Snaffles are seen as the ‘kindest’ form of bit and, indeed, some of the mildest bits do come from the snaffle family. However, don’t forget that the Dr Bristol is also a snaffle, and that is classed as a severe bit.
There are many variations on a snaffle:
Snaffles come with many different mouthpieces. These can be single jointed, like the Eggbutt Snaffle; double jointed, like the French Link Snaffle; multi-jointed, like the Waterford; no joint, like a Flexible Rubber Straight Bar; or no joint but with a curved or mullen mouthpiece.
The thickness of the mouthpiece has an influence on the severity. On the whole, wider mouthpieces are less severe.
Any unlevel surface on the mouthpiece will increase the severity. For example, a Cherry Roller is much more severe than a ‘normal’ single jointed snaffle.
Different mouthpieces have different actions. For example, a single jointed snaffle has a ‘nutcracker’ action, as in, when the reins are used, the single link closes. This acts on the lips and bars of the mouth.
The kind of ring the snaffle comes with also has an influence on its action. Loose rings allow more play in the mouth whilst fixed rings don’t, but there is no risk of pinching. D-rings help to prevent the bit being pulled through the horse’s mouth and can help with steering. Fulmer and full cheek snaffles also do this.
Another type of snaffle is the hanging cheek. This holds the bit higher in the horse’s mouth than a loose ring, and provides additional help with steering as it extends up the horse’s face a little.
Fitting is important. If the bit is too narrow, it will cause discomfort and if it is too large, it will move laterally more than it should do.
Bits can be made of different materials. The most common is stainless steel, but some feature copper or German silver elements that can help increase salivation. Equally, rubber and nylon mouthed bits are readily available. These create a wider surface area and should always have a piece of metal running through the centre for strength. All bits should be checked regularly for signs for wear.
If you’re buying a bit for a competition horse, make sure the bit you choose is ‘legal’ according to the rules of the organisers.