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What is a Snaffle?

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

I have seen many posts and advertisements online referring to a single jointed Pelham as a snaffle. This is a common misconception!


There are several classifications of bits, all of which are actually defined by their cheek piece, not their mouthpiece.

A snaffle is the most simple of bits with the most direct action applied to the horse. Depending on the cheekpiece type, the working angle of the mouthpiece may slightly differ (that is a topic for another post), but the general mechanics are the same.

Essentially, the direction and magnitude of the force applied on the reins will be directly translated to the horse's mouth.


Types of Snaffle Cheek Pieces


It is another common misconception that snaffle = loose ring bit (or O-ring bit, for my western friends). While this is a snaffle, and a very popular one, there are many other kinds! I will go through the most common and compare them to similar bits that are not, in fact, snaffles.


Loose Ring:

A loose ring bit has an O-ring that freely slides through the end of the mouthpiece. This has a degree of elasticity and "pre-signal" from the reins which make it a favorite among dressage riders. The loose ring is a very common cheek piece and is allowed in most (if not all) disciplines.










The bit on the right is a "beval" bit which looks like a loose ring snaffle, but does not fall into this category. When the bridle is connected to the top ring and the rein to the bottom ring, it acts as a gag (a separate category of bits that I will cover in another post).


Full Cheek:

The full cheek bit was designed to keep the bit from sliding through the horse's mouth when pressure between the two reins is not equal. It is a popular cheek piece for young horses and lesson ponies to reinforce lateral aids. This reduced movement in the mouth makes it preferable to horses with sensitive mouths as well.














Don't be fooled by the mouthpieces! The bit on the left is a Myler Level 3 full cheek snaffle. The bit on the right is an elevator bit (one of the most heinous types, at that).


Fulmer:

All the benefits of the full cheek and loose ring combined! However, it is a safety hazard and because the cheeks can rotate independently of the reins/bridle (both are connected to the loose ring part), they can too easily be stuck in the bridle, mouth, nostril, or anything the horse rubs his head on. Keepers must be used with these for obvious safety reasons (keepers are little leather straps that connect the top cheek to the bridle).










The bit on the left is a fulmer snaffle and the bit on the right is a rugby pelham - which has a similar idea regarding the loose ring effect, but is not a snaffle.


Eggbutt:

I used to think these were called "eggbutts" because their cheek pieces were oval - almost egg-shaped? Silly me. These are termed an eggbutt because of the way the mouthpiece tapers into the cheek piece. This rounded edge where the mouthpiece meets the cheek piece is smoother and can be more comfortable for the horse, but does typically make for a thicker bit (usually not so comfortable for the horse). The accompanying oval cheek piece encourages the bit to stay in one position under contact, and the fixed structure helps keep the bit stable laterally in the mouth (although not so much as a full cheek or fulmer). This makes it a popular bit for young horses and you will see it across just about every riding discipline, with any age horse or rider.














The bit on the right is a conventional gag bit (specifically a "Cheltenham" gag). The bridle connects to the top buckles and the reins to the bottom rings (although technically this is intended for two sets of reins, one set to be connected to the cheek piece as a snaffle - but this is rarely seen, unfortunately), utilizing leverage from the horse's poll to lift the bit in the horse's mouth, contacting the molars. It is a harsh bit often seen in the jumper ring or XC field, and is not a snaffle.


D-Ring:

This bit has its origins from racing - jockeys and trainers wanted the stability of a full cheek without the safety hazards of the pronged cheeks. It is still seen very commonly in the racing industry but is most popular in the hunter-jumper arenas.














The bit on the right is a kimberwick (also called a "kimblewick" just about everywhere but the USA). It is a leverage bit with different loops or slots for the reins to attach with a varying degree, therefore it is not a snaffle and rather falls under the pelham category of bits.


Baucher:

Also called a "hanging cheek" snaffle, the baucher (pronounced bow-shur) is a very mild cheek piece that looks like a leverage bit to the untrained eye. It is the only cheek piece that, when used in its intended manner, relieves poll pressure on the horse (see the Neue Schule Poll Pressure Guide). This is a great choice for any horse with a sensitive head/mouth and is often seen with ported mouthpieces to provide optimum tongue relief without risking contact with the palate, given the way that this cheek piece positions the mouthpiece in the horse's mouth. My horse and I are quite fond of the baucher bit we use and you can see the negative tension in the cheek pieces when you increase pressure from the reins.










The bit on the right is a "butterfly pelham", which falls into the pelham category if used correctly with a curb chain, elsewise falls into the elevator category. Theoretically, of course, like the other pelhams/gags/elevator class bits, this would function as a snaffle if the reins were connected only to the cheek piece ring that is at the same level as the mouthpiece.



Unique Snaffles

Below are a few uncommon snaffle types that may be identified as driving bits.


Four Ring Snaffle:

This bit is gaining popularity in the showjumping arena. It is a loose ring snaffle that is suspended in the mouth by another loose ring of equal size that is not connected to the mouthpiece but supports it. The bridle is connected to the inner "floating" rings on either side and the reins are connected to the outer rings (running through the ends of the mouthpiece). What makes this bit's action unique and a bit more harsh than a traditional loose ring snaffle:

  • Without rein tension, the mouthpiece can rotate freely, 360 degrees in the mouth

  • If the bit is jointed, this means the joints could be press on the palate

  • There is limited opposing force of the bridle so the working angle is different than a traditional loose ring and nearly all of the rein tension is translated directly to the horse's mouth.

  • High pinch potential at the corners of the mouth.




Scorrier:

Also called a scourier or cornish snaffle, this bit looks quite similar to the four ring snaffle above but has a key difference - the inner rings run through the mouthpiece. These bits are traditionally made with a serrated single joint mouthpiece. This is a harsh bit with an intensified nutcracker effect and great care must be taken if ever using this bit, as it is very prone to pinching or cutting the horse's lips. Unlike the four ring snaffle, the mouthpiece cannot rotate freely in the horse's mouth.

Half Cheek:

Also called a "half spoon" bit, this looks awfully similar to a full cheek snaffle - and it is! This bit was designed with the same intentions as a full cheek, but with only half the cheek piece "prongs" as to reduce potential interference with the bridle and safety concerns. It is most commonly seen on driving horses, and may be seen fitted with a dexter ring.


The dexter ring or "ring bit" configuration is what I would call barely a snaffle. This is because the addition of the ring, which encircles the horse's lower jaw, attached to the jointed half cheek bit will create some leverage. There is a mechanical advantage the rider (or driver) now has on the horse's lower jaw due to the working angle of the bit it is attached to. This makes the bitting arrangement more severe - this is evident as jockeys will state it provides them with greater steering and stopping power. Of course, we know this is resolved with training, not with bits.





I hope this has been helpful! Drop a comment below with your thoughts / questions / comments :)



Do you use a snaffle on your horse?

  • Yes

  • No

  • Still not sure...




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