Don’t Dis the Snaffle

Do I need to put my horse in a curb bit for trail riding?


Q: I recently bought a 12-year-old mare. She has a very soft mouth and is easy to control in a plain snaffle bit. In fact, that’s the bit her previous owners always used on her. But several people have told me that I should switch her to some kind of curb bit for trail riding. Is that really necessary? I don’t want to toughen up her mouth, but I also want to be safe.

Western Snaffle

A: Trail riding certainly presents more challenges than riding inside an enclosed arena. Your mare—or any horse—could suddenly spook into oncoming traffic or become rambunctious and bolt off into the hills. That’s why many riders opt for a bit with a little more stopping power when they hit the trails.

Keep in mind that doesn’t mean that these riders are hanging on their horse’s mouth all the time. The reins can remain soft and loose, but the curb bit is there as a sort of emergency brake, just in case. In other words, it’s not the curb bit itself that toughens up a horse’s mouth; it’s the way the rider uses that bit to communicate with their horse.

That being said, you are the one who has to decide which type of bit is best for your horse. If your mare remains light in your hands and obedient and calm on the trails, even in her snaffle, then perhaps that’s plenty of bit for her.

Because of its design, a snaffle allows you to use a direct rein to bend your horse’s neck to one side and turn them quickly. That maneuver alone can help stop a horse abruptly in an emergency.

Also, snaffle bits are available in a variety of mouthpieces. You could have a mild, smooth snaffle for arena work and one with a little more “oomph” (such as a slow-twist) for trail riding. Ultimately, it’s not the bit that determines how well your mare performs in the Great Outdoors. It’s her schooling and training.

Read more about selecting the right bit >>

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Cindy Hale’s life with horses has been filled with variety. As a child she rode western and learned to barrel race. Then she worked as a groom for a show barn, and was taught to harness and drive Welsh ponies. But once she’d taken her first lessons aboard American Saddlebreds she was hooked on English riding. Hunters and hunt seat equitation came next, and she spent decades competing in those divisions on the West Coast. Always seeking to improve her horsemanship, she rode in clinics conducted by world-class riders like George Morris, Kathy Kusner and Anne Kursinski. During that time, her family began raising Thoroughbred and warmblood sport horses, and Cindy experienced the thrills and challenges of training and showing the homebred greenies. Now retired from active competition, she’s a popular judge at local and county-rated open and hunter/jumper shows. She rides recreationally both English and western. Her Paint gelding, Wally, lives at home with her and her non-horsey husband, Ron.


  1. I like the snaffle and use the mildest for both of my horses, I works well with the 1 rein stop and it does’nt hurt or scare them if they spook and lunge agianst the bit.

  2. We ride our horses bitless (They are older). There is a chain you can buy and put over the nose for emergencies and correction. I rarely use it for correction and have been fortunate to not have an emergency to date.


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