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Non-Draped Rein...with Curb bit

I have a very soft-mouthed, very responsive horse. I’d like to enter him into some Ranch classes with our breed association, but I’m struggling because they are calling for a draped rein to be penalized, and he is easily over-bridled.

How can I make the bit more like a snaffle? I don’t “need” the action of a curb bit, he’s just required to wear one because of his age and the discipline. The curb I have already has swept back shanks, and a roller mouthpiece that is similar to his regular snaffle.

I’m assuming raising it in his mouth and loosening the curb strap will help, anything else I’m missing?

He does neck rein reasonably well, so that’s not really an issue (we’ve got about a month to really dial that in).

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When I ride with contact with a curb bit (Weymouth) I find that I HAVE TO move my hands more forward at the walk and canter than with just a snaffle since I never want the horse to go behind vertical. My contact also has to be much lighter. It also helps if I lift my hands maybe 1/4" going forward or else my hands keep on going down, down, down.

Since I have MS and my hands are not always perfect the horses also like it when I open my fingers some when I am moving my hands forward when the horse moves his head forward.

The horses I ride will reach forward willingly to take contact with the curb bit (both Mullen mouth and Cambridge mouth with a low port) with just my normal leg aids.

My riding teacher is hunt seat. She seems to enjoy watching me ride her lesson horses on the curb rein of my double bridle. I am always asking her if the horse looks happy with my hands when I do this and she says yes.

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Lighter weight reins might help. Often a draped rein works because the weight of the rein helps keep the bit angle, but if the reins aren’t weighted, then absence of a drape doesn’t mean you are pulling, it just meals the contact with the hands is doing the work not the weight of the reins. Like if you are walking a dog. A big amount of slack vs a small amount of slack is the same pull on your part, but the bigger slack may mean the dog pulls the downward pull of the lead (not a perfect example, but hopefully you can imagine it)


As @CHT said, there is a world of difference between a draped rein and dressage-style contact. A ranch horse should be ridden on a very light but not loose rein. There should be neither steady contact nor a drape.

Are there any trainers local to you who you could do a lesson or two with? This is a concept that is much easier to learn in person.


We do lesson (the horse does dressage and WE normally, and we jump), but I don’t think we have any ranch trainers nearby.

The horse is fine with contact on a snaffle bit (mullen with a roller), although he is very very light and I have to really work hard to get him through because he wants to go behind the bit if I am not pushing him forward. Thus my concern with the curb - it feels like “way too much bit”. Maybe that’s psychological on my end, but I don’t want to exacerbate an issue we already struggle with.

As an example - this is us today (ignore my stupid face and the ugly bridle, it happened to be the one that had his curb bit on it). Are those too draped? If not, I can work with this and just get him up into it more, if so I think we’ll struggle more.

Riding with a double bridle I notice that when I keep contact with just the curb (I tie up my snaffle rein at the buckle) my lesson horse who is a 30+ yr. old QH PREFERS keeping contact with the curb bit over the snaffle/bridoon.

I do not have to use as much leg to get him to stretch out to pick up and keep contact with the curb bit.

My curb bit is a Fager Victoria titanium Mullen mouth Weymouth curb.

I have always read that the Western curb bits with the lower shanks that curve back are nowhere as “sharp” as the Weymouth curbs.

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I should add - I know he is behind the bit in that photo a little, he had a moment, but that’s why I ask about the drape. He can be lovely when I get him forward, but it takes a LOT of work - and still you can sort of see some drape.

From what I watch of Ranch classes, the rein is normally not as tight as that. A drape is usually a big loop. You’re a long way from that. Let some slack in your reins and he’ll likely be happier.

This is more what I’ve seen for contact with a curb:

What rules will you be showing under?


They are the USEF Saddlebred Ranch horse rules.

This is what I’m seeing online and at the shows - https://www.horseillustrated.com/wp-content/uploads/3-050A-015-18STL-norton-fb.jpg

Here’s an example of a “winning ride” - https://youtu.be/zPgfO60t-Pc?si=uej3-8LI6onDm5xV&t=177

But I don’t know if that’s because these horses are used to being “bridled up” that way. I don’t want to be penalized but I also don’t want to piss off my very light wonderful horse :slight_smile:

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I think you are fine with the amount of contact shown in your first photo (though, as you acknowledged, you’ll want to try to keep him in front of the vertical).

This is a draped rein:

At a Saddlebred show, I assume the more vertical neck carriage and slightly more bridled up appearance won’t be “deal breakers” the way they are at Ranch Horse/Stock Horse type shows.


I don’t see your reins as having a drape to them at all. Yet I’m not familiar with the Saddlebred ranch rules. (Your horse is very cute and fancy, by the way).

I like ranch riding myself because I can have some light, soft contact rather than the requisite draped rein expected in much of western show riding today.

Ultimately, you should ride your horse the way he goes best.


Okay, so that really changes things! LOL I’m sorry if you mentioned the rules in your OP, it’s been a long, annoying day. Looks like the Saddlebred rules don’t have the minimal silver rule, the picture you shared, that tack has more silver than my well aged QH show gear. :laughing: :rofl: I personally think your horse looks more ranch-like.

If you’re just doing this show for fun, I’d try giving him a bit more slack and a loosened curb strap so he’s happier with the whole experience. Since you have a month to work on it, start with the slack and slowing take up contact so he’s not feeling as confined might work.


Right - no, I think it’s more expected - we’ll be the aberration with our lower head carriage and softer rein, which is fine so long as we don’t get penalized for it. There is a bit in there about not being over-bridled, and I’d imagine going behind the bit wouldn’t be great, so it’ll be a fine line for me.

That’s kind of what I thought on the drape, but I wasn’t sure since “drape” is so non-specific. Everything else they have drawings for, but “drape” is just a word.

