On days when we don’t ride Nautica, he gets lunged the chambon. A chambon consists of a paracord or cotton rope that travels from the girth of the horse’s surcingle, up along both sides the neck, through rings attached at the sides of the bridle near the crownpiece and to the bit via snaps. The chambon encourages the horse to stretch his head and neck long, low, and out to avoid pressure on the poll and corners of the mouth. If the horse drops his head, the pressure is released entirely.
What makes the chambon different from other lunging aids is that it encourages the outward aspect of the stretch rather than keeping the horse’s head position within a confined “box” or “frame” as seen with side reins, Vienna reins, or neck stretchers. Because the down and outward stretch is one of the more natural positions for a horse to travel in (Nautica and his saddlebred friends may disagree), it encourages the horse to carry himself in a way that promotes engagement of the lumbar back muscles which is conducive correct topline building. The stretching position is less physically taxing on the horse than a more nose-in position, so the chambon can be used for a longer period of time in the green or new-to-dressage horse without the need for breaks to prevent excessive muscle fatigue. While almost any training aid can serve a purpose for some horse at some point in its training—yes, even that one device that a thread on the COTH forum said is the root of all evil—the chambon ranks relatively benign when compared to other training devices. When adjusted properly, the horse is entirely in control of the level of pressure acting upon his poll.
Nautica responded well to the chambon when introduced to it gradually. We started with it set to the loosest position and worked our way towards more of a stretchy-trot carriage over a handful of sessions. As with any training aid, it is important to introduce the pressure slowly to encourage better acceptance and allow the horse to adjust to the new level of strength required to maintain their body position, which will vary from horse to horse. When retraining a saddlebred for dressage, particularly one with a saddle seat background, a big challenge comes in encouraging the horse to lower the base of his neck and bring his hind legs forward underneath him so that he can release the back muscles that have become tight and hollow with the “head set” way of going.
The chambon has proven to be the best lunging aid for Nautica at this point in his dressage training specifically because of it’s outward-stretching mechanism. When Nautica first started in dressage, he would resort to diving deep into the contact in order to engage his back muscles. At the time, the “a little deep but soft” response was preferred to the “ears-in-your-eyeballs and bracing” reaction that came much more naturally to him. Now that we have achieved consistent softness in the contact and Nautica has physically adapted to the strength required for this kind of training, the chambon is just the right tool to work towards a more open connection.
Lastly, we also added a “redneck Equiband” system in the form of a butt rope or polo wrap attached to the surcingle and behind Nautica’s thighs to encourage more pelvic tuck. Nautica, having a flat, short saddlebred croup and “out behind” conformation, struggles to get his hind end underneath him within his gaits. Much like one of the components of the pricier Equiband system, the polo wrap simply makes Nautica aware of his hind end muscles and encourages a more forward reach of the hind limbs. The butt rope has shown great improvements in Nautica’s lunging in terms of him taking longer steps behind, staying centered, and not leaning in quite so severely on a circle.
All of this strength training seem to be working. Nautica’s topline is filling out and all of his previously angular edges are rounding. He’s looking and feeling amazing!