A snaffle bit is something everyone has used at least once, right? But, do you know what's going on inside your horse's mouth each time you lift a rein?
Anatomy of a snaffle:
We all know the parts of a horse, but what about our bits? The snaffle is composed of four main parts: the cheek, the cannon, the purchase, and the link.
The cannons and the link make up the mouthpiece of the snaffle. The cannons rest on the bars of the mouth, and determine much about the severity of the bit. A general rule is the thicker the cannon, the gentler the bit. (This has exceptions in horses with thick tongues or small mouths, where they can't carry a thick bit.) In a standard jointed snaffle, there is no link; the cannons are jointed directly to one another. The link is a piece of metal connecting the two cannons, and can make the bit more or less severe, depending upon its shape.
The two most popular links are the French training and the Dr. Bristol. The French training is shaped like a figure eight; it has rounded edges and a tailored center. A bit with a French link is one of the mildest available. The Dr. Bristol link is a wide flat plate, with blunt edges. It makes a snaffle more severe.
The cheek and purchase make up the portion of the snaffle that remains outside the horse's mouth. The cheek serves as an attachment point for the bridle and reins; it is the ring of your loose ring, eggbutt, or D-ring. The portion of the cheek that extends upwards on bits like the full cheek is called the purchase. The purchase is attached to the cheek pieces of the bridle; either through bit keepers, as with the full cheek snaffle, or directly attached to the cheek pieces, like many training bits. The purpose of this is to increase poll pressure. When the reins are lifted, the purchase pivots forward, putting pressure on the crown piece of the bridle, and the horse's poll. This encourages the horse to lower his head, round out his back, and go into that nice frame we are all looking for.
Bits are made out of several different materials, in several different styles. The most common is stainless steel. The bit is durable and a suitable choice for most horses. An aluminum bit is very lightweight, but makes your horse's mouth dry, and less supple. Two other common metal bits are made from are copper and sweet iron. Copper keeps the mouth soft and supple, and most horses love it! Unfortunately, it is a very soft metal, and since it encourages a horse to chew, there is the risk of it developing sharp edges over time.
Sweet iron is a cold-milled steel (very porous metal that rusts), and also encourages the horse to chew, salivate, and soften. A combination of the two metals makes a very nice bit; it keeps the mouth soft and moist, and is strong.
The cannons can also have different styles. The gentlest bits have smooth cannons; that is the surface is not raised in any way. More severe bits have a twist to them; that is, the cannons have a raised ridge that spirals around them. The twist can be 'fast' or 'slow'. A fast twist has ridges that are close together, and is more severe than a slow twist, with ridges spread out. If used incorrectly, a twisted snaffle can injure and permanently damage a horse's mouth. Even when used correctly, a twisted snaffle will often cause a horse's mouth to callous, making him less responsive to your signals.
How a snaffle works:
Snaffles work through direct contact with the horse's mouth. It is very straightforward; every ounce of pressure from your hands equals the pressure the horse feels in his mouth. Its simplicity makes it the ideal bit for communicating with your horse.
The snaffle operates in different ways, all dependent on which type of rein you are using. When a rein is pulled to one side, the bit will slide through the mouth, and pressure will be put on the opposite side of the horse's face by the cheek. This signals a lateral turn.
When a rein is pulled straight back, pressure will be put on the tongue and bars on that side of the horse's mouth, and on the opposite side of the face. This signals the horse to flex laterally and vertically, shifting his weight rearward before turning.
When both reins are pulled, pressure is put on
both corners of the mouth and across the entire mouth. (With more
pressure, the bit has a more accentuated 'nutcracker' action; the
snaffle joints, and the cannons exert downward pressure on the bars
and lower lips. A bit with a link will not have a nutcracker action.)
This will signal the horse to shift his weight backwards and flex
vertically to slow down, or stop.
The snaffle is the bit of choice for many riders: it is easy to use, and gets your message to your horse without complications. It is a simple, straightforward, forgiving bit, however keep in mind that a bit is only as mild as the hands that use it.
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