The Pelham Bit

I schooled a horse today who wore a Pelham, so I thought it was a good excuse to revise my knowledge of this bit and educate my readers.

As kids Pelhams were commonly seen, along with Kimblewicks, on strong and fast ponies. It isn`t dressage legal though, which is a great limitation of it`s use. Even when I was a bit older most of us used Pelhams instead of double bridles in the show ring. My pony has a tiny mouth so found two bits too much for his mouth. I always used two reins though so that it most mimicked the action of the double.

That`s where the Pelham comes from; it was developed in an attempt to replicate the action of the double bridle with only one mouthpiece. This bit also has a curb chain. For some people, it is a useful halfway house in the training of a horse as it introduces the action of the curb and poll pressure without overfilling the young mouth. Once the horse has acclimatised to the Pelham the double bridle is introduced.

For this reason some people criticise the Pelham as a bit, because it is neither a snaffle nor a double bridle so it gives mixed messages to the horse by acting on numerous parts of the head. Personally, I think the Pelham has it`s uses but I despise the leather roundings used to combine the two reins into one as to me this is mixing messages even more. With two reins the curb, or lower rein, can be utilised when necessary so pressure on the poll and curb is limited and more accurate. The upper rein acts more as a snaffle on the bars of the mouth in this situation. With two reins pressure is constantly exerted on the poll and curb so I feel the horse becomes desensitised to the pressure so less responsive if they should get strong.

The majority of Pelham bits are straight bars, but you do see the jointed Pelham which is not pleasant as the triangle forms between the two bars of the Pelham and the curb chain, which crushes the lower jaw and counteracts the action of the curb rein. The ported mouthpiece provides space for a tongue, but can act on the roof of the mouth which is particularly painful. The vulcanite Pelham is seen as the mildest mouthpiece as it doesn`t exert pressure directly on the bars of the mouth, but I`m not a huge fan as these Pelhams can often look oversized on horses or ponies. I prefer the metal version, or a thinner vulcanite mouthpiece if there is such a thing.

So why use a Pelham bit? It is, as I said earlier, useful for horses with short, thick jaws who struggle with both bits in the double bridle. A lot of horse`s go nicely in a Pelham, and it`s been suggested that this is because of the multitude of pressure points, and the fact that the action is not too demanding. However, Pelhams are notorious for rubbing the lips and corners of the mouth, even when fitted correctly. There is also more poll pressure compared to the double bridle because the cheek above the mouthpiece is longer to accommodate the large bridoon ring, which some horses may react badly to.

There are other notable designs of Pelham, such as the Sam Marsh Pelham, the Rugby Pelham, the Army Universal, and interestingly, the Kimblewick. On this subject, some people consider that the three ring gag should belong in the Pelham family, not the Gag family.

4 thoughts on “The Pelham Bit

  1. Tracy Mar 4, 2015 / 7:31 pm

    I’m always interested in learning more about the “how” and “why” of different types of equipment. Thanks for sharing!

  2. firnhyde Mar 6, 2015 / 6:17 am

    Interestingly enough, I’ve just had to go back to using a Pelham after not touching one for months. And this for a mare that hasn’t been backed for very long, but she has us pretty stumped. She’s ten years old and was backed a few months ago, as carefully as I always do – first using a soft bitless bridle to introduce steering and stopping, then using the bitless bridle and a snaffle (with double reins) to softly introduce the bit. I’ve produced plenty of soft-mouthed youngsters that way. But despite being about 13.3hh the creature is the strongest horse I’ve ever ridden and brakes do not exist at all without the Pelham. Most vexing. Perhaps it’s her teeth that are bothering her, although she doesn’t shake her head much – just pulls like a steam train.

  3. therubbercurrycomb Dec 27, 2019 / 11:10 pm

    Reblogged this on The Rubber Curry Comb and commented:

    A rather old fashioned bit I think now, as I see it so infrequently. I think the development of so many different gag type bits mean riders are tending to go down this route instead of the double reins or roundings on a Pelham.
    I find it interesting reading back on my opinions in these older blog posts, and while I still don’t mind seeing the Pelham used correctly; I used to show Matt in one because he has a very small mouth and was more comfortable in that then the double bridle, I don’t like it being used by riders with poor hands, or stiff arms as it makes the horse engage it’s brachiocephalic muscles (those on the underside of their neck) and fix against the straight mouthpiece.
    When used with the same intent as a double bridle, a horse can work correctly and come through from behind, which is why they’re useful for transitioning horses from the snaffle to the double bridle. I think I still prefer the more explicit action of a gag, severity depending on the type of mouthpiece and cheeks, when looking to improve control at speed – although equally I’d want to go back to basics if that was a problem!

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