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.

Safety Stirrups

When I was learning to ride all the ponies at the riding school had safety stirrups. In fact, none of us dreamed of riding without our peacock rubbered stirrups. When I progressed onto my first youngster I was told to buy bent-leg stirrups. The adult version of safety stirrups. This has stayed with me and my jump saddle has bent-leg irons on still, whilst I`ve moved on to plain stainless steel stirrups for my dressage saddle.

However, I`ve noticed during my career that most riding schools don`t use safety stirrups anymore, mostly having plain irons and plastic stirrups for toddlers. That, and the evolution of flexi-irons, has led to the demise of safety stirrup irons, and it was only when a young client told me that she needed them for Pony Club that I realised safety stirrups were now an outdated item of tack.

Traditional peacock safety stirrups should have the rubbers on the outside, so that if the rider was to fall off the elastic pings off and their foot comes out the stirrup safely, so they do not get dragged.  To ensure that the stirrup is on the correct way round the rubber should be nearest the horse`s shoulder when the stirrups are run up. However, the design is only suitable for lightweight riders because the weight of the foot is only supported on one side of the stirrup iron and can break if used by an adult. When using peacock safety stirrups it is important to keep spare peacock rubbers and leathers to hand as they are liable to ping off, or perish. For that reason it is also important to check for cracks in the rubber every time tack is cleaned.

The adult version of safety stirrups are bent legs, with the bend on the outside of the iron and facing forwards. Only when they are on correctly can the foot easily escape the stirrup in case of emergency. When the stirrup is run up on the saddle the bend should face into the saddle, and be closest to the horse`s shoulder.

Nowadays stirrups come in all shapes, sizes, colours, and have different purposes – some help stop the foot going too far through the iron, whilst some help the rider balance, and others are flexible to help stiff ankles or knees. Personally, I`m still a big fan of stainless steel, safety or plain stirrups depending on the discipline – I would never go cross country in non safety stirrups!

What stirrups do other people use, and why? What makes your decision – is it comfort, fashion, style or purpose? And more improtantly, does it affect your riding?

The Nuchal Ligament

I went to see a friend and old work colleague this week and she showed me a DVD by one of her favourite trainers, Dr. Gerd Heuschmann. It was very interesting and explained some things that I hadn`t fully grasped before, so I`m going to try to explain it to you.

Firstly, do you know where the horse carries the weight of the rider?

I thought I knew too …

It is the neck.

Yes, that`s right, the horse`s neck supports the weight of the rider.

How? I hear you asking. Well, it all starts at the Nuchal Ligament.


The Nuchal Ligament begins at the poll, with the rope-like Funicular part, and extends along the spine to the lumbar vertebrae. The lamellar part of the nuchal ligament is fan-shaped, and extends from the funicular part to the cervical vertebrae. This ligament holds the horses neck and head in position, helps it move up and down and has a great influence over the horse`s back.

So how does the nuchal ligament carry the weight of the rider?

When the horse flexes their cervical vertebrae, that is stretching their head and neck forwards and down, the nuchal ligament comes under tension. As the funicular part connects the occipital bone (the poll) to the lumbar vertebrae, any tension lifts the horse`s back, thus providing a strong bridge to support the rider`s weight, as in the case of a Roman arch. Additionally, the tensioning of the nuchal ligament frees up the longissimus dorsi muscle (the large muscle that runs along the horse`s back, under the saddle area) so that it works solely on propulsion, and not in support.

With the nuchal ligament tense, the back lifted, the hindleg can step under and propel the horse forwards correctly. The abdominal muscles are also engaged which helps support the back and nuchal ligaments. It also helps bring the hindleg forwards. With the back lifted the foreleg and shoulder are free to propel forwards as well, improving the stride. This means that the horse is working correctly and is less likely to injure themselves, so will have a longer working life.

The DVD I watched showed some excellent demonstrations of horses working correctly, with the nuchal ligament taut, and incorrectly with the head and neck pulled in and the back hollow. With the aid of slow-mo videos and computer graphics it was really enlightening. The DVD was called “If Horses Could Speak” and if you can get a copy then I highly recommend watching it.

Gerd Heuschmann has also written a book on the subject, which I am putting on my birthday list!


Bikes and Horses

Today I`ve rediscovered the joy of riding a bike.

One of the horses at the yard has started being cheeky when hacking alone so we decided to solve the problem by his owner and rider going out with only me and a bike for company. The horse is quite young but has hacked out alone before, however I think he was worried and the combination of rider nerves and horse nerves meant that they had to return home yesterday, after reaching the end of the road.

So I dug out an abandoned bike from the back of the barn, and followed the horse and rider out. It was interesting to see how the two interacted. When the horse spooked, he spun and tried to run, which caused his rider to lean forwards slightly and bring her hands back. As they started heading towards home they got into an argument and wound each other up.

