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.
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.
A 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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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