OF all the low airs which a horse can execute, the passage is the most rhythmic, the most artistic, and the most scientific. It is not an artificial gait, but an entirely regular and natural movement. Let a horse of any conformation, trained to any kind of service, be out of the stable and free. He trots at the passage. His head is up, his neck well placed, his tail in the air. Hocks, haunches, knees, and shoulders flex on their centers of motion, high, with energy, cadence, and balance. The back and loins are supple, the nostrils are well opened, and the breathing is deep even to snorting. Every joint is loose. Every limb functions with suppleness, rhythm, elegance. The horse is like a hunting-dog bounding around his master as he holds a shot-gun. He is in the air as if he would fly. (Figures 36, 37.) But, alas, as soon as the harness is on, and the driver is on the box or the rider in the saddle, all this cadence, tempo, rhythm, elegance, departs. The horse becomes heavy, stupid, brutish, without energy, a slave without initiative, a submissive victim when he understands what is wanted and a restive victim when he does not. To raise the harnessed animal to the standard of its natural beauty
in locomotion, to transfer the natural gifts of suppleness and elegance from the horse free to the horse mounted, is the dream, the life dream, the object of life of the masters of the scientific equitation. And I ask the horsemen, the masters from Xenophon to our own epoch, if ever a rider, mounted on a horse at the passage, has forgotten the sensation of that motion!
The passage is too often confounded with the Spanish trot, even by the generality of masters. Yet the difference is complete. More than nine tenths of the Spanish trot is done against resistance; and the fore legs are forcibly extended straight forward at full length. But at the passage, only the fore arm extends forward, the limb being flexed at the knee; and the forward step is only a third the length of the stride in the Spanish trot. Although the Spanish trot may be very beautiful when well performed, it is never so graceful, elegant, and elastic as the passage, probably because the passage is more natural to the horse than the violent exertions of the Spanish trot.
For the Spanish trot is an artificial air, which has been taught to thousands of horses, enslaved by straps, whips, severe bits, and continued repetition. Fillis says, with great truth, "Yet it is certain that the new school is in use everywhere. The man does not any more ride the horse to educate him. All the work is done on foot, with whips and straps, absolutely like the training of monkeys or goats. It is what the public called with irony at Vienna, pudel dressierung, the training of poodle-dogs!"
The passage cannot be taught by this system. It requires a progressive education, based on the principles of the scientific equitation. A great many persons are not able to obtain it for lack of the perfect equestrian tact which inspires in the horse the confidence, the energy, the excess of power needed to make all his bodily mechanism move with cadence and rhythm, and to preserve perfect diagonal action, without the slightest interference of hand, leg, or seat, since this would instantly destroy equilibrium, and with it the rhythm, cadence, and tempo. Certain horses, indeed, by their naturally high and energetic action, do tend of themselves to execute the passage. But even these should be given the same preliminary training as the less energetic animals. Sometimes, also, the action of the fore legs is high and correct enough, while that of the hind legs is low and imperfect. But the passage cannot endure mediocrity of execution. That is painful to feel or to see. The air is possible only when the perfected state of equilibrium can be kept by the horse during all the movements of the progression of the scientific equitation.
The horse needs for the passage, after his complete education, soundness, developed muscles, the proportions of a perfect conformation, energy, a calm yet ardent nature. Most of all, it needs to be mounted by a master with the artistic temperament, who has already, in his youth, spoiled several horses, before being several times successful. One cannot hope to put a horse successfully at the passage until after he has trained five or ten horses. For when a master first begins the passage, the great, the nearly insurmountable difficulty is to obtain the first two or three manifestations of the cadence. But it is absolutely impossible for these first two or three steps to be at all pronounced or decided. They are like the ripples in a teacup compared to the steady undulation of the sea. But if the master does not recognize at once this earliest almost insensible ripple, and so continues to ask it of the horse, the horse becomes more and more confused. Neither understands what is being asked.
These first signs of the passage are, then, I say, very nearly imperceptible. But if they are recognized and rewarded, they are stored in the horse's memory. And since these first steps are the most difficult to obtain, everything possible must be done to fix the lesson in the animal's mind.
Both Fillis and I, at the first adumbrations of the passage, stop the horse, jump down, take off the curb chain and bridle, blanket the horse, give him some pieces of carrot, sugar, or apple, and dismiss him to the stable.
