Horse Tack & Equipment

The Wilson Snaffle Bit – How it works

All bits work with either direct pressure or leverage. Bits that act with direct pressure on the tongue and lips of the mouth are in the general category of snaffle bits. Snaffle bits most commonly have a single jointed mouthpiece and act with a nutcracker effect on the bars, tongue and occasionally roof of the mouth. However, any bit that operates only on direct pressure is a “snaffle” bit, regardless of mouthpiece.

The Wilson snaffle, removes the action form the corners of the mouth, and replaces it with the ability to control via a squeezing action on the cheeks of the horse. This does not cause bruising, neither does it cause damage to the mouth. Because of the pressure it causes at the cheeks, the horse’s only release from the pressure (other than rider dropping rein) is to drop his head, upon dropping his head he receives instant reward for proper behavior.

Horses learn proper head position without the rider losing their position or miscuing the horse. This snaffle is good for young horses who have not yet learned proper head position or horses who pull and develop cracks at the corners of their mouths.

If you would like to purchase this bit, click here.

How to Measure a Bit

From past experience, we have noticed that there are differing opinions on the “proper” techniques for measuring a bit. However, we list the following guidelines, as they refer to how we measure our line of bits. We think these are the most commonly used ways to measure English bits.

The thickness of mouth pieces are usually measured in millimeters as are ring sizes. The mouth width (from side to side) is in inches. Cheeks of pelhams and curbs are usually referenced in inches with centimeters a second choice. Where possible we will try to list both measurements. Now that we have the tool(s) to do the job, we can get to work. Let’s start with something fairly simple and measure the mouth pieces of snaffles. As you can see from the illustrations…it is pretty clear from what points we take measurements. We do not take the mouth length by abutting hard up against the Eggbutt portion or hole for a loose ring. We take the measurement a fraction in from those points. Reason? Because we are only measuring the portion that will actually be inside the horse’s mouth. By going as far out as you can on a mouth piece, you may assume that a bit is as much as 1/2” larger than it actually is. (Fig. A & B).

There are opposing schools of thought from ours that feel that the thickness of the mouth of a loose ring snaffle should be measured at the portion of the mouthpiece as it protrudes into the ring. Similarly, some feel that the proper place from which to measure a mouth’s thickness (diameter) would be right where the mouth hits the ring. (Or a shank in the case of a curb or Pelham bit.) Again, we do not measure in these locations as they are invariably wider than the portion that will actually be inside the horse’s mouth. (Fig. C). We measure the diameter of all of the rings of our snaffles; Eggbutts, dee rings, full cheeks, loose rings, etc from top to bottom (rather then from left to right) inside the rings. (Fig. D).

Pelhams and curb bits. We measure the length & the diameter of the mouth in the same manner that we do snaffles (Fig. F). As far as the sides are concerned…there are three terms that you will need to remember; “cheek”, “purchase” and “shank.” The cheek is the entire length of the side both above and below the bar/mouthpiece. The purchase is the portion above the bar and the shank is the portion below the bar. To measure the cheeks we start at the top inside edge of the eye (the ring to which the cheek strap is attached) and go to the bottom of the shank at the point where the ring for the rein is located. (Fig. G). At this time on English style curb and Pelham bits, we will provide the measurement for the entire cheek. (purchase, shank and mouth combined.)

Full Cheek bits will provide ring & cheek measurement, measuring from tip to tip for cheek measurement. (Fig. J). Please note: Bits may have a slight variance, that are within metal industry standards, due to shrinkage.

In closing, the majority of “standard bits” can be measured following the mentioned criteria. There are many bits that are unique and in turn do not really follow the norm in regards to measurements. Please feel free to call us about specifics…if we are not certain of the details that you need, we will research them for you.

The Running Martingale

What is it and how does it work?

The running martingale consists of a yoke with a strap that runs between the horse’s legs to the girth. The strap from the chest to the reins forks at about the level of the chest and has a ring at each end, which the reins are run through. When the horse raises its head above the desired point, the martingale puts downward pressure on the reins and presses the bit on the bars of the horse’s mouth. This pressure prohibits horse from raising head to high & cues him to lower his head. The reins should always make a straight line from the rider’s hand to the bit ring when the running martingale is not in effect.