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LOL No worries :slight_smile:

Yeah, because it’s a newer division, a lot of the Saddlebred Western Pleasure horses cross enter (who can also not have a drape…the saddlebreds don’t want drape…ever…in anything…except stalls I guess).

They say things like “hoof black is discouraged but not penalized” as well.

It will be our first show in several years, and I’ve never shown ranch with him, so it’s really just an introduction to see how he does in a show environment and if this is suited for him…well and to show my support for the saddlebred shows.

I showed it with my QH a bunch of years ago, but those are very different rules, and I’m not even sure I thought about drape at that point since he was an ex-HUS horse that I stuck a curb bit on LOL :smiley:


Thank you! He certainly thinks he’s the bomb! Now I just have to not embarrass him :slight_smile:

He loves obstacle and pattern work, so I’m hoping he finds more of a home in this division. The rail class might be a stretch, as sometimes other horses doing things like cantering he finds VERY exciting, and since we normally work at home alone that makes it hard to practice outside a show environment, but we might skip that and just do the pattern and obstacle work.


If my appendix QH was still showable (she turned 30 on St. Paddy’s day this year) I’d do the ranch with her, and the hunter stuff. She was a beautiful mover in her day but could figure out slow for the WP classes. I usually had to settle for sane.


Unfortunately my QH has DSLD otherwise I’d totally trot him out - he’s only 19.

We showed at two shows on not very much prep (as it seems I am really good at the random “hey, let’s go show with no time to actually prepare”) and the first one he scored very well on and we won our class. The second show was a bigger one and had some serious ranch horses, and we didn’t do as well (I think we pulled a 5th) but that’s still pretty respectable, considering. He did some WP with a kid later, but his lope was always “bigger” than was desirable for the WP in our area.

I really like the ranch division, I’ve always loved doing obstacles. We just don’t do cattle, so I’ve felt like it wasn’t something I could really excel at or practice well at home. However, in Saddlebred-land, theres not much expectation of actually doing cattle work. Not that I’d mind learning, I just don’t have any cattle to move around (and I’m not sure what my dragon would think of those beasts so encountering them at a show for the first time might be a little much for both of our brains) :smiley:

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That is in no way a draped rein !


Thank you! Yes - I was comparing it to the ASB folks I’ve seen and that’s draped comparatively, but drape is such an annoyingly vague word! :slight_smile:

I apologize for forgetting some important picky details.

Last night my mind was reviewing this discussion. Then I remembered that the shanks on most Western curbs are LONGER. The shanks on my Fager Victoria Mullen mouth Weymouth are 7 cm. long.

The shanks on a lot of the Western curbs are 7 INCHES long, much longer.

I tried to keep contact with 7" shank curbs 4 times. The first time was with my great antique store find ($1.50 in 1970) a iron (not steel) Tom Bass style saddle-seat Weymouth curb, used as part of a double bridle. I got the bridoon rein sagging, shortened my curb rein some, used my lower legs to ask the horse to extend into contact, the horse immediately stretched out to contact, met the mouthpiece, and very politely went behind the vertical. The horse was not distressed, he just politely and quietly got his head where the bit felt comfortable to his mouth. I immediately stopped trying to keep contact and we went back to our normal, quiet and cooperative ride.

I tried this experiment with this particular bit on another horse decades later and got an identical reaction, a quiet and non-dramatic refusal to meet the mouthpiece of the bit properly, resulting in going behind the vertical.

I tried this twice on another 7" shanked bit, a Walking horse bit with somewhat of a port, whose barrel slid up and down about 1/4" on the shanks, with the bottom of the shanks curved back like a lot of Western bits. I tried this on two seperate horses, over a decade apart, and both horses politely went behind the vertical and completely ignored my mild leg suggestions to stretch to meet the mouthpiece. Both horses went back to their calm obedient normal when I stopped trying to keep contact with this curb.

Last night I figured out that IF I had moved my hands forward faster I might have prevented the horses feeling like they needed to go behind the vertical. The longer shanks increase the distance the bottom of the shanks travel as the horse moves its head forward and back, meaning that I really needed to speed up the movements of my hands to keep that light, responsive contact. With my MS this is just beyond what my nervous system can handle, people with normal nervous systems can probably do it OK.

The other picky detail I picked up the last decade or less deals with the placement of the curb bit in the horse’s mouth. IF the mouthpiece of the curb rests vertically above the curb groove, then the curb chain of a curb bit with the “normal” 1 1/2" purchase automatically falls into the curb groove. This is important! The skin there does have a thin layer of fat, and the bone under it is SMOOTH where the curb chain or strap lies. If the curb chain goes further up the bottom of the skull up to the sharp, thin bones of the lower jaw the curb chain or strap can cause the horse great pain. These bones are not smooth and broad, they are thin and sharp, and there is no padding under the skin. No sane horse who is not a masochist likes the feeling of a curb chain or strap there in constant contact.

Both of the 7" shank bits I tried contact with had the longer purchase (the part of the shank above the center of the mouthpiece where it meets the shank), therefor the chain/curb strap went up onto the sharp bones and the horses immediately went behind the vertical.

Sorry for the novel, but I have found out that horses can be really, really sensitive to the difference of a 1/4" in the tack, especially where bits are concerned. The mouthpiece of the curb belongs right above the curb groove, NOT up to the corner of the lips (unless the horse has a short mouth.) The purchase of the bit HAS to be short enough to enable the curb chain to fall into the curb groove. With a Weymouth curb USE A LIP STRAP, this helps prevent the curb chain from migrating up to the sharp bones of the lower jaw.

Happy bit searching.

With great sensitivity and care a rider CAN ride with contact with just a curb bit. When the horse relaxes and is willing to reach out with his muzzle you will know you are doing it RIGHT.

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