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Why use a Cavesson?


correct-snaffle-bit-horse s-mouth-1.8-800x800Randy I have a question, "why do you use a Cavesson?"
thanks Brock Holbrook


That is a great question and here is my answer:

Analogy:
Think of using a cavesson like you would if you went to the orthodontist to get braces put on your teeth. It is a temporary tool to fix a problem. Once the problem is fixed, you now have a beautiful smile. I used the cavesson to build a beautiful, respectful, obedient, soft, supple, happy, light, responsive horse. Do you like to see horses gaping their mouths open when asked to move laterally?

Short answer:
Can you train a horse without a cavesson? Absolutely you can. I have done it for years without, but many of us have grown, learned, and become better horseman. Using a cavesson just makes life easier and makes a happier horse.

The #1 reason why I use a canvesson is to relieve the pressure off of the TMJ. It then become a preventative measure of future issues. The weight of the reins is transferred to the bridge of the nose rather than than to the TMJ. When using a snaffle, the simple answer is, to keep the horse's mouth shut and it helps stabilize the bit when you add pressure with the reins. If used properly, a cavesson is used to keep the horse from evading contact until the horse learns to be soft and supple. It is also valuable for young horses just learning to go "on the bit", as it supports the jaw and helps the horse to relax its masseter muscle, and flex softly at the poll. If the cavesson is adjusted snug, the rein pressure applied will be distributed more evenly over the nose rather than just the lower jaw and TMJ. 
You do not want to create a problem (mouth gaping) by solving another (resistance) through suppling. It should not be used to mask resistance. The cavesson is a temporary training aid to teach resistance free riding. As you can see in the picture below, Carbon is a happy horse, knows his job, is feather light and moves like butter. It took four years to get to this point. If Carbon lives to be 30, only 4 years of his life he wore a cavesson. 

edit-5911-2Long answer:
Yes, I have heard all of the arguments as to why cavesson should not be used.
  1. It is a device or gimmick
  2. It masks good horsemanship
  3. It is dangerous
  4. It is not needed
  5. Creates a dependency
Some of the things I have noticed with riders that do not use a cavesson is that they do not notice their horse is gaping his mouth for two reasons. 
  1. they do not have enough contact to cause this,
  2. they can't see the horse's face from the saddle when they make contact.

Other horses will open their mouth without contact just because they have something in their mouth.

There are two layers to training a Bridle horse. One layer is using the snaffle bit, and the other is using the curb bit or bridle. When you activate the port of the curb with the shanks, the port will act as a wedge prying open the mouth. Again we do not want to teach him to evade the contact. Once the horse accepts contact with the bridle and has self carriage, the cavesson has done it's job and can be removed.

Now for a deeper understanding of a cavesson. First, let's talk about some concepts.

The first concept is being effective with your Communication:

Horses are very simple creatures. When it is time to teach something new, we want the horse to learn it as simply as it can be taught. As a person, we would not want to be nagged and nagged all day when learning something new. I have a phrase I use, "get in, get it done, and get out" ! Horses do not want to spend all day being pulled and poked at, they want peace and to get back to their buddies. So the more effective we are at teaching and communicating our intentions, the happier our horses will be.

The next concept is "Expectations":
I am NOT building a ranch horse that runs around herding cattle or a trail horse that snatches grass along the side of the trail. My goals and expectations are to build the ultimate Western Dressage Bridle horse. This is an art form. To have and build a Bridle horse is a valued PRIZE. It takes years to build the top-line for self carriage and the cherished mouth of a Bridle horse. It is the top priority to protect the mouth at all times with respect. To build the WD Bridle horse it takes a new set of tools and rules. 

The last concept: "The use and acceptance of aids"
In order to build that valued prized Bridle horse, you need to use all your aids to teach the horse how to move certain body parts. You want to have control and move the feet like moving across a skating rink. To effectively communicate with the horse, you want a clean static free communication line. It is very common in most horses to pull and resist contact with the reins as soon as you ask them to learn something new. When you apply pressure to the snaffle bit, it is not uncommon for a horse to give you his bottom jaw, but not his top. This is an evasion to the rein contact. This happens because the horse is not soft and manifests resistance.

Every time you make contact with the mouth and release pressure while the mouth is open, you have taught the horse that it is okay to gape his mouth and evade contact. If you never allow the horse to gape his mouth in the first place, you save hours and months of aggravating your horse. The truth is that Carbon does not need a cavesson. With Carbon, I show him with or without a cavesson. (I have videos in the archive that attest to this).

Why is using a cavesson so taboo?.  Some people think that the use of a cavesson will mask the problem. In reality, it will only mask the problem if you do not FIX the problem! Using a cavesson is not mean, cruel, or abusive to the horse. It is more abusive being unclear with your communications and prolong his training with ineffective methods.

What are the drawbacks or dangers in using a cavesson?
Horses are claustrophobic by nature. If you have been training your horse for any length of time, he has had the freedom to open his mouth and evade contact without your knowledge anytime he wants. Now that you have closed the door to the evasion of opening his mouth, he could panic and do something like rear and flip over backwards. The key to introducing the cavesson is slow progression from the ground first then transition to under saddle. Teach your horse to accept your aids and move on.

Supplemental info: many of the bitless bridles incorporate a type of nose-band concept for different reasons. 

Remember, there is no right or wrong way to train, you need to consider each horse as an individual and do what works best for each situation.
I hope this helps add a perspective to your training. 

I hope to see you down center-line at "8" or "X"
Randy & Carbon
 

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