 A horse’s instinct is to fight against anything that grabs its head. Use a martingale–or any training device that restricts the head—with care, especially the first time. The running martingale is typically used with snaffle bits. A running martingale provides more freedom for the horse than a standing martingale. It does not restrict the side to side motion. It useful when working on bending, collecting and suppling a horse during competitions or practice of fast sports. If a horse happens to trip the rider can slide the reins forward and the horse will have full use of its’ head and neck to facilitate in regaining it’s balance. A running martingale should be used with rein stops placed on rein between bit and ring of the martingale, thus preventing the martingale ring from sliding down and catching on any portion of the bit, when the horse lowers its head.

 The Western version of a running martingale is called a training fork. It doesn’t always have the strap around the neck, but works the same way. Besides leather some are made from elastic or tubular rubber, giving a softer cue initially.

Thinline® – Discover the Benefits

The Saddle Pad Dilemma

by Elaine Lockhead

Consumers are inundated with complicated and often opposing messages. Riders try foam, neoprene, air, wool and synthetic fibers. Most riders have a barn full of pads, meaning they have not found the real McCoy. Riders purchase saddle pads to attempt to solve several problems at once: moisture control (breathability), saddle fit, and most importantly shock absorption resulting in a comfortable ride for both horse and rider. Unfortunately saddle pad sales are made in a static environment. The sales information in the store often has little or nothing to do with what will actually happen when you are in motion. Take for instance a runner. He wants to make contact with the track with just enough shock absorption to protect his joints and tendons but not with enough flex to cause him to sink into the footing or provide excessive rebound so he winds up higher in the air or feeling like he is stuck in the mud instead of receiving forward propulsion that allows him even productive steps.

Imagine the runner running on a track, and instead of hurdles, he has in front of him a series of saddle pads. First the memory foam. His weight takes a moment to compress the foam then he bottoms out onto the hard surface. Next a denser foam, he springs onto it and it in turn springs him into the air reducing his traction and balance (the trampoline effect). Next he steps on an air filled product where he cannot feel the track at all, his foot rotating around like a water bed. Now place these products in his shoes. Air works well for basketball players, they are trying to be airborne. We as riders are trying to do the opposite; stay connected to our horses. Next imagine adding 2 inches of foam to the bottom of your running shoes. The foam will give and pitch with every step. The runners’ foot will roll front, back and left, right, giving him such an unstable feel that he will most likely give up running in the search for safety.

 Unknowingly, this is what we do to our horses as we add thick layers of padding under our saddles. We create what is defined as pitch and yaw. Now try a marathon running insole. It is designed for athletes in motion. It is thin, breathable and absorbs impact rapidly without cushion. It keeps the runner’s foot stable, and he knows the feel of the next step will be just like the last. He can move forward with strength and confidence. Now consider saddle fit. Just like shoe fit you need to order a shoe size large enough to accommodate an insole. The insole should distribute shock weight and heat. It should be no slip and no sheer to eliminate blistering or chafing. It should relieve pressure or high impact points. Very few insoles meet these requirements and only one saddle pad makes its way from the runner to the horse. About a decade ago a worker in a shoe insole company took home a piece of marathon running material and gave it to his wife, a rider.

 The shoe insole company had developed a very low profile, breathable, shock absorbing, anti-fungal and anti-microbial insole. Oddly enough, the same features of an insole are also the same features sought by riders in a saddle pad. In 2005 Elaine Lockhead, discovered a piece of this material, called Thinline®, in a barn. Riding a very round mutton withered horse and fighting constant saddle slippage, she tried it. Amazingly the saddle never budged, her horse grew daily in his back, worked more happily and those historically difficult trots were now possible to sit. She became so committed to the product she sold her horses and put everything into Thinline®. Dozens of Olympic and international riders agreed.

