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Dr. Bristol vs. French link snaffle

From: Kirsten

Hi Jessica. Thank you for being so informative about horsemanship and horse-sense. I have a relatively simple question: What is the difference between a Dr. Bristol and a french link snaffle? How do they sit differently in the horse's mouth and is there a difference in degree of severity? Do you have any suggestions about whether to use an eggbut, full cheek or d-ring?

Thank you for any information you can provide. Kirsten

Hi Kirsten!

There's a big difference between these two bits-- the French-link is the most gentle form of a snaffle bit, whereas the Dr. Bristol is a severe form,often used on horses that really might go better in a pelham or a kimblewicke! It's easy to get confused if you're unfamiliar with both bits, especially since many tack shops have staff who are unfamiliar with the differences, and tend to put the wrong labels on these two very different bits.

A French-link snaffle is a double-jointed snaffle. It has a center link that has smooth rounded edges and looks a little like a flattened peanut. This link lies flat on the horse's tongue, and even if you hold both reins tightly at once, there won't be the "nutcracker" effect that you get with a single-joint snaffle, and there's no center "point" to dig into the roof of the horse's mouth. It's the closest I've ever found to a 'one-type-suits-all' bit!

The French-link is NOT to be confused with the Dr. Bristol, which also has a center plate, but this one is long, thin, and not rounded, and set on at an angle. This bit is MORE severe than an ordinary single-joint snaffle -- the French-link is LESS severe.

The difference is that center link!

In a French link bit, the center link is rounded, shaped, and designed to lie smoothly on the horse's tongue.

A correctly-designed Dr. Bristol (and many are NOT well-made, which adds to the confusion) has a center link that is a long, thin plate set at a slight angle. A proper Dr. Bristol is designed to be used in TWO ways -- it can be put into the horse's mouth so that the plate lies flat and works almost like a French-link, OR it can be put into the horse's mouth so that the plate lies at about a 45-degree angle. This is when it is severe -- and this is why the Dr. Bristol is a traditional alternative to a Kimblewicke or similar curb for a horse that gets too strong out hunting, or going cross-country.

The problem is that so many Dr. Bristols are NOT correctly designed, and the center plate on a badly-designed bit will either lie flat all the time, making it like a less-comfortable French link snaffle -- or will lie at an ANGLE all the time, no matter which way you put the bit in -- which means that you are using a severe bit ALL the time.

All in all, there are enough ways to make a Dr. Bristol very severe, with or without INTENDING to do it. I would say that your horse will be happier with a French link.

As for size -- if the bit is lying flat in your horse's mouth and there is a quarter inch of bit visible on each side of the horse's mouth, the width is right. If the horse can close its mouth comfortably over the bit (some bits are too THICK for small-mouthed horses), and carries the bit happily, then the bit fits and it suits the horse. ;-)

Eggbutt vs loose-ring: as long as the bit fits the horse's mouth comfortably, it doesn't make an enormous difference. The loose-ring design does allow more free play, but because the rings move through the holes on each side of the bit, there is also some wear there. You have to be careful that the edges of the holes aren't sharp, either from wearing thin or because a new bit wasn't properly finished. Those sharp spots can do some painful pinching. Loose-ring snaffles are popular with many trainers starting young horses, because you can buy these bits with HUGE rings that can't possibly be pulled through the horse's mouth.

Eggbutt bits move around less in the horse's mouth -- there's less "play" in an eggbutt than in a loose-ring -- but an eggbutt can't pinch the horse's lips.

Eggbutts, full-cheeks, and D-rings bits are all useful in teaching a young horse to steer; they put a little pressure against the opposite side of the horse's face, without allowing the bit rings to come through the horse's mouth.

If you want the best of both worlds, you can school your young ones in a Fulmer snaffle: it's a fullcheek snaffle with the rings on the outside, so the horse can play with the bit freely, there's no pinching, and the rider is less likely to create a nutcracker effect by putting pressure on both reins.


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