Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Odds and Ends about Showing Arabian Western Horses

In the last post asthmagirl asked why it was such a big deal for the Arabian horse, Scandalous Rhythm to be put into the western bridle. I thought it might be a good thing to go over some of the basic rules about tack in the western division which includes pleasure horses, trail, reining, cutting and working cow horses.

The rules for showing Arabian horses require that all horses 6 years and older showing in any western classes must be shown in the a western style curb bit and can be ridden only with one hand.

A standard western bit is defined as having a shank with an overall length of not be longer than 8 1/2 inches. The mouthpiece must be smooth and cannot be smaller than 5/16 in diameter. Nothing may protrude past the mouthpiece such as prongs or extensions or rivets designed to intimidate the horse. Rollers are acceptable as are jointed mouthpieces. The port must be no higher than 3 1/2 in.

Curb chains or straps are permitted but most be worn flat and be at least 1/2 in wide. Rounded, rolled or braided curb straps are prohibited. A light lip strap is permissible.

A lip strap is used to keep the bit from swinging in the horse's mouth. It is tied on one shank of the bit, goes over (not through) the curb chain or strap and then ties to the other shank. An incorrectly applied lip strap can be reason for elimination.

Reins can be split or closed. A rider showing with split reins may have one finger between the reins if the rein ends hang on the same side as the rein hand. For split reins with ends falling on the off side of rein hand and romel, the rein hand must be closed around the reins a finger in between is cause for elimination. When riding with romel or split reins falling away from the rein hand, the reins may be held by the non rein hand to keep from swinging or to adjust rein length but must be held at least 16 in from the rein hand.

Junior horses (3 to 5 years olds) are shown in a standard snaffle bit or a Hackamore. A standard snaffle is defined as a center jointed single rounded, unwrapped smooth mouthpiece of 5/16 to 3/4 inch diameter metal measured 1 inch in from the ring with a gradual decrease to the center of the snaffle. The rings may be from 2" to 4" outside diameter of either the loose type, eggbutt, dee or center mounted without cheeks. If a curb strap is attached it must be below the reins.

The hackamore includes a bosal rounded in shape and constructed of a flexible braided rawhide or leather and must have a flexible non metallic core attached to a suitable headstall with maximum diameter of 3/4 in at the cheek. Reins can be of leather, horsehair or rope.

These are only the general rules. There are a lot more specifics about actual mouthpieces that should be consulted before using any king of unusual bit. Judges can ask for bits to be dropped in any pleasure class so they can see what type of mouthpiece the horse is working in. For the reining and cow classes, the steward has sthe rider drop the bit for inspection immediately on leaving the ring.

Bits are a very interesting topic. Entire books have been written on the subject. There are all kinds of mouthpieces in both curb bits and snaffle bits. Each mouthpiece has a specific purpose and should be matched to the horse.

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  1. thanks for the informative post! i've always been a bit mystified by the rules surrounding western bitting, but it sounds as if it runs along very similar lines with dressage rules and classical practice.

    there is a lot of prejudice in the english world against curbs (and their cousins, pelhams) to the point where even some dressage riders are beginning to look unfavorably on the double bridle, and i hear natural horsemanship gurus condemn them as well. a lot of people mistakenly presume they are used as brakes for unruly horses or to force a particular head carriage (and sadly, in inexperienced hands, they sometimes are... the curb is a very easy bit to abuse.) many are of the opinion that everything can be accomplished with a snaffle, and i am always amazed at how much yanking and sawing some people are willing to do with a snaffle to prove this, when the lightest of curb action/release can encourage a horse to relax his topline naturally and without force....

    few english riders today are aware that, classically speaking, a snaffle or cavesson is used for the early stages of a horse's development, and a 'finished' horse always goes in a curb, (usually in combination with a snaffle - the 'full bridle') but i am glad to learn that knowledgeable western riders also follow a similar program of schooling young horses in a snaffle or hackamore, and then progress to the curb (though, do they go directly from hackamore to curb, or use a snaffle in between?)

    of course, we all cringe when we watch a western movie and some cowboy reins his horse in with a yank of the curb and the horse's eyes bulge, his mouth opens and he nearly flips over, but the occasional misuse shouldn't give curbs a bad name! and, your horses look beautifully relaxed and willing, so there's the proof :-)

    i do wonder, though, about using the curb WITHOUT a curb strap/chain, and using jointed curbs (though i would probably ONLY use a jointed bit without a curb strap...) as these would be cardinal sins in classical english bitting. is there a particular reason for using these, a type of horse they benefit, or a desired effect?

