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The Cavesson

the-cavesson

The cavesson is a horse friendly and efficient bitless bridle for gymnastic groundwork and riding. The cavesson is also a suitable aid for doing normal groundwork. In fact, I often choose to use the cavesson instead of the rope halter for my normal groundwork. The cavesson has a long history of use in horse training, having been used for centuries as a horse friendly and effective tool.

History

cavesson-history

Pignatelli used it and Frederico Grisone wrote about it in the 16th century. Other known trainers and great masters from later times like the Duke of Newcastle, De la Broue, François Guérinière, and Steinbrecht were all very happy with the cavesson and used it to train their horses.

Different types of cavessons

A proper cavesson is made from supple leather. Either there is no iron in the nose band OR the iron is wrapped in soft material. On the nose band, there are 3 little rings, 1 in the middle and also 1 on each side. During groundwork, the lead-rope is attached to the middle ring, or during lunging, to the lunge rope. The reins are attached to the outer rings for riding or working in hand.

throat-lash-cavesson-is-sewnA cavesson also has a jaw strap (throat lash) to prevent the cavesson from moving, which can result in the rubbing of cheekpieces against the eyes and irritating the horse. This jaw strap is attached to the cheekpieces and around the jaws. Cavessons where the jaw strap is sewn are more convenient than the ones where the jaw strap can be moved, because the latter option sometimes allows the jawstrap to move around during training. Some cavessons also have a brow band.

 

Sensitive horse? No iron in the nose band!

Some cavessons are made from a bicycle chain with leather underneath. There are many horses that can be trained perfectly with this, however, there are also many horses too sensitive for this to be a good option. After much use, this type of cavesson becomes ”ribbed” underneath. The leather has formed itself to the bicycle chain. The nose band is “crenelated,” so to speak.

choosing-the-right-cavesson

Sensitive horses with a sensitive and/or narrow nose can become tense or irritated when the crenelated nose band moves over their nose. With these horses, it is especially advisable to use a cavesson without iron. The nose band is then made from only leather.

Why using a cavesson during groundwork?

Because a cavesson is more secure and doesn’t move around and because the ring is situated on the nose in contrast to a rope halter, cues you give with your lead-rope will be clearer for the horse. When you stand next to the horse, at the position of the girth for example, and you give pressure through the rope to the cavesson, the pressure is directly felt on the horse’s nose and his head turns immediately in your direction.

Doing this with a rope halter will create a backward pressure because the lead-rope is attached under the chin. For the horse, it is a lot less clear what you expect from him.

Thus, many groundwork exercises are clearer and easier for your horse to understand when using a cavesson. However, to teach the horse to give through downward pressure behind the ears (head down) is better to be done with a rope halter because you can actually give pressure behind the ears in contrast to a cavesson where the pressure is felt partly on the nose.

Why a cavesson during work in hand, lunging and riding?

why-using-a-cavesson-while-working-in-hand-lunging-and-riding

By asking the horse to turn in the nose slightly (and therefore the upper jaw), lateral flexion is created, which allows you to influence the overall lateral bending. The horse will place the mandible outward when the upper jaw is placed correctly inward.

A horse in correct overall lateral bending will move forward-downward and the inside hind leg will be able to freely swing forward.

Upper jaw and mandible…

The cavesson works on the nasal bone of the horse and therefore on the upper jaw. A bit works on the mandible.

cavesson-versus-bit

There is a chance that when you ask the horse for flexion while using a bit, the horse places his mandible to the inside and tilts the upper jaw outward. Therefore, it isn’t possible to get a good lateral flexion and lateral bend from the horse.

Because a side pressure on the upper jaw will ask the upper jaw to come in, the mandible will move outwards and this will result in a better flexion and bending! As compared to a bit,  a cavesson will prevent the horse from tilting his head. A cavesson is therefore ideal to help your horse take proper flexion and bending.

Less stress with the cavesson than with a bit.

cavesson-used-when-riding

This is, among other reasons, because an object in the horse’s mouth during exertion (training) causes opposite body reflexes, namely the “eating/relaxation reflex”, and the “not eating/exertion reflex”. The simultaneous triggering of these two reflexes creates stress as it confuses the parasympathetic and the sympathetic nervous systems.

