What is the cavesson? When did it originate? What are its usages, effects and benefits? How does it work?
The cavesson is a metal reinforced noseband, sometimes padded, sometimes simply covered with leather. It can be of flat chain, like a leather covered curb chain, a leather covered U-shaped metal piece with joints on the sides where it attaches to the headstall, or a metal noseband with several joints which must be padded to properly fit the nose. Occasionally one might find it serrated and left uncovered, which is a throwback to a barbarous time, but normally it is leather covered. It may have one, two or three rings, for attaching reins and/or longe line, and these rings may be directly attached, or placed at the end of one inch or 3 inch pillars.
The intended use of the cavesson is twofold: the first is to give a horseman increased control over a fractious young horse or stallion without putting pressure on the horse's mouth, and the second is to teach a young horse to properly bend at the poll, again, without putting pressure on the lips, tongue and jaw. It is often used in Spain and Portugal for showing stallions in hand, and one must say, those horses are well known for their compliant manners.
The cavesson is an ancient device, dating back at least to the 17th Century, where one finds reference to it in "Ecole de Cavalerie" by Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere, who speaks at length about it, with high praise:
"De la Broue, and after him the Duke of Newcastle, attribute such large benefits to the cavesson that I feel myself oblogated to give an account of what each of them has said:
De la Broue states, "that the cavesson was invented to collect, elevate, lighten, teach turning and halting, stabilize the head and croup without hurting the mouth or chin: also to lighten the shoulders, front legs and feet..."
The opinion of the Duke of Newcastle is as follows: "the purpose of the cavesson is to collect, elevate, lighten, teach turning and stopping, supple the neck, confirm the mouth, place the head and croup, keep the mouth sound and whole, (as well as the bars and the part where the curb is placed), bend the shoulders, make them supple and the horse's forearms and legs supple, bend the neck and make it supple..."
"The longe, on the inside of the cavesson, attached to the pommel of the saddle, gives the horse a nice bend, assures and subjects him to a true contact with the hand, and makes him firm on his haunches, especially a horse who pulls or is heavy on the hand, because it prevents him from leaning on the bit."
"A horse trained without a cavesson will never have that pleasing contact that all fine horses must have, which is to be even, steady, and light."
"The cavesson and the bridle are very different in their effects, owing to the difference between the mouth and the nose. If you draw the cavesson upwards with your fingernails turned forward, this will raise the horse's head; if you draw the bridle back with your fingernails up, this will only lower the horse's nose, especially if you keep the bridle hand low.
When working only with the bridle, one can easily make mistakes, unless one is very knowledgeable of the different effects of the different movements of the bridle hand. One must necessarily want to be self deluded if one does not wish to follow so short and sure a route as that of the cavesson attached to the bridle and supported by the bridle."
When one watches contemporary Spanish and Portuguese Masters using the traditional Iberian methods, one is struck by Newcastle's description-it is exactly that of what one sees in the field today! Almost completely absent is the use of the snaffle bit, except for when side reins and a surcingle are used for airs abone the ground or pillars (advanced) work, and this snaffle is a bar bit, to avoid pinching the mouth. The preferred traditional method for starting young horses is that of the cavesson and curb, with the cavesson being used to bend, turn, and lighten the horse, the curb simply resting in the mouth until the horse becomes very well broken in and knows how to stay in self carriage.
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