  2. This is precisly why I couldn't show, I would never remember all the rules.....LOL....And I'm sure laughing stock of show ring!!!!

  3. Very intersting I am learning so much about Arabians! You wealth of knowledge you!

  4. jme,most Arabian trainers I am aware of only use the bosal for show purposes. The young horse is started in the snaffle, shown in the bosal and then graduates to the curb.

    As for the jointed curbs, my understanding is their best use is consisdered to be for trail classes. I was told at a trail clinic by a well known trail trainer and judge that the jointed snaffle allows for more flexibility and less confusion for the horse. Because of the joint quality of the bit, pressure can be applied to one side alone making it easier to negotiate some obstacels and avoid a bracing horse. However, I have not worked with my trail horse and this type of mouthpiece yet so I can't really speak to the particulars although having that action similiar to the snaffle on the mouthpiece would seem to support that theory.

    callie, when it comes to rules these are only the tip of the iceberg. lol However most equipment sold in stores is legal. I believe someone must really go out of their way to find an illegal bit.

    kris, I think the AQHA and paints rules are much the same except for the ages of what is considered a junior horse. Arabians cannot show under saddle at 2 and I think some other breeds can.

  5. MiKael-another informative post. A correctly bridled horse is a pleasure to watch, irregardless of the dicipline.

  6. Very informative Mikael, thanks.

    I knew some of the information you shared and wondered about others.

  7. Nice post.

    BTW do you know who that bay Arab is in the picture?

  8. browneyedcowgirls, I so with you on that one. There's nothing prettier than a horse going softly in any bridle.

    kathy c, that's kind of how I started off. I knew some and then have gradually learned more along the way. In the beginning I'd didn't know it was legal to adjust the reins on the romel. LOL

    inkeq, the bay Arabian in the western bridle pictured my himself, is my stallion, Scandalous Legacy. On the top picture that is Dandy (full brother).

  9. Oh he is just beautiful!

    I've never been to a western pleasure show with arabians, but he looks so into his job.

  10. Thanks for all the info, it proves your never too old to learn something new.

  11. Another great post Mikael! Lots of good information even though I probably will never show again. Never know though, my granddaughter may get bitten by the bug! I can't wait to go to the mini horse show next week. I've never been to one so it should be quite an experience.

    Both pictures are gorgeous!!!!!!!!!

  12. Thanks for answering my questions. It did help to clear things up. I was kind of assuming that whatever was involved in moving to the bridle was a big step, but didn't know why.

    I don't ride anymore, and haven't for years, so I'm obviously vague on some of the finer points! Thanks again for helping my to follow your story!

  13. I don't know if I will ever show my horse, but I found your post very interesting...and a bit overwhelming, too.
    There seem to be so many rules in shows, but I often wonder why there are so many and what are the reasons behind them.

    And the subject of bit types is also fascinating, too.

    Thanks for sharing on these topics.

  14. bits are incredibly interesting. Would this be a finished bridle horse?

  15. inkeq, he is definitely a horse who likes to work.

    grey horse matters, I'm pretty sure there will always be something to learn when it comes to horses. There is just so much I don't think anyone can learn it all. lol

    midlife mom, I have a couple of internet friends who breed minis, you might even see them at the show.

    asthmagirl, the big deal about the change is that the pressure changes for the horse. In the snaffle it is on corners of the mouth and the curb puts pressure on the pole, the bars and the chin. That's a big increase in pressure and can cause some horses to become claustrophobic.

    twinville, unfortunately many of the extensive rules are directly related to human being taking shortcuts at the expense of the horse. What started out as simple guidelines has grown into a huge book that is updated every year.

    holly, that might be a finished bridle horse for that discipline. I am not familiar with all of the different breeds and their specs.

    I'll have to see if I can find a video of a finished Arabian western pleasure horse. I know there must be some posted.

  16. really interesting! thanks for the info :-)