My advice was when the horse spooked and tried to turn around, his rider should just make him stop. As a young horse he`s going to be unsure about things, but he needs to learn that he can`t run away from the monsters. Stopping also stopped his rider getting her knickers in a twist, and let her sort out her position and technique. Once the horse had calmed down, she asked him to walk on towards the monster with legs and voice. I  noted that when anxious, her horse chomped his bit, so she should wait until his mouth is still before proceeding.

The first couple of times I and my bike had to block the road to help prevent her horse running home. Once we`d established the routine of spook, spin, stop, reassure, re-approach, praise, the hack went without a problem. Once we`d been around the block once we went straight round again, and I was almost indispensible.

On Friday I`m going to follow this pair around the block again, but by giving them a good head start first so that they can prove to me that they can hack alone! Once they get going I think they will confidently go on any hack.

Seeing as I`d dug out the bike I decided a session at desensitising Llani was in order. Whilst he stood in his stable I cycled up and down the barn until Llani stopped shooting to the back of his stable. Despite being wary, he was intrigued by the bike, so I took it over to him to sniff it. Llani wasn`t bothered by bikes until some whooshed up behind him on a hack just before Christmas and since then he`s a nervous wreck around cyclists.

Anyway, I brought Llani out of his stable and wheeled the bike carefully around him, showing it to him, resting it on his shoulder, and bringing it up from behind, as would happen on the road. He soon got used to this so I put it away and worked him. After he was rugged up and ready to go out, I produced the bike again. He just watched carefully, as I wheeled it towards him and then I proceeded to walk to the field with Llani on one side and the bike on the other. He walked happily enough, just very conscious of the bike and just before we got to the field I climbed astride it and pedalled slowly, leading him. I hope that he learns not to worry about me hopping off and on a bike, and just accept it.

At the field, Llani turned and watched me fascinated, as I closed the gate and cycled away. For the next few days I`m going to cycle to the field every morning so that the horses get used to the bike, and then when Llani is completely confident around it with me I`ll hack him out with a friend on a bike so she can replicate cyclists on the road, and then hopefully we`ll crack Llani`s phobia!

Making The Running – A Book Review

Some of you may remember my blog a couple of weeks ago where I alluded to having some exciting news – My Childhood Library – and now I can reveal all.

I recently received an email from Hannah Hooton, author of the Aspen Valley books, asking me if I would be willing to review her new book, Making The Running, on my blog. Now, this was quite exciting for me. Firstly, I love reading so to be given an excuse to read even more is brilliant. Secondly, I had already heard of Hannah Hooton and had enjoyed the books I`d previously read, so it was a win-win situation.


It was about three years ago when I first came across the series of Aspen Valley books, when I was off work injured and filling my days reading my kindle and doing jigsaws. Anyway, over the last couple of weeks I`ve read the rest of the Aspen Valley series to satisfy my OCD for reading books in chronological order, and so that I was fully prepared for the latest instalment this weekend.

To me, one of the signs of a good book or series is when you remember the characters and plots. Despite reading the first book “Keeping the Peace” more than two years ago I could still remember the protagonists` names and the basic storyline, which means that the subsequent books make much better reading, as the background and histories of the characters are familiar to the reader.

This Aspen Valley series centres around Aspen Valley Racing Stables and are, I guess, classified as racing romances. Now, I don`t know much about the ins and outs of horse racing, which is why I never started reading books by Dick Francis – probably to my Mum`s great relief as it means her bookshelf is still intact! However, Hannah Hooton keeps technical terms to a minimum, whilst explanations are succinct and clear. The books are light hearted and witty, making them easy to read in an evening,  and have plenty of modern associations – Fifty Shades of Grey makes one of two appearances…

Anyway, I`d better get on with this review! “Making the Running” starts in a different way to the previous books, in that the main focus initially is on romance and the horses take a back seat. I would describe the other books as horse racing with a hint of mystery and a dash of romance, whereas “Making the Running” starts as romance against a backdrop of horse racing, before the racing world steps into the limelight half way through.

The book follows Kate, a stable girl at Aspen Valley, and her relationship with racing manager, Nicholas, and his race jockey brother, Benedict. What I really liked about “Making the Running” was how, despite new protagonists the loose ends from previous books are tied up. For example, Jack and Pippa met in the first book ” Keeping the Peace”, and by this fourth book we learn that they are now married and have a toddler. This makes Aspen Valley a more believable place as, much like a soap opera, characters continue to play an important role in other plots.

As Kate discovers her feelings towards the two brothers, the closet skeletons of her teenage years come back to haunt her as she tries to help her younger sister and brother make the transition into independence. Meanwhile, to give the reader a good equine storyline Kate`s favourite Aspen Valley horse, d`Artagnan, is embroiled in some race rigging. Angry that d`Artagnan isn`t allowed to do the best he can at the races, Kate investigates the motives of Nicholas and Ben, as well as their relationship with each other and herself.

