How to Fit a Full Cheek Snaffle

Fitting a Full Cheek Snaffle

The full cheek snaffle is one of my “go to” bits — I’ve used it on almost all my horses and currently, it’s my non-hunting bit for Freedom. For a moment, let’s forget about the mouthpiece and focus on the function of the cheekpieces.

Full cheek snaffles are direct action bits like all snaffles. They have cheekpieces that extend above and below the bit. These serve a couple of purposes:

  • They keep the bit from sliding through the horse’s mouth (a problem that can occur with a loose ring snaffle). By not allowing the mouthpiece to slide back and forth across the tongue and bars it reduces friction.
  • They add lateral pressure to the side of the horse’s head, which can help make the turning aids clearer to a green horse.
  • When used with keepers, the bit stays very quiet in the horse’s mouth, which some horses prefer.

Are keepers necessary?

Full Cheek Snaffle with keepers
Here’s a full cheek snaffle with keepers. You can see that by attaching the top cheek piece to the bridle, the bit is stabilized in the horse’s mouth.

When I was growing up you never, ever saw a full cheek snaffle without keepers.

As mentioned before, the keepers stabilize the bit in the horse’s mouth. People also use them because they help prevent the cheek pieces from catching on objects (that’s one of the objections that people have to this bit — if a horse rubs up against something it’s easy for the bit to get caught).

More recently I’ve seen full cheek snaffles used without the keepers. My first assumption was that it was from ignorance or laziness (and it might well be the case). However, the keepers change how the mouthpiece is positioned in the horse’s mouth. Take a look at the images below and you can clearly see the difference.

Some horses prefer the bit in one position versus the other. Of course, how it works in your horse’s mouth also depends on what type of mouthpiece you use. The bit below has a quarter moon mouthpiece, as opposed to the bit at the top of the page, which has a French Link mouthpiece (but more about them in another post).

Full cheeck snaffle with keepers stays upright
With keepers the bit stays upright in the horse’s mouth which keeps the mouthpiece in a fixed position.
Full cheek snaffle without keepers
Without keepers you can see that the mouthpiece falls into a very different position. Some horses like this better. It’s not as stable and it will act differently on the bars and tongue.

Full Cheek Snaffles are NOT Leverage Bits

One misconception that I’ve read about the full cheek snaffle is that by adding the keepers pressure on the rein will apply pressure to the poll. Nice idea, but it’s not true.

For a bit to apply poll pressure you need to have a curb chain to balance out the action of the shanks. While it looks like a full cheek snaffle has shanks, the reins are attached to the ring, and the pressure from pulling on it is direct. To have leverage, the reins would need to be attached below the mouthpiece and you would need a curb strap.

Perhaps it works because people think they have poll pressure?

Beware the long cheekpieces

The long cheekpieces on the full cheek snaffle is both a benefit and a hazard. While they do help stabilize the bit in the horse’s mouth, the cheekpieces can easily catch on things — sometimes creating a big problem. The bit involved in this accident was a D-ring, so not nearly as problematic. But you can get the picture pretty clearly: getting the bit caught in your stirrup could end really, really badly. So, a word of warning. If you choose a full cheek snaffle, make sure your horse doesn’t rub his or her head on anything and never let your horse reach back to your stirrup.

12 thoughts on “How to Fit a Full Cheek Snaffle

  1. Have you personally ever tried bitless bridles, like the Dr. Cook’s? I have not but am interested in getting one and have heard good things about it from some riding friends. You seem very knowledgeable about bits so I hope this question doesn’t seem off-topic : )

  2. Yes, actually I rode my last horse bitless. Try doing a search on “bitless bridles” in the search box. I’ve used the Dr. Cook’s, the Micklem Multibridle and the LG bridle. Some worked better for me than others.

  3. wow lots of information! very pleased to be able to get what is obviously an unbiased opinion from someone who has tried several versions. Thanks!

  4. I use the Little S Hackamore by reinsman on all of my horses. Its not truly a “bitless bridle” because it is listed under the name ‘hackamore” but it works GREAT – the curb chain gives you added pressure, but the rope nose was too harsh for my arabian, since he is very sensitive to pressure, so I put a fleece cover on it and wrapped it in vet wrap to keep it soft.

    1. Yes, I like the Little S, too. I used one on my last horse as it’s a pretty mild hackamore. Unfortunately I loaned mine to someone and never got it back!

  5. \i see most of the full cheek snaffles are size 5. I have a Canadian and cant decide if I need a 5 or 5 1/4. Do most horses wear a 5? Im getting the Josh Lyons Signature Bridle and it only comes with a 5 full cheek snaffle.

  6. Where to find theese keepers (I live i Denmark)?
    I’m really interested in trying this bit – but it seems it’s better with the keepers?

    1. If you can’t find them locally, you could always order them online. I know that all the UK tack stores carry them.

  7. I read about these keepers just now, and I’ve used a fullcheek bit for a few years already. How “long” are these keepers? I’ve tried to see from the pictures and I’m guessing about 5-6 cm (I’m from Finland) and they would be easy to make (I use to work a lot with leather) an think it would be quite easy to make a pair.

  8. Question for you, I recently had a full cheek given to me but the side bars are stationary… as in.. they look like they are jointed but do not move(under intense pressure they can be moved slightly forward or back but not just by hand) and I’ve never seen a full cheek bit with bars so locked in one position, is the bit defective or am I missing something in the world of full cheek snaffles?

Leave a Reply