside the horse's mouth (for inducing the playing of the tongue, for example). It is so thick according to La Broue and Gueriniere because the horse's lips shall bear a good part of its weight with his lips, and a tensing of the reins is noticed first by the lips before reaching the horse's tongue or even the bars of the lower jaw: by this the horse gains time to adjust to the rein tensing and possibly react before the pressure rises.


Mouthpiece of the simple snafflecurb after La Broue with a fredom of the tongue he thinks will suit most horses, thickness at the outer side ar.3.0 cm.


If both legs of the mouthpiece rise to the middle, they leave more space below them for the tongue, this is called "freedom of the tongue". If this freedom is too high, the mouthpiece can touch the palate which irritates the horse greatly. And if on top of this a nose strap or cavecon is too tight, this situation gets even more severe, as the horse cannot open its mouth wide enough to avoid contact.

Is the freedom of the tongue to low, the movement of the tongue and the ability to swallow the saliva is impeded.

A snafflecurb must have a slobber-bar for preventing the upper shanks to fall into the cheeks of the horse by limiting the width for the lower ends of the lower shanks.

A curb has two side-parts, called shanks, the mouthpiece is fixed between them. The structure of these shanks determine many of the effects of the mouthpiece.

Pulling at the reins leads to a rotation of the mouthpiece and brings back the lower branch and forwards the upper branch.

But even with reins hanging loose the curb can be working: the weight of the lower branch gives a little pressure on the curb-chain, if the horse has its nose into the air, until the horse has lowered the nose enough, to be able toe hold the bit with his mouth or until it is gathered as much as intended by the rider, in relation the width of the mandibles for the throat, or to the lesson. The by many riders always demanded always perpendicular front line is in many cases not possible nor called for nor making sense., and in some cases a front-line of 45° (or even higher ) is the optimal. The French use the word „ramener“, which is mostly translated with "to bring head and neck of the horse to a beautiful poise", which sound less rigid.


Salomon de la Broue: "Le Cavalerice Francois": A before the line = hard,   o: on the line = normal,   E: behind the line = weak



This action without any pulling at the reins is correct only when the lower branches are positioned according to this specific horse: most horses profit best from a normal one, which is called "on the line of the banquet", in German "beizäumend". Horses with a weak mouth or neck , with a tendency of rolling in the neck, until the chin touches the breast, need shanks "behind the line" = weak ones, so that these horses can put there nose more forwards. Horses with a strong mouth, may need shanks which end "before the line" =hard ones to get them into the right poise.

In some parts the old masters write the horse's mouth should foam. The reason for foaming is not swallowing the spittle. Does this occur only because the horse is highly concentrated on its work, it is sometimes wished for, and a trembling of the lips often accompany it, but even then it should not be accepted for too long periods, naturally. Is the swallowing of the spittle impossible, because the mouthpiece presses onto the tongue, or even the tongue is swelling or getting blue, is this an unwanted,and harmful foaming, which can lead, combined with a comparably thin mouthpiece, even a normal snaffle, to massive injuries of the tongue.

Today the part of the shanks above the middle of the mouthpiece is called the "upper branch" and the part below the "lower branch".

The term upper branch was never used in olden times, it was called by La Broue and Gueriniere "banquet, with the eye of the banquet", later with Prizelius "Upper part", the lower branch was simply called "branch", in German "Baum".

During these over 250 years the most important center of reference for the directions front and back was the "line of the banquet (front = to the front-line, back = to the lower jaw) and for up and down the "middle line of the banquet" (up = nape and down =chin of the horse).

The mouthpiece was attached to the shanks at the middle of the banquet the "beading of the banquet" German: "Falz", (frz. „ply du banquet“), which in German was called "bottom", too.


Curb design with Löhneysen: G: weak bow,  H: normal bow,  I: hard bow (increases only by length)
4: high Upper branch, short lower branch, behind the line = weak curb
6: low upper branch, long lower branchn, before the line: hard curb 5: normal curb



The upper part of the banquet shall be leaning back a bit, so in rest the eye of the banquet will beon the line of the oral fissure and the leather coil of the headpiece does not slide to the back end of the eye(La Broue).

The lower branch can be made straight or curved. A straight one is recommended for the young, uneducated horse (together with the cavesson), at first without curb chain, later with it. Is the horse trained more, a curved one was recommended. The curve is generated by a higher place of origin of the lower branch, which leads stronger uprighting of head and neck of the horse, the higher it is placed. Gueriniere shows as a normal height one of a 45° in regard to the middle of the mouthpiece The bow that develops is called "coude " in French, "Bug" in German. An important intensifying role is the distance of the coude behind the line.

Normal curb after  Gueriniere: he shows for all three varaints only a middle height and length of the bow (see also far below)



Löehneysen, La Broue and Gueriniere are of the opinion, that a changing of the coude alone is useless without changes to the lower branches, but Prizelius thinks the bow and the lower branches can be changed separately with realizing an effect, ( His sketch in his book 1777 unfortunately was shown incorrectly, I have corrected it here) In this sketch there is no lower branch "behind the line", but only one on the line and four more in a rising hardness "before the line".

