In the lore of the old west there are a number of terms that are either lost or in limited use today. Many of them are extremely interesting and should be remembered not only for their historic value, but also their practical value. One such term is "cavvy marks."
A "cavvy" is a group of ranch horses. The word comes from the term "cavvietta," derived from Spanish and referring to the whole herd of horses that a ranch owns. The cavvy of horses is gathered by the horse wrangler in the morning and walked to the "ropes" (a portable rope corral used to hold horses.) The "jigger boss" (second in command to the cow boss) or the cow boss ropes the horses from each buckaroo's string as requested by the buckaroos for the day.
One tool that was used extensively was what they called "cavvy marks." These were marks made by trimming a section of the mane hair in a certain way to mark the training level of a horse. The cowboy way was often to travel from outfit to outfit and when the old jigger boss quit, the new one could more easily step into the job.
To mark the horses, the section, about 6 inches long, of mane hair from the withers forward was "roached" (trimmed as close as possible) using scissors or clippers. This also keeps the mane hair from bunching under the saddle blanket or pad.
Another use for cavvy marks is if the horses get mixed with a herd of wild mustangs, the cavvy marks can be seen from a distance and are a good identifying mark to help separate your saddle horse from the mustang herd.
If all the mane hair is roached over the withers, the horse is a snaffle bit horse. Two tufts of hair denotes a two-rein horse.One tuft of hair means the horse is a straight-up bridle horse.
A version of this article by Mike Laughlin appears in the March, 2001 issue of Western Horseman Magazine.