A monthly column on Bits and their Application

The application of the plain, ordinary and supposedly simple egg-butt snaffle cannot be discussed until the way the bit should fit into the horse’s mouth has been looked at.

The snaffle bit is recommended for straightforward work and for the young horse because of its 'mild simplicity'. Yet, as we have already discussed, the snaffle is only as mild as the hands behind it and it is definitely not the bit to use for any work where sudden or sharp demands are made with the reins. Keeping this in mind we then must look at how the snaffle works when used with kind, sensitive and steady hands. To work effectively the snaffle, or the egg-butt snaffle we are discussing this month, must sit correctly in the mouth of the animal it is supposed to control.

Too often the main cause of ineffective control is a bit which is simply too large. Most people have a vastly over estimated concept of their horse’s size and buy a bit which would do an elephant justice. The average thoroughbred swims in a 5" bit (measured across the mouth-piece from side to side) and consequently has enormous problems trying to manage messages from the rider landing in all the wrong places.

To check the correct measurement of the egg-butt snaffle that your horse needs, hold the bit you are using now in the horse’s mouth with one side flush against the lips, hold the centre jointed part straight across so that the surplus amount sticks out the other side of the mouth. If too much sticks out the bit can be dragged back and forth across the bars inside the mouth causing endless discomfort. If there is very little sticking out the sides of the bit will pinch causing problems - such as head tossing - as the horse tries to relieve itself of the constant pressure. If too much sticks out the jointed section will drop far too low and rattle on the tushes or give the horse room to flop the tongue over it. If too little sticks out the pinching effect will distract the horse and will generally result in the rider having an unpleasant schooling session.

Having a bit which is just the right size must be determined by the rider having a very close look in the mouth of their horse when the reins are loose and when the horse is relaxed. Does the bit fit into the corners of the lips snugly with a soft bow shape in the mouth over the tongue? Is it thin enough to allow some contact onto the bars or is it so thick the horse cannot actually close the lips around it? To prevent it from flopping down into a sharp v shape and hitting the incisors has it been tightened up by the cheek straps - has this now created a fold of inner cheek which is jamming against the molars? Is the bit so large that, when the reins are tightened, the excess pulls up onto the outside of the mouth? Has this made the nut-cracker action of the bit crush the inside of the cheeks between the bit and the teeth making the lining of the mouth tender or sore, or even torn and broken? Phew! Seems a lot to have to look for but, go on - have a look right up inside and see if grass seeds or barley beards have become stuck in there causing even more discomfort to the horse! It is very easy to see HOW our horse is behaving but it is difficult to see WHY. Start by looking at the bit in the mouth and then make some decisions from there.

The egg-butt snaffle has a much longer jointed edge that keeps any possible pinching area away from the lips. If properly fitted it doesn’t drag up the mouth as much as a ring snaffle can and, therefore, is less liable to scrunch inside skin onto the back teeth, and the enlarged bearing area means it will not wear out as quickly as an ordinary ring snaffle.

Next month the egg-butt snaffle will be discussed in relationship to the horse’s level of training as the position of the horse’s frame makes a huge difference on what the bit does inside the mouth.

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