At the next lesson, I bridle the horse myself, using calmness and tact, and have him go through some movements in the state of perfect equilibrium, but avoid any sort of canter or gallop, since these are in lateral biped and will only confuse. Only after the passage is learned, are canter and gallop in order.
When the horse executes these preparatory movements in the condition of equilibrium, bring it to a stand, after passing the second corner of the short side, if you work in a manege, so as to have the length of the long side before you. Here dispose your horse and yourself, calculating accurately and calmly just what you are about to ask, what effects you are to employ, and how.
You are now ready. Your horse is ready. Send your horse forward, step by step, at the manege walk. When you have the cadence of this, begin your diagonal effects. At the slightest derangement, stop, calm your horse, reestablish the perfect order, begin again with the manege walk, and apply the diagonal effects. If you obtain two or three manifestations, two or three ripples of the approaching passage, stop by means of the ensemble, and caress, caress profusely, the neck, loins, and haunches.
Pass the end of the manege and continue on the long side, where, with the horse once more straight, you have space in front of you in case of difficulty. Then again, equilibrium, and forward at the manege walk. Again calculate well and take your time. Do not yourself become excited or too ambitious. If you do, the horse will feel and resent it. Then commence your diagonal effects. Again you obtain the two, three, or four manifestations of the passage. Stop. Caress. Take off the bridle. Carrots. Stable.
The next day the same work, at the same hand. Do not alter anything. Impress, engrave on the horse's memory, these first foreshadowings of the passage.
During this early work on the passage, stay at the side of the manege and do not try the center. If you do, you will be sorry afterwards, for you will send your horse's haunches to the right or left, instead of having them straight. When the signs of the passage become more marked, before asking for the movement, attack the horse very lightly, with the "delicate touch of the spurs" of Gueriniere, or, as I call it, "the honeyed attack." Do this always at the manege walk, and ask the cadence by the calves of the legs only. Obtain three or four steps. Then let go. Begin again. Repeat this, at the utmost, no more than four to six times at each lesson.
At this point, supposing that you have worked properly thus far, I must especially advise that you do not, under any conditions or circumstances, let the horse take the cadence of the passage at its own initiative. Let it do this only when you ask the action by your diagonal effects. Be very sure of this.
When progress begins to be marked, the time has come for a change of hand at each success. Otherwise the diagonal biped that has been nearest the wall will develop more energy or more action. Nothing must be neglected that will make for that perfect equality of squareness, height, energy, gait, and stride, which is the sine qua non of the artistic passage. Do not, moreover, allow your mount to be behind the hand. Accept the passage only when the horse is in contact upon your hand.
Let us now analyze our effects and their consequences.
"The passage is the diminutive of the piaffer. In this air, the horse raises its legs as in the trot; but he advances only imperceptibly and at tempo.
"For this work, the talent of the cavalier consists, not in making continually an opposition with the bridle each time that the leg acts, but in so well concentrating all the forces at the center, as for the piaffer, that, with the reins loosened, the horse advances only imperceptibly by an excess of action. It is easy to see that there is necessary a complete assemblage, in order that the horse may execute with regularity this brilliant and scientific air of equitation."
I am, with some minor differences, of the same opinion as the grand master; but it must be confessed that it will be very difficult for the student to obtain the passage with only the data, principles, and lessons. Baucher is correct in saying that the reins are to be loose and that the opposition of the hand is not necessary, provided the horse is already at the air. But before the movement is obtained, the opposition of the hand is essential, since it is by an excess of the effects of our legs that we not only keep the horse in equilibrium, but also gain in weight of action what we lose in forward progress. A locomotive needs a much greater initial force to start the train than to keep it running after it has reached full speed; and in something the same way in the case of the horse, a second force has to be added to that which produces motion forward, in order to make the action higher and slower. But so far as this second force is located outside the total mechanism of the horse's body, it cannot arise except by the opposition of the hand, even though this is as light as can be made. If the horse, in a state of freedom, acts the air spontaneously, it is because the creature understands by its natural instinct how to equilibrize its forces. But this natural instinct becomes paralyzed just as soon as we interfere with our weight or by our lack of tact.
