Home » Four Reasons To Teach The Cavesson Target For R+ Dressage

Four Reasons To Teach The Cavesson Target For R+ Dressage

An example of the Cavesson Target. The human holds their hand up, and the horse targets their hand with the bridge of his nose.

A little bit about how Dressage is for the horse:

I always approach Dressage from a physical and mental wellness perspective. The Dressage work should help my horse become the best horse he was meant to be. Essentially I am searching for ways to help him find/keep movement patterns that will keep him healthy into old age. I am a firm believer that Dressage is for the horse, the horse is not for Dressage. The Cavesson Target is a great way to explain some of the more technical details of Dressage using Positive Reinforcement.

We are on the right track when I see my horses using the dressage exercises (that they couldn’t do as well before) that we worked on in a training session while playing with each other. I love seeing them choosing to be more active in their paddock, choosing a more difficult lead when cantering etc. This lets me know the dressage work is helping them live their best lives as horses.  

A little bit about the Cavesson Target before we move into why it is useful:

The Cavesson Target got its name because it mimics the cavesson. In traditional training the stellning and bending can be trained with a single rein attached to the middle ring of a lunging cavesson. The cavesson target is a bit different but has the same goal of influencing the stellning and the bending. The cavesson target is trained with positive reinforcement, the final behaviour looks like: The human holds their hand up, and the horse chooses to place the bridge of his nose in the hand of the human, the horse knows which stellning the human would like to work with based on which hand the rider is holding up. This target can easily be done at liberty without a cavesson at all.

The Cavesson Target feels very similar to holding hands while dancing. The concept for this target was originally introduced to me by Angelica Hesselius of Reward Based Art Of Riding. Mine is a bit different from hers these days, but I still like to give credit where it is due.

What I love most about this target is I can pop out to the paddock with just my clicker and treat pouch and my horse will willingly dance with me completely at liberty, all while I make nuanced adjustments to his movement. This ensures that he gets the full physical benefits from each exercise…

Here are four reasons why this target is so handy for R+ Dressage:

Reason #1 To Teach The Cavesson Target:

It is a gentle clear way to lead the horse through the dressage exercises at liberty. While this target is very detailed and nuanced with the ability to cue a little more or a little less stellning and bending, the horse and human still maintain the contact in a very soft way.

Reason #2 To Teach The Cavesson Target:

The target involves the human holding their hand up and the horse targeting the bridge of his nose to the hand. The human DOES NOT hold or grab the horse’s face. The horse is choosing to seek the contact and can break contact if he finds an exercise too much, or if the human applies pressure etc. The moments when the horse is seeking the contact and when he is not are very clear, which gives the human a lot of information about how the horse feels about the exercises both physically and emotionally. The horse can also adjust the way he is carrying his head in the contact. This gives the human a lot of information about what is happening in the horse’s body. This is handy for finding exercises that are useful to the individual horse.  

Reason #3 To Teach The Cavesson Target:

The human walking backwards is able to see how the horse aligns his body through the exercises. As the human and horse move through the exercises the visual can be tied to the feeling of the contact in the human’s hand. Making adjustments to the horse’s alignment changes the feeling in the contact. This is a wonderful way for the human to learn the “feel” for that particular horse. This is very helpful when the human is riding the horse and can no longer see what the horse is doing, but instead has to feel it.

Reason #4 To Teach The Cavesson Target:

The cavesson target is tied to a specific behaviour. This behaviour transfers very well to a direct rein cue. This makes the transition to riding much easier. In positive reinforcement we don’t use pressure to create a desired behaviour, the behaviour is shaped through small approximations. When the behaviour looks the most like the final behaviour, the final cue is added. The cavesson target for example is the final cue for the cavesson targeting behaviour. This behaviour can then be transferred to a direct rein cue (I teach my direct rein cues to have more meaning than just left and right turn). This way the horse will know exactly what the green light behaviour is when he is given a direct tactile rein cue without ever having to use pressure.  

This target is complicated, but when its broken down into little steps it isn’t hard to teach:

Teaching this target is a multi-step process: The steps include: Teaching the horse to follow while the human walks backwards. Counter-conditioning the hand on the bridge of the horse’s nose. Teaching the horse to place the bridge of his nose in the hand. Showing the horse how to follow the hand and maintain contact. Teaching him to follow the hand in all gaits. Explaining to the horse that each hand means either left or right stellning. Teaching the horse to maintain the stellning, while maintaining contact, while following at all gaits and responding to other cues. I’m always impressed with my horse’s ability to see and respond to the cues, as well as the level of focus he has when we are working.

I’m also very careful to reinforce the following behaviour more than the holding on target behaviour, so if the horse needs to remove his head from my hand he can while still following me at any gait. This indicates to me that he is having a bit of trouble doing what I’m asking. If he is still willingly following me, I know he isn’t wanting to stop working with me, he just needs me to ask for a little less, or make other adjustments…

The Cavesson Target is one of my favourites. Feel free to send me a message if you want to give it a try with your horse!


Cavesson Target in Half-Pass. You can see Fox twists his head just a bit in the contact here. This is information that helps me see whats going on in his body, and decide what dressage exercises we should be working on next.

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