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Bits have been used for thousands of years to control the speed and direction of horses. They are a piece of horse tack consisting of a solid mouthpiece and rings that attach to the bridle and reins.
Most bits are made of metal, often copper or stainless steel, but rubber and plastic bits also exist. Different types of horse bits have different purposes and severity, depending on their mode of action and the type of mouthpiece.
Snaffle bits are the most common type of bit used by horse riders. They are often favored by riding schools and hobby riders as well as competitive equestrians.
Other bit types include the curb bit and gag bit, with the latter combining the effects of a snaffle and a curb bit.
What is a Snaffle Bit?
A snaffle bit is a type of horse bit that has a mouthpiece and two rings, one on either end that are fixed or loose. It uses direct pressure on the horse’s mouth to control the horse.
Many consider a snaffle to be the softest type of horse bit. However, this highly depends on the style of the mouthpiece and how the bit is used. Since the oral cavity is a sensitive area of the horse’s head, any bit can be severe if used harshly by the rider.
However, it’s true that direct pressure is a milder form of control than leverage action. Snaffle bits do not amplify the rider’s aids, and one ounce of pressure by the reins translates to one ounce of pressure in the mouth. Whereas, curb bits that use leverage are designed to multiply the pressure applied by the rider.
Another misconception regarding snaffle bits is that they always have a jointed mouthpiece. By definition, a snaffle is a non-leverage bit where the reins attach to rings instead of shanks.
Like a curb bit, a snaffle can have any type of mouthpiece as they do not affect the bit’s mode of action.
When to Use a Snaffle Bit
Snaffle bits give riders a good level of control and are suitable for most disciplines. When wearing a snaffle bit, the horse feels pressure from the mouthpiece on the tongue, hard palate, bars, and lips, and pressure from the rings on the corners of the mouth and side of the muzzle.
While snaffle bits have a universal purpose, dressage and western riders generally prefer curb bits. These allow the rider to send much finer aids to the horse and ask for elaborate movements like piaffe or a sliding stop.
Snaffle bits can also be used in conjunction with curb bits in what is called a double bridle. These bridles incorporate two separate bits, a curb bit known as a Weymouth and a thin snaffle bit known as a Bradoon.
Types of Snaffle Horse Bit
The type of a snaffle horse bit is defined by the style of the mouthpiece and the rings. Any mouthpiece can be paired with any type of ring, which is why we will examine these two elements separately.
The main types of snaffle bits are loose ring, egg butt, D-ring, hanging cheek, half-cheek, and full cheek. These bits can have a variety of mouthpieces, such as single-jointed, double-jointed, or mullen mouth.
The rings of a snaffle bit can either be fixed or loose, which affects the position of the bit in the horse’s mouth. They can also be of various shapes and sizes and influence the action of the bit.
Loose Ring Snaffle
A loose ring snaffle is the most common type of bit used for training and breaking in horses. They have free-moving rings that slide through the mouthpiece, encouraging the horse to chew the bit and relax its jaw.
However, because the rings are constantly moving, they can pinch the corners of the mouth and cause discomfort. Luckily, rubber bit guards that sit between the rings and the mouth can easily prevent this problem.
Moreover, if the rings are too small, they can also enable the bit to be pulled through the horse’s mouth. This is typically a problem with horses that respond poorly to turning aids, in which case a full cheek snaffle may be necessary.
An Eggbutt snaffle is a common type of horse bit that is considered one of the most comfortable for horses. Unlike a loose ring snaffle, an eggbutt snaffle has fixed rings that don’t rotate and prevent a horse’s lips pinched.
Like an egg butt snaffle, a D-ring snaffle bit has fixed rings that prevent a horse’s mouth from chafing. Also, the ‘D’ shape of the rings reinforces the rider’s directional aids and helps with turning.
Hanging Cheek Snaffle
A hanging cheek snaffle is a type of horse bit with two rings on either side, one for the bridle’s cheekpieces and one for the reins. The bit is suspended in the horse’s mouth and puts slightly more pressure on the bars.
Because the bridle and the reins attach to different rings, this bit uses some leverage action.
