The tried and true snaffle bit is one of the most useful aids in developing a responsive and supple mouth on your mule.
To get the most out of the use of the snaffle, it is best to understand the different kind of snaffles, their uses, and how they communicate to the mule. What makes a bit a snaffle is the fact that, regardless of the kind of mouthpiece used, the action is direct from the rider's hands through the reins and to the rings on the bit.
Characteristics: To be a snaffle, pressure on the reins must be transmitted directly to the mule's mouth. There is no leverage exerted as there is with the curb bit and combination bits. No shanks extend below the mouthpiece and there is no curb engaged when the reins are activated. All snaffles rest on the bars of the mouth, that space between the front and back teeth and work on the bars, tongue and corners of the mouth.
The action is simple and this is what distinguishes the snaffle from other bits. When the rein is pulled, it pulls the mule's lip corner and pulls through the mouth and puts pressure from the ring on the other side. Pulling on the rein acts on the lips, on the bar on that side and on the tongue. Communication and direction come directly from the rider's hands up through the reins to either the left or right ring of the bit.
Whatever the kind of snaffle that will be discussed, there a few common elements of all these bits.
Mouthpieces There is a misconception that any bit with a jointed mouthpiece is a snaffle. This is not true. Snaffles can, and do, come in straight bar, Mullen mouth and jointed varieties.
Mouthpieces help determine the function and use of the snaffle bit. A jointed mouth piece creates a lifting effect, while a straight bar bit works to stabilize the headset of the mule.
Mouthpieces can be made out of a variety of materials. They can be iron, chromed or copper coated or inlaid. The copper has a good taste and can help keep the mule's mouth moist and responsive. Rubber or latex covered bits are the mildest and twisted and wire increase control. Dr. Bristols, Rollers and French bits encourage chewing and bit acceptance and discourage tongue over behavior.
Loose ring: slides through the mouthpiece. Tends to make the horse relax his jaw and chew the bit. May pinch the corners of the horse's mouth if the holes in the mouthpiece are large, in which case a bit guard should be used.
The Ring Snaffle is probably the most common snaffle and the one that most riders think of when they hear the word snaffle. This one is a flat ring type with a smooth mouthpiece. It is useful, reasonably easy to find and economic. Try to find one with large enough rings that will not pass through the mule's mouth when pressure is applied. If this becomes a problem, it can be remedied y using a drip noseband or putting a leather curb between the two rings positioned below where the reins attach to the rings.
The mouthpiece of this bit is pierced or drilled to enable the cheek ring to pass through the end.
Variations of this bit include.
This snaffle has a propensity to wear at the point where the cheeks attach. This can cause pinching and undue pain to the mule's mouth. Keep this in mind and continually check for wearing and sharpness in this area.
This is a good bit, but remember there is no way to prevent the ring snaffle with a jointed mouthpiece from dropping to the center of the mule's mouth and creating a severe nutcracker action which might frighten a young animal or set up resistance for further training.
This is a twisted wire jointed ring snaffle. The twisted wire snaffle is made of a square piece of steel given a twist while hot so that the sharp square edges change direction. These sharp edges are uncomfortable and make the puller or lugger back off the bit. These bits, however, can cause great pain in the hands of a novice or child. In addition, mules who chew their bits sharpen the edges even more.
Twisted mouth pieces come in several diameters, with the smaller types being more severe. So severe are the small wire kinds that mules' tongues have been cut in half when the bit has been use improperly. These mouthpieces come in a variety of metals and some have double wire on them.
Fulmer: a full cheek bit with a loose ring attached, so that it not only has the lateral guiding effect, but it also allows the bit to move more freely.
Egg butt/ barrel head: mouthpiece does not rotate, and is so more fixed in the horse's mouth, which some horses prefer. Will not pinch the lips. The Egg Butt is essentially a ring snaffle. However, rather than just merely being drilled to allow the cheek piece to pass through, the mouthpiece terminates at is outer ends in an egg-shaped enlargement. It is drilled through and the cheeks fastened to it by means of a steel pin core passing through its center.
This kind of construction prevents sharp edges from wearing and keeps the edges of the joint farther away from the mule's lips, thus reducing the changes of pinching. In addition, this assembly prevents the bit from slipping through the mouth.
Variations of Egg Butt include -
A Rubber Mouth snaffle is a mild mouth piece that is good for the first bit introduced to a young colt. Wrapping a bit in latex will also reduce its severity without having to invest in a rubber mouthpiece. There are apple flavored mouthpieces for that fussy or junk food mule.
Some Ring Snaffles have a bicycle chain mouth. For many years this was thought to be the only type of snaffle that could hold a mule. It is severe and can impart great pain when not used properly. Note that most mules, if started correctly, will not need such a bit for control.
Full cheek: has long, extended arms above and below the mouthpiece on either side of the lips of the horse, with a ring attached to it. The cheeks have a lateral guiding effect, and also prevent the bit from sliding through the mouth. The full cheek is often used with bit keepers to prevent the cheeks from getting caught on anything, although keepers make the bit more fixed and rigid in the mouth.
The Full Cheek Snaffle is designed with extensions added above and below the ends of the mouthpiece to prevent the bit rings from pulling through the mouth.
This snaffle can be prevented from dropping to the center of the mouth and cannot be pulled through the mouth because of its full cheeks. To keep this bit from dropping to the center of the mouth, the bars should be kept parallel to the head stall with keepers that help with steering and create more lateral control.
