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Choosing a Snaffle Bit, by Tommy Garland



tommy-garlandSweet Iron, chrome, stainless, copper, rubber, twists, smooth”¦.the choices are endless and can be overwhelming when it comes to choosing the correct snaffle bit for you and your horse! There are so many textures and types available today it’s important to understand some of the differences and this article will touch on the basics.
One of the first things I’ve learned in my 30+ years of training is that horses like the taste of iron. Not stainless steel, chrome or rubber”¦iron. A horse will hold on to a bit that tastes good and the end result is a horse with a much more quiet mouth.
If you have a horse that has a dry mouth, consider choosing a bit containing copper. Copper stimulates the production of saliva, which will keep your horses mouth lubricated. A horse with a dry mouth typically has a difficult time holding the bit.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are rubber bits. Many of you have told me that you use rubber bits because of the perception that it’s a “˜kinder and more gentle bit’ for your horse. In my training experience, rubber bits will actually cause a horses mouth to become dry and again, it’s important to remember that a horse with a lubricated mouth will have a much easier time carrying/holding the bit.
The second thing I recommend (and I see this happen all the time) is people using full cheek snaffles without the keeper at the top. The keeper actually helps keep the bit in place, which will ultimately make it easier for your horse to hold in their mouth. Full cheek snaffles were never designed to be used without the keeper”¦so make sure you use them!
The size of the bit is equally as important as the type. I start my young horses out on a 3/8″ snaffle and I may go smaller but I never go any larger than that. Over the years I’ve seen riders put a big, fat snaffle in their horses mouth and then wonder why their horse is constantly rooting or pushing through their hands. The explanation for that behavior is simple”¦.the bit is simply too big.
If your horse is pushing and not respecting the snaffle consider using a twisted snaffle as opposed to a bigger snaffle. A twisted snaffle will teach a pushy horse that there are consequences and will help them learn to respect your hands. Once they are respectful and responsive, you can always rotate back and forth between smooth and twisted snaffles.
This is a perfect place to talk about your hand placement. If you’re riding in a snaffle bit your hands should be at least as far apart as the width of your horses shoulders. Many people don’t realize that when your hands get closer together or they cross over, the snaffle bit actually works like a vice grip in your horses mouth. The closer together your hands become, the tighter and more uncomfortable the vice grip becomes for your horse. The natural instinct for your horse in this environment is to push and/or root to get out of your hands to alleviate the pressure and pain.
I’ve touched on just a few of the very basics regarding snaffle bits but there’s much more ground to cover in this area. Additional information and images on some of the bits I’ve discussed are available on my new website at
About Tommy Garland:  Tommy Garland has ridden horses all his life and credits his trainer father, also named Tommy with teaching him much of what he learned early on about horsemanship. Tommy has spent the past 30 years training not only Arabians and Half-Arabians but Quarter Horses, Tennessee Walking Horses, Paints and Mules as well. His techniques have been universally accepted, respected and utilized by horse owners of all breeds & disciplines. Tommy resides in Virginia with his wife Dawn and children, Samantha, Katie and TBird (Tommy Jr.). For additional information Tommy’s products, training aids and DVDs and clinic and expo schedule, please visit or email us at

Originally published in Volume 2, Issue 12 of Horse Digest.

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