Equitation/Chapter 13


THE pirouettes are revolutions of one end of the horse's body about the other. In the direct pirouette, the hind feet remain in place, while the fore feet circle around them, either to the right or to the left. In the reversed pirouette, called rotation by the new school, the shoulders are the fixed point and the haunches turn around them.

The reversed pirouette is the first movement of the reasoned equitation. It is also the most important, since on its correct and symmetrical execution the entire education depends. It has, moreover, three stages: the reversed pirouette in lateral, which belongs to the lateral equitation; the direct rotation, which belongs to the reasoned equitation; and that in diagonal, which belongs to the scientific equitation. The three terms, lateral, direct, and diagonal, refer to the lateral, direct, and diagonal effects by which the movement is obtained.

The first step in the horse's education is, of course, the position of "in hand"; which has already been considered in the account of the flexions, and will be discussed still further in Chapter XXII. Up to this point the horse has been trained to take the position given by the rider's hand while standing still. It does not yet understand how to move its weight on its feet, and at the same time, to remain in hand. The grand masters have, therefore, spoken of the direct and reversed pirouettes as the mobilization, respectively, of the front and hind hands.


IF the horse has been given the work with the trainer on foot, already described, the reversed pirouette should also be taught on foot. If the training is done in a manege, the animal should be in the center of the ring. I shall discuss first the reversed pirouette in lateral from right to left.

The trainer stands on the horse's right, between head and shoulder. The right hand holds three reins, two from the bit, with the little finger between them, and the right snaffle rein, which passes from the thumb to the little finger. But the snaffle rein is held shorter than the rest. The whip is held in the left hand, with the lash near the horse's right flank.

By means of the reins from the bit, the trainer holds the horse in hand, and at the same time, with the snaffle rein, he obtains a partial lateral flexion to the right. He calms the animal by his voice, and still keeping the "in hand," he keeps touching the right flank lightly with the whip.

Commonly, at this, the horse will either back or raise the right hind leg. If the horse backs, the trainer will correct the fault by carrying forward the reins. But if the horse merely lifts the right hind leg, showing neither fear nor impatience, then the trainer is satisfied and rewards the action with caresses. After a brief relaxation, the action is repeated from the beginning.

Sooner or later, however, the animal, instead of merely lifting the right foot, will, in addition, carry it to the left, under the body, and set it down more or less in front of the left foot. In that position, before the right hind foot can be lifted again, the left hind foot must also gain ground leftward. (Figure 15.)

This is the first step of the reversed pirouette, the beginning of the mobilization of the hind hand. In a short while, the horse comes to understand that when its right flank is touched with the whip, it is to lift the right foot and step toward the left. After the first step, the second, third, and fourth are readily obtained in the same way. Four such steps, done in proper cadence, are enough. More will disturb the support of the front legs, and will distress the horse, since they are against its natural conformation.

Meanwhile, of course, the horse will have lost the "in hand" position. The only remedy is patience, perseverance, and quality of work. You, Master, are the instructor. You are teaching to your pupil the alphabet of locomotion. On this foundation, your pupil may, in time, become a most


uncommon animal. Do not forget that your whip has still to be replaced by legs and spurs. So do not hurry. Take ample time, remembering that the more time you take at this stage, while still maintaining the quality of your work, the faster progress you will make in the end.

When the lateral rotation is thoroughly mastered to the left, everything is reversed and the movement made toward the right.

In the reversed pirouette, as also in the passage, the trainer must not, under any condition, allow the horse to begin the movement by stepping off with the hind leg on the side toward which the motion is to be made. If, for example, the step is to be toward the left, the right hind foot must first cross over in front of the left. After that, the left foot steps still farther to the left. But the left foot must never move first. In other words, the legs always cross, never straddle.

I cannot insist too strongly on this point. Baucher followed and taught the opposite method, and it gave rise to much confusion in his principles. Moreover, it occasioned terrible fights against horses trained by him, which became confused by the effects of the legs.

