Equitation/Chapter 25


By means of the flexions of the neck and the lower jaw, by the pirouette, the reversed pirouette, and the movement backward, we have now suppled the different parts of the horse's body. We have not, however, yet suppled the limbs. And since these are the essential agents in locomotion, these also must be trained to execute their strides without stiffness, since this would cause constraint, lameness, and inequality.

For this, we have the same means of controlling the horse as before—the right and left reins, the right and left legs of the rider, and his accuracy of seat. The hands holding the reins are in their regular position when they are at the same height as the elbows. When they are lower than the elbows, the position is called "hands down," and produces a special effect. Hands higher than the elbows is "hands up," and this also has a special effect. These three effects of the hands are communicated to the lower jaw, to the head, to the neck, and to the fore hand, and act by the play of the various articulations of these members.

It is evident, however, that these different effects of the hands are not understood by the horse; so that it is only by means of exercises to supple the different joints and to make it understand the meaning of these effects of hand, that we at length obtain that complete command over the fore legs which is the sine qua non of controlled locomotion.

The same principles apply also to the horse's hind legs. The rider's legs produce three different effects according to their position on the horse's flanks. Four inches behind the girths, pressure of the rider's legs stimulates the horse's rear limbs to a movement of impulsion forward. Near the girths, this pressure maintains this action of the horse's hind legs, equally forward, with the same elevation, and at the same speed. But the rider's legs pressed three inches back of the first position will draw the horse's hind legs forward under its body, and result in a position which brings the forward impulse to a stop, or even produces motion backward. Only by exercises suppling the hind legs do we make the horse understand the meaning of these effects.

There is no other name for these exercises for suppling the limbs except the French name jambettes, from jambes, meaning legs.

This exercise of the jambettes is, however, highly useful for still another purpose. Since the horse's equilibrium is the sine qua non of the équitation savante, it is very necessary that the rider should be able, at will, to place the fore legs of his mount perpendicular to its body and to the ground. Control of each several limb by means of reins and legs makes it possible for the cavalier to rectify immediately a wrong position of any one. When, therefore, the horse has all its legs perpendicular to the ground and parallel to one another, there exists the state of equilibrium with correct location of the center of gravity. The rider's seat is accurate, so that a transfer of his weight, forward, to the right, to the left, or backward, impels the horse in one of these directions.

The exercises commence with the horse standing still. The front legs are given two kinds of jambette, the first of which involves the flexion of the scapulo-humeralis and the radio-humeralis.

A great many trainers give this exercise on foot. The right rein, preferably at first the snaffle, is held in the right hand. The trainer, holding the whip in his left hand, touches very gently the horse's right leg, repeating very gentle strokes until the animal lifts its right fore leg. This action, when secured, is immediately rewarded by the caress.

The process is now continued until the leg is held in position, foot off the ground, knee forward, lower leg down. Very soon, the mere presence of the whip accompanied by a partial flexion with the right rein, will be sufficient to maintain the leg flexed in the air. Then the whip is progressively suppressed, and the jambette asked by a partial flexion by means of the right rein. At this point, everything is reversed, and the jambette of the left fore leg taught in the same way. The great difficulty is to discover just the spot on the horse's leg where the touch of the whip will best stimulate the movement. This cannot be told in advance. Each horse has its peculiar sensibility, which must be discovered by experiment.

When the jambette both to the right and to the left is obtained by means of the snaffle, it is asked in the same way by the bit. When everything is thoroughly mastered with the trainer on foot, the latter mounts, and repeats the exercise by partial flexions of the neck, without using the whip. If, however, the horse does not understand when first mounted, it can be helped out by touches of the whip on shoulder or leg. But the whip should be eliminated as soon as possible.

Another way of obtaining the same jambette is to begin mounted. It is evident that, with the horse standing, a partial flexion of the neck to the right will shift on to the left fore leg the weight formerly carried by the right fore leg. This, therefore, being unloaded, tends to be raised from the ground. If, now, the trainer, at the first sign of this lifting, rewards the horse with caresses, the latter will very soon comprehend what is wanted; and, at the partial flexion of the neck, will hold up the right fore leg. (Figure 27.) The same means reversed operates to secure the elevation of the left fore leg.

During this practice on the jambettes, the rider's legs maintain the horse standing and straight, and prevent movement backwards. Here, then, are the principles which obtain the flexion at the scapulo-humeralis articulation.


When this form of the exercise is well understood, the trainer proceeds to the second form, in which the entire fore leg is extended forward.

For this, the rider's hand, in calling for the partial flexion of the neck, is first carried at the regular position, or, if necessary, a little lower. This position of the hand gives the fixed point at the atlas region, and thus acts directly on the rhomboideus muscle, which by its contraction raises the fore leg, and on the trapezius which holds the fore leg raised and flexed. In the meantime, the low position of the hand, as the flexion is asked, inhibits the action of the mastoido-humeralis. If now the hand is raised progressively from its low position, the tension from the fixed point at the atlas region will be communicated to the mastoido-humeralis , which will enter into action, extend the entire fore leg forward, and hold it there so long as the fixed point remains at the atlas region. This exercise is, then, the second form of the jambette. (Figure 28.)

These jambettes will teach the horse to raise its fore legs and to extend them at the effect produced by the hands of the rider, both in motion and standing still. By this means the fore legs are so placed as to receive and support their proper portion of the entire load. The partial flexions used to obtain a single jambette to the right or left are now replaced by a direct flexion of the lower jaw and neck, which gives the alternate jambettes of the two limbs. By the two positions of the hands, low for the flex- ion of the scapulo-humeralis articulation, high for the extension of the lower leg, these movements are made to occur alternately, both with the horse standing and in motion.

There are, then, three effects of the hand holding the reins. The first prevents movement forward. The second directs the body when in motion. The third raises and sustains the front hand either standing or moving.

The jambettes of the hind legs are obtained by the effects of the rider's legs, and involve nothing more than a flexion of a limb sustained for a short time. As soon as the effect has ceased, the horse's leg returns to the ground for the next stride. (Figure 29.)

The value of the jambettes of the hind legs is that they enable the rider to set the limbs at right angles to the ground and parallel to each other when the horse is standing; or when the horse is in motion, they enable the rider to secure an equal impulse from both hind legs.

For it is obvious that it is not by the lifted limb that the horse sends its body forward, but by the other which is on the ground. For example, the left hind foot cannot be lifted, unless the right hind foot is in contact with the ground, in order that the right leg may bear the load which the left has been supporting. The right leg is, therefore, in position for the impulsion. But when this impulsion is finished, the left leg will have returned to the ground under the center of gravity and in position, in its turn, to act as support for the load and to deliver the forward thrust during the brief interval when the right leg is in the air. For this reason, it is essential that each hind leg, after the jambette, shall return to the ground, either at the perpendicular or forward of it, never behind.

To obtain the jambette of the right hind leg with the horse standing, the rider, by the effect of his left leg, fixes the horse's left hind leg upon the ground, and with his right, asks the lifting of the right hind leg. The rider's desire will not at first be understood by the horse. But with repetitions and caresses, the leg soon comes to be held in the air. Then the jambette of the other leg is taught with everything reversed.

When the jambettes of all four legs are thoroughly learned, it then depends simply upon the equestrian tact, the skill in fingering, and the accuracy of seat of the rider, to obtain any desired movement or gait; for the rider now has mastership over his horse's legs, which are its only means of locomotion.