The first part of this month I read Elwyn Hartley Edwards "Complete Book of Bits and Bitting". On page 50 I read about a bit I had never seen or read about before, the Wellep bit. Mr. Edwards called it the first new method of making bits since 400 BC. I was intrigued, I am always looking for stuff that makes the horses I ride more comfortable and for bits that help make up for the limitations of my hands. Going to the web I found the site www.wellep.com and clicked on the bit icon. Unfortunately the latest date on the site was 2008. There are many pictures of the bits, with 5 different mouth pieces (center joint, Wellep's 3 piece snaffle, Dr. Bristol, French link and Mullen mouth) and three different side-pieces, direct rein, a curb effect (no curb chain) that works on the poll, and one that let you use two sets of reins, one on the snaffle and one on the end of the side-pieces. There also are slits in the side-piece where you can attach a hackamore type noseband. All joints in the mouthpiece are ball joints with limited movement, and the mouth-piece is attached to the bit's side pieces by ball joints which have a good bit of movement. I started a discussion in the Forum, but nobody here had heard of this bit either.
After perusing the Wellep site for a while, I decided which style I really wanted, Wellep's 3-piece snaffle, or the bit where I could use two sets of reins, with 4 3/4" mouths. Eagerly I went back to the web and looked to see if there were any of these bits for sale. Luckily I found two, both 5" mouths, with central joint, one with the snaffle effect and one with the "curb" effect on the poll. No other ones were available, so I hunted up the money and bought both. I have been checking the web and Ebay religiously ever since, but I seem to have gotten the only ones available right now. Delivery took a while because I ordered from England and Iceland's erupting volcano was messing up the airplane flights, but one came this week (the snaffle) and I eagerly put it on my Micklem Multibridle (one with the chin strap removed).
I got to ride Cider today, Cider is nice about trying out all the new things I come up with. I was worried at first that the bit would feel too wide in Cider's 4 3/4 " mouth, so I used the the noseband option to attach the bit to the Multibridle's noseband to stabilize the bit in her mouth. I really liked how the side pieces of the bit (attached to the mouth piece with ball-joints) conformed to the shape of Cider's head. After tightening some straps Cider and I went out into the ring to try my new bit. Cider quickly found out that she could rotate the mouth-piece ALL THE WAY AROUND when on loose reins. Happily playing and slobbering, Cider accepted the bit.
The Wellep bit is different in that a steel cable goes through the stainless steel mouthpiece and the central ball joint. When I pull on both reins the ball joint in the center sort of "jams up" and the bit becomes somewhat like a Mullen mouth snaffle. The steel cable going through the mouthpiece has 3/8 " of play from side to side. Theoretically this means that one hand can directly feel what the other hand is doing while on contact. I was sort of worried about rating Cider (the energizer bunny) on contact, I have had problems with Mullen mouth snaffles, after a while the horses I ride seem to go through the bit and lean on it with great gusto, and all the while the Mullen mouth feels sort of "dead" to my fingers.
For some reason of the way this bit was designed I did not get that "dead" feeling when on contact with the Wellep bit even though the mouthpiece stiffens up. Cider gave me excellent contact immediately with no fussing. We had a few minor discussions about how she still had to obey my hands with the new bit, but then she settled down. After around 15 minutes I had Shannon take off the straps that attached the bit to the noseband so I could see if there was any difference in how Cider reacted to the bit. The extra 1/4 " width did not seem to bother her in this bit like it has with other bits. There was no difference in the contact after this change, and Cider appreciated the additional looseness of the bit, happily rolling the mouth-piece around in her mouth when off contact. Slobber, slobber, slobber.
I like this bit. I do not know yet if I will end up preferring the Wellep bit to my beloved Dr. Bristol snaffles, but it is by far the best center jointed snaffle I've ridden in. One thing I like in particular is if I lose my balance and accidentally pull on the reins the bit stiffens into the Mullen mouth like mouth-piece and there is NO nut-cracker action and the center joint does not go anywhere near the roof of the horse's mouth, so the worst that the horse can get from my hands is a bump. I also like that the HORSE determines where the mouth-piece of the bit bears on her tongue, and at what angle. Cider REALLY liked this feature. I find that horses like being able to make some decisions for themselves, and this decision in no way compromised my control of the horse. Another unique feature of this bit, the cable through the mouth-piece, means that if my hands are slightly uneven in contact the horse can move its head up to 3/8 " to even the pressure out.
It was really hot and muggy this morning, and my hands were not sensitive enough for me to be concious with one hand of what the other hand was doing. I hope that my fingers figure it out on their own because my conciousness of my hands is not going to get any more sensitive until it cools down in the autumn.
The release of this bit is fantastic. When pressure is removed from the reins the stiff mouthpiece immediately loosens up, and the horse can immediately go back to playing with the bit, rolling it around, up and down, in the mouth. Since she had the new bit to play with, Cider was much more civilized than usual on a loose rein. After the first down hill trot on contact (we had a discussion) I had no problems rating Cider, at one point I was urging with my legs when she trotted down-hill to keep her at a steady pace. This is a first, always before its been Cider wanting to go faster, Faster, FASTER down hill. Once or twice she started leaning on the bit, but then, on her own, she decided that she liked the bit better when it was looser and went back to normal contact on her own. I used both soft contact and full contact, no problems with either.
I sincerely hope that I will eventually be able to find and buy the Wellep bits I want, the 3-piece ones and the one for 2 sets of reins. I would also LOVE to them in a 4 3/4", but after today I do not think it is very urgent, the extra width of the 5" bit did not seem to bother Cider at all. I just have to start saving up my spending money so I can buy them when they appear. It will take me a while for my hands to learn this bit, I haven't ridden in a central-jointed snaffle for years! The movements of a center joint are DIFFERENT than the movements of a Dr. Bristol snaffle, and it may take a while for my fingers to remember how it is done, which is why I had so hoped to find a three piece Wellep bit.
I think my other Wellep bit ("curb") is now sitting in the post-office, we got a package notice yesterday. On Wednesday I will show my present set up to Debbie, hoping that she will let me try it on Mia some week. (Mia is still stiffer, I think we'd better put her back on just the hemp powder. Somehow MSM and hemp powder DO NOT work together, it is either one or the other.) Mia really likes my JP Dr. Bristol bit, I do not think it would hurt to wait until she feels better. Either way it is up to Debbie.
Have a great ride.