A half-cheek snaffle is a horse bit that has a short straight bar attached to the rings on both sides. This piece typically points downward and helps turn the horse by putting pressure on the side of the lower jaw.
Half-cheek snaffle bits are popular in driving and racing as they are less likely to be caught on something than a full cheek snaffle.
Full Cheek Snaffle
A full cheek snaffle is a bit where the rings connect to a set of long, straight arms that amplify the rider’s directional aids. They also make it impossible for the bit to slide through the mouth.
A full cheek snaffle is often used with bit keepers, which are small leather straps that connect the top of the arms to the bridle. This fixates the bit in the horse’s mouth and prevents the arms from getting caught on something.
A type of full cheek snaffle called a fulmer has loose rings attached to the bars instead of fixed. This enables the mouthpiece to move freely in the horse’s mouth.
Fulmer bits are ideal for horses with a tendency to lean on the bit that also have difficulty turning.
Snaffle Bit Mouthpieces
The mouthpiece of any bit can vary by joint type, thickness, and texture. There are many combinations out there, so you should do your research before deciding on one.
The right mouthpiece can become an invaluable training tool for you and your horse, but finding it might take some trial and error.
This mouthpiece has a single joint in the middle and is common in snaffle bits. Because of the position of the joint in the horse’s mouth, these bits put pressure on the tongue, bars, and lips with a so-called “nutcracker” action.
A variation of a single-jointed mouthpiece is a hollow mouth, where the metal in the horse’s mouth is hollow. This type of mouthpiece spreads the pressure of the reins more evenly, making the bit somewhat milder.
A double-jointed mouthpiece has two joints in the middle, which reduces the nutcracker effect.
While two joints are milder than one, the severity of this bit depends on the shape and angle of the middle piece. The two most common versions include the French mouth and Dr. Bristol, with the latter being more severe.
A mullen mouth is a straight mouthpiece with no joints in it. It’s considered the mildest of all mouthpieces because it spreads the pressure evenly across the horse’s mouth.
Mullen mouth bits are sometimes made of hard rubber or coated with plastic. They can either be completely straight or have a port in the middle. A port is basically an arch that can range from shallow to upright and provides relief for the tongue.
Mullen mouthpieces are typical in curb bits and less common in snaffle bits.
Roller mouthpieces can be mullen, single or double-jointed. What sets them apart from other bits is the moving pieces in the meta, often made of copper or sweet iron.
Rollers encourage the horse to play with the bit, promoting salivation, relaxation, and acceptance. They can be a useful tool when training a nervous horse that has difficulty focusing on the bit.
As the name suggests, these mouthpieces are made with twisted metal to increase the strength of the bit. They are usually single-jointed and used on horses with a tendency to ignore commands.
A more severe variation is the corkscrew bit which has sharper edges that amplify the rider’s aids.
This is a particularly severe bit featuring one or two twisted wire mouthpieces with a single joint. These are typically very thin and sharp, causing pressure to concentrate in the mouth.
Due to their severity, many people view these bits as a welfare concert and are against their use.
Snaffle Bit Severity
The severity of a snaffle bit is mostly determined by the mouthpiece and to a lesser extent the rings. Needless to say, mouthpieces with sharp edges like slow twist or the twisted wire can make a bit very severe.
What’s more, thin mouthpieces are harsher than thicker ones as they concentrate pressure on a smaller surface area. Whereas the thicker the bit, the more the pressure gets distributed across the mouth, causing less discomfort and pain.
Out of all joint types, the mullen mouth is the least severe as it doesn’t create pressure points in the mouth. A double-jointed mouthpiece is slightly stronger as it puts more pressure on the bars.
Because of its nutcracker mechanism, single-jointed bits are of medium severity. When in use, the joint can also jab into the horse’s hard palate, which is especially uncomfortable if the bridle has a flash to keep the mouth closed.
Chain-like mouthpieces with multiple joints are fairly severe as they have a sharper effect on the mouth. However, the most severe bits are those with twisted, corkscrew, or wired mouthpieces, regardless of joint type.