A monthly column on Bits and their Application

This month we shall take a look at the PELHAM. Most people think that the PELHAM is more severe than a snaffle - but is this so?

Rough hands would be the major cause of discomfort to a horse or pony, and rough hands would also be the major cause of the evasive habits displayed in many different forms by the uncomfortable horse. The snaffle is NOT the bit to use if there is going to be any sudden change in rein tension during riding. When the rein is held loosely on a snaffle bridle the bit hangs loosely in the horse’s mouth and if there is a sudden sharp pull, or jab, the snaffle will tighten up sharply (AND WITHOUT WARNING) against the sensitive bars of the mouth. If a rider took a pull of say force ten, from a relaxed or hanging rein, the horse would bear the brunt of that force ten pull without warning - hence a very punishing action from the SNAFFLE. No matter how thick the snaffle may be, the direct contact would be at a matching force sent down the reins from the hands.

Although a curb bit has a lever action (which increases the strength of the hands) a sharp pull will not be as severe as a snaffle. Not many people realise this, nor use this knowledge effectively when dealing with problem hands. When a curb is pulled, the rein tightens onto the cheek-bar, which moves, or ‘gives’, around the mouthpiece. This means the bars of the horse’s mouth have little pressure on them at first, and it is not until the chain behind the curb has come into contact with the chin groove that the pressure from the hands is felt.

The yielding properties, that a curb bit has, makes for a less punishing effect. A jerk on a SNAFFLE will be more immediate, and will hit the horse’s jaw harder and sharper, than the same sort of jerk on a CURB rein. The curb will also distribute the force from the hands because the revolving motion of the bit breaks the severity of a pull down and allows the horse time to respond before the full impact of the action is realised.

Now, there is a difference between the rider who hangs on for grim death and the rider with rough hands, and it is the second variety we are concerned with in this month’s article. If we take the principles behind the PELHAM we will find that it is a bit which suits the hands, rather than the horse. The ‘pony clubber’ playing games, the ‘over zealous event rider’ who takes more pulls than is necessary, the ‘excited showjumper’ who gives a balancing yank on landing, would all allow their horse a smoother, more comfortable round by using a PELHAM.

Next month we shall discuss the action, and the correct fitting, of the PELHAM as some of the bad reputation the PELHAM has is based on unfortunate experiences caused by the action and fitting of this bit being misunderstood.

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