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Equitation/Chapter 15


All the work done up to this point has been merely preparatory. Now the time has come for the horse to be mounted, and for the whip to be replaced by the aids and effects of the rider's legs.

Other methodists, after completing the flexions and the mobilization on foot, pass directly to the flexions mounted. This I consider a serious error. To mount a young animal, and to keep it standing still during the time of its lesson on the various flexions, is to offer far too many occasions for nervous impatience and disorderly acts. Yet how is the rider to prevent these? The horse does not understand the aids. The effects of hands, legs, and seat are ignored. The rider is at the mercy of the animal's ignorance and caprice.

To meet this difficulty, I have for many years relied upon the following system:

As soon as the preparatory work on foot is completed, I mount the horse, and begin at once the training in the aids, before proceeding to the flexions standing still. First of all, I employ the legs, so that I may be able to push the horse forward against the contact of the bits. Not only do I continue my teaching of the aids of legs without spurs, at the beginning; I employ also spurs without rowels, for the sake of accustoming the horse to their use, to increase the effect of the legs, to accelerate the speed, and to obtain the contact of its jaw upon my hand. I am not satisfied with the walk only. I ask also the trot, since this is oftentimes a very great help in exercising and quieting the animal.

Only after the aids of the legs are well understood, so that I can always determine a free forward movement, do I proceed to the reversed pirouette, pirouette, and backing, for the mobilization of the fore hand, the hind hand, and the body as a whole. On the other hand, I begin the instruction of the front hand by the flexions mounted, while my control by my legs is still only partial, standing still, at walk, and at trot. Thus, without difficulty, restiveness, or rebellion, I arrive at the "in hand"; and finally, after more and more polishing, at the "assemblage."

Meanwhile, with the instruction of the horse, has progressed the tact of the cavalier in using his aids.

The various sorts of equitation employ many different means for directing and training the horse. The équitation raisonnée and the équitation savante admit only three aids—the hands, the legs, and the seat. Cavessons, whips, and martingales, chirruping with the tongue, caressings and punishments, are only means for helping the animal to comprehend the effects of these three.

Baucher in his method, though he includes the seat as an aid, gives no theory as to the relation of the seat to the assemblage; and his own position, always correct, is always and invariably perpendicularly above the center of gravity. Photographs of Fillis in action show alteration in his position which act upon the center of gravity in direct proportion to the movement involved. But only in a few of the movements explained in his method does he maintain the need of a proper inclination of the upper part of the man's body in the direction of the horse's motion.

The seat, simply as a means of staying on the horse's back at all gaits and movements, cannot be considered an aid, so long as the horse keeps to his merely instinctive equilibrium. But as soon as this instinctive equilibrium is replaced by the condition of transmitted equilibrium, then the effect of position of the rider's body, acting upon the center of gravity of the horse, becomes very powerful.

I discuss this better later on, after I have considered the theory of the assemblage, rassembler, and the state of collection. For the present, it is important for the student's understanding of the general idea of "accuracy of seat."

A second and more important aid is the hand. For this it makes no difference whether the horse is in instinctive or transmitted equilibrium. In either case, the effect of the reins passes to the mouth, from the mouth to the neck, from the neck to the front limbs, and from the fore hand throughout the entire animal mechanism. Baucher fully understood the importance of this aid, and created the flexions of mouth and neck. So too did Fillis, who was first to apply the expression doigter, that is to say, fingering.

The bridle hand can produce three general effects, which, in their turn, by the fingering and by the different positions of the hand, are still further modified in great variety.

The first is by tension of the reins, a retarding. Its opposite is freedom, permission, concession.

The second effect is by the steadiness of the bridle hand. Its immediate effect is sustension, and later elevation.

The third effect is by the position of the hand, to indicate the direction which the animal is to take.

These effects, in general, should be produced one after the other, but not simultaneously. To produce any one without at the same time producing any trace of any other, or disturbing the conditions involved in the other two, constitutes the "intelligent hand."

The usual position of the hand is that given above. But for control, training, or the like, the reins are carried upward, downward, backward, left or right, to an extent proportionate to the effect desired. During such movements the hand should always continue to feel the bit. When the hand has reached the position where it will obtain the required movement, it remains fixed in place until the movement is completed. Thus the motion of the hand conveys the nature of the movement; the fixation of the hand controls its execution.