This is more obvious with some horses than others, but it is present with all horses. It creates stress in the horse (visible or invisible).

A cavesson is therefore a great alternative for bitless riding.

A horse with nothing in its mouth is better able to relax and to concentrate. His breathing will come easier and his sensitive mouth will be spared. There are many reasons to choose to go bitless.

The advantages of the cavesson at a glance!

  • You can do both normal groundwork as well as gymnastic groundwork. You can also ride with it. You can train your horse from a to z with one bridle.
  • During groundwork, the cues from the lead rope will be clearer.
  • Your horse will learn to take the correct position by placing the upper jaw inward which places the mandible outwards. It is therefore the ideal bridle to make the horse suppler and stronger.
  • You can work with the double lunging rope.
  • You spare the horse’s sensitive mouth. The mouth is many times more sensitive to pressure than the nose.
  • The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems will not be confused. It is less stressful for the horse.
  • It is the ideal bridle for everyone who chooses to train bitless.
  • Novices can easily ride with a cavesson, which isn’t the case with a bit bridle (unfortunately many beginners start straight away with a bit…).

How to put on a cavesson.

Be careful that the nose band isn’t positioned on the soft part of the nose and the nostrils. Otherwise you obstruct the breathing. The nose band should be positioned just above the spot where the soft part starts. The nose band also shouldn’t sit against the cheekbone; that is too high.

The nose band should be secured in such way that the horse can move his mandible (otherwise the horse can’t take a proper lateral flexion and bending) and open his mouth. It shouldn’t be too loose so that the nose band moves too much over the nasal bone when asking flexion or bending.

The jaw band is fastened around the jaw, loose enough so that you can put a finger in between but tight enough to prevent the cheeckpieces moving against the eyes.

Where do you buy a cavesson?

Nowadays you can order a cavesson in many shops. Go to your local horse supplier and ask for it.

Personally, I have  had good experiences with the Marjoman cavesson without iron. I like that they are easy to adjust from big to small, allowing you to train ponies as well as larger horses. The leather is supple and the straps are wide which creates a cavesson that sits stable.

And if you Google ”cavesson”, you will find many web shops that sell them in different colours, sizes and prices.

The light brown cavesson on the white horse shown above, can be ordered at www.ccvsaddlery.com

Ps: don’t forget to check out the free resources

Take a look at the free e-books and free online training currently available.

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    Comment Section

    16 thoughts on “The Cavesson


    By Maryanne on 7 January 2015

    Very nice article. The caveson is a new concept for me. I’ve been riding bitless for a couple of years but never heard of using a caveson before. Im curious though How does it compare to using bitless bridles such as the light rider or dr cooks bitless bridle?


    By Karine Vandenborre on 8 January 2015

    The bridles you are referring to have straps under the chin. So the noseband becomes thighter when you take more contact on the reins. The cavesson does not have this and the reins are attached not on the side of the horses head but a little bit more to the front. Therefore the cavesson influences the upperjaw of the horse. Therefore the horse will find it easier to give lateral flexion and thus also overall lateral bend. Over the years I experimented with all kinds of bitless bridles and for me the cavesson is, without a doubt, the best bridle to do dressage with. The rein aids are the clearest and easiest to understand for the horse. Especially the dr cook bridle types of bitless bridles are sometimes to slow in releasing the pressure, which makes it harder to train precisely. The moment you release, the cross-overs don’t release at the same moment, sometimes it even takes a few seconds! With the cavesson the release comes at the moment you give with your hands.


    By Ann Cantrell on 30 October 2016

    Hello Karine. This article is very exciting. It leads me to a question. You say that the cavesson is the best bridle to do dressage with. I am learning more of a western style of riding. Will the cavesson work as well with the western riding style?
    Thanks in advance.


