My New Wellep Bit Signals How My Hands Need to Improve...
And it is the “zing” of the cable through the mouthpiece that shows me how I have failed through the decades to truly follow the horses' mouths.
From the first day I tried the Wellep bit I have marveled at how I finally found a bit that ameliorates the bad effects of my MS on my hands, my hand tremors, my lack of “feel”, and the imperfect responses of my hands to the horses' mouths. As my MS worsens my hands and my contact deteriorate, and bits that the horses have found acceptable for years suddenly become unbearable. Before I found out about the Wellep bit I would groan and switch to riding bitless, thus discovering that not all horses prefer nose pressure to contact with a bit, however imperfect my hands!
At first I thought it was the wonderful mobility of the mouthpiece and cheek-pieces of the Wellep bit that caused the horses to relax their tongues and jaws when I kept contact. Then I started getting hints from the horses that the half inch of play that the cable through the mouthpiece of my first Wellep bit was also important, but my hands were not sensitive enough to “feel” the plastic coated cable go through the bit as the horses adjusted their contact to my hand's lack of a proprioceptive sense. Probably the only reason that the horses accepted my contact at all in any bit I used was because I usually kept my fingers relaxed, more relaxed than most instructors want and more relaxed than the mighty tomes of equitation recommend.
Riding in the old style Wellep bit, with the bare steel cable and the 3 7/8” of free play has been humbling. As the horses zip the cable through the mouthpiece when obeying my aids, I realize how I had not been following the side-to-side movements of the horses' mouths. Through the decades I would occasionally TRY to follow the side-to-side movements of the horses heads but the horses told me that I was NOT doing it right, so I went back to relying on my relaxed fingers to not irritate the horse with the bit. But now I know that there are SO MANY movements, in three dimensions, that my hands were not following perfectly, and that there were so many signals from the horse to relax this rein or strengthen that rein that I completely missed. The horses I ride and I came to a peaceable agreement, so long as I kept my fingers relaxed and my hand aids were “take” with immediate release, they would give me the movements that they could do comfortably in spite of my many riding faults. I did NOT try to force the issue with abusive legs, spurs or whip to “drive” the horse into my imperfect contact and I did not try to force the horse into compliance with harsh hands. In return the horses would consent to get out of their inversions, the horses would keep their mouths closed (without tight nosebands), the horses did not fling their heads around, and the horses would obey most of my hand aids.
I rode Bingo and Mia in my new Wellep bit this week. With both horses I go little “zings” from the cable as the horses obeyed my hand, leg and seat aids. I find that I NEED to use my “seat” more (mainly my upper and lower thighs) to get obedience to my hand aids for turning since the cable prevents me from getting a harder contact with the bit (unless I pull strongly with both hands and irritate the horse.) Using my rainbow reins to make sure that my rein lengths were even, and with Debbie yelling at me to keep my hands at an even height, I managed to prevents the long “zings”, but as the horses moved I heard little “zings” as the horses adjusted their bodies to obey me. To be honest, I do not think I had ever really “felt” these movements of the horses' heads before. My failure to completely follow the three dimensional movements of the horses heads is a big part of the reason why the horses I ride rarely showed me how good they could be under a rider! I know that now because of how much less leg I need to use to get the horses to move out satisfactorily when I use my new bit.
One time in a lesson decades ago I asked the instructor how my contact was. Her reply was that there were four general descriptions of hands: bad hands, no hands, good hands and educated hands. At that time she said I had “no hands”, non-abusive to the horse but not very effective. In the decades since I have had riding instructors (more than one) tell me I have good hands. I have worked very hard, reading, trying things out, and listening to the horses, to educate my hands and I have succeeded somewhat, at least the horses obey my hand aids better and they resist my hands less, even as I have degraded as my MS got worse. I do not have many problems in getting the horses to accept my contact (and believe me the horses do get vehement when they think my hands are bad,) but I have always felt that I needed to improve my hands even more since I was so obviously missing something, something really important to the horses. I would ask Debbie and what she would say was that she wished she had my hands, I appreciated to compliment but I knew that I needed to improve more for the horses' sake and to become a better rider.
Now, with my newest bit, I get an audio clue when the horses adjust their contact so they can move effectively. This is much, much better than me just knowing that I needed to improve, now I can tell where and when I need to improve so that the horses move better under me. My biggest comfort is that, with my new bit, the horses can adjust their contact so that when I unconsciously give them slightly uneven contact they can move their bodies in the best way to obey me. The fact that I will hear “zings” from the bit cable when I am not perfect reassures me that I will KNOW when I get it right, as in my hands move at the right time, for the right distance, and at the right strength, when I do not hear any “zings” at normal contact. Then I can go back and test myself with a “normal” snaffle bit and go back to the Wellep if the horses need leg, Leg, LEG to move out like they need now when I ride in a more normal snaffle.
I have not yet tried this new bit on Cider. Shannon's ring is so small I knew that I had to learn how coordinate my hands with this bit so Cider would not run my knee into the fence. It will probably rain tomorrow so I won't be able to try this bit on Cider this week, but at least I will have another lesson and “homework” ride before I use it on her. I confidently expect to be utterly humiliated again by how much better she moves out when I ask her to extend or go faster!
The horses are “speaking” to me. They are telling me that, without realizing it, one hand would give them a “stop” signal when my legs were telling them to “go!”, which is one of the major sins of Forward Seat control. The horses have been good to me, forgiving me my faults with contact because I kept my fingers relaxed and soft, which means that they only sucked back a little bit instead of going behind vertical or inverting to escape my hands. While this is so much better than the horses inverting, gaping their mouths, going behind vertical, or running away with me, I am nowhere near where I want to be with my riding.
I have always wanted to have and I have always worked toward having good, effective, and educated hands. When my MS got so much worse my ambition was derailed and I have been just plugging along, trying not to abuse the horses with my riding. I am so excited now that I finally see a way forward, to where I may make true progress toward my goals of making the horses happier when I ride them.
Have a great ride!