The cavesson – what and how?
How does it affect the horse?
The reason why I prefer to use the cavesson instead of a halter, bridle etc. is because neither of the pieces of equipment allows me the opportunity to affect my horse in the right way when I want to ask for stelling and bending. When we work from the ground (whether it be groundwork, lunging or handwork) we want to be able to guide our horses into a round shape that matches the size of the circle. If we use a halter for this purpose in lunging for example the result when we pull on the rein will be that the lower jaw of the horse is pulled inwards. That is obvious since the rein is attached under the head of the horse.
– It takes contact to the nose and affects through the poll, the neck and the back.
– It invites in the the upper jaw and thereby places the mandible and lower jaw outside which will cause the right stelling and bending through the body.
– A halter takes contact to the lower jaw and will drag it to the inside and make the horse tilt its head.
Try it yourself…
Grap your own chin with your hand and pull it inwards as if to ask your head and body to bend to that side. What happens? Well if you are constructed like I am you will tilt your head (chin inwards and forehead outside). Also you will notice that you are automatically throwing your shoulder to the “inside”.
Now grap your nose instead and do the same thing. What happens then? In my case my nose and forehead will look to the inside while my chin and jaw will go outside. Also my shoulder automatically went outside too and made space for me to be bend around the “inside”.
That is why we use the cavesson!
How should it sit?
When we put equipment on our horses it is always important to make sure that it fits and sits without hurting, damaging or creating any discomfort for the horse. That is no different with the cavesson and therefore we need to adjust it so that it fits our horse before getting into work.
– Allow movement of the jaw. Not too tight and around 2-3 fingers underneath the noseband.
– Without hitting the cheekbones (2-3 fingers under the cheekbone)
– Without sliding or getting into the eyes which is why some cavessons have an extra strap under the jaw.
You can see in the photo below that the ring on the cavesson is around 2 fingers underneath the cheekbone. It should never sit so high that it touches or is able to hit the bone as it can be very harmful to the horse.
When we work with stelling and bending with the horses (and in all other kinds of work) it is important that the horse is able to open its mouth to be able to move the jaw. If the strap around the nose is too tight he will not have this opportunity and that will not only cause discomfort, but always prevent him from being able to let go of tensions or move his jaw to the outside when bending around the inside. Therefore you should always make sure that at least 2 fingers can be put underneath the noseband.
You can also try to lift the nosepiece and see that it can easily be lifted a bit off the nose of the horse. That is also a way of making sure that it is not too tight and allows movement of the jaw. Even though there has to be space under the noseband it shouldn’t sit too loose either as that would make the cavesson able to be pulled around the head with is not comfortable either. Therefore it should sit loose enough to allow movement of the jaw, but tight enough to stay in place even when you take contact to it through the rein.
Some cavessons have an extra strap under the jaw to prevent the cavesson from being pulled into the eyes of the horse. As with the noseband it should not sit too tight, but of course not be dangling around either. Yet from my own experience it will not become a problem with the cavesson in the eyes unless you are really pulling on one rein or the cavesson has not been fitted properly to the horse.
How to use it?
Using a cavesson does not have to be an art of science, but of course you need to use your common sense as well as look at your horse to see how he responds to the cues you are giving. Whether you are doing groundwork, lunging or riding you should always have in mind that the cavesson is used for guiding and not for forcing. Therefore you should always try to use as little force and as much feeling as possible. The horses can very easily feel the cues from the cavesson on the head so he can feel even very subtle cues from you. A slight movement of the fingers or opening and closening the hand will be enough to signal a bit of bending to your horse. When you work with the cavesson (especially in groundwork) it should be like moving around a joystick. If you want a little more bending you guide your hand a little bit to the inside. If you want less bending you guide your hand a little bit more to a neutral position – not outside as that would make the horse loose all bending or bend to the wrong side. If you want a little more forward you guide your hand towards you while stopping will be the opposite. Lastly the same goes for up and down. If you want to horse to lower the head, lower your hand and if you wish a little more up just lift your hand.
Guiding through the cavesson should at all times be done carefully and smooth – never pulling or jerking!
Where to find one?
I know from personal experience that a lot of people struggle to find a cavesson that is both of good quality, nice looking and functional. If you want a cavesson and haven’t been able to find one yet, I can only advice you to check out the one I have. It is without any doubt the most used piece of equipment I have. You can find it at Klassisk-Dressur.dk and if you struggle to read the danish informations simply write an email to the owner of the shop.
All equipment is from Klassisk Dressur.