There are two basic categories of bits, the snaffle and the leverage bit. In this article, we will be discussing what constitutes a snaffle, the different types of snaffles, and the uses for various snaffle bits.
What is a snaffle bit?
It is a common belief that any bit that has a broken mouthpiece is a snaffle. Most snaffle bits do have a broken mouthpiece, but not all. A Mullen snaffle has a solid mouthpiece. Curb straps should not be used with snaffle bits. See below for snaffle bits to use if your horse is opening their mouth and letting the bit slide through it.
A snaffle bit is any bit where the bridle's headstall and the reins attach in the same ring. This type of attachment results in a 1:1 ratio of pull, which means that one pound of pressure from the rein equals one pound of pressure to the corners and bars of the horse's mouth. A leverage bit has a higher ratio of pressure based upon the lengths of the shanks.
Snaffle bits can be gentle or severe!
Snaffles can have thick and gentle mouthpieces. On the other hand, thin mouthpieces, like twisted wire, are more severe. The lighter 1:1 pressure is why snaffle bits are commonly used to start young horses or to retrain older horses that need some back to basics work. However, in the wrong hands, any bit can be harsh, including snaffles. Excellent horsemanship requires soft, low hands of the rider.
How do you use a snaffle bit?
Have you ever heard the expression "plow reining"? Direct pressure is used to get the horse to turn laterally in either direction. It requires the rider to use two hands. One hand pulls on one rein while the other hand pushes the opposite rein across the horse's neck. For example, to turn right, the rider would put slight pressure on the right rein while laying the left rein on the neck. The desired result is the horse will respond by giving in to the pressure and turn in the direction of the pull. If the horse resists, then more pull can be applied. This pull is most effective when the rider's hands are low and to the sides of the horse's neck.
Remember to ask with slight pressure, insist with small tugs, and demand by pulling the horse head around. With patience and consistency, your horse will start to respond to light pressure.
Types of Snaffle bits:
Ring Snaffles (First choice for novice riders):
The most common snaffle used in early training happens to be the most forgiving of rider error. The rings are loose, and there is a single jointed mouthpiece. They can also be found with a solid Mullen mouthpiece.
With ring snaffles, the horse can immediately be warned of impending action when the rider picks up the reins. The loose ring design makes this possible. The pressure is most concentrated where the rings meet the corners of the horse's mouth. But the smaller size of the rings, 2.5" to 3", makes it easier for this bit to be pulled through the horse's mouth.
D-Ring Snaffles (2nd choice for novice riders):
The rings on the D-ring snaffle do not swivel, and they have fixed butts. Pulling on the side of the bit results in pressure by the opposite side of the bit. The pressure on the opposite cheek makes it easier for the horse to understand the cue to give their head.
The Dee-ring snaffle is commonly found with an egg butt mouthpiece. However, other mouthpieces are also available. Remember the thinner the mouthpiece, the more severe the bit is.
The Full Cheek Snaffle (for horses that let the rings slip through their mouths or those that don't want to flex laterally.):
Picture a Dee Snaffle with bars going up and down. These bars prevent the rings from pulling through the horse's mouth. Like the D-Ring, there is pressure on the opposite side of the bit. The bars cover a wider area of the face, and the cue for the horse to turn their head with the pull and away from the pressure is easier for them to understand.
Mouth Pieces available in Snaffle Bits:
So far, we have discussed the rings on Snaffle bits. Now, let us consider the mouthpieces that are available.
Eggbutt Snaffles (the mildest mouthpiece):
Eggbutt snaffles can be either O-ring or D-Ring shanked. The name comes from the mouthpiece. The mouthpiece has a slightly oval connection where it meets the ring. The ends of the bit that meet the cheek are the fattest, and they gradually taper to the center. This wider, smooth bit puts less pressure on the bars of the horse's mouth.
An excellent way to demonstrate this is to take one finger and pull on the corner of your cheek. Then take 3 or 4 fingers and pull. Which one feels better? But just like people, horses will have different opinions as to what is comfortable or not. Some may not like the "heaviness" of an Eggbutt snaffle. If they object, try going to a lighter weight, smaller snaffle.
But I have to repeat it: the thinner the mouthpiece, the more severe the bit.
An experienced trainer can get faster results with a thinner bit, but it takes light, skilled hands to have the desired results. A novice rider will want a mouthpiece that is smooth and not too thin.
Twisted Wire (A mouthpiece for experienced trainers):
The thinnest mouthpiece is the twisted wire. The name describes how the bit looks. The twisted wire is a bit for experienced trainers that want fast results. It can be very painful to the horse in the wrong hands and cause more problems than it helps.
Other Varieties of mouthpieces:
There are several varieties of mouthpieces like smooth (Eggbutt), Lifesaver, Waterford, French link, Dogbone with rollers, Twisted wire, or the Mullen (solid mouthpiece).
Some of these have two links instead of one. Having two links spreads the pressure inside the mouth more evenly over the bars and tongue. This helps to reduce excessive tongue or palate pressure caused by a rider with heavy hands.
Which Snaffle bit should you use?
When deciding on which bit to use, take into account the rider's ability and the horse's experience. A novice rider and young horse will want a smother less severe bit. Don't be afraid to take an older horse back to kindergarten, so speak, and restart them with a basic bit and basic training to work out any bad behaviors. Moving up to more severe bits is often not the answer. If you need the control from a thinner bit be sure to ask for advice from an experienced horseman. Remember that soft, low hands are important.
About the Author
Wendy Sumner (Researcher/Writer)
Wendy grew up on a quarter horse ranch in Wyoming. She helped raise and train horses to be shown in the American Quarter Horse Association. At college, she received her Equine Science degree and pursued her love of everything equine. She has spent the last 35 years raising and training horses and teaching lessons. We are excited that she has agreed to join our team as a researcher and writer.