Fillis is clearer and more explicit. He holds, and rightly, that the horse's education should be complete before the passage is attempted. This means that the horse can take and keep the state of assemblage during the execution of every movement in the progression up to that point. The "in hand," the equilibrium, must be perfect, and retained without excitement or fatigue. The horse being then at the manege walk, the rider's legs close as near as possible to the girths. The horse is perfectly calm. The left spur attacks; and immediately after it, the right. The timing of these attacks is that of the "one, two; one, two; lunge" in fencing. Or, since many riders do not fence, it is very nearly the tick of the second-hand of a watch. At the touch of the left spur, the horse, surprised, raises its left hind leg and moves its body toward the right. Then, at precisely the right instant, comes the right spur to prevent the haunches from swinging to the right, and also to lift the right leg. Then again the left spur with the reversed effect; and so alternately. After four such trials, whether successful or not, stop, calm your horse, and begin again.
The master or the student must impress upon his mind exactly what he desires to obtain and the means by which he is to obtain it. If what has been written above has been studied and understood, it should be clear that the point is to utilize the animal's forces in such wise as to secure height at the expense of progress. Evidently, it will be by the opposition of the hand that the motion forward will be checked and converted into motion up. Thus the propulsive force generated by the attacks of the spurs, which tends to drive the horse forward, is received upon the hand. The fingers close upon the reins just at the instant of the forward push. The result is that the fore leg flexes with the knee up and forward, the foot down. Simultaneously with this, the opposite rear leg comes up, and the horse balances upon a diagonal biped.
Consider, for example, the first manifestation of the passage on the right lateral biped. We have, in this case, the right front leg and the left hind leg operated by the right diagonal effect; that is to say, by the opposition of the right rein and the attack of the left spur. The right diagonal biped is now up. Then follows the opposition of the left rein and the attack of the right spur, which force the right diagonal biped to return to the ground before the left diagonal biped can be raised. The left diagonal biped now lifts by the same effects as the right and in the same cadence, and we have two steps of the passage. Again, right rein and left spur, and the left diagonal biped returns to the ground as the other lifts. Once more comes the left rein and the right spur, the bipeds reverse, and we have four steps of the passage.
The essential means are, evidently, the attacks of the spurs. At the first touch, the horse is surprised. At the second, the surprise is increased. At the third, the animal becomes worried. At the fourth, he is very near to a revolt, because he does not understand what his rider asks. If now the rider continues the attacks, the horse will be driven into a complete revolt. The spurs will bleed him. He has no idea what it all means. This will be utter brutality, without the slightest chance of success.
Sometimes the animal, all at sea as to what is wanted of him, goes crazy. As Fillis expresses it, "He plays his all, and completely loses his head." In that condition, he may be dangerous, not only at the time, but for the future. One must, therefore, make ample preparation, take plenty of time, be always moderate, calm, persevering, and patient. If in these four attacks you obtain any sort of small beginning of a leap from one diagonal biped to the other, rest satisfied for the time, and be generous of your recompense and caresses. But, for pity's sake, do not condemn your horse for a fault which is mostly your own. Be sure you are right before every demand; and do not form your opinion too soon.
Finally, be sure that the surface on which the horse practices the passage is properly soft and elastic, lest its feet become sore, to its discouragement. Stay as much as possible near the wall, and keep the horse straight. Change the hand sometimes, but not too often. Let the horse frequently stop and be free. Ask little; but ask well. Be satisfied if the first sign of the desired cadence is from one biped only. So far as possible, work alone in the manege. Catch your pupil's attention and hold it on yourself. In a word, make him enjoy his lessons at the passage. Success depends upon you and upon nobody else. Remember that you cannot buy the accomplishment. You have to create it for yourself.
There are, in addition, several more or less intelligent and progressive mechanical devices for obtaining the passage; but these are not accepted by the strictly scientific equitation.
Baucher and Fillis employed a logical progression, when they used the Spanish walk and the Spanish trot as a preliminary to the passage. This, moreover, has been the order generally accepted by the equestrian world; since, of course, horses which already have the idea of sustaining and lifting their weight on diagonal bipeds, in cadence and tempo, will the more quickly understand the passage, and will require less equestrian tact on the part of the rider. I also, in my youth, like other trainers, approached the passage by way of the Spanish trot. But when, later, I came to look upon the passage as the result of perfect equilibrium, I came also to understand that the passage is impossible until one has obtained, first the assemblage, and then the piaffer, to give the idea of the diagonal action. Then, after the piaffer, comes the passage, with the extension of the fore legs and the flexion of the hocks and haunches.