When the reversed pirouette is correctly executed in lateral, it can next be readily obtained with the direct flexion of "in hand." For this, the pull on one snaffle rein is suppressed, and the horse's head and neck are held straight, while the four steps of the movement are asked by means of the whip. (Figure 16.)

The reversed pirouette in diagonal belongs to the scientific equitation, and will be taken up with that subject.


THE direct pirouette, usually termed simply the pirouette, is the first movement for mobilizing the front hand. Assuming for convenience of description that the movement is toward the left, the action is as follows:

The left hind leg becomes the chief support of the hind hand, while the right hind foot, as in the reversed pirouette, passes in front of it to the left. Then, in its turn, the left rear foot, without in the least altering its place on the ground, turns on the same spot to face in the new direction. These two alternate, the right foot really stepping round the left.

Meanwhile, the right fore foot passes in front of the left, thus crossing the fore legs. As soon as this has taken the weight, the left fore foot moves off to the left, and restores the first relation. In this manner the fore hand walks round the left hind foot. For movement in the other direction, everything is, of course, reversed.

To obtain this pirouette to the left, the trainer stands on the horse's right side, as for the reversed pirouette, facing to the rear. In his right hand he holds the two snaffle reins close behind the chin. The whip is in his left hand, lash near the horse's flank.

The horse being held straight and "in hand," the trainer, with his right hand, pushes the animal's head straight to the left, while, at the same time, by means of the whip, he checks the natural movement of the haunches toward the right. Thus, by pushing the fore hand round in one direction, and at the same time preventing the hind hand from circling after it, the trainer soon obtains the first step of the pirouette. Then follows the usual pause and caressing; and shortly, the animal learns to complete the action. After this, the direction is reversed.


THE pirouette has now taught the horse to mobilize the fore hand. The reversed pirouette or revolution has taken care of the hind hand. There still remains the mobilization of the entire length of the spine, from the atlas region to the last of the sacral vertebrae. While this remains straight and rigid, correct locomotion is not possible.

Flexion of the spine hinges on the " coupling" between the last dorsal vertebra and the first sacral, which has to bend with each step forward, sidewise, or backward. Unfortunately, this articulation tends to become ankylosed with advancing age, and even in a young animal the unnatural load of the rider tends to stiffen the joint. Both causes interfere with free movement, and occasion kicking, rearing, and buck- jumping.

It is, therefore, essential, during the work on foot, to complete the mobilization of the entire body by exercise in backing to supple the coupling.

Some authors advise, for this purpose, having the trainer stand in front of the horse, facing it, and with one rein in each hand, either of bit or snaffle, pushing the animal backward by "sawing" back and forth on the bridle. Fillis advocates having the man, in addition, step on the horse's feet, first on one, then on the other, as the sawing goes on.

But how, I ask, is the horse to understand that it is to flex its spinal column, just because somebody saws its mouth or walks on its feet? I myself proceed in quite a different manner. I put my horse straight, right side near a wall, "at left hand," as it is called. I stand at the shoulder, whip in my right hand, snaffle reins in my left. With the whip, I touch the back close behind the saddle, repeating several times, very gently, never at all violently or severely. Meanwhile, I pull lightly on the snaffle reins. Commonly, within two minutes, the horse lifts one hind foot. If at this moment I pull on the reins, I hinder with my left hand the movement forward of this leg, which will at once be carried backward. The diagonal front leg will at once follow, and I have obtained the first step. Caress- ings on the croup with the right hand, accompanied by the voice, soon make the horse comprehend what is desired. A single one-hour lesson is sufficient to teach the creature to go backwards, the coupling supple, at the touch of the whip behind the saddle and the gentle tension on the reins. The movement should then be repeated from the right side, reins in the right hand, whip in the left.

This movement backward, alternated with the other movements, forward, pirouette, and reversed pirouette, will very soon bring about a state of complete obedience on the part of the horse. The man, on his side, begins to see the effects of the various means which he is employing and to understand the operation of the animal mechanism.

During the work on foot, if the horse is uneasy from need of exercise, put him at the cavesson and longe, preferably without bridle.

A last word : Patience and gentleness; do not forget that you teach, you educate.