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The chambon is a particularly useful training tool to help horses who have learned inverted or hollow movement. Historically, some classical trainers used the chambon for a period of time on every horse as part of the foundational lunge work. I have found it extremely helpful for many horses to learn relaxation on the lunge. So why do we recommend the chambon but never draw reins, (de) gogue, Pessoa, or other such devices? What is the difference?
Invented in the early 1900s at the French military Cadre Noir, the chambon is a simple strap that attaches to the girth and comes up under the neck, over the poll, and down to clip on to each side of the bit. I see the chambon as more of a positive reinforcement training tool. When the horse is not inverted, when his head is level with the withers, he feels nothing from the chambon. He has total freedom of movement. It is only if he drops his back and starts pulling with his chest that his head comes up too high. At that point, he will feel the bit lift into the corners of his mouth. It's a friendly reminder to relax the underneck musculature and to engage his back instead. As soon as he does, the chambon falls silent again. I like to compare it to a gentle ceiling at the horse's poll. But it’s not a tie-
Will Faerber of Art2Ride has a helpful video on how to introduce the chambon to your horse on the lunge.
This video shows you exactly how a chambon works and how to adjust it, as it must be the correct length. It should be dormant when the horse is holding his head at a normal height. The horse should only feel the chambon in the corners of its mouth if he inverts his body and lifts his head high in order to pull himself along with his chest.
It is safest to use the chambon on the lunge and not riding.
In his classic book Training Showjumpers, Anthony Paalman says this about the chambon:
"... the Chambon is of vital importance, being especially beneficial for the young showjumper, because it develops the muscles needed for jumping, especially in the back and the quarters. It also helps to make the horse supple and relaxed, corrects ewe necks and hollow backs and activates the horse's hind legs to establish a natural balance. ...lunging with the Chambon ensures there is never a backwards pressure on the horse's mouth, giving it every freedom with its head and neck in a forward and downwards direction. This posture encourages impulsion. ...with the Chambon, the horse learns easily and is relaxed enough to bend its entire body laterally inwards, from head to tail."
I also like the chambon for horses who have been forced behind the vertical in past training who now have a tendency to curl rather than seek contact. Side reins would probably not help such horses to stretch down and out, but the chambon does. As long as you are lunging with enough activity from behind, it encourages engagement of the core, which sends the horse's hind energy through the back and out the front.
Many trainers are no longer familiar with the chambon. It has fallen out of style, as it is not a quick fix to hold the horse in a frame. Today's equestrian world has little patience for the time it takes to train a horse to develop and carry himself correctly. Sadly, this is true for young horses as well as for those who have been damaged by bad riding. I'm happy that Art2Ride has embraced the use of the chambon as one of the tools for good foundational training for horses of any age.
By Carol Kurtz Darlington, Art2Ride Associate Trainer