A monthly column on Bits and their Application
This month's topic is the kimblewick, a bit that may also be known as a Spanish snaffle.
Unfortunately this bit has suffered from an historical dislike by some influential people in the equestrian fraternity and is now viewed unfavourably by most people. It is classified as being severe and has a reputation for not doing any of the jobs it was seemingly made for. Whether it falls into the curb family or the pelham family has also caused considerable debate but I consider it to be a pelham. It is commonly thought, and taught, that a pelham is a combination of a curb and a snaffle and that a pelham is trying to do both jobs unsuccessfully together. I think not. A pelham is quite different from a curb and it is also quite different from a snaffle. A pelham is a pelham and has attributes a snaffle or a curb does not. Why then, despite it's reputation, do so many horses go well in a kimblewick?
Let's have a look at what happens when the rider's hands influence the horse's mouth with a snaffle. The actions of the rider's hands are directly transferred through the reins to the bit and the bit then impacts according to the position of the horse's head in relationship to the rider's hands. A high head with high hands will bring the snaffle directly back against the molars (ouch). A normal relaxed outline, with the nose poked forward, will drag the bit across the lips and up into the corners, possibly gathering skin from the inside of the cheek up against the teeth (ouch again). But, with the horse moving forward correctly into a rounded outline the snaffle will contact evenly and (depending on how steady and sensitive the hands are) softly across the tongue and the bars of the lower jaw area (as it was intended to do). Now, how many horses or ponies do we see participating in games, jumping, hunting etc. in a nicely rounded, soft and forward position? Not a lot.
So, the average horse with the average set of hands behind the reins, doing the average sort of things horse riders do, needs protection. The kimblewick is the simple answer. First and foremost, the kimblewick is not a curb because the action of the chain is limited by its position, and other areas would have taken up the contact before the chain touches the chin groove. The chain, therefore, acts only as a support for the mouthpiece, preventing it from sliding up the horse's mouth - discomfort number one gone. The squared eye, where the cheek piece of the bridle is attached to the bit, allows the distribution of the pull from the rider's hands to be transferred away from the mouth and onto the poll - discomfort number two softened. Kimblewicks come in half-moon, slightly ported and jointed styles. With the jointed style the mouthpiece cannot drop in the centre, as a snaffle can, and this leaves the tongue and the incisors untroubled - discomfort number three removed. Because the bit is considered more severe than a snaffle the rider usually treats the horse's mouth with a little more respect (we don't want to make the horse rear do we) - discomfort number four improved. What a relief the kimblewick must be. No wonder most horses show less resistance and go much better. But, once again if you are going to borrow or buy a kimblewick check where the mouthpiece meets the wings by giving them the fleshy-finger-test. You don't want to create further problems.
Above all, when finding yourself landed with a horse with a 'mouth' problem, question... question... and question again. If someone says this or that bit is the one to try, ask why. Ask how it works. Think about how it will work for your particular situation and for the natural features of your horse's mouth. Listen to your horse, observe what is happening, check your hands and the messages they fire out. But, above all, take the time to work through the issues. If a horse has lots of good qualities then it deserves to have any unfortunate fault dealt with in an intelligent, compassionate and dignified manner. In my experience the horses I have retrained have always forgiven me for the mistakes made by past riders and have repaid the time and effort I have taken by giving me worthwhile service as a safe and happy ride.