A trainer I know insists ALL horses be ridden in a snaffle, can ALL horses really perform in one, including older horses who have harder mouths, or mouths that can ignore a snaffle?
This is a question that, taken at face value, I would have to answer as “yes,” since this question is asking if all horses are CAPABLE of performing in a snaffle. But, perhaps a better way of asking this question would be: “Can ALL RIDERS get all horses to perform well in a snaffle, including older horses who have harder mouths, or mouths that can ignore a snaffle?” Asked this way, the answer would be “no.” Let me elaborate.
ANY horse IS capable of being ridden in a snaffle, PROVIDED the horse has been trained correctly, and the rider is riding correctly. Of these two conditions, the rider’s knowledge and ability is the most critical. A horse is properly controlled by a rider’s seat and legs, NOT the bit and reins. The bit is more correctly used for very fine detail to enhance the control that comes from the seat and legs. Ridden correctly, a horse does not need a bit at all for general riding maneuvers, therefore a “hard mouth” or a horse that has learned to ignore a snaffle are irrelevant. Many people, however, do not understand the correct use of legs, seat, and hands and will use the hands for the majority of their control. This causes tension in the horse, sometimes outright pain, and causes the horse to focus on it’s mouth to the exclusion of all else. This leads to the horse learning evasions and resistance to the bit, causing people to use stronger bits. In many of these cases, it is true that a knowledgeable rider would still be able to ride this type of horse in a snaffle (albeit with some retraining), however, to the less knowledgeable, this same horse would be uncontrollable in a snaffle.
So, in other words, some horses could not perform well, if at all, in a snaffle with some riders. This is not due a HORSE’S inability to ride in a snaffle, but a RIDER’S inability (both past and present) to apply proper use of aids. If all riders rode equally well, then there would not be learned evasions and resistance to the bit, and if, for some reason these did occur, then a rider would have the knowledge to correct the problem, therefore still allowing performance in a snaffle. Since I don’t see this happening any time soon, I think it is the trainer’s, or instructor’s, job to work within the bounds of reality and find a compromise suitable for both the horse and the rider, according to the situation.
On a related side note, some people may try to make the case that the configuration of their horse’s mouth is such that a single jointed snaffle is uncomfortable. This is certainly possible, however, replacing that single jointed snaffle with a double jointed snaffle, such as a french-link will solve this problem.