    By Carol on 12 December 2017

    Hello Karine,
    Your reply to Maryanne on Jan 8 2015 mentions that the position of the rings on a cavesson towards the front of the noseband, rather than at the side, is an advantage because it promotes lateral flexion. I am thinking of ordering the cavesson from ccvsaddlery that you recommended, and was worried about the position of the side rings, thinking that they were too far forward to attach reins to when riding. Does this forward position in any way make steering the horse more difficult? Thank you.


    By Karine-vandenBorre on 10 January 2018

    If you train your horse in hand first, your horse will understand the rein aids very good. Some horses understand it immediatly, without working in hand first, it all depends on how good your horse is trained already, how sensitive your horse is, and of course:how you give your aids. Rein aids never come alone: you seat is always the primary aid!


    By Shirley wolf on 7 January 2015

    Very interesting. I remember watching a Classical dressage trainer using one. I was not as aware as i am now about wanting to work natural with my horse. Thanks.


    By Cynthia on 9 January 2015

    Just thought I’d add to the info above regarding the LightRider bitless bridle – yes the chinstrap does tighten so pressure is put on the nose, but it also loosens when the rein is released so there is less overall nose pressure when there is no rein contact.
    This can be more comfortable for sensitive horses who dislike the constant feel of having some pressure around their nose that the cavesson gives because it needs to be fastened closely so it doesn’t move on the head.
    I’m all for any bitless option that helps riders communicate with their horses in a gentle way, and its great there are now so many options available to suit different types of riding and horses.


    By Karine Vandenborre on 9 January 2015

    Yes, cynthia, you are right. For work in hand and for lunging though, it is not possible to use a LightRider, you really need a ring on the nose for this kind of training. In that case a cavesson is the right answer. As I train all my horses first in hand and on the longe, they allready know the aids from the ground, and then it’s logical to continue with the same bridle as they know from the ground.
    It is also important to say, that I put the cavesson never tight: the horse should always be capable of opening the mouth, as a horse which can not open the mouth will also not be able to give good lateral flexion and overall bend and will also not be able to relax. It’s the way you use your aids that makes sure that the caveson doesn’t move. Also, the cheeckstraps help with that. The second thing is: the goal is to ride with very light contact and where possible even without.
    I was really talking about the way I train my horses (and clients who want to follow this method). During years of experiments I found out that the cavesson was the best possible bitless bridle for it. With the LightRider and Dr Coock Bridle you simply can’t teach a horse from the ground in such a clear way as with the cavesson.
    But the LightRider, for me, is a good bridle to go riding outside for example, or for very advanced horses which don’t need help anymore with the reins to give lateral flexion and overall lateral bend because they react on the seat.


    By Maryanne on 7 March 2015

    How big of a difference would it make to use a nylon cavesson? I’ve seen some that looked well put together with the padded noseband and they are much cheaper. I’d like to try one but don’t have a lot of money to spare just to try something
    Thanks


    By Karine Vandenborre on 19 March 2015

    You can try it, of course. Nylon cavessons are most of the time less clear in the communication, as the the rings are often too big and can move too much. But with some horses it can work!


    By Luara on 11 June 2015

    I always see people saying the cross-unders are slow to give after the horse gives, but I like that it means it’s also slow to pressure.

    I made a cotton cavesson inspired in those made of nylon with a halter-like design, I wanted a broad noseband to give the softest aids… and, well. I think the cotton was a little harsh if rubbing the skin, and now I think it is so bulky!


    By Stella Bryant on 18 September 2017

    I am training my 11 year old donkey with a rope and leather noseband cavesson and she has taken to it well. She learned to stop, turn and back very easily with it. I will be using the cavesson when beginning cart training in the future.


    By Karine-vandenBorre on 10 January 2018

    That’s great! I loooooove donkeys 🙂 !!!


    By Kristina Kellogg on 11 June 2018

    Will a cavesson work on teaching a 4 yr old barrel horse the basics on bending. My horse hates the bit. Thank you


    By Karine-vandenBorre on 29 January 2019

    of course that will help! It’s always better to teach a horse to bend with the help of a cavesson then with a bit


    By Sylvia Batchelder on 20 January 2019

    I’d enjoy seeing your various cavessons. I have 3 different types but am searching. Than you

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