A monthly column on Bits and their Application

This month we will look at fitting the Mullen Mouthed or Port Mouthed Pelham correctly (the jointed Pelham has a completely different action and will be discussed in a later article). Before we try to fit a Pelham into our horse’s mouth, we need to look more closely at the action this particular bit has and how our horse may react to it. As discussed, last month, the Pelham can provide the horse with an enormous amount of protection from a set of hands which jerk, tug or yank without warning. The beginning rider who loses their balance at the rising trot and takes a sudden ‘survival grab’ is a classic example. The Snaffle bit has a direct link between the rider’s hands and the horse’s mouth and a ‘survival grab’ at one end of the reins will transfer into an un-warned jolt at the other end of the reins! The majority of our gentle equine friends will suffer this without much of a reaction. They may, perhaps, pull the tongue back and roll it up to make a cushion of protection, or they may carry their head slightly tilted so the action comes onto the harder side of their mouth. But there are those horses that show their annoyance in a variety of ways and tossing or shaking the head is one of them. The obvious answer, to those who are not prepared to look at (or to question) the problem carefully, is to continue using the snaffle bit but with a running martingale added.

The running martingale, combined with a snaffle, usually achieves the required result because the action from the riders hands is deadened, somewhat, as the reins pass through the martingale rings. The Pelham is similar but is more effective. When a snaffle is being used, messages sent down the reins by the rider’s hands are transferred directly to the mouth area, especially the bars (or lower jaw). With a Pelham, the message sent by the hands is spread. If the horse is wearing a Mullen Mouthed Pelham, with rounders attached, the message is firstly softened as the reins gather the rounders up. As the message travels through the rounders, the mouthpiece of the Pelham revolves in the horse’s mouth bringing the curb-chain upwards into the chin groove and the cheek pieces of the bridle downwards from the poll. This action holds the bit still and ensures that the final action in the horse’s mouth is distributed evenly over the tongue, the bars of the jaw and the corners of the mouth. If a horse is being ridden by a rider with rough or jerky hands, the Pelham rounders will give the horse a split second warning before spreading the impact over the poll, the chin groove, and the tongue/bars/lip area of the mouth. The horse has time to take a protective action before receiving only a small percentage of the original message directly in the mouth - hence a happier horse.

But, if the curb chain is not fitted properly, as in most cases, the corners of the horse’s mouth will be pinched unmercifully. If the hooks which hold the chain in place are put inside the rings of the bit and against the horse’s lower cheek, the chain will become tight as the bit revolves and will gather up a small piece of lip skin and jam it against the mouth piece of the bit. Naturally the horse will take evasive action and probably start tossing its head making the rider think the bit doesn’t help! If the hooks are placed outside the rings of the bit and the chain is passed through each ring before being hooked up, there is a little gap of comfort created (some hooks may need a bit of bending to achieve this). This incorrect placement of the chain is the single most reason why the Pelham is not successful. The next time you see a horse wearing a Pelham, have a look at where the chain is sitting and check to see it is not puckering up a piece of the sensitive lip skin and pinching the poor horse.

Next month we will take a look at the ordinary, simple Egg-butt Snaffle and the not-so-ordinary, or simple, applications it can have.

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