My New Bit Gives Me a Chance to Improve My Riding
After looking at an ad for a Wellep bit for over a year, I finally had enough spare money to buy it. It was described, and the picture showed, a Wellep Mullen mouth Full Cheek Snaffle. The web site's title was Wellep Western Bit, which confused me because on the Wellep bit web site there was no mention of Western bits! I finally ordered it and spent the ensuing days imagining riding with this new bit, and getting really, really excited about my plans.
When I ripped the box open I did not get the bit that was pictured. I got a Wellep Single Joint Full Cheek snaffle, but there were differences from the bits pictured on the Wellep site. The mouthpiece and side plates were the same, but the cable going through the bit was MUCH longer than the Wellep bits I already own. For instance, in a Wellep single jointed bit I already owned, the cable has 6/8” of free play. The Wellep double jointed bit has 1/4” of free play. My new Wellep big has 3 3/4” of free play! The cable that goes through the bit is coated with a clear plastic in my older Wellep bits, the cable on my new bit has no coating. The color of the steel is different. The rein rings on my old Wellep bits are round, the rein rings on my new Wellep bit are more shaped like D's. On my new bit there is a plastic tab on one end of the cable, something none of my other Wellep bits have.
After fiddling around with my new bit I realized that, by twisting the metal fastening “bolt” near the rein D's I could shorten the free play of my new bit, all I had to do was unscrew the “bolt”, pull on the end of the cable, and re-screw the bolt when I got to my desired length. I quickly remembered reading on a web horse forum, that a rider had a Wellep bit cable break on him during competition, and then the Wellep company had redesigned their bit. Could it be that my “new” bit is one of the original Wellep models?
After some thought I made the cable through the bit as long as I could. I've had problems throughout the years keeping my reins even in length. I ride with rainbow reins now to help with my little problem, but even so I suspected that the horses were telling me that I had not completely fixed this problem with my hands.
When I got my first Wellep bit years ago I appreciated that the bit had a little bit of free play, which gave the horse some control over how he/she meets my hands during contact. This little bit of free play meant that the horses did not “cuss me out” when my hands deteriorated in the summer heat (along with the other wonderful comfort features of the Wellep bit.) So I theorized that with even more free play of the cable that goes through the bit, the horses would have more choice on how to ameliorate my uneven reins, though I was sort of worried about how I would handle the reins with so MUCH free play (3 3/4” versus 6/8”). Yes, I will HAVE TO control my outside rein when I use my inside rein for a command, something I have not concentrated on for years since I have so many problems with coordination.
When we groomed and tacked up Bingo for my lesson he was not in a good mood. Nothing was quite good enough, he did not want to cooperate, and he made his displeasure obvious. I almost regretted trying out a new bit on Wednesday, but I am so glad I went ahead with it.
Bingo is used to the Wellep single jointed bit, I used one on him for months and it is the bit his little lesson rider uses. So when Debbie put it in his mouth he had no reaction, same old, same old. We started the lesson with a walk on loose reins, and there was no difference until I gave an turning aid with ONE rein. ZING, the cable rapidly ran through the bit (it is encased within the metal mouthpiece) and Bingo happily proceeded straight ahead. Yep, I need to keep contact with my outside rein when I give a rein aid! I made sure that my hands were even on my rainbow reins and I tried again, and while the ZING was less Bingo was not heading exactly where I wanted him to go. Then I got the idea of checking that the cable on both sides of the bit was even, rechecked my hands on the reins, made good and sure that I kept contact with my outside rein, and I tried again, with somewhat better results.
My turns on the hindquarters and forehand were the worst. I had developed hand aids that turned out to be dependent on the bit remaining stable in the horse's mouth in relation to my hands. Well the mouthpiece of my new Wellep bit most certainly stays stable in the horse's mouth, but with this type of Wellep bit the position of the mouthpiece is quite independent of the rein actions. It is only when the cable goes completely through the mouthpiece, all 3¾” of it, that the outside cheek-piece of the bit starts acting and I get actual traction with the rein. I found out that if I wanted a turn in place my rein aids had to be LIGHTER when I used one rein at a time (for instance when I take and release a rein aid with one rein.) Not only do my hand aids have to become lighter, I have to develop better coordination between my left hand and my right hand. Bingo was most gracious during my experiments, hey the mouthpiece of the bit stayed in exactly the same place while he got some light, pleasant vibrations when the cable went ZING through the mouthpiece. He could happily live with that.
Then I started trotting and Bingo showed A LOT more impulse. He immediately started springing from diagonal to diagonal instead of shuffling around in his Western jog. I used a lot less leg, and my leg aids were lighter because he was so super responsive, and he went forward cheerfully. WOW! Obviously my uneven contact had been giving Bingo unintended signals to slow down when I wanted him to stride out. Since there is so much free play with the cable of my new bit, Bingo has a great amount of freedom to even out my contact when my hands are not perfectly even. The turns were chancy at first until I got my contact with my outside hand better, and his responses to my rein aids were not quite as exact as they had been with my other Wellep bits, for instance it took me several attempts to get him to “plant” his hind end in one place when I tried the turn on the hindquarters. Normally he “plants” his hind end right away and we get a good turn on the hindquarters right away.
Using my new Wellep bit will “force” me to improve my hands, and, at the same time, NOT torture my horse's mouth as I learn new habits. Throughout all my messing with my hands and reins, Bingo did not show any discomfort or pain from the actions of my hands. He did not try to plow through my hands, he did not suck back from my hands, and he remained quite cheerful throughout our lesson. Since he started out in a bad mood I consider that a good sign, I did not make a mistake in getting this bit!
It must of upset the Wellep bit's developers to have to change their bit. This original bit gives the horse so much more ability to “ignore” imperfections in the rider's hands, it helps prevent hand faults from impeding the movement of the horse, and it is adjustable so riders can “customize” the bit to get better results. Yes, safety is paramount, and in making a safer Wellep bit the designers made one of the gentlest bits in the history of horsemanship, one that even beginners can use without torturing the horse's mouth, but having less play in the bit does change the action of this bit.
I am excited, with this Wellep bit giving me feedback on how to improve my hands, with my Pegasus Butterfly saddle forcing me to improve my side-to-side balance, with my rainbow reins giving me a visual reference as to the position of my hands, and my Equicube helping me improve my back, I am on my way to becoming a much, much better rider.
Have a great ride!