Starting young horse with snaffle bit with keys - Experiences and opinions, please?

Hi, all! I have a very, very, very mouthy young gelding that I’m working with on the ground to get started. I am at the stage of working on lateral neck movement, and have been using reins attached to the halter. This horse is extremely mouthy and grabs anything and everything. He tries constantly to grab the reins, even if I have a snaffle bit in his mouth already.

I was thinking that a snaffle with keys may work? Possibly full cheek?

I’m looking for opinions and experience with snaffles with keys, especially pertaining to very mouthy horses, as I have none.

Thank you!

1 Like

I have a loose ring mullen mouth with keys that I use on my youngsters when they are learning to carry a bit in their mouth. This after they have graduated from the smaller rubber bits I use with they are yearlings. I find that it worked for the ones who were easily distracted, as it gave them something to think about. For the more business-like filly that was ready to work, we didn’t need it. lol.

I have a 2 year old who sounds a bit like yours, and the keys seems to work for him.

You need to determine why he is grabbing anything and everything before you make any changes.

IME, “mouthy” horses are ones who 1) tend to have a predisposition to being playful sorts, and 2) are carrying some level of anxiety and thus their natural tendency when they feel worried is to use their mouths to try and self-soothe. The more worried they are, the mouthier they get.

Sure, something that gives him more to “play with” in his mouth may stop him from trying to grab other things, but it doesn’t solve why he’s being so mouthy to begin with. The mouthiness is an outward expression of his worry - work on solving the worry and you won’t need to be concerned about what bit you’re using.

I’m working with a Dutch Harness Horse gelding right now who came to me SUPER mouthy. Bottom line, he wasn’t anything close to truly halter broke. He was broke enough that you could kind of get a halter on him and get him from Point A to Point B, but that was it. He had no idea how to yield to different types of pressure from the halter, back in hand, come forward off of minimal pressure, send out on a circle, yield at the poll, none of it. Because he didn’t know what to do, he’d get nervous and try and mouth your hand, the rope, anything that came close to his face. He also didn’t bridle (shocker) but was being ridden regularly, so you can imagine how much anxiety he carried being sat on after having a bridle wrangled on his face and not understanding what any of that meant, either.

In the 60 days or so I’ve been working with him he’s gotten significantly better, but if you go too quick or he gets concerned, his go to is still to reach for something with his mouth. My recommendation, instead of giving your horse a pacifier, is to ask him to get do something when he gets mouthy. Step over here, yield this, bump up to trot, something - forget about what he’s trying to do with his mouth and give him something to focus on. I often slap my chaps with the DHH to “bring him back to earth” when he starts getting mouthy, as a reminder that he doesn’t need to go to that place, he can be calm and settled when I’m asking something of him.

ETA: if you can’t run your hands all over your horse’s face and in particular his muzzle without him trying to mouth or bite you…that’s the other piece of your problem. I consider that to be part of being halter-broke but I find I often have higher standards than most and I continue to be surprised by how many people can’t walk up and touch their horse’s muzzle without evasion or anxiety on the horse’s part.


My young boy is just like yours. Anything in reach goes in the mouth.

I ride in a full cheek snaffle and I carry a crop with me because he will try and grab the reins or the stirrup while I am riding and working on turns is almost impossible.

1 light " bop" on the mouth when he tries is all it takes and he will get down to walking as I asked.
He isn’t being bad and I don’t want to punish him and so far it is working.

1 Like

Thank you for the replies! @Abbie S. - yes, I totally agree with you! I have used Warwick Schiller’s methods with this guy since I got him five months ago and have gone through the groundwork checklist. He used to be much mouthier with a high anxiety level. It appears to me now that it’s not anxiety-driven, but boredom. I am working on lateral flexion using reins hooked onto his halter, and he goes for the reins all the time. I understand that to him, standing still and bending is boring, but it needs to be done and without the reins in his mouth!

Well, if you break it down, boredom has a component of anxiety in it. The horse cannot find it within himself to focus on the task at hand and so goes to “making himself busy”, because there’s some thought or idea that he can’t let go of, otherwise he’d be relaxed and focused on you.

If you feel he is truly bored, the next question is “why?” I think back to something I’ve heard Harry Whitney say over and over: “a worried horse will look all sorts of different ways, but a relaxed horse will always look the same”. I’d venture there is still some worry in there, or some frustration with being asked to perform the same thing over and over to the degree that it’s causing worry.

I might try doing a couple flexions, get a decent one, and then ask him to walk or trot right off like you’ve got somewhere to be. Let him take that energy somewhere before it gets turned into worry/frustration/boredom and keep him engaged. Then bring him back and ask again, get a good one, and go forward with some intention. Break things up as much as you can so you don’t get him to the point where he starts to tune out - when he gets to that point, whatever you do beyond that won’t carry much meaning for him and will only serve to increase his desire to “be elsewhere” mentally.


Excellent advice! I will do that! You are right - I tend to focus on doing one thing over and over to get it “right”. Thank you very much!

Something we do, which is a little old fashioned, is let horse wear bit and bridle in his stall. We start with short sessions of a hour, then build up time. He has no food in the stall at first, but it will be in there later. In my experience it was called “mouthing” the horse, everyone dId it in some form or another when I was a kid.

Loose ring jointed snaffle with rubber bit guards to prevent lip skin pinches as ring rotate. Fitted a bit low in the mouth to allow horse plenty of room to play with the bit. I would have a throatlatch on the bridle to keep it on in case he rubs. No cavesson or nosebands, you WANT him opening and closing mouth, getting tongue over and fixing his problem HIMSELF. No people getting excited, though you can rescue him after a little time, when he can’t fix tongue himself. This is why bit is fitted loose, not making him “smile” after bridling. Most figure out that tongue over is uncomfortable, quit doing it.

We increase the wearing time and start feeding horse with the bit on, grain first, then small amounts of hay. He always has a bucket of water. For our horses, they play with bit a while, then over time it loses the excitement factor. They learn to manage the food, chewing, drinks while wearing the bit. No excitement when getting bridled anymore. It is NOT a clue to getting worked or doing new things.

It seems to help a great deal with our need to sponge bridled mouths during use, not grabbing reins, helps them stay calm when brought out to be used. They quit gnawing on the bit after bridling, after spending their stall time with bridle on. I believe it is like old chewing gum, their jaw just gets tired of chewing after while! Ha ha

You will probably need to put your thumb in mouth corner to get him to open mouth when unbridling. Mine seem not to want to let go of bit and I don’t want to clank the bit on teeth when removing bridle. Often using the thumb and “open” word get them trained to help you by opening their mouth on command.

I do think some horses in families, have a need to chew, it calms them. We had a mare that would ALWAYS chew when handled, standing or under tack standing. Tacked up she would stand all day clinking her loose-jaw bit. Lift and drop the mouthpiece. Give her the chain shank to mouth when shoeing, never moved. One of her the sons was just like her. In fact he got her bit after her retirement and loved it! The other two boys went thru mouthing school never had an issue chewing/playing with things or their bits.

1 Like

Thank you for all the thoughts and advise! As it turns out, my horse has only tried to grab the reins a couple times, and when he does get one in his mouth, he lets go quickly, so it hasn’t been a problem!

I’m glad someone else remembers those days!


I start with a Mullen mouth happy mouth. I don’t like keys or rollers as they ten times move their mouth too much.