The Thinking Bit

To start with a confession : this bit came as part of a collection and my first reaction was to dismiss it as some sort of gimmick.

A Wellep bit

But when I looked at it more closely it is rather well made, all those complicated joints are smoothly finished and turn well. It is helpfully stamped with its name “The Wellep Bit”. It was launched in 1985 and although I don’t think these bits are in production any more the company web page still gives a lot of information.

Wellep bit

Elwyn Hartley Edwards was very enthusiastic about the Wellep bit in his 1990 book “Bitting in Theory and Practice” and writes about it under the chapter heading “The Thinking Bit”. He explains that the cable which runs through the mouthpiece should form a “continuous loop” whereby the rider can feel the action of one hand with the other. He also praises the shape of the cheeks, the fact that it is effectively a “hanging” snaffle, and that it avoids any “nutcracker” action.

Wellep horse bit

It would also seem that the cable could change the character of the mouthpiece. When there is tension on it the mouthpiece is quite rigid, but as it eases the joints can move and the central part acts as a roller which would presumably encourage the horse to play with it and to salivate.

Wellep horse bit

I have read some quite positive reviews of them online, particularly for horses who were sensitive about their mouths.
No idea why they stopped making them – maybe they just looked too strange for most of us and I presume they were never legal in the dressage arena.

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Spur Manufacture

Things have definitely got out of hand when you get excited about a collection of unmatched spurs…

Maxwell Dress or Levée Spurs

But these are interesting for a few reasons.

Some are decorated with patterns I have not seen before :
Maxwell dress spurMaxwell dress spur
Maxwell dress spur
Maxwell levée spur
Officer;s spur
Military spur

Box spur
Maxwell spur
Mess dress spur
Dress spur

But what makes them really interesting is the fact that they are unfinished so we can learn a little about the manufacturing process.
The bodies of the spurs were cast , the stubs from the casting process can still be seen on a few examples.

Casting stub

Stub from casting

The slots or boxes which hold the rowels have not been cut yet :

Maxwell spur

Most do not have the steel prong that fits into the box in the heel of the boot yet. Intriguingly there are initials stamped inside the heel bands where this prong will attach. Perhaps these corresponded to a particular craftsmen ? And if so, were they paid per spur or was it for quality control ?

Stamp on spur
stamp on spur

Several have traces of copper on them, which would have been used before plating

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Modified Driving Bit

I’m trying to work out what has happened to this bit and why.
AustoHungarian driving bit

It’s a 19th Century steel Austrohungarian driving bit with an arched mouth – that much is clear.

However on its near (left) side it has a Pelham type ring for a snaffle rein, but on the off (right) side it does not. I suspect it was removed after manufacture rather than having broken off because it has a smooth finish.

Austro-Hungarian driving bit AustroHungarian driving bit

Also on the inner surface there is a diagonally slanted slot and a recess for a stud – the inner surface of the off side has a “patch” of steel, presumably covering the slots on that side.

Slots in antique driving bit
Patch on driving bit

Possibly the slots held some sort of crest or decoration, and this bit belonged to the nearside horse in a pair , so it was not felt necessary to decorate the offside ? But that doesn’t quite explain the rein rings… Any ideas ?

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Beery Four-in-One Bit

I’ve had this bit for a while.

Beery 4 Way Bit

I had assumed it was some sort of harness bit, but I have just learned that it is a Beery 4 Way or Four-in-One Bit

“Professor” Jesse Beery (1861-1945) was an interesting man. He was the son of a farmer and became a famous horse trainer, starting the Jesse Beery School of Correspondence in Horsemanship in 1905. The course was published in eight volumes and a certificate issued to the student on completion of the course. It is still available today.

There’s an interesting episode of “The Horse Show” with Rick Lamb about Beery here

Back to the bit. As its name suggests depending on how the reins are attached it can function in different ways.

Beery Four in One Bit

At its mildest the rein attaches to both the small outer ring of the mouthpiece and the large divided ring at the same time – so the bit functions as a simple jointed snaffle (with cheeks)

Drawing of Beery bit in use

If the headstall is attached to the large rings and the reins to the small rings it must function rather like a Wilson snaffle, although those large rings could put a lot of pressure on the sides of the mouth.

