The last two weeks I was all excited, I thought I would be able to go back to riding with my favorite bit, the JP Dr. Bristol Hunter D. Last spring, when I last used this type of bit, both mares had been going very well, keeping contact well, with relaxed tongues and lower jaws, and we had fun "talking" back and forth with the bit. So I changed the bits on my bridles and went out full of optimism and hope. Both mares decided that since they were 1) horses, 2) mares, and 3) Arab/1/2 Arab that they were entitled to change their minds about the bits, and that they preferred their new type of bit, the Wellep.

Cider was especially vehement about "voicing" her disapproval of the change. All of a sudden Cider was FUSSING with the bit, I finally figured out that she was trying to get the mouthpiece to roll in her mouth. When she could not get the mouthpiece to roll she started grinding the bit between her teeth. This happened both on and off contact, she wanted the Wellep bit back! The flexibility of the Dr. Bristol mouthpiece also seemed to be irritating her, anyway the wonderful "conversations" we used to have with the Dr. Bristol bits were gone. Cider is a very opinionated mare who believes in the efficacy of never giving up in expressing her disapproval of a change she doesn't like.

Mia was more diplomatic about expressing her dislike of the change. She would fuss at the new bit some, then settle down back into decent contact, but her tongue was just not as relaxed as in the Wellep bit. All of a sudden she would ignore a rein aid, and when I tried the aid a little stronger she would either invert her neck or go behind the bit. I couldn't seem to get to that happy medium of a strong enough rein aid so that she KNEW it was a command and a light enough rein aid that did not trigger resistance. After two rides each in the Dr. Bristol, I decided to quit arguing with these horses and thought through another bit change.

On the Wellep my hands had stopped being able to tell exactly where they were leading to problems in keeping good contact. Since Cider was soooo vehement about wanting to be able to roll the mouthpiece in her mouth I decided I HAD to go back to the Wellep bit. So I used the Lever Cheek Wellep with two pairs of reins, one (snaffle) attached directly to the cheek piece at the mouth, and the other ("curb") attached to the end of the cable which goes through a little ring at the end of the lever cheek. That way I had sort of a Pelham without a curb chain. Once Shannon got the bit into her mouth Cider immediately started to relax, she had her favorite toy back! I had no problems with contact today. Cider LIKED the direct rein to the mouthpiece (ie., not attached to the cable), each time I asked for contact she confidently reached out with her tongue and accepted my hands. Each time I relaxed my hands Cider's tongue went right away to rolling that Wellep mouthpiece around in her mouth until I asked for contact again. Relaxed tongue, relaxed lower jaw, relaxed poll, what more could I ask for? After riding twenty minutes I decided to try the "curb" effect. At a walk, keeping good contact with the snaffle rein I lightly fingured the "curb" rein. After a stride or two Cider started collecting a little (her back came up a little.) After around three stride I then advanced my hands so she was off contact, and Cider continued on in partial collection, all on her own. She kept this up, off contact, half-way around the ring, when she went back to her normal way of carrying herself. I think Cider was finally happy with her bit.

Mia was not as vehement as Cider about her displeasure with the change. With Mia I was picking up the feeling that the found the Dr. Bristol mouthpiece too mobile after the stability of the Wellep mouthpiece. I had considered using the Mullen mouthed snaffle on her, and I should have listened to myself. So I put my leather bit guards on my Mullen mouth egg-butt snaffle and put it on Mia's bridle. (I had used the Mullen mouth without the bit guards on Mia over a year before, until she started "running through" the bit, at which point I had changed to the JP Dr. Bristol.) She explored the different bit with her tongue as we walked to the riding arena. After I mounted, when I asked for contact, Mia reached forth confidently with her tongue and cheerfully established contact. I kept my hand aids light, trying to keep them at the "stroking the back of a butterfly" level, and I had no problems with Mia accepting and obeying them. She even kept decent contact at the posting trot. Mouth closed, nose leading, relaxed tongue, lower jaw and poll, correctly responding to my rein aids, Mia felt like a different horse that the one I had ridden just two days before. She was concentrating on ME, not her bit. She even did not swish her tail when I used the spur mildly. Such an improvement!

So, horses are entitled to change their minds about the bits in their mouths. Since I listened to my horse's comments I will not waste months of riding trying to get them to accept what is, all of a sudden, an unacceptable mouthpiece. Debbie, my riding teacher, won't be yelling at me as much since Mia is accepting my aids again. Maybe, later on in the winter, my hands will start working better again and I can switch Mia back to the JP Dr. Bristol, but I do not think that Cider will cheerfully accept anything but the Wellep mouthpiece. In a way this is good because I can now build new nerve pathways to deal with the two sets of reins without putting two bits in her mouth. I had never been really able to differentiate the feel of the two different reins the few times I had ridden in a Pelham before, but I do not seem to have that problem with the Wellep, the snaffle rein feels very different from the curb rein. The mares are happy, I'm happy, life is wonderful.

Have a great ride.

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Comment by Shiny Fluff on October 23, 2010 at 4:21am
Interesting article : )

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