Learn the art of patience. Apply discipline to your thoughts when they become anxious over the outcome of a goal. Impatience breeds anxiety, fear, discouragement and failure. Patience creates confidence, decisiveness, and a rational outlook, which eventually leads to success.

The Chambon

The Lauffer / Vienna reins and the Chambon were invented at more or less the same time. The former are used more by Austro-Hungarian trainers, the latter by the French.

The Chambon—invented by and named after a member of the Cadre Noir in the early 1900s—can be a very useful training aid for those horses who have a lot of issues about using their backs and coming out to meet the contact. They are often not candidates for static side reins as these can trigger the same conditioned stiffening reflex brought about by a rider having a too fixed rein contact.

There is a similar training aid called the (de) Gogue also named after a French cavalry officer. However, the horse has a lot less freedom to move its head and neck, and the (de) Gogue can, by its pulling in of the chin, frighten some horses into flipping over backwards.

Well made, and correctly started, youngsters have no need of the Chambon and in an ideal world, where we all had endless time, it wouldn’t be needed on the less than perfect specimens either. However, there are man-made ‘damaged’ horses out there who do benefit from its judicial use. I would much rather someone use this piece of equipment correctly than reach for the gadget of choice for many in the UK—including equine physios—the Pessoa.

The Chambon is not a short cut to getting a head set or an outline, but it can help—in the same way that the sliding reins do—to show a horse the way to the ground before a rider gets on his fragile back. There is nothing more damaging to a horse than to hollow his back, drag himself along on the forehand, and not use his hind quarters. This causes the base of the neck to become jammed into the shoulders which means the quarters will not be able to step under the body and the abdominal muscles will not engage to support the spine.

Some will argue that if you are good (classical) rider you should be able to free the horse up from the saddle. That is theoretically possible, but I prefer to start from the ground as I would rather work on locked, stiff, hitherto incorrectly used muscles through gentle exercise, that allow the horse to discover for himself the correct and most efficient way of using them without the extra burden of someone sitting on those already weak muscles.

For this reason, I now incorporate much more In-Hand Work (including Flexions and Long and Short Rein Work) with the horses that I work with and have found that this art, in many cases, negates a need for any type of training aid. It is not a magic solution; it is yet another skill set to be learned, that if tackled without a good foundation can cause as many problems as using a training aid is often said to.

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This horse is a candidate for ridden correction

This horse is a candidate for the chambon

The correct fitting of the Chambon is extremely important. It is a means to an end not an end in itself. It is not a tool to force the horse into an ‘outline’ or to ‘make’ the horse carry his head low. It should only come into play when the horse raises its head (quite a long way) above the position necessary for efficient movement at a novice level.

Many think that its effect comes from pressure applied to the poll, which ‘makes’ the horse lower its head, and whilst this is true to a certain degree, what also happens is that as the head is raised it causes the cords attached to the bit to raise the bit into the corners of the horse’s mouth, placing pressure on the corners depending on the position of the horse’s head and neck.

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The horse is only prevented from excessive upwards movement of the head and neck; he can freely move sideways, forwards and downwards. Neither does it apply any backward pressure unlike the (de) Gogue where the cords go through the bit rings and are fastened around chest height to other straps coming through the front legs. If a horse feels trapped in this triangle serious injury can result to horse and handler should he panic and try to come above the cords.

As the Chambon doesn’t employ any backward pressure, the horse’s reaction will be to lower his head, lift his back and engage his hind legs in much the same way as a rider can ask of a ‘normal’ horse from the saddle. As the horse lowers his head the bit is allowed to slip back into its proper place which should, in turn, encourage the horse to mobilise his jaw and to salivate.

It is paramount that the horse be lunged correctly, actively working from behind, with the poll about level with the withers—at which point there will be no tension in the cords, they will swing loosely.

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Horse tracking up. Using his abdominals to lift back and enage topline muscles; neck telescoping forwards and out.

Horse slopping along on the forehand, dropped neck, hocks trailing.

With thanks to Hilary Legard (with Elizabeth Launder co-author of Understanding the Chambon) for her kind permission to use illustrations from the book.

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Classical Dressage Notebook


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