Riders use many techniques and tools to communicate with their horse. The bit plays a key role in the communication process. Riders can choose from a variety of horse bit styles that serve different functions to enhance communication and to improve safety. In this post, we share what you need to know about snaffle bits and how they’re used to enhance communication with your horse.
What is a Horse Bit?
The bit is part of the gear that makes up the bridle that the horse wears around its head. Along with the reins, the rider uses the bit to communicate with the horse using strategic pulls. These signals tell the horse what the rider wants.
What is a Snaffle Bit?
A snaffle bit is an English horse bit that sits in the horse’s mouth. This mouthpiece may be solid or made up of two or three pieces. Snaffle bits are generally gentler on a horse’s mouth than other types of bits while still providing adequate communication.
When a rider pulls the reins, the snaffle bit puts pressure on the bars, lips, and tongue of the horse’s mouth. When using a snaffle bit, no pressure is applied to the horse’s poll.
Though snaffle bits generally serve the same purpose, there are variances between them. Additionally, certain horses may have preferences for one type or another, so you may want to try out a few to find which type of English snaffle bit will work best for your horse.
The eggbutt snaffle bit is considered one of the most gentle as it doesn’t pinch the corners of the horse’s mouth. Its name comes from the connection between the bit-ring and the mouthpiece that looks like an egg. The eggbutt is one of the most commonly-used bits in English riding. It’s sometimes viewed as a training bit since it works well to get a young horse used to the feel of a bit, but the eggbutt is an excellent all-around bit.
D-Ring (or Dee Ring)
This type of snaffle bit has D-shaped bit rings. It’s similar to the eggbutt snaffle as the ends of the mouthpiece join as a hinge where the bit-ring attached to it. The D-ring puts more lateral control on the sides of the horse’s mouth and delivers more control when turning, but it also prevents the horse’s mouth from being pinched. D-ring snaffles are popular for use on racehorses.
A loose-ring snaffle has a mouthpiece that attaches to sliding rings, rotating the bit if the horse tries to grab control over it. This snaffle is helpful since it makes it difficult for the horse to gain control — it will rotate on the rings if the horse tries to control the bit. It’s a popular bit for dressage riders and training young horses since it’s flexible. However, the horse’s lips can easily get caught and pinched because the rings are loose. Bit guards can be used with loose-ring snaffle bits to help prevent the bit from pinching the horse’s lips.
This type of snaffle bit has cheekpieces that extend above and below the bit that help to keep the bit in the proper position and prevent the bit from getting caught on the lips or on another part of the horse’s mouth. Bit loops can be used with the bridle to reduce the flexibility of the bit as well — this stabilizes the cheek to make your aids clearer to the horse. The primary benefit of the full-cheek snaffle is that it makes it easier to steer the horse and helps to ensure the rider can’t pull the bit through the horse’s mouth. For this reason, the full-cheek snaffle is ideal for young horses that are just learning to steer.
Hanging-Cheek Snaffle (also called a Baucher snaffle)
This snaffle is a fixed cheek bit with a hanging cheekpiece attached above the snaffle ring. It exerts a small amount of poll pressure which helps to lower the horse’s head and encourages flexion. The hanging-cheek snaffle is helpful for horses with a high head carriage as it provides slightly more leverage than the average snaffle it encourages the horse to accept the bit and move forward into the bridle.
Tips for Using a Snaffle Bit
Snaffle bits should be selected to fit the horse properly. Some of the areas to look at for finding the correct fit are the width of the bit from ring-to-ring, the mouthpiece thickness, and the heights that the bit is raised in the horse’s mouth.
Regardless of the type of snaffle bit you use, it’s a good idea to know how to use the bit most effectively. Here are some tips to get you started.
When you want to slow, use a half halt — A half halt reinforced with an equal amount of leg pressure will balance your horse, keeping the horse’s impulsion going forward but at a slower rate. This action allows the horse to maintain momentum, rather than “slamming on the brakes” periodically.
Understand how snaffle bit pressure works — When using a snaffle bit, the amount of pressure you put on the reins is the amount of pressure that the horse will feel.
Understand how snaffles are used — Unlike in the Western riding philosophy, many English horses use only snaffles throughout their entire riding career.
A snaffle bit is an important piece of horse tack, but it may take some trial and error to find the right one for your horse. Snaffle bits are popular because they provide excellent communication while being designed to slide across your horse’s mouth without pinching. Each type of snaffle bit is designed with different features that you’ll want to consider when selecting the right one for your horse.
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