I get asked often to explain the difference between a loose ring and an eggbutt snaffle, so I thought I would get off my soap box and stop ranting, and do some explaining instead!
Ok, so first some definitions and descriptions;
The above picture is of a simple, single joint loose ring snaffle. The rings are joined to the mouthpiece through bevel holes through which the rings can freely rotate and spin around. A very common cheek piece style when it comes to snaffle bits and the bridoon (snaffle with smaller rings) used in a double bridle. Nicely made loose rings have shaped bevel holes to make the chance of any pinching much less, but more on pinching later. http://www.bitbankaustralia.com.au/loose-ring-snaffle/
This picture is of a single join eggbutt snaffle. It is called “eggbutt” due to the shape of the cheek rings, almost egg shapped, and “butted” hard up against the mouthpiece. The eggbutt is a fixed cheek peice, so the cheeks do not slide or move at all in relation to the mouthpiece. A well made eggbutt will be able to open and close (fold the cheeks in and out) smoothly, but there should be no gaps or loose joins. http://www.bitbankaustralia.com.au/eggbutt-snaffles/
Remember, calling a bit a “loose ring” or and “eggbutt” snaffle ONLY refers to the style of the cheeks. Here are a few different variations on the loose ring theme-
So you can also have an eggbutt mullen, an eggbutt french snaffle, or an eggbutt single join- the term “eggbutt” refers only to the style of the cheek piece, the same as with the loose rings above.
Now, the Myler brothers have once said that the “mouthpiece is for the horse, and the cheek piece is for the rider” and this holds mostly true. What then are the benefits to the rider then of both the loose ring and the eggbutt?
The eggbutt snaffle is a FIXED CHEEK snaffle- the cheek is securely fixed to the mouthpiece, which cannot move or rotate on the ring at all. This means that the mouthpiece is very still and steady in the mouth. So, if the rider has unsteady hands or a boucy seat, this bit will help the horse out by not transmitting quite as many of those bumps and wobbles. For this reason, the eggbutt can be a great bit for learner riders or children on ponies.
Keeping in mind that the fixed eggbutt cheeks means it sits a little stiller in the mouth, this can also be of benefit to the more experienced rider on an inexperienced horse. If the horse is not yet comfortable and confident enough to come forward into a consistent, seeking contact but instead hovers, or ducks behind or above, or is just a little inconsistent and eggbutt can help give them a little more confidence to sit more steadily into a contact.
Who would an eggbutt cheek not suit? If your horse tends to lean or fix into the bit, and you find it hard to loosen him up then an eggbutt would not suit you. The stability and “fixed-ness” of the mouthpiece means it is easier for the horse to lean or grab the bit and harder for the rider to use a little bit of play and give to loosen him up.
And now the Loose ring cheeks. As in the name, the rings are completely loose and can rotate freely. When the horse is in a good consistent contact with the rider’s hands, the rings are steady and still, as the weight of the contact holds everything in place. It is however easier for the rider to give quickly and shift the mouthpiece if the horse is tending to lean or fix of get a little rigid. The rider has more play and finesse to their aids with the loose ring, as very fine movements will transmit to the horse as the rings shift with the change in rein pressure.
Who would a loose ring not suit? If you horse is a little hesitant into the contact, not established being ridden into the hand, or tends to head toss a little, a loose ring can be detrimental, as it then creates a lot of movement in the mouth which can be distracting or uncomfortable for the horse. Or, if the rider is very fussy or fiddly with their hands, and does not keep a consistent, elastic contact it can also then be moving too much and transmitting unclear and inconsistent aids to the horse.
The stability benefits of the eggbutt snaffle will ring true across a variety of fixed cheek bits styes, like the Dee-ring, Baucher or Full cheek.
I hope this helps clarify some of the reasons why these two cheek peice styles may suit you and your horse’s needs. If you need more specific advice, you can always contact me for a bitting consult at firstname.lastname@example.org, or fill out the form below, and I’ll be happy to help.