Our masterclass, The Art of Lunging, is based around using a cavesson for lunging training. Because of this, the most common question we are asked is, “what cavesson is the right one to buy?” We’ll show you at the end of this article. Our first question to you is then, “what work are you wanting to do with it?”
There are many different cavessons available, and they differ depending on what part of the world you are in. We often get asked if instead of a cavesson, if learners could use just a bridle or halter instead. There are safety reasons to not using a halter, but we also encourage cavesson use because it is suitable for all levels of goals that our learners are trying to achieve.
No matter what goal you have from The Pyramid of Training, the cavesson is best tool we have to help our horse’s straightness. Using a cavesson, your horse can bend, keep his head straight, and keep his shoulders and hindquarters over his frame without being touched in his mouth at all.
When using a cavesson for lunging training, you are able to bend your horse around the circle, encouraging your horse’s lateral bend. This allows you to strengthen muscles you wouldn’t ordinarily reach by riding. This level of bend is not available when you are using a halter. The cavesson also encourages your horse’s head to move forward and down, therefore stretching his long back muscle.
How to Fit the Cavesson Correctly
It’s important to be sure your cavesson is adjusted correctly, so that your horse can gain the full and precise benefit. This means it needs to be fitted so that it doesn’t turn, twist, or come near your horse’s eye.
When you are positioning the noseband, there are three areas to watch out for:
- The noseband should sit 2-3 fingers under the cheekbone.
- If the noseband is touching the cheekbones, the cavesson is too high.
- If the noseband hinders your horse’s breathing or sits over the soft part of the nose, it is too low.
It’s important to be sure the cavesson is placed far enough down the nose to allow for precise cues and actions. The noseband needs to be tight enough so that it doesn’t move over your horse’s nose, but not so tight that it is painful.
As for the chin strap, your horse should still be able to lick and chew during your lunging session. Here’s what to watch out for:
- If your cavesson slides over your horse’s nose, the chin strap is too loose.
- If you can’t comfortably fit two fingers under the noseband, your chin strap is too tight.
The throat latch of your horse’s cavesson should then act as a stabilizing element. Unlike on a bridle, where you’d put a fist or 4 fingers between the throat latch and your horse’s jaw, the throat latch on a cavesson should be tighter. This keeps the cheekpieces in place and out of the way of your horse’s eyes.
Lunging with a Cavesson versus a Halter
We can look at this discussion from two perspectives. Firstly, from a Western perspective.
When we put horses on a circle on the halter, we tend to see too much of a bend to the inside. When we look for a bending horse, what do we usually look for? We can feel the bend, we can see their eye, and we can see their jaw turn.
When you pull on a halter, it actually makes your horse’s headstall rotate the opposite way. Whereas the cavesson asks your horse to bend the way that they should. This makes the cavesson an excellent tool for the lunging circle.
As you move farther away on the circle, the cavesson allows you to still be able to play with balance. You horse now has a free-flowing line from their poll all the way through to their hind legs, giving you a more precise ability for communication. The cavesson also allows you to see the position of your horse’s natural head carriage. It doesn’t create head height, but shows where your horse’s natural head height is.
Watch Josh Nichols discuss the cavesson for Western riders.
We can also look at this from a more European perspective. The halter places pressure underneath the jaw. This causes your horse to actually lose its balance, causing him to move his head outwards. You now have a crooked horse with all of his weight on the inside shoulder. The inside shoulder leaning in makes his head turn away, cutting off your communication. Using a halter on the lunging circle is not good for functioning or for effective communication.
The cavesson places slight pressure on the nose, inclining your horse to bring his nose in and place his shoulders more out. You are immediately then allowed better communication as your horse is able to move his shoulders slightly out and his nose slightly inward, allowing him to see you directly out of his inside eye.
Lastly, the halter can often turn or rotate on the horse’s head, leaving it dangerously close to injuring the eye, and leaving you without the ability to properly communicate with your horse.
Learn from French trainer Josepha Guillame on why we don’t lunge in rope halters.