Beery 4 Way bit

The third position for the reins attaches them to the front of the large rings and the small rings at the same time, which must have produced a severe pinching action.
The fourth position had a different arrangement on each side, presumably to correct leaning or some other problem.

The Beery family sold their business in the 1970’s but the books are still available through

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Japanese Whip or Muchi

This was advertised as a Japanese donkey whip :

Japanese whip or Muchi

Japanese whip or Muchi

It seems a bit grand for a donkey with its silver cap.
And why (and how) is it curled ?

Spiral bamboo

Spiral bamboo

Curled bamboo

Another view of the curled bamboo

A bit of internet research taught me that Japanese horse whips are called muchi.
They can be made of willow or bamboo ( and there is a metal version used as a weapon)
There are many pictures of samurai carrying bamboo whips, but they all seemed to be straight.
Until I saw this :

Statue of samurai

Lord Shigetada at Musashi shrine

It is a statue of the Kamakura period warlord Shigetada Hatakeyama on horseback at Musashi shrine on Mount Mitake.
And he is carrying a curled whip.

And then I read about “lucky” bamboo , the curled bamboo that was everywhere a few years ago.
You can still get it at Ikea even….

Dracaena - lucky bamboo

The spiral growth pattern is achieved by using light from one direction only and slowly turning the plant – phototropism, I seem to recall from biology.

And while I’m thinking about biology I seriously need to treat it for woodworm – did you see the size of the insect holes in it ? I don’t want anything alive escaping from those…

Whip lash

Whip lash

Whip cap

Silver whip cap

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Some South American spurs can be huge ( they are thought to have developed from the Spanish Colonial “Espuela Grande” after all ).
So how do they stay in position ?
Many gaucho spurs have large pierced heel plates or rodetes and arrangements of chains as well as straps which wrap around the rider’s foot.

A pair of spurs from Argentina

A pair of spurs from Argentina

The spurs of the Chilean huaso can have very large, heavy rowels but they do not have heel plates and only have small slots at the end of each heel band which would hold relatively narrow straps :

Chilean huaso spurs

Espuelas Chilenas or Chilean Huaso Spurs

So they are supported by extra heel straps or “Taloneras” – these are often made of rawhide with extra ridges or blocks of hide to take the weight of the spur. I recently found a pair with silver decoration :

Taloneras or heel straps

A pair of taloneras - heel straps to support spurs

Spur on boot with talonera

Spur supported by talonera (sorry, no straps on spur)

I also found a single strap with brightly coloured embroidery, it’s not in the greatest condition but still a fascinating thing :

Single embroidered heel strap

Embroidered talonera

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A Hanoverian Bit

These days the Hanoverian mouthpiece is usually found on a pelham bit or occasionally on a snaffle

Old Hanoverian Pelham horse bit

An old Hanoverian Pelham

It has a large central port with rollers on each side. The rollers are supposed to encourage the horse to relax its jaw, although some say that their function is to prevent the horse grabbing the bit or leaning. The sides of the port can be fixed or hinged – the latter producing a more severe “nutcracker” action.

The mouthpiece of the original Hanoverian bit shared all these features, but formed part of a lightweight curb bit.

Samuel Sidney's "Book ofthe Horse" published by Cassell around 1880

Page from Samuel Sidney's Book of the Horse published by Cassell around 1880

The curved cheeks of the bit certainly appear German. It could have originated in Hanover, but the name may just refer to the Hanoverian monarchs who ruled Britain for much of the 18th and all of the 19th centuries.
Unfortunately I do not speak German but I have found references in Franz von Miller’s 1788 work on infantry & cavalry equipment to a “walzenmundstück” which I believe is a mouthpiece with rollers.

