This summer I decided to try out my Wellep bits and see if this bit really was a new, improved method of bitting. Usually when the weather gets hot the horses start politely refusing contact with my hands, and then I change to one of my bitless systems. My experiment was to see if the horses would voluntarily keep contact with my hands throughout the summer with the Wellep bits. I succeeded in this, I only used a bitless bridle once, when I forgot my regular bridle.
The horses seem to REALLY like the Wellep mouthpiece. Since there is a ball joint in the center of the mouthpiece and ball joints to the cheek pieces of the bit the horses are free to move the mouthpiece around their mouths. Cider especially liked this feature, she liked it enough that when she protested the action of my hands in the lever cheek Wellep bit she settled right down when I used the regular cheeked Wellep bit with her. The past few weeks it has gotten cooler and I decided to go back to my regular JP Dr. Bristol D-ring snaffle. Cider is not too sure that she likes this, for the first fifteen minutes of my last two rides on her Cider has been FUSSING with the regular bit, TRYING to get the mouthpiece to move like the Wellep. Today she quit fussing when I rode on contact, but everytime I loosened the reins it was back to trying to roll the mouthpiece. Cider likes those ball joints! Mia has accepted the change back to the regular bit with more grace, but sometimes I get this feeling of irritation from her that the mouthpiece does not roll like with the Wellep.
So I was able to keep contact with the regular cheeked Wellep bit without many problems. While the horses had no problems with my contact, I noticed that my hands had started wandering around since I could not feel a firm connection with the bit. Since the steel cable that goes through the mouthpiece extends 1 1/2 inches from each side, there is a buffer zone where the horse and I are in connection but not in full contact. Because of the side extension and flexibility of the cable the horse can feel my rein aids LONG before I get to full contact. This buffer zone also protects the horses' mouths from my hand tremors and evens out the irregularities of my contact when it is hot. The horses can even shift the mouth piece of the regular cheeked Wellep bit 3/8 inch from side to side evening out the contact when my hands are not quite even (a frequent occurence in the summer.) The bad thing, from my perspective, is that my hands could not tell where they were since I never got a firm feeling from the bit. My hands started going up and down as well as back and forth with contact at the walk, all the time trying to figure out where they were. This is the main reason that I have gone back to a regular bit this fall.
The release of the Wellep bit is the best I've ever run into. As soon as contact ceases the mouthpiece becomes loose and mobile and the horses like moving it around with their tongues. This helps keep their mouths, tongues, jaws, and poll relaxed. This bit can fool the rider into thinking that their hands are much better that they really are.
The first time I used the Lever Cheek Wellep bit on Cider I thought I had gone to heaven, the contact was quite nice and Cider was very responsive. As I deteriorated during the summer heat things rapidly got worse. While Cider LOVES the mouthpiece she did not like the way my hands worked with the lever cheek. Finally one day she went into rebellion, graphically showing me that my hands were not good enough to ride her with this bit. When I changed back to the regular cheeked Wellep bit she had no more problems, accepted my contact again and relaxed. With the lever cheeks (there is no curb strap) I could not tell when I achieved contact by feel alone, which led me to using my hands a bit too much when I gave rein aids for Cider's happiness. Plus, with the lever cheek, the steel cable does not run through the mouthpiece freely which meant that Cider could not make those subtle side to side adjustments that could made my contact more bearable to her. When I first got the bit I was worried that my hands were not good enough to use it properly. I was right.
Right now, with Cider FUSSING at the regular bit off contact, I am thinking of trying the Lever Cheeked Wellep bit with two reins, sort of like a Pelham but without the curb chain. I can attach reins to the cheek pieces directly, and then use a second rein on the end of the cable going through the end of the lever cheek. This way Cider will get her favorite mouthpiece back and I will be able to tell where my hands are from the regular contact. Effectively I will have a mullen mouthpiece for my snaffle rein, and have the added control of poll pressure with the "curb" rein on the lever cheek. Since it is cooler I should be able to handle two sets of reins in my hands, something I am not capable of doing when it is hot. I hope this works out. I like keeping the horses I ride happy, and Cider LIKES the mouthpiece with all its ball-joints, she happily rolls it around with her tongue. I will let you all know later how this works out.
Is the Wellep bit an exciting new step toward happy horses? YES.
Is it perfect? NO, especially the lever cheek snaffle.
Can this bit fool riders into thinking their hands are better than they really are? YES.
The contact feels different, looser and more relaxed.
I hope someone manufactures this bit again. I would really like to try the three piece mouthpiece and see if it makes any difference.
You can see pictures of the Wellep bits at www.wellep.com. There is an icon you can click to go the the pictures of the bits.