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Are Pelham Bits Frowned Upon in the Hunter Ring?

Featured Image Credit: Tricia Booker Photography

Submitted by member: Ali

Are pelhams frowned upon in the hunter ring? I have been struggling to find the perfect bit for my horse, and after watching Bernie’s Bits and Bitting video, I have some more ideas of ones to try! But just wasn’t sure if the pelham was frowned upon in the hunters.

rubber pelham

Rubber jointed pelham

Answer by Julie Winkel

In the hunter ring, traditional bits are recommended, which include snaffles, pelhams, and full bridles—all with a cavesson nosebands. Nontraditional bits, such as hunter gags & Kimberwicks, MAY be penalized at the judge’s discretion. Illegal bits includes two & three ring bits, jumper-type gags, etc. The judge MUST eliminate the competitor if these are used. Illegal nosebands in the hunter ring include dropped nosebands, flash nosebands, and figure 8’s. Standing and running martingales are allowed in over fences classes, but not in under saddle classes.

As a judge, I am not partial to a pelham vs. a snaffle. I want to see a horse that carries themself in a light uphill manner with a good expression. So whichever bit that individual horse goes best in is the right answer.

Martingales, correctly fitted, are acceptable except in flat classes, hunter hack classes, and tie-breaking hack classes. Correctly fitted for the standing means the strap touches the middle of the neck but not the throat. For running martingales, they are long enough as to not break a straight line to the horse’s mouth from the rider’s hand. Standing martingales are very common, however, you rarely see a running martingale used, but they are legal.

Standing martingales should be used if needed and can actually make a better overall picture with a horse that has a big front end or long neck as they looked more balanced. But if the horse doesn’t need a martingale otherwise, don’t use it. It’s whatever the horse goes best in.

I do think it’s a cleaner look to show in the under saddle classes in a snaffle, as we are looking for a horse that not only is a good mover but also has a good expression and is light in the bridle. But I would not consciously penalize a horse that’s hacked in a pelham.

Video Recommendations:

What bit to use on your horse

Bits and Bitting
Bernie Traurig
Bernie shares his personal insights on bits and bitting. His philosophy has been gained through decades of experience with thousands of horses.
Running Time:  31 minutes and 6 seconds

View Video
horse bits

Bernie’s Big Bag of Bits
Bernie Traurig
Does the sheer volume and variety of bits adorning tack shop walls today overwhelm you? Would you like to have a bit selection guideline that follows classical principals with your horse’s comfort at the forefront? If you answered yes to either of these questions, Bernie has pared down a list of his favorite go-to bits that will simplify and positively influence your bitting choices. As a clinician, Bernie travels around the country and abroad literally lugging around a bag of bits. Extra baggage fees aside, he finds that having his favorite bits at hand, ringside to be invaluable. Time and again he has come to believe that experimentation is key as long as you are listening to your horse’s sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious acceptance of and/or objection to the mouthpiece.
Running Time:  6 minutes and 46 seconds

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pelham horse bit

Introducing Your Horse to the Hard Rubber Pelham
Bernie Traurig
Finding the right bit takes experimentation and the ability to read your horse’s reactions. For some horses, the pelham can prove to be the ideal show bit, while other horses are quick to communicate their displeasure with it. Follow Bernie through the steps of familiarizing a horse with a hard rubber pelham for the first time.
Running Time:  13 minutes and 17 seconds

View Video

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Julie Winkel

Julie Winkel has been a licensed Hunter, Equitation, Hunter Breeding and Jumper judge since 1984. She has officiated at prestigious events such as Devon, Harrisburg, Washington International, Capital Challenge, The Hampton Classic and Upperville Horse Shows. She has designed the courses and judged the ASPCA Maclay Finals, The USEF Medal Finals and The New England Equitation Finals.

For more information, visit her website:

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. I had a judge tell me that even though I had a great round she could not pin my horse because a running martigale is considered “unconventional tack”

    1. Thanks for you question. I believe in hunter classes running martingale’s are not allowed but standing martingale’s are. Was it hunter or jumper class?

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