The Snaffle Bit: Various Types, When And How To Use It

December 13, 2022
The snaffle bit.

An important piece of gear for any horse is a bit. The bit is a piece of equipment used along with the reins and bridle to provide direction and control of the horse. Several different bits can be used, including the snaffle bit.

western headstall with a snaffle bit

The snaffle bit is one of the more basic bits and will often be used for young horses in training and new riders. There are many types of snaffle bits with their names differing based on their shape and design. The snaffle bit is considered one of the more friendly bits available.

We will look at what a bit is, focusing on the snaffle bit and what it comprises. After that, we shall go into how, why, and when snaffle bits are used and look into the various types of snaffle bits that are available and their differences.

The Snaffle Bit – What Is It?

A bit is a strategic piece of horse equipment designed to help control a horse and provide a means to direct a horse. It is ultimately a piece, or conjoined pieces of metal, that fit in a horse’s mouth.

There are different varieties of bits, and the snaffle bit is one of the more common and popular bits available. The snaffle bit is often the first bit that will be used on a young horse when trained. The snaffle bit is additionally the type of bit most beginner riders are exposed to when first starting.

1. How Is A Snaffle Bit Made?

horse face showing snaffle bit bridle

The snaffle bit is generally made up of one or more pieces of metal (the mouthpiece) that are joined together with a metal ring or cheekpiece on either side. These rings are then attached to both the bridle headstall and the reins.

The cheek pieces on either side of the mouthpiece may be fixed or loose depending on the type of snaffle bit.

A common misconception is that the term snaffle bit refers to only broken mouthpieces, as noted above. At the same time, one is more likely to come across snaffle bits with mouthpieces made of multiple parts, and thus being termed ‘broken,’ you can also find a mullen snaffle bit that comprises a single piece of the mouthpiece.

Many a snaffle bit will have multiple parts and sometimes even rollers.

2. What Are Snaffle Bits Made From?

Snuffle bits are generally made of types of metal or synthetic materials. Metal bits will generally be made from sweet iron, vulcanite or copper. These metals are chosen as they have a better taste than others, which will help the horse become used to the bit.

Other materials include rubbers and plastics, intended to provide the horse with comfort. Mullen mouthpiece snaffle bits may not have a central metal band but rather a thick hard shaft of rubber or plastic.

3. How Does A Snaffle Bit Work?

Like many other bits, Snaffle bits are designed so that the mouthpiece fits into the gummy area between the incisors and molars of a horse’s mouth. The beauty of the snaffle bit is that it is one of the gentler bit options due to the amount of force it will exert on the horse’s mouth.

The snaffle bit does exert pressure on the horse’s mouth, which is how it works to steer and control the horse. Generally, the gap between the front and back teeth is sufficient to fit a snaffle bit, but some horses may need the bit adjusted to use the bit comfortably.

With the snaffle being joined to both the reigns and the bridle headstall, it offers 1:1 pressure on the horse’s mouth, meaning that the pressure the rider exerts will equal the pressure the horse experiences. Making it a gentler control option as its design does not multiply the pressure applied.

Some horsemen suggest that the best technique for using a snaffle bit is lateral, pulling on one side of the reins simultaneously in a side-to-side movement.

4. Why Are Snaffle Bits Used?

horse standing wearing snaffle bit

Snaffle bits are often used in training young horses, and most riders will have used one at some point in their riding careers. The reason for the popularity of the snaffle bit is that it is an easy way to control and steer a horse without pulling the bit out of the horse’s mouth.

The two rings on either side of the mouthpiece serve to hold the bit in place so that when the rider pulls on the reins, either both together or with more pressure on either side, the mouthpiece does not slide through the horse’s mouth.

When To Use A Snaffle Bit?

As mentioned earlier, the snaffle bit is often the first bot used in training, both for young horses and novice riders. It provides an easy way to steer a horse and is not as harsh as other bits allowing young horses to learn how to be steered in more comfort.

For novice riders, the snaffle makes steering a horse very straightforward. A tug to the left will help the horse know to bear left, and a tug to the right will mean head to the right. And finally, a single tug back using both reins will mean stop. The simplicity of the snaffle bit is perfect for new riders and those wanting a relaxed ride.

Snaffle bits are not, however only, limited to use on young horses and beginner riders, and they may often be the only type of bit some horses ever use during their lifetimes. Due to the variety and ease of the snaffle bit, this is a very versatile bit.

Does A Snaffle Bit Hurt A Horse?

Provided the rider is not too rough, a snaffle bit is one of the gentler bits to be found. It does come down to how the bit is handled. There are, however, certain snaffle bits that are made with components that will hurt the horse. Twisted wire snaffle bits are very harsh and will likely hurt the horse.

