If you are going to use a bit when training your horse, the logical choice would be a snaffle bit. Alternatives to using a bit are bitless bridles, bosals, sidepulls, halters and tackless. These topics will be discussed in future posts.
A snaffle is a mechanically simple bit that allows you to communicate with your horse in simple terms. A snaffle bit transmits pressure in a direct line from your hands on the reins to the rings and mouthpiece of the bit to the horse’s mouth.
On a snaffle, there are no shanks. Shanks are the vertical sidepieces on a curb bit to which the reins attach. Shanks create leverage action. The snaffle bit operates via direct pressure only. The mouthpiece of a snaffle can be jointed or solid. The misconception that any bit with a jointed (or “broken”) mouthpiece is a snaffle has given rise to the misnomers: “long-shanked snaffle”, “tom-thumb snaffle”, and “cowboy snaffle”. All of these are really jointed (or broken mouth) curbs.
The most common snaffle, the jointed O-ring, has four parts: two rings and a mouthpiece comprised of two arms.
A snaffle is customarily used with a brow band headstall that has a throatlatch. Often a noseband is used with a snaffle.
Snaffle Action The snaffle is useful for teaching a horse to bend his neck and throatlatch laterally so that he can be turned in both directions. It is also useful for teaching a horse to flex vertically in the lower jaw, at the poll, and at the neck muscles just in front of the withers. Vertical flexion is necessary for gait and speed control as well as for stopping.
The bars are the flesh-covered portions of the lower jawbone between the incisors and the molars. This is where the bit lies. It is the action of the snaffle bit on the bars of the horse’s mouth that produces vertical flexion.
With a regularly configured snaffle, when one rein is pulled out to the side, let’s say the right, the bit will slide slightly through the mouth to the right and the primary pressure will be exerted by the ring on the left side of the horse’s face. This will cause him to bend laterally and turn right.
When the right line is pulled backward, pressure will be exerted on the right side of the horse’s tongue, the right lower lip, the right corner of the mouth, the right side of the bars and on the left side of the horse’s face. This will tend to cause the horse to bend laterally and begin to flex vertically so he shifts his weight rearward as he turns right.
When you pull backward on both lines, pressure will be applied to both corners of the mouth and across the entire tongue and the bit may contact the bars and the lower lips. This causes a horse to flex vertically, shift his weight rearward, slow down, or stop.
Your hands have the capacity to turn the mildest bit into an instrument of abuse or the most severe bit into a delicate tool of communication. Above all, good horsemanship is the key to a horse’s acceptance of the bridle.
The introduction of the bit and bridle occur during ground training such as longeing and ground driving.