Snaffles or Hackamores?

In today’s day and age, the horse world is developing just as quickly as any other industry.  We in the horse community are constantly evolving in our techniques, equestrian lifestyles, and overall horsemanship. We have been shedding light on different ways we can approach our riding and horsemanship in order to make it a pleasurable experience for both horse and rider. One such issue is the debate between snaffle bits and hackamores. While there are some horses that need a little extra bit, sometimes –especially in the occasion of bringing up young horses– a bit is not always the answer. As in any situation, there is never a perfect answer, more so it depends on the rider’s preference and the mindset of the horse.

Many people have differing opinions on snaffles vs. hackamores. In an article by to eclectic-horseman.comMartin Black states:

“I don’t think a lot of people are aware of the damage that a snaffle bit causes to the bars of the mouth and, at the very least, the pain that it causes in the early stages. I have seen plenty of horses with bruises or calluses on the bars of their mouth from a snaffle bit when the people riding them were completely unaware they were causing this type of damage.”

For many, the decision to use a snaffle on a young or green horse can predominantly lie in the rider’s experience. Also stated in the article was a list of anecdotal observations of a professional who witnessed many inexperienced riders abusing the power of a snaffle bit. If a rider has a light hand and doesn’t send mixed signals, the horse is more likely to comprehend and learn the instructions his/her rider has given. However, an inexperienced rider with a heavy, hanging hand can not only injure the soft tissue of the horse’s mouth, but also his psychological health as well. While that statement may sound a bit exaggerated, it is true. A young horse has a very impressionable mind in the sense that he/she will soak up every bit of instruction the rider gives, regardless of whether or not the information is refined. Also referring back to the article, the author makes a good example of the affect a heavy handed, inexperienced rider has on a young horse:

” it’s a little bit like throwing gas on the fire because the horse has enough to consider, and now he’s got some pressure in his mouth that he has no understanding about.”

Snaffles are useful and a favorable bit to those who know how to use them, and hackamores may be a softer route for those who are just getting into the swing of things. However, the long term use of a hackamore may work counteractively if the rider decides to all of a sudden put a bit in the horse’s mouth. All in all its a matter of preference and intuition. The decision to ride a horse in a snaffle or hackamore is each to his own. However, some factors such as the horse’s personality, level of riding, and overall experience may lean towards one more than the other.


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