The snaffle differs from the pelham bit, the curb bit, and the kimberwicke in that it is a non-leverage bit, and so does not amplify the pressure applied by the reins. With a snaffle, one ounce of pressure applied by the reins to a snaffle mouthpiece will apply one ounce of pressure on the mouth. With a curb, one ounce of pressure on the reins will apply more – sometimes far more – than one ounce of pressure on the horse’s mouth.
There are many riders (and a remarkable number of tack shops) who do not know the true definition of a snaffle: a bit that is non-leverage. This often results in a rider purchasing a jointed mouthpiece bit with shanks, because it is labeled a “snaffle,” and believing that it is soft and kind because of the connotation the snaffle name has with being mild. In truth, the rider actually bought a curb bit with a jointed mouthpiece, which actually is a fairly severe bit due to the combination of a nutcracker effect on the jaw and leverage from the shanks.
A true snaffle does not have a shank like a pelham or curb bit. Although the kimberwicke appears to have a bit ring like a snaffle, the bit mouthpiece is not centered on the ring, the ring has slots to place the reins in a specific location, and it is used with a curb chain, thus the ring acts like a bit shank and creates leverage, making it a type of curb bit.
A snaffle also will not be able to slide up and down the rings of the bit or cheekpieces of the bridle, as this would place it in the gag bit category.
In the Working Cow Horse World that goes into training the least incursive bit ( the Snaffle Bit) becomes the go to training bit.
So much for the equipment other than the horse at three years old that responds to the training becomes known as a “snaffle bitter“. Our first experience with entering into the cow horse world came about in 1999 when we put our new young stallion EF Pepi Kola in the hands of noted cow horse trainer Brad Pederson. We were new to the game and Brad did a phenomenal job with the talented stallion. Since then our program morphed into raising cow horses and in most years having a good one go into good training with the “making of a snaffle bitter”. Through the years John Swales and currently Jesse Thomson have done terrific work in building the ER Snaffle Bitters!
Pepi Kola’s sons and daughters have been excellent prospects and as we move forward we see the same developments with our two other stallions which both became snaffle bitters with decent earnings in their three year old years.
The point of this blog is to point out our experiences in terms of the degree of difficulty in breeding, training and campaigning a three years old cow horse. I have blogged previously on the “pyramid” of competition horses. There is a whole world of horses: colors, breeds, sizes and shapes with specific athletic talents. In that world a “good horse” is a personal assessment geared around an evaluation of elevation above the “everyday” horse. The next level is the competiton horse that gains “earnings”. The reason that earnings rule the horse world whether it is a race horse, halter horse or cow horse is that earnings are logged and made public. A horse with earnings is a horse that has competed and won. The final level in the pyramid is the “great horse” that dominates a competition while in competition years. In our little world Pepi Kola was that horse. He won every Canadian Cow Horse title in his day and also won in Montana and finished his career in the Worlds Greatest Horseman Competition placing in the top half of the best bridle horses and showmen in the world. The example of Pepi Kola is not about my braggart style (LOL) but to illustrate the pyramid of multitudes of horses that stand below those that rise to the top of the pyramid.
Getting back to our small world the pyramid is in play there as well. We have three cow horse stallions and seven good mares. As two year olds we have 5 generally to pick from. First step is to have Jesse Thomson put thirty days on them and evaluate. To date after thirty days the short list is usually two and those two get another thirty days. At 60 days one is selected (even though 2 or 3 could make it depending on the talents). Costs become considerable in training, equipment, stabling and all of the components that land on the expense line.
In Alberta there are three major snaffle bit shows plus one in Montana that is a very fun experience. So now you are in the show pen with 30 to 40 real good horses and show men striving for the purse and the buckle. My number from Western Canada at 20 to 25 grows to 40 or 45 when you compete across the line in cummulative numbers. That morphs up to 200 if you go to the NRCHA show in Reno. Now here are the financials. Arguably the expense side in training and added costs are minimal $12,000 per year per animal. In Western Canada the 20 to 25 hoses in these competition have gross and cummulative costs over $300,000.
After the three futurities 8 or so will report earnings. The other 17 or so are all real good horses but the best do not always win. Over three competitons however the variability of a bad cow in a herd or fence run averages out unless a real good horse has a real terrible run of bad luck run at the three shows. So earnings mean a lot (good horse, good showman, good luck and fair judging).
In year four and year five many will resurface in the Derbies and Hackamore classes and many others will become very good horses in the broader horse world. Anyone acquiring a competition snaffle bitter will have a well broke four year old to pleasure, work cattle on the ranch or the multitude of other applications.
Win or lose this three year old has risen to the top level of good using horse. Here is why. The snaffle bit competition requires a herd horse, a reined work horse and a fence horse. The competition is like the pentathalon in track. Very few horses can master the three component disciplines. Even if the snaffle bitter is average, average, average (herd, rein and fence) you have a real proven horse. In my experience a snaffle bitter has a more dominant propensity to one or more elements. In the end however those that dominate the fence will bank the purse. So an average herd horse can be huge winner after a real strong fence run. Great herd horses without the “run” to catch and control a hard running cow fall by the wayside when push comes to shove. This is a play defence in the herd, be strong and finessed challenging the reined pattern and play big time offense on the fence. In some finished bridle classes there are a few All Around Stock Horse events (such as the Worlds Greatest or Canada’s Greatest) where you add the fourth element “Steer Stopping ” where roping and rope horse skills are introduced.
So the point of the blog is that so many sound fundamentals involved in all around good horse training manifests itself in the “Snaffle Bitter”.
We are proud to own or have owned ER Sugar Nugget, ER Genuine Quality, ER Uvalde, ER U Talk Cash, ER Wildfire, ER Spitfire, ER Picaboo, ER Oakleyand EF Pepi Kola that all have earned, and in many cases, carry titles from the Cow Horse pen. It takes focussed breeding, great training, effective campaigning and lots of invested dollars plus good old lady luck in that three year old year. We have two at Jesse’s today poised to appear in 2012 and some yearlings and weanlings wanting to appear in the pen in future years!
My salute today is to those that can breed, train, fund and campaign the great horses that come out of Western Canada. We do not take a back seat to any region in great horses, great showmen or well prdoced cow horse shows in the cow horse world!