Prizelius shows variants of the bow-height and the advancing of the "rosette" where the rein ring is fastenedt: 1: normal curb, 5: very, very strong curb
d: beading of the banquet, whre the mouthpiece will be attached



The ratio of the lengths of upper to that of the lower branch is an important indicator of the force effect of the curb (in Gueriniere's sketch it is 1:3). The full force is as good as never used in the academic art of riding, because here the horses are ridden only solely on a curb bit after having been trained for years together with a cavesson and have learned to react nearly completely on the seat aides, including a full halt. If it happens, the an art-rider feels the need for a too hard force on the bit, he will take again a cavesson additionally for some time, to keep the horse's mouth a sensitive as possible.

The length of the upper branch is important,too, because according to La Broue the force on the curb chain rises with the growth of its height. He recommends a height of 4 fingers (ar. 7cm), but important deviations may be necessary because of the size of the horse's head or mouth fissure.

The main reason for selecting a long lower branch is the prolonged rein way, which leads to a far lesser impact by a small pull on the rein, which happens all the time by the horse's and the rider's normal movements, and also the horse has far more time to prepare, when the rider starts to pull intentionally at the reins. All this leads to a good, light and trustful leaning on the bit and by that a wonderful, perpetual communication to the rider hand

In horses with a weak mouth and an inclination to roll in their neck it is recommended, to use a curb behind the line: this leads to a stop of the lower branches ends at the breast of the horse, which stops the useless pressure on the bars. Also the rider may try to use this now occurring pressure of the ends of the lower branches to try and teach the horse this as backwards signal (of course in addition to the seat aides and possibly the cavesson).

Should the lower branch not be completely in the adequate way, one can help himself with adjusting the tension of the curb-chain for a weaker or harder effect.

All in all the simple snafflecurb is for the intended use the mildest, gentlest and most effective bridle, first together with the cavesson, to familiarize the horse with the intentions of the rider, and after having finished its "squire-time", without it, taken additionally again if problems occur or a new lesson is to learn.

Incidentally the duration of cavesson use has always been disputed: so thinks Claudio Corte in his "Il Cavallerizzo", 1562: "Has the horse reached this ripeness, I would advise, to take off the cavesson, and only use false reins [additionally to the curb-reins;DA] only for a short time, and not, as diverse men do, use the cavesson for months, years or whole ages of men, before make up the horse...." (After the translation by Thomas Bedingfield, "The Art of Riding", p.57; 1584) .


F.R. de la Gueriniere, "Ecole de cavalerie", S.33



Parts of a curb, (P) = from the etching in  „Der Bereiter“ von Prizelius, 1777, Tab.II

fat letters (P..) from the: "Vollkommene Pferdewissenschaft" Prizelius 1777,Tab. XII

  1. banquet ( Sitzbank) (P XII, IV 1) = Oberteil (L): Bereich oberhalb des Unterbaumes 

  2. oeil de banquet = trou de banquet = (oberes) Auge (P)

  3. gourmette = Kinnkette

  4. esse = das lange Glied (P)

  5. crochette = der Haken (P)

  6. embouchure, morceau, mors = Mundstück (P), Gebiss

  7. branche = Baum (P XII, IV 3)

  8. coude = Bug (P) (P XII, IV i)

  9. jarret = Knie (P) (P XII, IV k)

  10. soubarbe = Lappen (P) (P XII, IV h)

  11. bas de la branche = der Absatz (P) (P XII, IV m)

  12. gargouille = der Überwurf (P XII, IV n)

  13. touret = Kloben (P),(P XII, IV o) Befestigung des Zügelrings

  14. trou du touret? das Klobenloch (P XII, IV p)

  15. chainette= Schaumkette (P); Beyketlein (Löhn)

  16. anneau = Zügelring (P) (P XII, IV q)

Brindley writes the banquet is the same  as the "Zapfen" (18)

cannon-mouth = Mundstück

bitt-mouth = Mundstück

sevil = Kloben


following letters (P..) from: "Vollkommene Pferdewissenschaften", by Prizelius 1777,Tab. XII

  1. fonceau = Holzscheibe, die der Gebissschmied fertigte, zum Aufsetzen an jeder Seite des Mundstücks, um dessen Öffnungen zu verstopfen (Cotgr. 1611);

    - Enden des Mundstücks an denen die Bäume befestigt werden (Guer.1733):

    - Boden (Prizelius); (P XII, IV f)

  2. Zapfen, an dem das Ende des Mundstückes befestigt wird, unter dem Boden (P XIV d)

  3. talons: die beiden Schenkel des gebrochenen Mundstücks (P XII, IV y)

  4. pli: Knickstelle, Mittelgelenk der Trense und auch Boden

  5. brisé: gebrochen

  6. jeu = Spiel der Trense/canon simple

  7. arc du banquet = Seheloch, Bogen um das Mundstück für falsche Zügel (P XII, III h)

  8. ligne du banquet = Linie

  9. oeil de Perdrix = Loch für zweite Schaumkette

  10. boucettes = bouchettes = Mäulchen, Mündung

  11. rozette de la branche = Rose (Befestigung für eine Rose und für eine evtl. Zweite Schaumkette) (P XII, IV l)

  12. branche gaillard = hardie = unter sich zäumend

  13. branche foible = foible, flasque, = über sich zäumend

  14. broschettes = Zierkäppchen

Prizelius: "Der Bereiter", Tab II B

Prizelius: "Vollkommene Pferdewissenschaft"  Tab XII III

Prizelius: "Vollkommene Pferdewissenschaft",  Tab XII IV