Are you an aspiring horseman and aren't familiar with the many intricacies of horse tack?
If so, then you've come to the right place.
I was once in your shoes.
When I started my horsemanship journey, if someone laid out a bunch of bits on a table and asked me, "Which one is a snaffle bit?"; I would have had no idea.
So, if you can relate, or if you know what a snaffle bit is and want to learn more about the intricacies between the different types, this article is for you.
In this post, we will explore what a snaffle bit is, its uses, and how its severity can vary depending on what kind of condition or action you might want from your horse.
What Is A Snaffle Bit and How Does It Work?
A snaffle bit is a type of bit that helps control the movement of a horse by applying direct pressure to the horse's tongue and the bars of its mouth.
There isn't any pressure applied anywhere on the horse's head like there would be with other style bits, and there isn't any leverage as there would be with a curb bit.
On a traditional snaffle bit, a pull on the right rein applies pressure to the right bar of your horse's mouth. To relieve that pressure, your horse must turn its head right. The opposite goes for pulling on the left rein and applying pressure to the left bar.
Once you expand your skills and knowledge as a rider, you will learn there is more going on with a turn than that; but, this quick breakdown gives a quick visual of how the mechanics of a snaffle bit work.
The Different Types of Snaffle Bits
Snaffle bits come in various shapes and sizes, each with unique features to meet the needs of horses and riders.
No matter what type you use, it's crucial always to fit your snaffle bit correctly and ensure it doesn't cause discomfort to your horse.
D-Ring Snaffles (First choice for novice riders)
A D-Ring snaffle bit is excellent for a novice rider (or any skill-level rider, for that matter) and is the first bit I ever bought.
The shape of the d-rings at each end of the mouthpiece makes it so it shouldn't slide across your horse's mouth.
This is safer for inexperienced, young horses and riders because a bit sliding through could cause a panic situation.
Loose Ring Snaffle
The loose ring snaffle features an O-shaped cheekpiece. This cheekpiece is connected to the mouthpiece in such a way that it allows the mouthpiece to slide along the O ring.
Eggbutt Snaffle Bit
This type of snaffle bit is called an "eggbutt" due to the shape of the cheek rings (which resemble an egg shape) and the fact that they are "butted" hard against the mouthpiece.
Unlike the loose ring snaffle, the egg butt snaffle features a fixed cheekpiece. So, the cheek rings cannot slide or move at all in relation to the mouthpiece.
The Full Cheek Snaffle
This type of snaffle bit has cheekpieces that extend above and below the bit (unlike the half-cheek that only has cheekpieces on the bottom half).
These two extended cheekpieces help keep the bit in the proper position and prevent the bit from getting caught on your horse's lips or another part of its mouth.
When pressure is applied with a full cheek snaffle bit, the horse feels it more directly to the side of its mouth, applying less felt pressure to its lips and tongue.
Half-cheek bits aren't seen as often as full-cheek, eggbutt, and D-ring snaffles, but these particular snaffles serve a purpose.
Half-cheek snaffle bits are primarily used for driving. The bottom cheek ensures the bit does not slide through the horse's mouth when rein commands are given.
In contrast to the full-cheek snaffles, the half-cheek does not have an "upper cheek."
This is so there isn't any upper cheek to get tangled with any harness or other bridle pieces.
Types of Bit Material
Snaffle bits can be made from various materials, including stainless steel, copper, rubber, and sweet iron.
Stainless steel is corrosion-resistant and offers excellent durability.
Copper is known for its warmth, which helps to promote salivation and relax the horse's mouth. Often, you can find bits primarily made from another material (stainless steel, for instance) with copper inlaid.
Sweet iron contains trace amounts of copper that oxidize when exposed to moisture in the horse's mouth, creating a sweet taste that encourages saliva production.
Other materials like titanium are also available but are less common than the previously mentioned materials.
It is important to note that horses are unique and may respond differently to each bit material type. So, it is best to consult someone you know with more experience with snaffle bits and see what has worked for them in the past.
