Tack & Gear

Bit Basics: The Snaffle

horse wearing a snaffle bit

This simple bit is ideal for young horses, but if used improperly it can cause plenty of frustration.

Most often, the first type of bit that goes in a young horse’s mouth is some kind of snaffle. The variations in design for this bit are seemingly endless, but in general a snaffle features a jointed mouthpiece and operates through lateral direction, as opposed to vertical action or leverage pressure.

“A snaffle bit, to me, is a lateral type of mechanism,” says Richard Winters, a horseman based in Weatherford, Texas. “It’s made to use side to side, and it’s very effective that way. So you’ve got to use it one rein at a time.”

Tack shops and bit makers offer a seemingly endless selection of snaffles. Winters says the most commonly used snaffles in Western disciplines generally fit into one of two categories: a loose ring and a swivel hinge.

The loose ring features an O-shaped cheek piece, and it is connected to the mouthpiece with a joint that allows the mouthpiece to slide along the O ring. On a swivel hinge snaffle, such as an eggbutt or a D-ring, the cheek piece attaches to the mouthpiece like a swinging gate to a gate post. There is slightly more play in an O-ring, offering a little more comfort and signal to the horse. A swivel hinge is a tad more precise and stable in the horse’s mouth. Winters says the difference is marginal, believing that personal preference plays a bigger role in choosing which to use.

Although his young horses eventually progress to where he can cue them to stop or vertically flex at the poll with light pressure from two reins, Winters primarily uses his snaffles with lateral direction from one rein at a time. He says some riders run into trouble because they pull too hard with both reins, expecting a vertical response, and that causes the snaffle mouthpiece to fold and pinch the bars of the horse’s mouth.

“Some people get frustrated because they just pull back with it,” he says. “When you pull hard and straight back, the snaffle tends to ‘nutcracker’ up, horses gets to bracing against the riders, and pretty soon the riders are hanging it up and going to find some other bit.”

Richard Winters shares his insight on bits each month in Western Horseman magazine. He discusses the loose ring snaffle in the May 2019 issue, and the egg-butt in the September 2019 issue.

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