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?
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 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.