Friday, July 20, 2012

Bits and Bitting Part 4: The truth about snaffle bits

The Snaffle Bit.  

Every horse owner has one or has used one at one point in time, and it is widely (and blindly) accepted as the softest and most humane bit available.

In the book "A Whole Bit Better"  By Dale, Ron, and Bob Myler a snaffle is described as a ring bit, "The rings may be round, oval, or shaped like a "D."  A loose ring allows the mouthpiece to rotate around the ring; a fixed ring does not.  Both the headstall and the reins are attached to the ring.  When pressure is exerted through the reins, the bit pulls with the same amount of pressure backward on the horse's mouth; thus a ring bit is often called a direct action bit."

Simply put true snaffle bits are direct action, non leverage bits. 

Meaning that pound for pound your horse feels the exact amount of force you use.

A snaffle is only a snaffle when the mouthpiece, reins, and bridle are all attached to to the same ring. 

A snaffle bit may have any type of mouthpiece.

All of these bits are snaffle bits because the mouthpiece, bridle, and reins all attach to the same ring. 

 Just because a bit is called a snaffle does not mean that it is humane.

Direct Rein Bits work by contacting the palate, bars, tongue, and lips.

The mouthpiece and the amount of pressure used by the rider determines the severity of a snaffle or direct rein/action bit.

A straight mouthpiece can create a nutcracker effect on the tongue and bars.

While a more curved mouthpiece will not immobilize the tongue.

Which would you put in your own mouth?
                          1                                                                                                      2

3                                                              4

I have used 1, 3, and 4, based on each individual horse's preferences, but never number 2.

In closing a snaffle is a direct rein bit.  

A snaffle is only a snaffle if the mouthpiece, bridle, and reins are attached on the same ring.

The severity of a snaffle bit is determined by it's fit, construction, and amount of tongue relief provided. 

A straight bar mouthpiece like number 2 (disregard the twist, looking only at the straightness of the mouthpiece) is more severe 1, 3, and 4. 

Bit number 3 is more severe than bits 1 and 4 due to the amount of tongue relief available.

A twisted mouthpiece is more severe than a smooth mouthpiece.

A smooth twisted mouthpiece is less severe than a square, or fishback twisted mouthpiece. 

The thinner the mouthpiece the more severe.

Stay tuned for Curb/Leverage Bits coming soon.  


  1. One thing about the "nutcracker" effect: I think it's worth noting that used correctly, the snaffle bit is meant to be used with one rein at a time, not both. Therefore, if the rider is using one rein at a time with a reasonable amount of presure, the nutcracker effect is not likely to happen. The rider would have to be pulling back very hard on both reins for the bit to fold far enough to jab the horse in the palate (unless of course the horse has a very low palate). Also, the width of the horse's mouth does prevent that from happening to some degree, provided that the bit is fitted correctly and is not too wide for the horse.

  2. I agree with your statements in regards to how the snaffle may contact your horse's mouth in a ideal setting. While a rider would have to pull back hard to contact the palate, the nutcracker effect(clamping of the bars and immobilization of the tongue, thus preventing the horse from swallowing)can still be produced in general everyday stopping and turning depending on the straightness of the mouthpiece and the individual horse's mouth.

    Think of your horse's mouth as a ball, and your mouthpiece as a board hinged in middle balancing on the ball, no matter what you do with the board (left, right, and back) it will distort the ball when pressure is applied. (metal vs. gums and tongue)

    Unfortunately it only takes one spook, trip, or set of angry hands to ruin/damage a horse's mouth. Retraining a horse who is afraid of the bit is a very long and trying process that can take years.

    Given the greater understanding of the anatomy of the mouth, and new technologies cultivated in the bit industry over the last 20 years we as horse owners owe it to our horses to truly understand what we are doing/may be doing when we put a bit in our horse's mouth.