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Equitation/Chapter 26


IN the Spanish walk, the horse extends alternately its front legs forward to their full length, holds them extended for a brief time, and then steps forward. Why this gait is called "Spanish" is a mystery. Possibly it is because the Spanish jennet has commonly an exaggerated action forward, though this is never so marked as in the Spanish walk. The air is also sometimes called the "soldier's walk."

The Spanish walk is the first movement of the so-called high school or circus equitation. It is also employed by the reasoned equitation for show purposes. Both schools have used it as a means of teaching the Spanish trot and various other movements of the high school.

I, on the contrary, do not use the Spanish trot for show purposes, but only as a gymnastic exercise, to obtain the greatest muscular development of the animal, to supple various portions of the body, to equalize the strides of the four limbs, and to secure a uniformly energetic action throughout the entire mechanism. For me, therefore, the Spanish walk is not an end, but a means toward the suppleness and activity which results from practicing it.

When the Spanish walk is asked from a horse that is so far educated as to preserve the state of equilibrium during all movements, it becomes a most valuable exercise for instilling the idea of the diagonal, as well as for making the horse energetic and active at the other gaits. But when the Spanish walk is obtained by the aid of straps, whips, or other devices, and is used only for show, the gait is neither attractive to the onlooker nor beneficial to the horse. In these circumstances, though it elevates its front legs, it does not really advance upon them in this position. Instead, it draws its fore legs backward from their extended position and makes only a half-step forward. Meanwhile, the hind legs drag inactive; the head and neck take any sort of position; and the rider's hand, at each step, jerks up and down. The movement becomes a mere grimace, performed under the direction of a rider who knows no better.

To teach the Spanish walk with the whip, the trainer places the horse with its right side close to a fence or wall, and taking the reins in his left hand, touches the horse's left fore leg with the whip. It is difficult to say at just what part of the limb the whip should first make its effect. Some horses will understand quicker if the pastern is touched. For others, the best point is the back tendon, the shin, the fore arm, or the knee. The rider must discover the spot by trial; but the place once found, the first touch of the whip should always be at that point.

When the horse learns to raise its foot from the ground at the contact of the whip, the trainer should at first rest satisfied with this concession. After a time, the horse will hold its leg in the air. If the horse paws the ground, prevent the action, but do not punish. Pawing is merely a sign of impatience, which, however, must not be allowed to become a habit.

When the horse holds its two legs flexed equally well, it has to be taught to extend them forward. For this, the whip is brought to the point of the shoulder, and the trainer perseveres in light, repeated touches until the bent limb is extended forward. As soon as this occurs, the whip is no longer applied at the first point, whatever that was, but the touch at the point of the shoulder obtains both the raising of the leg and its extension.

The horse, having now reached the point where it holds its leg extended, the next matter is the forward step. For this, there are two devices. One of these, adopted by Fillis, is to pull the animal forward with the reins, and thus force it to set down its lifted foot at a point corresponding to the extension of the leg. This method is least satisfactory, because of the long time it takes to make the horse comprehend what is wanted of it.

The second method is easier and more immediately successful. The trainer, always facing backward, reins in his left hand, whip in his right, and keeping the horse's right side against the barrier, chirps with his tongue, and touches the horse's left flank with the whip, until the horse goes forward at an ordinary walk. Little by little, this walk is made slower and slower. At this stage, the two movements are asked together. The horse now moving at the slow walk, the whip touches the point of the shoulder precisely as when the animal was standing still. Thereupon, very shortly, the horse extends its left shoulder and executes the first step of the Spanish walk. If now the trainer knows how, by means of caresses and encouragements, to push this first success, the horse will soon learn to walk with extended fore legs. It is hardly necessary to add that, throughout all this work, the two sides are alternated and treated equally.

After this work on foot has continued until the horse is thoroughly confirmed in the gait, the trainer mounts, and once more obtains the extension by touching the horse's shoulder with the whip. When this much is done well and easily, standing, the rider by means of his legs, sends the horse forward at a slow walk. He then, with the whip, touches the shoulder next the wall shortly before the leg on that side has begun to lift.

When the animal has learned to extend one leg in proper cadence, the trainer reverses sides, and trains the other leg in the same manner.

The movement being executed by either leg alone, the next step is to combine the two. Some trainers, for this, use two whips, one on each side. Others have an assistant mount, while they, on foot, as the assistant sends the horse forward with legs or spurs, touch the shoulders with the whip in proper sequence. Thus the rider raises first one hand and then the other to secure the extension of the corresponding leg, and the trainer on foot supplements this effect by touches of the whip. In this manner, any quadruped can be taught the Spanish walk — elephant, cow, donkey. A great many such creatures have, in fact, been exhibited. But, as Fillis says, a horse doing the Spanish walk is only mechanized to execute grimaces with its front legs while the hind legs drag on the ground. All the work has been directed at the front legs to the complete neglect of the hind hand. ("Why-Not" and "Pierrot" at the Spanish walk, Figures 30 and 31.)