Consider if the mouthpiece is hard or has any sharp edges or twists when in doubt. If it does have any edges or hardness, you can be certain that the bit will hurt your horse, even if it’s of the snaffle variety.

It’s good to remember that the mouth is a sensitive area and can be easily damaged, so proper handling of the reins is important in horse riding. The bit should be there for gentle steering.

What Types Of Snaffle Bit Are There?

There are a variety of snaffle bits available, and it is a good idea to see which one works best for the horse. Different snaffle bits have different designs developed to focus on different factors and functions other than being a way to steer a horse.

The different designs are not limited to the rings but also include different mouthpieces.

Taking a look at some of the available snaffle bits, we will provide detail as to their design and function so that you can better understand which bit will best suit your horse.

The following are some snaffle bit varieties:

  • D-Ring Snaffle Bit
  • Fixed-Ring Snaffle Bit
  • Full-Cheek Snaffle Bit
  • Egg-Butt Snaffle Bit
  • Half-Cheek Snaffle Bit
  • Loose-Ring Snaffle Bit

1. D-Ring Snaffle Bit

D ring snaffle bit
Closeup of horse D-ring snaffle bit with bridle straps

As the name suggests, the D-ring snaffle bit has D-shaped rings. This snaffle bit has the ends of the mouthpiece coming together in a hinge where the bit ring is attached.

The D-ring is a great snaffle bit option as it provides a snug, secure fit while being a safer option for the horse as there is no threat of pinching to the corners of the mouth.

2. Fixed-Ring Snaffle

A fixed-ring snaffle is a snaffle where the rings or cheek pieces are fixed, and the mouthpiece cannot move independently. This makes for a much quieter bit.

The fixed-ring snaffle is recommended for horses that like to play with their bit, as a fixed-ring snaffle will have less chance of the horse’s tongue or cheeks getting pinched between moving pieces.

The fixed-ring snaffle will also provide greater resistance on a pull reducing the possibility of the bit being pulled through the horse’s mouth, again reducing the likelihood of hurt for the horse.

3. Full-Cheek Snaffle Bit

The full-cheek snaffle bit has rings or cheek pieces with vertical sections that are just out on either side of the ring – much like a D-ring but with the vertical section extending either way.

These are called full-cheek snaffle bits as they extend over the full cheek, making them extremely secure and impossible to pull through the horse’s mouth.

Full-cheek snaffle bits are most commonly used for training due to their overall stability.

4. Egg-Butt Snaffle Bit

The egg-butt snaffle bit is so-called due to the egg-shaped rings or cheek pieces. These are fixed rings and will not rotate in the mouth.

As it does not move, the egg-butt snaffle bit may be preferred by some horses as the immobility of the bit means that there is no threat of pinching, which is always possible with bits with moving pieces.

5. Half-Cheek Snaffle Bit

The half-cheek snaffle bit is, again, just as the name suggested, a snaffle bit with an extension on one side of the ring. Unlike the full-cheek snaffle bit that has vertical extensions vertically both upwards and downwards from the ring, the half-cheek snaffle bit has only 1 extension that projects downwards from the ring.

Half cheek snaffle bits are used predominantly for driving a horse, and the bottom cheek piece stops the bit from coming loose from the mouth as the rein is used to provide commands.

6. Loose-Ring Snaffle Bit

horse head wearing snaffle bit on headstall

The loose-ring snaffle bit is a bit that has rings that can move through the mouthpiece. This movement provides further flexibility with additional sideways, up, and downwards movements.

A loos-ring snaffle bit is comfortable due to its flexibility and is often useful for horses that hang onto the bit.

There is, however, a greater possibility of pinching due to the moving parts.

Conclusion

Snaffle bits come in various designs, and each design has a function with the overall purpose of steering a horse. Commonly used for the training of young horses as well as for helping novice riders learn how to work with a horse, the snaffle bit is a useful and versatile bit that is often still used way past the beginner stages.

The snaffle is one of the least harsh horse bits available, although snaffle bits made with twisted wire mouthpieces may be more severe. As with all bits, the rider plays a large role in whether the bit will hurt the horse or not. Provided gentle pressure if exerted, the snaffle bit is a great option for a relaxed ride for both the rider and the horse.

Resources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snaffle_bit
https://www.thesprucepets.com/how-snaffle-bits-work-1886099#:~:text=A%20snaffle%20bit%20is%20a,young%20horses%20and%20beginner%20riders https://www.thesprucepets.com/description-of-an-english-d-ring-snaffle-1886075https://afs.ca.uky.edu/files/typessnafflebits_2.pdf
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bit_(horse)

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I'm Bo, the owner of Smarter Horse. Helping horses be smarter by educating their people.  To find out more about me, click here



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