How Severe is a Snaffle Bit?

Three yearling horses walking briskly across the green pasture with trees in the background.

There’s a lot of money to be made in the equestrian market by coming up with a new improved piece of ironmongery for a horse’s mouth. The balance is between severity and effectiveness. Some hold that only a snaffle bit and noseband are humane, everything else is gimmickry. Others are convinced that all problems stem from having metal in the horse’s mouth and advocate bitless bridles. There are many ways to reinforce the power of a bit for a horse that doesn’t want to “give” to it, longer shanks, gag bits, tougher curb straps and chains. They all work, but the main thing that makes anything work is how it is handled. The horse learns to respond to the bit or noseband by operant conditioning. If the hands handling this bridal ask and release when a response is made, the horse will learn to hunt for the release. Really, it’s the way any device is handled that makes it humane or inhumane. It’s like my mother-in-law says about car wrecks:

“They are all equipment failure; they’re caused by the nut behind the wheel!”

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