Most riders understand the need for a well-fitting saddle, but when it comes to cavessons, “anything goes” quite often seems to be the motto. In the following post, I write about why it pays out to invest in a good quality cavesson and I explain what to look for.
A cavesson is a traditional tool for groundwork. It usually has three metal rings on the noseband. We use the middle one for groundwork and longing and the two on the side for work in hand and riding. Cavessons are made for light contact and the work with a soft hand, not for permanent pressure or side reins.
Traditional cavessons are made of leather, but nowadays there are also good leather alternatives. Whatever the material, it should be soft, durable, and of a very good quality. It does not pay out in the long run to try and save money on a cavesson. Cheap cavessons are cheap for a reason and the material and/ or the workmanship will usually not be of a sufficient quality. When deciding for a leather product, please do not buy cheap leather. It is often produced under unspeakable suffering of the animals and not worthy of our support! Ask where the leather comes from (not where the cavesson is made!) and invest in the best possible quality. You will keep such a cavesson for life. When you have a limited budget, I would rather buy a used but good quality one than a new, cheap one.
While there can be many materials which are suitable for cavessons, I do not think cavessons should be made of plain rope. I often see horsemanship rope halters that are converted into cavesson (with little metal hooks fastened to the noseband) and I think it’s a terrible idea. A leather or biothane strap is flat and provides a large area on which to distribute pressure. A rope, on the other hand, is round and thus there is more pressure on a smaller area. These cavessons might look light, but in fact they are just the opposite and are very sharp. Many students tell me that their horse is just so much more polite in a rope halter, and that’s one of the reasons. Another is the knots which pressure into sensitive areas of the horse’s face (more about that below), already with a slight pressure or pressure from a heavy snap. There are cavessons made of rope with broader, padded nose pieces and without knots, these are totally fine if they fit well.
A cavesson should not slide around the horse’s face and should not have to be fastened tightly to stay in place. The horse’s head is very sensitive and there are many nerves and blood vessels which we shouldn’t squeeze. Another reason for a relatively loose fit is that we don’t want to make pressure against the horse’s molars, as this can lead to injuries of the skin inside the horse’s mouth.
When a well-fitting cavesson slides a lot during work, it is mostly due to a too strong influence from the longe line and not the problem of the cavesson itself. In the academic art, we work with light impulses and not with a steady pressure. Whereas the rings of a cavesson are strategically placed for an easy influence on the horse’s skull, the cavesson is rather a tool for communication than it is for mechanical influence.
Generally, you can choose the same size for your cavesson as for your bridle (X-full, full, cob, pony). The noseband should lay about two fingers under the horse’s cheek bone and above the area where the nasal bone gets thinner, so we don’t impact the horse’s breathing. If your horse cannot eat a goodie when wearing the cavesson, the noseband is fastened too tightly. The horse should be able to open the jaw and to place the lower jaw, otherwise we cannot get a correct head flection (stellning). I recommend to buy a cavesson with a cheek strap, as this provides further stabilisation and prevents the poll strap from sliding in the eye.
There are different types of cavessons and the one that I find most useful is the one with a chain inside the nosepiece. The chain is light enough to avoid too much pressure on the nose and yet it lays very stable. I find this type of cavesson to have the best transmission of my aids , not amplifying and not dulling them. At the same time, the chain is flexible enough to fit almost any type of nose (see recommendations below, the Bent Branderup cavesson and the The Art of Riding Store cavessons) A well-designed nosepiece of a a thicker leather can also provide good fit and stability (see the Jossy Reynvoet Cavesal and the La Selle Mulitcavesson). Personally, I do not recommend cavessons with a suited metal noseband, for the simple reason that I never saw one which fit well. Such a “stable” nosepiece can also invite pulling, similar to a traditional German or Austrian cavesson with heavy metal and leather nosepieces. While these cavessons are supposed to distribute pressure more equally, I prefer not to use such an amount of pressure in the first place and such a nose piece doesn’t really transmit finde aids. Any nosepieces with sharp teeth or chains should not even be worth mentioning.
The noseband should be well padded and the horse should look comfortable when wearing the cavesson. When you see a triangular eye shape with wrinkles above the eye and/ or a tightened nose/ muzzle area, your horse might not be happy with the fit.
When you buy a cavesson, be sure to buy the right size for your horse. A good (online) shop provides advice on how to measure your horse, can choose the right size from their collection and gives you feedback about the fit from a photo of your horse wearing the cavesson. That’s why I can recommend to buy a cavesson at a shop which is specialised in selling cavessons and where they have a lot of personal experience with cavessons (see my recommendations below). You might find a similar cavesson cheaper somewhere, but you might end up buying the wrong size or being unsure about the size.
I get many messages by students or visitors to my Facebook page each week asking about which cavesson to buy. I usually recommend the ones on the list below and then quite often, a similar conversation unfolds. The students searches the internet for a cheaper alternative and sends me the link to the product, asking for my opinion. In the past, I would say what I think (something along the lines of “well this might work but I don’t know the product” and usually the student would buy something for little money, only to buy something else half a year later. Myself, I had a lot of trial an error with cavessons and the best advice I can give is to invest in a good quality product and be done with the topic. I just don’t like equipment with a bad fit or a bad feel to it, and my horses also appreciate the comfort of a good cavesson. I would like to focus on my training and my tools should be “invisible” in the sense that I just want to use them and not worry about them.
I can recommend the following cavessons.
The Bent Branderup Cavesson
Bent Branderup has decades or experience with cavessons and this cavesson is truly a masterpiece. It is light, elegant, flexible and stays well in place. I own two of these and they are in daily use. The shop has a great customer service. Link to the online shop (this link is an affiliate link. I’m an authorised reseller for Bent Branderup products and will earn a small commission if you buy the product through this link. If you are not ok with this, just search for the shop through your preferred search engine.)
Cavesson by The Art of Riding Store
This is a high quality leather cavesson developed by my friend Anna Guzik-Kornacka and produced by the Spanish leather producer Marjoman. The nosepiece is well padded and Anna is happy to help you with measuring and fit. Since Anna and I have a small stable together, I know this cavesson very well and can wholeheartedly recommend it. Buy it here.
Cavesal by Jossy Reynvoet
Jossy is a licensed Bent Branderup Trainer and has decades of experience in bites training. His cavesal is highly functional and comes in two qualities to fit each budget. I have seen this cavesson in action many many times and its owners are very satisfied. Link to Jossy’s shop page here.
La Selle Multi-Cavesson
This premium product is made of highest quality leather and has a snug yet comfortable fit. Bit hangers are for separate purchase and then you get a fully functional bridle as well. I use a “prototype” version of this cavesson and I absolutely love the leather and fit. Link to the La Selle multi-cavesson here.
I’m sure there are many other good cavessons out there which might be a great choice. However, I can only recommend what I have used myself or of which I definitely know it’s a great product. I wish you happy cavesson shopping and hope I could help you to make a choice!
Further reading: Kathrin Branderup-Tannous: “The Academic Toolbox – The Cavesson”. In: Akademische Reitkunst/ Academic Art of Riding Vol. 2, Bodenarbeit/ Groundwork, Stuttgart: Müller-Rüschlikon 2018, pp. 26-43.