“Making the Running” has many more exciting racing scenes than in previous books. The fast paced descriptions made my heart race as I imagined the horses fighting it out over famous racecourses. The balance between the simplicity of describing the race and giving my imagination enough fuel to see the horses jumping the hedge, pecking on landing and jockeys scrubbing their hands was perfect. I was riding those races and, at the same time, jumping up and down on the siderail as my favourite passed the finish line.

As with all good novels, Kate builds bridges with her family, works out who she loves, and helps d’Artagnan in his racing career. The plot had a couple of extra twists though, which kept me on the edge of my seat until I had read 99% of the book and everyone lived happily ever after. Well, I assume so, but I guess Book Five will tell me that!

I can`t resist putting in my favourite quote. It, along with several others, made me giggle out loud – much to the amusement of the xBox-playing-other-half.

Saskia looked doubtful. “Maybe I shouldn`t encourage him. I don`t really fancy dating a Welshman.”
“Have you seen their language? It looks like a dictionary sneezed.”

As a reluctant Welsh-learner at school, I can fully relate to this!

Making the Running can be purchased through Amazon by clicking here, and I`m sure many of you will be interested to know the the first book, Keeping the Peace is currently available to download free.
P.S. if you don`t know the first thing about the world of horse racing then Keeping the Peace is the place to start, as it`s protagonist, Pippa, comes from London and doesn`t know one end of a horse from the other!

Hannah`s website is here if anyone would like more information about her or her books.

Cross Country Schooling

Today I took Llani cross country schooling for the first time. The weather has been pretty rubbish all week, but two days of dry wind, and weak sunshine, along with the heavy frost this morning meant that the ground was quite rideable mid morning.

My main aim with Llani was to get him working independently in an open space and introduce water complexes, some steps, terrain and a few cross country jumps. He kept a sharp lookout as we walked around the field so that I could get my bearings, but he didn`t spook at anything.

After a tiptoe at the edge of the little water complex Llani walked through it happily. He`s got the hang of the river at home, but I want him to take this confidence forwards into a new environment. We walked out and then up a tiny step. I repeated this and he walked straight into the water, which was great because I`m sure it was cold!

Llani warmed up calmly and we were soon popping over the small tyres and trotting to the water, slowing to a walk and then walking through.

I was pleased with Llani`s attitude to the jumps. I didn`t want to jump big as the ground conditions weren`t ideal, and I wanted the focus to be on riding in a new envorinoment, tackling interesting questions and staying focused, rather than the height which I know he is capable of. If the jumps were bright and quirky, such as the giant Lego bricks, he insisted on stopping to look at them before happily popping over. The advantage of today was that I could repeat the fences a couple of times until he was confident over them and maintaining a rhythm between fences, and then test him further by jumping the jumps the other way. Llani went up the steps confidently, and then we rode up the mound, over the Lego bricks and down the mound. However, Llani jumped so big over the bricks we were halfway down the bank before we landed! Then he eagerly cantered to the log, soared over it before travelling down the slope and leaping out of the sunken road complex. Once he got into his stride he eagerly leapt everything in his path, however the weather and ground wasn`t very conducive to keeping the rhythm going.

The ground started to get slippery underfoot as it thawed, so I turned my attention to the ditches and some more fences up and down little mounds. I was pleased that Llani went straight into the big water feature (in walk of course!) but there was no hesitation. I walked him to the tiny step out, whilst trying to generate a trot – Llani was not impressed with water droplets on his tummy! Then up the steep incline to the missile jump. Unfortunately, whilst Llani wasn`t hesitating, he still wouldn`t pick up trot and just took a large step over the jump! Our second attempt was a bit faster and more fluent!

To finish I decided to jump a few fences a stride off the waters edge as the ground was much better there and I thought it would encourage Llani to trot in the water. Trotting through the water, he was keen over the jump, but then I rode towards the red train towards the water, but Llani screeched to a halt with his neck over the train. I turned around to try again, and he positively approached, but stopped again. Finding this strange I asked him to try again, before realising that he was gawping at the water, just behind the train jump. So I approached the train from the water and he jumped it easily. I turned Llani around again and this time he cantered happily over the train and into the water! Then we had a lovely medium trot through the water!

We finished our session there as the rain was starting to come down heavily and I felt that Llani had enough to mull over for one day. He had tried very hard and jumped plenty of new fences in not the easiest of conditions, so next time I`ll aim to link more fences together and with better ground conditions he can tackle more complicated fences, steps and ditches to expand his horizons.

My photographer only managed to get a couple of photos before his hands went numb, so I’m afraid I don’t have any of Llani jumping – next time! Here he is just getting his bearings at the beginning.