Ask 100 people to explain to you what a snaffle bit is and you will get a whole bunch of wrong answers. In fact, the majority of answers may well be incorrect. Most people think that a snaffle bit is a snaffle bit because it has a broken mouthpiece. And that would be the wrong answer. Is this an important point? Maybe not, but why continue to work under the wrong assumption? It’s also a really easy way to tell how familiar others are with equine equipment.
Snaffle Bit – a simple definition
A snaffle bit does not use any leverage.
“Cowboy” snaffle that is not a snaffle
Most people think that a snaffle bit is a bit with a broken mouth piece, like the bits in these two images. The Tom Thumb bit, commonly called a cowboy snaffle bit isn’t a snaffle at all. It has a broken mouthpiece, but that has nothing to do with whether a bit is a snaffle or not.
The ring snaffle is a snaffle. It has the same mouthpiece as the Tom Thumb, but it is not leveraged. In other words, the reins attach directly to the mouthpiece.
Ring snaffle bit
What is a leveraged bit?
A leveraged bit attaches the reins at a point away from the mouthpiece itself. Cowboy Snaffles usually have the rein attachment anywhere from 1 1/2 inches to more than 4 inches away from the actual mouthpiece itself. Other leveraged bit have shanks longer that 7 inches! That’s a whole lot of pressure.
The beauty of a snaffle bit is that the horse feels the exact amount of pressure on the bit that you put on the rein. If you use one pound of pressure that is exactly what the horse feels – one pound of pressure. Leveraged bits also use chin straps (curbs) which place pressure on the bottom of the horse’s jaw in addition to what is felt on the lips, bars, and tongue.
Does the curb strap influence whether a snaffle is a snaffle or a leveraged but? The simple answer is, “No.” Curb straps are often used on snaffle bits as a safety precaution to prevent the bit from sliding into or through the horse’s mouth. Curb straps have no influence on how a snaffle bit works. Snug curb snaps work like a vise, catching the horse’s lower jaw between the bit and the curb.
Snaffle Bit Quiz
Which of these five bits (A-E) are snaffles? You will find the answers after the photos.
Snaffle Bit Quiz Answers
- Bit A – Yes, it is a snaffle. This is a full cheek snaffle with a rubber mouthpiece that makes it far less severe.
- Bit B – Not a snaffle bit. This is a gag bit and must only be used by the most experienced trainers. It is a bit that is used to make a point then put back into the tack room.
- Bit C – Not a snaffle bit. This is a Kimberwick, a popular bit for huntseat riders. The reins attach to the ring but do not move and add leverage to rein pressure.
- Bit D – Yes, it is snaffle. The mouthpiece is solid, but there is no leverage to the bit action. Reins produce a 1:1 ratio of pressure.
- Bit E – Not a snaffle bit. I call this a Butterfly bit, but many incorrectly call it a snaffle. This is my favorite bit as a first step out of a snaffle into a leveraged bit.
How many did you get correct? Hopefully all five. If you have any questions, be sure to ask.
Confusion about Snaffle Bits, Faith and Works
Many folks are confused about the difference between a snaffle bit and one that is not. There is similar confusion about the relationship of faith and works. Why are people confused? It’s kinda like the confusion about bits with broken mouthpieces… both snaffles and leveraged bits have them. The important point is about the way the bit works.
People can demonstrate works without faith, but it is impossible to have faith without the fruit of works. Like the snaffle bit, the important thing isn’t the way it looks but the way it works.
- Does a broken mouthpiece mean the bit is a snaffle? No.
- Does being charitable, kind, or generous mean the person has a right relationship with Christ? No.
You can live your whole life well without ever knowing how to tell one bit from another. But knowing the difference between faith and works is of immense importance.