The first step in our journey is to explain what the cavesson is. It is a halter type head piece that is worn on the horse’s head to enable you to communicate using a long lead rope. The cavesson has a metal noseband with a leather covering over the top. It is designed to sit loosely when fitted correctly on the horses face. It should never cause pain or harm to the horse when used. The lead is generally a light weight rope that attaches to a ring in the centre of the noseband.
There are three main types of cavessons available and they originate from three different schools of thought and teaching. The French, Spanish and German.
You will find a whole range of lunging systems developed by different people. For the purpose of this article we will confine ourselves to discussing the traditional cavessons.
The French Cavesson is characterized by a flexible metal nose band covered in leather. It maybe also be referred to as a Baroque style cavesson.
The Spanish has a fixed metal noseband with flexible joints at the end where the noseband attaches to the leather halter itself. It is also referred to as a ‘Serreta’ because it may have a rough edge (teeth). Manolo went one step further and designed a cavesson with no teeth which is kinder.
The German cavesson is generally heavier and has more padding over the noseband. It may have the metal on the outside or on top of the noseband.
The purpose of the cavesson is very simple. It is to allow clear communication from the teacher (human) to the student (horse) from the ground.
In the beginning it will be used to convey how the horse should lead/walk with its teacher before moving into more advanced communication. Nearly all ridden movements can be taught from the ground using a cavesson. Both French and Spanish riding schools use this idea as part of their foundation for training their horses.
The cavesson is very different from other halters in that it has metal in the noseband. The metal is not there with the intention of causing pain or as a way of controlling the horse. The metal gives clarity of communication. It stops the noseband from moving around on the face or allowing the horse to push or move within the halter. Using this idea it is much easier to show the horse the optimum position its head needs to be to allow the body to move in a biomechanically correct way. A simple test you can try. Lead your horse and raise the head up high. Look at how the muscles tighten along the back and the shape becomes more ‘hollow.’ Lower the head too low, watch the horse’s weight come onto the shoulders and the croup becomes tighter. Generally the ‘sweet spot’ for horses is having their pole just a little below their withers with an open jaw angle with no ‘wrinkles’ behind the jaw and below C2. This position is individual to every horse and is something that you need to look and adjust for when you work with every horse.
Manolo is one of the 6 founding members of the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain. Regarded as one of the leading experts with In-hand training. The cavesson is where the horse first learns correct posture, balance and relaxation.
Bent Branderup from Academic Art of Riding uses the Baroque style cavesson. With very similar principals as the Spanish masters, Bent believes in developing the posture, relaxation and softness before introducing the rider’s weight.
Watching, listening and learning from these masters opened my eyes to what true balance and relaxation is and what it took to achieve it.
To be able to influence the horse, help it learn how to move in correct posture. Teach the horse how good it feels when they move without brace. That is my goal.
For the majority of students who first start working with horses from the ground, using a rope halter and lead rope is the best way to introduce ground work.
Developing the basic skills of connection is a prerequisite to being able use the cavesson. Your horse must listen to you. You need the ability to regulate their pace with your body language. Ensuring that your horse isn’t frighten of either you or your tools.
Using the traditional natural Horsemanship techniques and patterns is the first step in this lifetime journey.
Once you have established the basic ground skills then continuing for too long in a rope halter will start to become detrimental to both you and your horse. It takes a lot of skill to ensure that the horse doesn’t start tipping and twisting its jaw or nose to follow the feel from underneath its head in a rope halter. One of the major benefits of the cavesson is that the rope comes from the front of the horse’s nose. This leading pressure encourages the forward and straightness that is lacking in a lot of horses that have spent too much time doing ‘Natural Horsemanship.’
To begin, the horse’s basic training is about developing correct posture and balance. From this relaxation begins to follow. This is really a circle of life. Balance gives good posture, good posture gives balance.
Your horse could start anywhere in these three areas, your job as the trainer would be to recognize where your horse is and where they are lacking. This becomes your initial focus.
Now asking your horse to start to move in a relaxed & correct posture begins. Too many people only focus on where the horses head is. Too high, too low, not out far enough. The horses head acts as a counter weight to the body. So position of the head will have a direct impact on the horse’s ability to be balanced. By balanced I mean that their weight is evenly distributed between front end and back end 50:50. Too high they become hollowed backed, tight in the croup and loins and generally don't track up well. The horses stride will short and uneven. Too low encourages weight to move onto the shoulder more easily and the horse becomes unbalanced and will change pace.
Step 1 is showing your horse where it needs to learn to have its head. This allows the horse to have the best chance of being balanced. A lot of horses think this position is different from what we know it will be. So we need to show them, we lead them and gradually & gently encourage the head to move to the optimum position.
Step 2 is teaching the horse to keep its feet loose and soft while relaxing its head and neck into the low and long that we previously discussed. This can be very hard for a lot of horses especially your quarter horse. To be able to keep their head relaxed they may want to start to drag their feet and move slower. We need to insist that they keep the feet moving at a good walk. This starts to build the good relaxed swinging movement that we all want.
Finally using bamboo as an extension of your arm, teaching the horse to move with all of the above and begin to step their inside hind leg deeper and further to their point of balance to develop suppleness.
Once your horse can do all this with a relaxed mind and body you will begin to see movement throughout the entire horse’s body.
Eventually over the weeks you build the horse up into the different gaits and add lateral exercises all with the intention of building strength, suppleness and relaxation.
It is a slow process, one that can not be rushed. If rushed you may achieve the physical movement but the mental relaxation that marks the true master horseman will be lacking.
I would like to thank Manolo Mendez for his kindness in allowing me to learn from him and develop my own knowledge and skill. I encourage anyone who has a passion for horses to visit his website and discover more about this amazing and talented man. www.manolomendezdressage.com
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