When we get a knock at the door or the doorbell rings, Dee Dee assumes the world is about to end. She’s never been right any of the dozens of times it’s happened, but one of these days, you never know.
ok so first things first - a snaffle bit does not use leverage. There is no shank. I see a ton of western people especially calling something like a tom thumb bit a snaffle, because it has the single broken mouthpiece. But what makes the snaffle is the lack of leverage.
There are two components that really determine how harsh a snaffle is and what cues it’s giving to the horse: mouthpiece, and cheek piece.
Let’s talk cheek pieces first. General you’ve got your D/Dee ring, O ring/Loose ring, full cheek, and eggbutt. There’s some crossover here between english and western. I rarely see western riders using an eggbutt, but otherwise there’s a lot of overlap, and often the difference is in aesthetic (western bits tend to be a little more decorative) and not in function.
So here are your basic cheekpieces. Generally (and I’ve heard a lot of different opinions on this) the larger cheekpieces are used for a horse that needs more lateral pressure (on the cheeks/side of the face). This could be a horse that is brand new to bits and is used to lateral pressure from a bitless bridle (common in many western traditions), or a horse that isn’t responding to action on the inside of the mouth who needs some lateral pressure for clarification.
Full cheek is the ultimate in lateral pressure. When you pull on one side, the long cheekpiece presses on a lot more surface area on the side of the face. On a scale of more to less lateral pressure, it goes full cheek, D ring, eggbutt (which is more about being fixed and stable than it is about lateral pressure), then loose ring. The loose ring as I understand it is used the most in dressage training because the loose rings require the horse to stabilize the bit in their own mouth by seeking contact - these other bits have a lot more of a fixed position. (If anybody more involved in dressage wants to clarify this point go ahead, there is a ton of mixed info out there). (another note - there is also the hanging cheek/baucher bit but I’m not gonna include it right now because I wanna keep things simple.)
These cheekpieces generally aren’t more or less harsh. Some horses will have a preference (just like some horses prefer the bit held higher or lower in the mouth or need a fatter or slimmer bit just based on the shape of their mouth) but the cheekpieces themselves are fairly neutral.
Then we get to the mouthpieces, and here is where things get complicated and can be crazy harsh.
Usually with snaffles, you have two types of mouthpiece. Single joint, and double joint.
This is a nice illustration. On the left you have your single joint, on the right, a double joint. It’s generally agreed that the double joint is softer because it lies flatter over the tongue, whereas the single joint can have a ‘nutcracker’ effect when that joint is poking into soft tissues.
Note that both of those bits above are, aside from the joints, smooth. They aren’t abrasive and they have limited pressure points. Other mouthpieces, not so much.
Here’s a waterford mouthpiece (on a loose/O ring). The waterford is sometimes said to be kind because of the way it’s flexible and drapes over the mouth. The chain mouthpiece often gets the same excuse. Unfortunately, all the balls in this mouthpiece become individual pressure points, grab the tongue, and scrape the bars. Chain or waterford mouthpieces wrapped up in sealtex can maintain some of that flexibility without being as abrasive (or so I’ve heard).
These two are both twisted bits. The first is twisted wire, which is pretty universally accepted as harsh, especially when it is thin. Every bump becomes a painful pressure point. The second is a slow twist. Many people will use a slow twist as a way to add a bit of ‘bite’ to an otherwise gentle snaffle. This will be especially harsh if the twists are pointed (like above).
And here’s the nasty cousin of the twisted wire bit, the corkscrew. It’s pointy, abrasive, and just plain nasty.
This is a mullen mouth. You can see that it’s got a smooth surface (nothing pointy or abrasive) and it has a curve to it meant to fit the shape of a horse’s mouth (similar to a double joint, but in a single piece). I’m not overly familiar with these, don’t seem them used a ton, but some horses apparently like them.
The mouthpiece is often the most important part of choosing a snaffle bit for your horse. Because horses vary so much in both temperament and mouth conformation, you may have to experiment to see if your horse likes something straight, something with a lot of drape, etc.
There are many more variations on the snaffle but, these are some of the most common types. Hope some of you who are a little fuzzy on the snaffle get something out of this.