Horse Training Tools - The Cavesson Noseband
What is a 'cavesson' noseband?
The noseband is the part of the bridle that encircles the horse's nose. A cavesson is a simple noseband that consists of a single strap around the nose and a thinner strap that goes over the horse's head.
A cavesson noseband is sometimes called a 'plain' noseband, or even just a noseband with no other qualifiers.
English versus Western nosebands
The majority of English riders ride with a noseband. The majority of western riders do not. This distinction is a matter of fashion and trends more than anything else. A typical western bridle or headstall is not equipped with a noseband and some designs, such as split ear headstalls, are not designed to take one at all.
The exception is in barrel racing. Barrel racers generally do wear nosebands as they normally run in tie-downs, which many riders believe help the horse to balance and stay on its feet through tight turns.
Does a cavesson do anything?
It's a common myth that a cavesson noseband either holds the horse's jaw closed or 'supports' the jaw, making it easier to relax.
This can be demonstrated as a myth fairly easily. The vast majority of horses that go in a plain noseband will show no sign of any change in attitude or behavior if the noseband is removed.
A correctly fitted cavesson noseband is purely cosmetic and has no impact or effect on the horse whatsoever. In English showing it is generally unacceptable to ride without one as many English riders feel it makes the bridle look 'incomplete' or 'unfinished'. Also, if the horse has a large head, the cavesson can break up the appearance of the head and make it look smaller.
Also, the noseband does not in any way, shape or form, hold the horse's jaw closed. Drop, flash and other noseband styles are designed to do just that, as some horses will evade the action of the bit by opening their mouths. If a cavesson is interfering with the action of the horse's jaw - it is too low.
How is a cavesson fitted?
The cavesson noseband should be no more than two finger-widths (adult fingers) below the horse's cheekbone and the rider should be able to fit no less than two fingers, sideways, between the band and the horse's jaw.
In America, cavessons are often fitted higher, right up against the cheekbones. In the show ring, adjusting the precise height of the cavesson is sometimes used as a tool to improve the overall appearance of the horse's head.
Once fitted, a cavesson is generally not unfastened...if the bridle cannot be put on or removed with the cavesson fastened, it is far too tight or, alternatively, too small for the horse. Most riders unfasten cavessons only to clean them.
Why use a cavesson?
As mentioned, the primary purpose of a cavesson or plain noseband is cosmetic. It is considered to improve the appearance of the horse's head. Also, amongst English riders, the cavesson noseband is traditional and many consider a horse to look very odd without one.
Cavessons are also used to secure a standing martingale or tie-down if one is in use. In general, cavessons are only seen on western bridles in conjunction with a tie-down. This is primarily fashion, but it also helps when, on longer trail rides, a halter is worn under the bridle so the horse can be picketed safely. In this situation, having both a noseband and a halter can cause problems and, at the very least, make the horse's head look 'cluttered'.