Or another option would be to buy a bit and see how your horse reacts. If he likes it, great. If not, maybe try something else and keep the initial bit in your tack room for another horse down the road that may prefer it.
How to Choose the Snaffle Bit For Your Horse
Several factors must be considered when selecting the perfect snaffle bit for your horse.
First and foremost, you want to ensure the bit fits correctly in your horse's mouth. The bit should be comfortable enough that it does not pinch or rub on the sensitive areas of the horse's mouth, yet not so loose that it slides around and causes discomfort.
Next, you'll want to look at the materials used in the bit design. As mentioned, stainless steel is popular due to its durability and corrosion resistance, while copper is great for its warmth and ability to promote salivation.
When asking which horse bit or material is correct, it will be similar to asking someone if they prefer Ford, Chevy, or Dodge. Everyone will have an opinion. Is one view right or wrong? Not necessarily. Their belief is going to be influenced by their personal experiences. So, take them all with a grain of salt, and use each input to triangulate what you think would be the best material decision for you and your horse.
When I bought my first bit (and the bit I am still using), I went with a stainless steel D-Ring snaffle with a single-jointed mouthpiece and copper inlays. The main reason was that a buddy who knows way more about horses than me had a bit just like this. It has a 5" mouthpiece which fits most horses (and fits Dart great). It is just a tremendous all-around bit.
Will your horse take to this bit as well as Dart has? It is likely, but factoring in your horse's preferences is also essential. There is a chance your horse may not respond well to a particular bit or material. So, experimentation may be necessary; trial and error can help find what works best for your horse.
Are Snaffle Bits Gentle Or Severe?
Snaffle bits can be gentle or severe!
The felt intensity of the bit is in the hands of the rider.
Some people think that since a regular snaffle bit has zero leverage, it is somehow milder. Not true!
You can pull with the reins attached on a regular snaffle bit and translate 10s to 100s of pounds of pressure to your horse's mouth without any leverage. That doesn't sound mild to me!
In addition, you can put a leveraged bit in the hands of a skilled horseman, and it could feel soft and light to your horse.
In the end, the construction of the bit matters; but, what matters most is the softness of your (the rider's) hands.
Tips for Using Snaffle Bits
When using a snaffle bit, paying close attention to both the horse and the bit itself is important. Before each ride, check that the snaffle bit works and is not too loose or tight. The bit should fit snugly in the horse's mouth but not so tight as to cause discomfort or pain. If necessary, make minor adjustments as needed for optimal comfort.
In addition to ensuring an appropriate fit, it is also essential to use proper techniques when riding with a snaffle bit. For example, soft hands are crucial.
You want your horse to get accustomed to responding to the lightest of queues. If you need to crank on their face whenever you want to change direction...
Lastly, if you take care of your horse bits and tack, they will take care of you.
Regular maintenance of your snaffle bit is critical for its longevity and effectiveness. Cleaning after each ride will help keep the metal free from oxidation and deterioration while preventing microorganisms from taking hold in any crevices or cavities.
Inspecting for signs of wear, including bent rings or chipped mouthpieces that may indicate the need for replacement or repair is also critical.
When Is It Time To Move On From The Snaffle Bit?
When it comes to determining when it is time to move on from a snaffle bit, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.
Assessing your and your horse's needs, desires, and abilities is vital.
If a horse has advanced beyond the basics and can easily handle more complicated maneuvers, it may be time to progress to a different type of bit (if you so choose).
It's also important to consider the horse's temperament and mouth sensitivity - horses sensitive to particular metal bits may excel in something like a hackamore.
Additionally, inexperienced riders may want to start with a "milder bit," such as a snaffle, before progressing onto something like a shanked or curb bit.
Ultimately, whatever bit you choose should be comfortable for both you and your horse while providing enough control for all situations that may arise during riding sessions.
After growing up working on his family's farm in the Midwest, life brought him to Missoula, MT. There, he connected with a mustang named Dart and was called to a lifelong journey of learning about horses and horsemanship. It is his hope to share the knowledge, experiences, and resources he has come across along the way.
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