A BIT ABOUT BITS PART 1: The Snaffle Bit
By Christy Mellington
A bit is a metal tool, used by us, to control and communicate with our horses. It is important to always keep in mind that any bit can harm a horse’s sensitive mouth if used with rough, unforgiving hands. Therefore we must always work on having “soft” hands every time that we ride our horses. If we do not release when they yield to rein pressure, they will learn to brace against the bit, hence the term “hard-mouthed”. It is a misunderstanding in the horse world that once a horse has become “hard-mouthed” that a bigger, more severe bit is necessary to control him. Most horses do not have a “hard-mouth”, rather they have learned to brace their neck muscles and jaw against the bit due to unforgiving hands.
The only bit that will control a horse is a bit of understanding, for both us, and the horse. We must bring our horses slowly through the bitting process, and educate them on how to respond to each bit, before moving onto the next. This way they will not only respond, but also willingly perform what we are asking of them. Let’s see if we can clear up a “bit” of the confusion about bits and their proper use.
The snaffle bit is the best bit to start a colt. It works on the principles of direct and indirect reining. Direct reining means that if we pull the right rein, the horse moves to the right. If we pull the left rein, the horse moves left. Direct reining controls the front end of the horse. Indirect reining controls the back end, or hindquarters of the horse.
The snaffle is also the best bit to teach both lateral and vertical flexion. Lateral flexion teaches our horse to relax his neck and jaw from side to side, keeping him “soft” in the mouth. Vertical flexion teaches him to “break”, or flex, at the poll, for controlled collection.
A bit with no shanks, regardless of the mouthpiece, is called a snaffle bit. The mouthpiece will come in different thicknesses, the thicker the mouthpiece the less severe and the thinner the mouthpiece the more severe. The snaffle bit is intended to be used for teaching, controlling, reinforcing and refining lateral flexion.
There are countless types of snaffle bits, below are one’s that I choose in beginning young horses.
The Ring Snaffle- the rings move freely through the mouthpiece, I like to choose one that does not pinch the corners of the horse’s lips.
The D-ring Snaffle- the rings have fixed sides and will not pinch, however offer more leverage than a ring-snaffle.
The Twisted-wire Snaffle- Has a twisted mouthpiece, for more feel on the horses end. If I have a colt that wants to lean on my hands, I will ride him a twisted wire until he begins to lighten up, then I will go back to a smooth mouthpiece.
The French-link Snaffle-Has a mouthpiece divided in three parts, some horses respond better to this type of bit than the broken mouthpiece.
The Gag Snaffle-Comes with a headstall that runs through the rings of the bit and attaches to the reins, to teach flexion at the poll. I use this type of snaffle mostly on gaited horses.