 Everywhere she sent the product, whether to Jumpers, Endurance Riders, Western Riders, Dressage, and Polo…every imaginable discipline they all replied with the same result: our horses are happier, more comfortable and our riders sit better. To this day, Thinline® has not paid for a single endorsement. In 2005, Thinline® began designing new products. The shoe insole material answered 90% of the desires of the equestrian. The other 10% was moisture wicking properties, which once coupled with cotton, sheepskin, or felt, Thinline® products offer all the benefits in an ultimate saddle pad. Now there is a saddle pad that finally does what riders have been seeking for decades. It solves every saddle pad requirement regardless of breed or discipline and has no drawbacks.

 Saddle Fit: Thinline® pads augment saddle fit, and 95% of UK Master Saddlers in the US endorse and vend these products.

 Breathability: Thinline® is ridden by the top endurance riders passing countless vet checks, and the open cell material allows movement of air through the product.

 Stabilization: Thinline® pads keep riders stable in their position, something no other product has ever achieved. They are also endorsed by spinal surgeons for riders with sore backs and by riding programs across the globe for helping riders to sit more quietly, giving their horses the trust and confidence to work with their backs up.

 Shock Absorption: Thinline® pads absorb more shock than any other product on the market; it absorbs shock and equally distributes so much weight that it is vended and endorsed by veterinarians, equine chiropractors and equine massage therapists for horses with sore or sensitive backs. Even with unpaid endorsements from most of the Olympic show jumping and dressage teams, the real testament to the product is the way it makes every horse move better and every rider sit better. At the end of the day we are all just looking for one thing: a saddle pad that both the horse and rider can feel creates a great difference in comfort and contact.

Finally that product is here; Thinline® saddle pads maximize the communication between horse and rider as well as increases comfort and confidence for better riding and performance. Join the revolution.

Saddle Fitting – Part 2

by Nancy Shedrick

 Pic 1

After it has been determined that the saddle is in the correct position of  the horses back, I will now go over what to look for in a basic saddle fitting assessment.

1) Lift up the flap of the saddle to view the points of the tree, Photo 1A. These points should be lined up parallel to the back area it is sitting on, not the shoulder, but the back. (this back muscle is actually the trapezius) I do allow a 10% or less variable to this parallel only if it is to the wider. If the tree is too wide, the top of the points will show more contact and the bottom of the points will come away from the horse’s side. If the tree is too narrow, the opposite will occur. There will be too much contact at the bottom of the points with lack of contact at the top of the points.

 2) Next, you need to run your hand palm side up, underneath the full length of the points. Start at the top of the panel, slowly run your hand down the whole length of the points. If the tree points are parallel, you will feel even pressure the full length of the points. The hand should confirm what the eye sees. If the tree is too wide, there will be pressure at the top, Photos 2B & C.


1A – Points of the tree are running nice and parallel with horses’s anatomy. White lines indicate planes of horse & saddle If the tree is too narrow, there will be pressure at the bottom, Photo 3D.

3) The gullet width must be wide enough so that the panels do not impinge on the horses’ spine. Horses’ have different widths to their spine. Some are thin and highly pronounced. Some spines are very wide with back muscles that rise above it. Gullets can also be too wide. A gullet that is too wide will do as much damage to a horses back as a gullet that is too narrow.

 4) Pommel and wither clearance. There is no set rule as to how much clearance is required. (Sorry- it is not always 3 fingers) This clearance depends on the type of saddle being fitted and what the horses’ withers are like. A high withered Thoroughbred will require more clearance than a mutton withered pony. Wither clearance should always be checked again when the rider is in the saddle. The most important factor here is that the pommel or gullet should never come down or impinge on the horses’ spine.

 5) The saddle should be balanced on the horses back. The cantle is always higher than the pommel. Some close contact saddles may be closer to level, where as some dressage saddles the cantle is much higher than the pommel. For most saddles the absolute middle of the saddle will be the deepest spot when on the horses’ back. On some saddles this deep spot may be slightly forward of the center. The deep spot should never be behind the center, Photo 4E.