Masters of the scientific equitation object to the foregoing method of obtaining the Spanish walk. Their principles admit teaching this gait only when the horse is mounted, and without any use of the whip. Unfortunately, grand masters of equitation are not born grand masters; and there is not one of us who, at the beginning of our careers, has not spent years over 'the Spanish walk, on foot, with whip, assistant, and the rest. After long and assiduous labor, we find it simple enough to obtain the air mounted, without preparatory work on foot. Of course it is simple for us now. But it was not so simple fifty years ago; and we were proud enough of the first horse that we put through the Spanish walk. I say this in order to encourage the young. When they have had the experience of grand


masters, they also will obtain the step mounted and without aid.

I have now arrived at the point which I had in view, when, in discussing such movements as gallop, change of direction, shoulder-in, and the like, I disputed the ideas of Baucher and Fillis as to the effects which should be applied. The reader will find that what now follows will be clearer if he will refer back to the portions of the book where these topics were earlier discussed.

Baucher and Fillis teach the Spanish walk only when mounted, just as I do. Why, then, have, these grand masters fallen into the error of applying certain principles to certain movements, and yet disallowing these same principles in similar cases?

I quote, by way of example, Baucher's theory of the Spanish walk, the italics mine. To the portion in italics, I call the reader's special attention.

"One understands by Spanish walk the action of a horse which, in walking, gives all the extension possible to each of its front legs alternately. ... In order to obtain this movement, it is first necessary to force the horse to sustain one of its legs in the air. One will arrive at this promptly by flexing the head of the horse, for example, to the right with the rein of the snaffle or the bridle. That position taken, one will carry the hand holding the bridle to the left, while at the same time sustaining the horse strongly by means of his own legs. Nevertheless, the left [leg] will be applied to the flank with more energy, to make opposition to the hand. Little by little, the weight of the horse's right leg will be carried upon the left, and the first [the right] leg will quit the ground."

Fillis teaches exactly the same principles and the same means. My procedure also is precisely like that of the two grand masters. For although there is always the difference that they ask the movement simply as a movement, while I employ it only as a gymnastic exercise and a means to something else, yet our methods of obtaining the action are the same.

But the point I am aiming at is to show that Baucher and Fillis teach that the partial flexion of the head to the right unloads the right front leg, and, of course, loads the left. But why is the head carried to the right to unload the right leg, which is the pivot and support in such different movements as shoulder-in, change of direction, and others; and why is the head carried to the left to load the right shoulder in order to obtain the gallop on the right lead? When we ask the energetic action of one of our own members, so far as we can, we unload it. To kick the ball with the right foot, we put all the weight of the body on the left. Then with the right—"there she goes"! But to load a limb from which we ask energetic action, is a curious kind of logic or science.

Every experienced riding-master will keep reminding his students that there is a point in the educational progress of every horse, where the animal tends to stay behind, rather than upon, the hand. I have spent some years in studying this anomaly. Baucher and Fillis also recognize this difficulty; and recommend suspending further progress and beginning over again to find the contact upon the hand by energetic impulsion at a fast trot or gallop. I too have practiced this method; but I find that after the impulsion at the trot my horse is excited and willful.

I reason the matter out thus. When the horse, at the Spanish walk, raises, extends, and sustains, alternately, the two front legs, it must be evident that this is done by the contraction of the two great muscles of the neck, the rhomboideus and the mastoido-humeralis, which have their fixed point in the atlas region. Now, this gait, obviously, cannot be other than the product of the diagonal effect. If, then, the diagonal effect produces the Spanish walk, and if the Spanish walk cannot be obtained without the fixed point at the atlas region, the contact of the bit must be the consequence of the fixed point, and therefore a result of the Spanish walk. Ergo, if my horse loses the contact with the bit, the Spanish walk will restore it again. This means, deduced from theory, I have found never to fail in practice.

When, therefore, a horse, in the progress of its training, begins to stay behind the hand, the best remedy is the Spanish walk. Thus, no time is lost; and the horse, always under the direction of the diagonal effect, is neither excited nor nervous.

Some ten years ago E. L. Anderson, author of Modern Horsemanship, wrote me, complaining that the Spanish walk and trot disturbs the fineness of a horse's mouth, so necessary for the piaffer and the passage. I replied that this is certainly the fact. In the passage and the piaffer, the exertion being less than in the Spanish walk and trot, the rhomboideus acts more strongly than the mastoido-humeralis. In the Spanish walk and trot, which involve greater exertion, the conditions are reversed, and the mastoido-humeralis acts the more strongly. But it is the action of the first of these muscles, the rhomboideus, that gives the more sensitive contact against the hand.