Get Snaffle-Bit Smart

Last Updated on February 26, 2022 by Allison Price

This easy-to-use piece of tack can have more to it than you may realize. Find out how to use snaffle bits and the different styles.

Here are four types of snaffle bits.

Charles Brooks

A quality snaffle bit can be worth its weight in sweet iron, copper or gold. A quality snaffle is easy to identify by its smooth, effortless pull. It is designed to glide across the horse’s mouth without pinching. It’s ideal for training young horses or older mounts in any type of riding program.

Here’s my snaffle bit philosophy and proper use. I also share four of my favorite snaffles that I made in my own tackroom.

Get the ‘Rules’

To ensure safety and get the best possible response, there are some rules you should follow when using a nosepiece.

A browband headstall is essential. Your horse’s snaffle must be secured by a headstall with a narrow ear. A properly adjusted throatlatch and browband headstall will keep your horse’s headgear secure for proper use. The browband headstall should be flexible as you pull on it with your reins.

You should allow your horse to adjust loosely. It doesn’t have to be loose. However, it shouldn’t be too loose. So that the snaffle can slide across your horse’s bars, it should touch just the corners of his mouth. It will slide more easily if it isn’t tight.

Take a look at the connection. I prefer mouthpieces with loop-to-loop connections like the ones shown here. There are many other connections available, including a three-piece connection with a flat metal piece between the two loops. Loop-to-loop connection is the most common and reduces pinching. Popular are hinge mouthpieces, which can be used on either side of the connection. However, they reduce the bit’s balance.

Do not use a curb strap. These aren’t curb bits so they don’t need a curb strap and certainly no curb chain. A curb strap is only necessary if your horse tends to pull the rings of the snaffle through his mouth. A curb should be a leather strap that is adjusted in front of your reins, not behind them. The only purpose of a curb is to hold the rings in place. You should not make contact with your horse’s jaw by pulling on your reins.

Tie-on reins are a good idea. Reins should tie to the snaffle rings with leather, or have another connection. Snaps can become brittle, rusty, and even break. They can pose a danger to your safety.

Smooth pull. Horses don’t come with small mouths. It has to be trained into them. When riding in a saddle, use a smooth pull that is as strong as you need to get a response.

Learn the stages of the snaffle. The European origins of the snaffle are well-known. Many English horses spend their entire careers in snaffles. Western riding tends to think that we begin a colt with a snaffle, and then use it to train him to follow his nose. We then move on to a hackamore and a curb bit. When we want to give our horses a tune-up or get back to basics, the snaffle is back in play.

My Picks

Here are my MVP snaffles, starting from the leftmost photo. Each one has its own characteristics and is best used at the right times. You must be able, no matter what, to return to a simple, smooth snaffle.

Don Hansen snaffle, made by Denny Hansen. Horses love this loose-ring snaffle with a copper hardened mouthpiece. Copper mouthpieces were once chewable by horses. However, hardening the metal renders that impossible and still provides the copper’s salivary benefits. The relatively light rings won’t pinch horses’ mouths.

Dale Tingle made the Fishback snaffle. This snaffle is slightly heavier than the Hanson. Fishback mouthpiece is a triangular shape with a slightly more edge that causes horses to respond faster. It’s great for horses that are heavier than the pull, as it helps to ease him up.

Don Dodge snaffle made by Greg Darnell. This snaffle is almost like an egg-butt between the rings and the mouthpiece. The cheekpiece’s flat side has a stronger effect than the reins pulling directly on the cheek and prevents the ring from getting into the horse’s mouth. This connection will not pinch the horse’s cheek or mouth if it is done correctly.

D-ring snaffle. This bit is named for the shape of its rings. It has a twisty mouthpiece. This snaffle and the fishback are not legal for use in the show pen. Junior horses can be shown in approved snaffles by many breed associations. AQHA requires them to be O-ring (I refer to them loose-ring), eggsbutt or D-ring. The mouthpiece must also be round, oval or egg-shaped. Finally, the bars of the mouthpiece must not exceed 5/16 inches in diameter when measured 12 inch from the cheekpiece. The twisted mouthpiece, like the fishback helps to ease a horse’s pull. This is not a bit that you should use for a long time. It’s best to use it occasionally, returning to the smooth snaffle or curb bit you use regularly.

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