The design had certainly found popularity by the mid 19th century : In J.S.Rarey’s 1859 “The Art of Taming Horses” he describes “A powerful variation of the Pelham, called the Hanoverian has within the last few years come very much into use. It requires the light hands of a practised horseman to use the curb-reins of a Hanoverian on a delicate-mouthed horse; but when properly used no bit makes a horse bend and display himself more handsomely, and in the hunting-field it will hold a horse when nothing else will…”

Of course I started looking into the history of this bit because I found an example :

19th Century Hanoverian horse bit

Hanoverian bit stamped Worsley

It is stamped on both cheeks “Worsley” . I had never heard of this maker or retailer but some more research found a P.Worsley, Saddler & Harness Maker at 57, South Audley Street, London in the 1814 Post Office Directory. His will, dated 1838 is in the National Archives. His son Peter Owen Worsley took over the business, the last reference I can find to him is the Post Office Directory of 1843. So no exact date but probably first half of the 19th century

And I find myself wondering what the Germans call it ?

Worsley stamp on old horse bit

Worsley stamp on Hanoverian bit

Hanoverian bit

19th Century Hanoverian Bit

Hanoverian Bit

Hanoverian Bit

Hanoverian Bit

Hanoverian Bit

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Georgian Riding Belts

If I were King George IV I’m not sure that I would have given my Royal Warrant to someone who made “riding belts” so that they could effectively advertise my need for a corset.

Georgian Trade card for riding belts

In Shaun Cole’s “The Story of Men’s Underwear” there is an excellent section on men’s corsets or stays, which were apparently not just worn for vanity but support during athletic activities such as horseback riding, hunting and “violent exercise”

And these abdomens certainly look athletic

Illustration of Georgian riding belt

Georgian riding belt

In ‘Adcock’s riding Belt’, by Peter Farrer in The Journal of the Northern Society of Costume and Textiles, no.3 (1999), the author describes Adcock’s patent of 1824 and the surviving man’s corset worn by Henry Wise in 1842, now at Castle Howard, and relates them to the pattern for George IV’s corset and the pattern in The Workwoman’s Guide.

To learn more about George IV’s physique one can visit the website (or even better visit Brighton Pavilion itself…) where I read that ” It supposedly took three hours to lace the King into his girdle and whale bone corset of a morning due to all the “bulging and excresiances”. Once girdled his waist measured 55 inches. “.

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Vigor’s Horse Action Saddle

A few years ago I was hugely amused by this advert :

Advertisement for horse riding exercise machine

So, when I saw one at auction I needed little encouragement to buy it :

Considering its age (it dates from the 1890’s ) it’s in pretty good condition.
It has lost its handlebars, and is absolutely filthy, but looks like a fun restoration project for the next few weeks (or more likely months)

Vigor's mechanical horse

It has settings for Trot , Canter & Gallop and on a tentative trial ride still seems to work – watch this space for a clip of it in action once it has new handlebars….

Settings on exercise horse

Vigor & Company had premises at 21, Baker Street in London. They also produced other contraptions such as rowing machines and exercise bicycles. The British Library has a copy of one of their advertisements which promotes their “well ventilated private rooms” where one could make use of eight exercises for one guinea – you can see it here

I think mine could come into its own after Christmas , for the stimulation of my liver and reduction of corpulence

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A Pair of Hercules Bronze Spurs with a History

One of the frustrations of buying things at auction is that they often come without any history or provenance and I am left wondering how some piece of cowboy equipment ended up here in the South West of England.

Well, for a change I don’t have to wonder about these spurs

Hercules Bronze spurs on a board

They are a pair of Hercules Bronze spurs with horse head decoration. These spurs were made by North & Judd ( who had taken over Buermann ) and marked with the Buermann star by one button, “Hercules Bronze” by the other button and they have North & Judd’s anchor on the neck.

Hercules Bronze spur

Star stamp on spur

Hercules Bronze stamp

The plate on the board is engraved “Sir Robert Bellinger, GBE, D.Sc. from The Dallas Council on World Affairs, October 16 1967”

The World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth was formed in 1951 to promote international awareness, understanding and connections in North Texas.

Sir Robert Bellinger was quite a man.
He left school aged 14, and studied accountancy at night school while working as an office boy. With this qualification he started working for a wholesale grocery company, progressing to the post of chairman at the age of 36. He was active in the City of London and became Lord Mayor of London in 1966 – a real life Dick Whittington.

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