The cavesson has been invented to teach the horse to bend, halt, place the head and hindquarters correctly and to make the body and limbs supple and flexible, without harming the mouth.
Using a cavesson, it is possible to bend the horse laterally through the entire spine, from the first neck vertebra all the way to the tail. This lateral bending is required in all Straightness Training exercises, both during groundwork, longeing, work in hand and riding.
- The cavesson is very easy to use in the training.
- The young or crooked horse is not used to bending its body and will constantly try to move with its body straight instead of bended. The cavesson was invented to teach the horse all gymnastics without disturbing the mouth.
- Using the cavesson makes the horse much more supple in its body. You can place the skull precisely in stelling and this improves a proper bending through the spine.
- When making the transition from cavesson to a bit, the horse will react lightly and attentively to the effect of the bit and will be easier in the hand. The cavesson is easy to integrate in a bridle with bit.
- A cavesson is a also good alternative for riders who would like ride bitless.
- With the cavesson, mistakes that are made by previous riders using a bit, can be corrected.
The cavesson has been used for centuries to train horses and many riding masters wrote about the cavesson in their books:
🐴 Salomon De la Broue (1530-1610)
Salomon de la Broue was a pupil of Giovanni Pignatelli from the Napolitan school; together with Pluvinel, de la Broue was the founder of the French school. In his book, de la Broue states that the cavesson has been invented to collect, raise and lighten the horse, to free the fore legs and shoulders of the horse, to teach the horse to bend and halt, and to stabilize the head without hurting the mouth or the chin. De la Broue wrote that the inside of the horse’s mouth is more sensitive than its nose. By educating the horse on the cavesson first, it will react more attently on the effects of the bit once the cavesson is taken away. The result is a horse that is lighter in the hand.
🐴 Duke of Newcastle (1592-1676)
William Cavendish, the Duke of Newcastle, had been educated by his father, Sir Charles Cavendish, to be the best fencing and horse riding instructor in England. William spent 15 years as a teacher at a riding school in Antwerp (around 1645). He then came back to England and was given the title of Duke of Newcastle. According to the Duke the cavesson has used for the following:
- To position the head correctly (stelling)
- To make the neck supple
- To develop bending
- To keep the mouth supple and cooperative
- To teach halting
- To give the shoulders and forelegs more freedom
According to Newcastle, the horse will be towards the bit in a better way and will respond to all the demands of the rider’s hand if it has been educated on the cavesson in the first place. He said: "A horse that has not been trained on the cavesson will never give a fine, light contact a good horse should give and when the rider works only on the bit, he can easily make mistakes."
🐴 Robichon de la Guérinière (1688-1751)
Robichon de la Guérinière is seen as a genius of the art of riding and outshined many of his predecessors. From 1715, he was stable master and from 1730, he directed the stable of King Louis XIV. In 1730, he wrote the book Ecole de Cavalerie. After 26 years, a second book came out: L’Art de la Cavalerie. During the first training of a green horse, Guérinière did not use a snaffle, instead he used a cavesson. Guérinière states that the cavesson is an excellent tool in the hands of a rider who knows how to use it correctly, but that it can be dangerous in the hands of an insensitive rider.
🐴 Gustav Steinbrecht (1808-1885)
In his book Das Gymnasium des Pferdes, Steinbrecht is very positive about the cavesson. He states that, by using the cavesson, the horse becomes flexible in his body and limbs. With the cavesson, mistakes made by other riders using a snaffle can also be repaired. According to Steinbrecht, this tool not only leaves the mouth completely intact but therefore also secures the needed yield of the neck more surely than the snaffle does. Because the muscles of the neck go over the poll and attach to the upper jaw, a horse on a snaffle can still very easily stiffen the muscles and be absolutely unyielding in its neck while its lower jaw yields to the pressure of the snaffle on the bars. This wrong development can be solved by using the cavesson.
The cavesson we prefer to use in ST
The leather of the cavesson is supple, feels comfortable in the hand of the rider and fits closely to the head of the horse.
The cavesson consists of a metal noseband, consisting of an iron chain, wrapped around with leather, which shapes around the nose.
Three metal rings are attached onto the noseband, on in the middel and one on each side.
These rings are moveable, which makes it easy to change the rein.
- During groundwork and longeing the line is attached to the middle ring.
- During work in hand and riding the reins are attached to the outer rings.
A strap around the lower jaw prevents the cheek piece from moving up into the eyes.
Iron chain yes or no?
When riders mention that a horse reacts too sensitive to the cavesson, they often start to 'judge' the iron chain in the noseband.
However, a cavesson that lays on the ground or is simply put the head of the horse won't influence the horse. It only comes to life when a human touches it. So when a human touches it with too much, sudden or steady pressure, the cavesson will be uncomfortable for any horse. But so is a normal halter, when it's used with too much, too long, too often, sudden, steady pressure!
So if we start to condemn a cavesson or its noseband we should condemn the human in the first place, because it's always the human behind the tool!
So when a horse becomes tensed or irritated, it's not because of the cavesson or because of the nose band, it's because the human's lack of feel and lack of skill in the pressure/release technique.
The drawback of a cavesson without an iron chain and with a wide nose band is that this cavesson is in a way 'ideot proof'. Because it doesn't matter so much if you use too much, too long, sudden or steady pressure, because the band diffuses the pressure. This makes that you cannot work precisely, because the information you give difuses and gets 'blurry'. You will be less crisp and clear in your communication when you use leather nosebands.
So don't apply an 'avoidance' strategy when you are not skilled in applying pressure/release, but work on refining your technique so you can communicate in a clear, but comfortable way.
How to make the cavesson fit
A correctly adjusted cavesson allows exact and precise actions. So it should be fitted in a way that it won't twist, turn or ride up to the eye.
When it comes to the position of the nose band:
- The average position of the nose band is approximately 2 to 3 finger widths under the cheek bone.
- The cavesson is too low when the nose band puts pressure on the sensitive area of the nose and nostrills or hinders breathing.
- The cavesson is too high when the noseband touches the cheek bones.
The further down the cavesson is positioned on the nose, the preciser and clear the actions. Therefore, with riders who are not so sensitive in applying pressure/release and lack a bit in the timing and dosing, the noseband could be put somewhat higher.
The noseband should be tight enough and does not slide over the nose during the training.
So the chin strap has to be fastened tight enough, but not too tight so the horse cannot lick and chew:
- The chin strap is too loose when the cavesson slides over the nose.
- The chin strap is too tight when you can't put two fingers under the nose band.
The throat latch has to be fastened tight enough to act as a stabilizer. It should not be fastened like the the throat latch of a bridle (fist between latch and jaw) but tighter in order to keep the cheek pieces from getting in the eyes of the horse.
The throat latch can move, so you can adjust the cavesson to the position of the eyes, but if you want to have it fixed you can add an elastic band to avoid lowering of the strap during training.
Where to buy?
Do I need a cavesson in ST?
This is a frequently asked question and in this article you can read more about it: