In the May '08 issue of The Trail Rider, I helped bust several gaited-horse myths. Since then, many readers have contacted me, asking for details. You especially want to know about the best bits to use on your smooth-gaited horses. In the July/August '08 issue of The Trail Rider, I've provided answers to some of your questions.
Below are two bonus Q&As, a web exclusive.
Note that any trail rider can use this information. In fact, the very first and most important point I want to make is that gaited horses do not need special bits, on the trail or elsewhere. Don't select a bit based on your horse's breed or gait. Rather, select the bit that's best for your individual horse's comfort and that will best help you communicate with him.
Q. I'm having a terrible problem finding the right bit for my gaited-horse gelding. He's a head-tosser, which I didn't know when I bought him. When I tried him out, he jumped around and acted up. But he hadn't been ridden in a year so I figured he was just upset about having to go back to work and would settle down. I've used two or three different snaffles, a mechanical hackamore, and now a Kimblewick, which is some kind of English curb bit, I think. He goes best in this bit, but I feel bad about putting him in a curb when I should be able to ride him in a snaffle.
A. A Kimblewick (named for its place of origin, the English village of Kimblewick) is a mild curb consisting of a mouthpiece with D-shaped rings on either side. The D-rings and curb chain create a small amount of leverage. It can be a useful trail bit, and it doesn't have to be severe.
If your gelding works well in a Kimblewick, then use it. Be sure to use a solid mouthpiece, such as a mullen-mouth (gentle end-to-end curve), or a low- or medium-port mouthpiece. The only severe Kimblewicks I've seen have featured a broken mouthpiece. The combination of curb leverage and a broken mouthpiece is severe.
(For photos of high-quality Kimblewick bits, visit www.doversaddlery.com, and type "Kimberwicke" -- a common Americanization of the bit name -- into the search engine.)
Q. My riding instructor loaned me a Pelham bit. It has a solid, curved mouthpiece, short shanks, and a curb chain. My gaited horse goes so well in this bit, it's incredible. I hardly have to touch the reins; I just keep light contact on the upper, snaffle rein and leave the lower, curb rein loose unless I need the brakes. I'm having trouble figuring out which rein is which without looking down. For some reason, if I look down, I get confused, and I get my reins in a tangle. I need some way to tell the reins apart without looking.
A. This is an easy one. For those unfamiliar with this bit, a Pelham bit consists of a mouthpiece with shanks, a curb chain, two rein rings per side on the shank, and a cheekpiece ring on top of each shank.
The top rein rings are connected on either side of the mouthpiece; rein pressure applied to these rings is transferred directly to the mouthpiece, making the bit work as a snaffle. Thus, the attached rein is called a snaffle rein.
The bottom rein rings are located on shanks; rein pressure applied to these rings provides leverage and activates the curb chain, making the bit work as a curb. Thus, the attached rein is called a curb rein.
Traditionally, the Pelham would come with two sets of plain-leather reins. The snaffle rein would be wider than the curb rein, and would have a buckle in the center, whereas the narrower curb rein would be sewn in the center.
You don't have to follow that tradition - you can use any kind of reins you want. If the two leather reins feel too much alike to you, replace one with a rubber, cotton-web, or braided-cotton rein. Then you'll always know which rein is which without having to look down.
(For photos of high-quality Pelham bits, visit www.doversaddlery.com, and enter "Pelham" into the search engine.)