Since I had noticed that Mick’s back felt better when I used a bit versus using a cross-under bitless bridle I decided to see if I could get him to move his tongue more while being ridden. I had three choices from my bit collection, my egg-butt center copper roller snaffle, my regular Wellep bit and the Wellep Lever cheek bit that acts like a gag bit (these bits are no longer made, you can see them at wellep.com.) Since I think that part of the reason he did not like my cross-under bridle was because of poll pressure I quickly decided that the Wellep Lever cheek bit that acts like a gag was not going to work at all. The copper roller snaffle’s roller is sort of thick and I decided to wait on that one, so I put on the regular Wellep bit on my Micklem bridle. I have not used this bit for over 4 years since my hands had gotten worse by using it (my fault, I was not paying enough attention to my hands, they were going up and down while I kept contact at the walk) so Mick had never gotten to try it out. So I transferred my leather bit guards from my JP Dr. Bristol to the Wellep bit, guessed at the right length of the cheek pieces, and hoped for the best.
I had to do a bit more grooming and tacking up since Debbie was also getting Tercel ready to ride. Thankfully Mick’s rain rot had not reappeared to any great extent so grooming was not too bad. The problem was when I picked up my Stubben Siegfried to saddle Mick, that saddle is HEAVY, my arms were tired from grooming and they were not strong enough to lift the saddle high enough to put it on his back! I finally remembered seeing Western riders (back when Western saddles tended to weigh 40 pounds) swinging their saddle up onto the horse’s back, so I successfully swung the Stubben up onto Mick’s back and I finish saddling him. Unfortunately I strained one of my arm muscles doing so but it did not start hurting until later (I never had this problem in my 20‘s!) I put on his BOT butt blanket and poll cap so he would feel warmer since it was a little nippy. When it came time to bridle him I had no problems. Since every other horse I had tried the Wellep bit on had spent most of their time playing with the mouthpiece with their tongues I was sort of surprised that Mick just stood there, no tongue movement and very peaceful about the new bit in his mouth. I noticed there was a little wrinkle at the corner of his mouth so I lengthened his cheek pieces a hole so that the bit was just touching the corners of his mouth. I was determined that there would be no poll pressure! This bit is a single jointed snaffle, with a ball joint in the middle and ball joints where the mouthpiece meets the rings, and the mouthpiece is very mobile, something the other horses had discovered right away and happily played with a lot of the time the bit was in their mouths. Maybe the difference was that these other horses were mares.
When I started riding Mick in the ring I noticed immediately that his back did not feel as stiff as usual. His back was swinging gently at the walk without me having to work at it. Debbie mounted Tercel so there was another horse in the ring with him, so I thought maybe Mick was distracted from his back pain. Then I realized that I was having to use a LOT LESS LEG to keep him moving out.
During my lesson Debbie was trying my dressage saddle on Tercel with the Corrector pad underneath. Tercel was not as happy with the saddle, Debbie tried moving the saddle back some but that did not make Tercel more comfortable, so I suggested she remove the Corrector pad since he had moved better the first time we tried the saddle with just a regular pad. Tercel approved of the Corrector coming off and started moving much more freely. So Debbie was walking, trotting, and cantering around the ring and Mick perked up. All of a sudden, when regularly I have to use a lot of leg to keep him moving at a trot, Mick was promptly reacting to one leg signal and moved out freely.
One nice thing about the ball-joint in the middle of the Wellep bit is that the nut-cracker action is limited, and when the horse takes full contact the bit works like a Mullen mouth snaffle. Mick had no problems with going on full contact and he had no big problems the times I got “left behind” and did not give him enough rein, in fact his contact got a bit strong for me. I quickly realized that I did not have to use as much leg, Mick was giving me good, impulsive trots right away and he offered to canter a few times. Since my seat was sort of weak at his stronger trot I asked him not to canter and he kindly stayed in the trot. Maybe next week I will be brave enough to canter. All through my ride Mick had forward impulse, cheerfully elevated his forehand when I asked, and in general acted like his back did not bother him at all as long as he was moving straight ahead, though his turns were still sort of stiff.
Was the Wellep bit the reason that Mick’s back relaxed? I have been using the Back on Track saddle pad, butt blanket and poll cap for over a year and at no time had his back felt this relaxed. Could it be his back was feeling better because I made good and sure that there was NO pressure on his poll (at least no more pressure than having the crown piece on him)? I have no idea, but I have been using the Back on Track poll cap on him for months, I always make sure that there are no wrinkles at the corner of his mouth and not gotten this result, his back always felt stiff before I tried the Wellep bit. I know it is not the Mullen mouth effect, he is just as stiff in his back when his Mullen mouth bit is in his mouth as he is in my JP Dr. Bristol. When I rode him in the ring with other horses before he had more impulse, but his back still felt stiff. Maybe it was a combination of the Mullen mouth effect when in full contact, the lack of poll pressure from the bridle, and the fact that that Mick could choose exactly where he wanted the mouthpiece of the bit. I can tell you it was not from him using his tongue to move the mouthpiece all the time like the mares had, his mouth was very quiet and I did not feel his tongue move at all.
All of the time I’ve ridden Mick I have been well aware that if Mick’s back was not so stiff he might be too much horse for me. I got a taste of that during my lesson. It was like the difference between laboriously pedaling a tricycle around in the deep sand and getting up on a rocket. I HAVE to work on getting my legs stronger in the saddle, and at the same time I HAVE to work on making my lower leg aids a lot lighter (so no gripping with my lower leg!) I quickly get very tired when I grip with my upper calf muscles so I have not been practicing that a lot, shame on me. In order to ride Mick successfully when he is not totally preoccupied with his back I will have to strengthen my seat, lengthen my legs and become a much better rider. It is always good to be challenged on horseback, that is when it becomes very apparent that I still have to improve my riding.
It will be interesting to see if Mick has as much forward impulse wearing the Wellep bit when there are no other horses in the ring. I’ll be sure to let all of you know when I find out.
Have a great ride!