 2B 3D

6) Panels distribute the weight of the saddle and the rider over the horses back. The panels must also match the contours of the horses back. Some faults to look for are rocking and bridging. Rocking is when the panels rock like a boat, forward and back over the horses back, Photo 5F. Bridging is when the panels form a bridge over the horses back, Photo 6H. There is contact in the front and back of the saddle with a gap in the panels under the seat area. These faults may be caused by incorrect tree shape, wrong tree width, incorrect panel design or may need a simple reflocking to correct the problem.

4E 5F 6H 7J

 7) The length of the saddle is a saddle fitting issue that is commonly overlooked. The saddle should not extend past the 18th thoracic vertebrae, Photo7J. The thoracic region, is the region of the back that has ribs attached to it. It is the ribs that support the weight of the saddle and the rider. The lumbar region continues after the thoracic region. The saddle should never overlap into the lumbar region. This region is just spine, muscles and organs and is very susceptible to bruising and irreversible back damage. This article was written solely for educational purposes. I highly recommend getting saddles fitted by an experienced certified saddle fitter.


Nancy Shedrick resides in New Hampshire. She is a certified saddle fitter for the society of Master Saddlers of the U.K.

Saddle Fitting – Part 1: Determining Correct Placement

By Nancy Shedrick

 One of the most important issues in saddle fitting is ensuring correct placement of the saddle. The best fitting saddle in the world does not fit, if the saddle is placed in the incorrect position. A saddle that fits the horse and rider and is correctly placed, will allow the rider to be balanced and the horse the ability to move more freely.

 The rider must be familiar with some of their horses’ anatomy prior to placing the saddle on the horses back see Photo 1A.


 First you must be able to locate the edge of the scapula (shoulder blade, it is edged in blue on photo 1A). When working on the near side of the horse, take your left hand and cradle the edge of the scapula with your fingertips, see Photo 2B. As a visual reminder, you can also take some chalk and mark the edge of the scapula, see Photo 3C.


 I’ll start with the placement of the dressage saddle. Gently place the saddle on the wither/shoulder area of the horse. With the right hand, wiggle the pommel back until your fingertips on the left hand can cradle the edge of the scapula. The front edge of the dressage saddle can go up to the edge of the scapula. The saddle must never go over the edge of the scapula. The dressage saddle with its straight flap, is easier to identify correct placement. Any saddle with a forward flap may be a bit more challenging to determine correct placement, see Photo 4D.

A very common error is placing the saddle too far forward. Make sure that you are locating the absolute end of the scapula blade. When doing this, try to make sure that the horse is standing reasonably square. Often people feel that the most prominent point of the scapula is where the blade ends. This prominent point of the scapula is called the spine of the scapula. This spine separates the supraspinatus muscle from the infraspinatus muscle. The trapezuis and the rhomboid also attach to the upper scapula and scapula spine. A saddle that fits well and is placed in the correct position will allow optimum freedom of motion for the horse. At this point, lets get a little more familiar with the tree of the saddle, see Photo 7G. The tree is the framework of the saddle. Distance between the points determine the tree width. Saddle with head nails, falldown staples identified, see Photo 8H. Point pocket identified, see Photo 9K.


 When looking at this saddle, observe the location of the head nail, saddle nail and fall-down staple. These nails and staples are inserted into the pommel or points of the tree. The points of the tree are inserted into the point pockets. Sometimes you can see the point pocket, as shown in Photo 9K. Sometimes they are obscured from view by thigh rolls, flock points, padding etc.

 Now to determine correct placement of a forward flap saddle. Place the saddle on the wither/shoulder area. Slide it back with your right hand until the top forward edge of the pommel lines up behind the edge of the scapula. It is acceptable for the padded flap to go over the shoulder because everything in front of and below the points of the tree is flexible. You can also cradle the scapula with the fingertips of your left hand, step back and look at the saddle nails to make and sure that they are a couple of inches behind your fingertips.

 Remember that the saddle nails are inserted into the points of the tree. Another check point is to visually look at the point pocket to verify it is behind the edge of the scapula . You need to confirm that the rigid part of the saddle; the tree, is placed clearly behind the rigid part of the horse; the scapula.



Nancy Shedrick resides in New Hampshire. She is a certified saddle fitter for the society of Master Saddlers of the U.K. 

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