Variations of the Full Cheek Snaffle include
Dee-ring/ racing snaffle: ring in the shape of a "D" which does not allow the bit to rotate and so the bit is more fixed. The sides of the D provide a lateral guiding effect. The AD@ or Dee Ring snaffle is another from of ring snaffle that attempts to reduce the opportunity of pinching by decreasing wear and keeping the joints away from the corner of the lips. Quite often this bit might rub or chaff the skin and rubber bit guards can be used to reduce this effect.
This is a mild snaffle available with a variety of mouthpieces with fixed rings that afford some lateral control without pinching. This bit exemplifies the traditional Hunter look. It works on the bars, tongue and corners.
Advantages of The Snaffle Bit
The snaffle is an excellent bit in the hand of someone knowledgeable in its use and device of torture when used by someone with rough hands. Actually, in rough hands, the snaffle has the potential of being more severe than some curbs.
The snaffle, when used correctly, is a very mild bit that can be used slowly and patiently to introduce training to the young colt. Because it has no shanks, the snaffle gives direct instruction to the young mule without undue leverage that leads to resistance and confusion. Initially, the snaffle teaches the colt simply to give to pressure without the distortion of the leverage from shanks and curb chains.
With some rubber and smooth mouthpieces available, the snaffle can help the young colt to trust and seek the bit for instruction. Yet, the colt can be disciplined by a mere vibration on the reins when you need to work on the attitude of a silly youngster.
In addition, because the snaffle is so versatile with many different mouthpieces, it can be used to reeducate an older spoiled mule. For the older, difficult mule who has learned every bit evasion ever devised by the equine, a return to a snaffle can help the mule to learn to trust both the bit and rider again. Such a mule who has been the victim to rough and unforgiving hands in a rider, harsh and painful leverage bits in its mouth, will benefit greatly from being schooled in the basics in a snaffle and at the hand of a patient, qualified trainer.
The snaffle is a great instrument for teaching lateral flexion and bending. With quiet hands, the rider can encourage the mule to give to both sides and increase flexion in both directions and on the vertical. In response to the pressure, the mule learns to give to be rewarded.
The mule is driven by the rider's leg and seat into the snaffle where the contact with the bit makes the mule give to the pressure and keep on the vertical. This allows the mule to round his back and achieve the collection the rider wants.
Disadvantages of the Snaffle Bit
The broken mouthpiece snaffle in heavy hands always has the potential for the nutcracker action. It is designed for use with light contact. It should no be used with a slack rein because the possibility of a sudden jerk on the reins in a panic situation can result in an effect far greater in severity than the curb bit.
Since it designed to be used with two hands, it is not a bit that will teach neck reining. In addition, when the snaffle is over pulled or when pressure is put on both sides simultaneously, it tends to raise the head of the mule teaching him to get above the bit to relieve the pressure. His nose will stick out and there will be little control. In some Western disciplines, the snaffle will only take the mule so far and then the curb bit will need to be used.
Use of the Snaffle Bit
The snaffle is probably the most accepted bit for introducing the young animal to his training. Yet, many riders experience great difficulty with the snaffle and succumb to the notion that when trouble occurs, go to a curb or a more severe snaffle mouthpiece. When in truth, the rider may need to make changes in his or her riding style and hands to get the most out of the snaffle.
It is an excellent bit in the right hands, but quit severe and punishing in impatient and quick hands. This is both a double edge sword and the ideal bit. On the one hand, if used improperly, the snaffle can become an instrument of excruciating pain. On the other hand, if used perceptively, it is mild and kind with the capability chastising quickly and fairly.
The snaffle fitted comfortably can allow the young mule to learn his lessons without worry about his mouth. Yet, if he becomes uncooperative and unwilling, the snaffle can be used to bring his attention back to his work. It is important to remember this quality of the snaffle and not use it roughly without cause.
When used carefully, the snaffle can teach a youngster not to fear the bit, but to seek it for instruction from the rider's hands. In using the snaffle, remember its capability of severity and sharpness. Be conscious of using it by stroking the reins and releasing the pressure when you get the desired results. Jerking the reins will only cause discomfort and encourage the mule to raise his head to avoid the pain. Once the mule is above the bit, it is very difficult to regain the correct headset and the control you need.
Your mule's response to the snaffle and your ability to use the other aids effectively, will determine which snaffle to use and how long to use it. The purpose of using a bit in training is the cultivation of a light and responsive mouth on your mule. A good mouth is simply and merely not just sensitive, but one which is educated and responsive, not only to the rider's hands, but also the rider's seat and leg cues.
Your choice of the snaffle will be decided by the response you are getting in training. Is this bit establishing a reaction in your mule? When you take hold lightly, does the mule give? When you give rein, drive your mule up into the bridle with your legs, does your mule take the slack without fear that his mouth will be hurt? If you fix your hands and drive the mule into the bridle does he increase his collection by engaging more from the rear, yielding with his lower jaw and flexing at the poll? Is he responding without fighting the bit - getting above it or behind it?
You are striving for these effects. The snaffle is an excellent tool in achieving the best communication between you and your mule. The combination of snaffle, and understanding how it works and good hands can begin to teach the mule to have a good mouth. There is no reason that mules cannot be trained and ridden in a snaffle, be taught to be light in the bridle and achieve collection if the rider uses the snaffle bit and aids correctly.