Equitation/Chapter 19

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For the flexions mounted, the rider lays the two reins of the bit on the horse's neck near the withers, their length equal; and holds the snaffle reins, one in each hand, with the free end of each passing between the forefinger and the thumb. The elbows are in contact with the body, but without stiffness. The hands are at the same height as the elbows, and, at most, three or four inches apart. The legs are in contact, but make no effect.

First, obtain contact with the bit. Immediately, yield contact, by opening the fingers. Then close the fingers, and again take contact. When you are sure that you can make the contact when and how you please, be satisfied for the present, dismount, and continue the flexions on foot. The second lesson of the same day repeats exactly the work of the first.

On the second day, mounted, take three minutes to complete the contact, two minutes for the fingering, three minutes of fingering, two minutes of contact. Dismount.

On the third day, take, mounted, two minutes of contact, three of fingering, two of contact, three of fingering, interrupted by rests. Dismount.

For the fourth day, take one minute of contact with the snaffle. Cross the left rein of the snaffle to the right hand, holding the two always equal. With the snafle reins, maintain the position, head up. Take the reins of the bit in the left hand, separating them by the first two fingers, the ends passed over the forefinger and held by the thumb. Make contact with the snaffle. Shift the contact from snaffle to bit. Caress with the right hand; or, if that is occupied, with the voice. Continue this exercise for five minutes. For another five minutes, change the contact back to the snaffle. Do three minutes of fingering alternately with the two hands, followed by two minutes with the reins of the bit and snaffle both in the right, while caressing with left hand and voice. (Figure 19.)

For the second lesson of the fourth day, take the snaffle reins in the right hand, while the left hand holds the reins of the bit, but without effect. Make contact with the right hand. Shift the contact to the left hand, making the same effects. If, now, as you finger with the right hand, the horse champs the bit, begin fingering also with the left, then change to the right alone. Then follow with three minutes of fingering with the bit, helped out, if necessary, with the snaffle; three minutes with the snaffle; then two minutes with the bit. Dismount.

If the flexions have been done correctly on foot, this work of obtaining contact with the two bits alternately will be sufficient to secure, by means of fingering, a flexion of the lower jaw, which will,


nevertheless, still further improve with the following lateral and direct flexions of the neck.

For the lateral flexion of the neck to the right, the trainer takes both curb reins in his left hand, his little finger separating the two, holding them of equal length, and short enough to give the proper contact and to supple the mouth by their fingering. In his right hand he holds the right snaffle rein only, the left lying slack across the curb reins. By carrying the right hand still farther to the right, keeping the same pull on the right snaffle rein, by repeated and progressive pressure, the horse's head will be turned to the right, pivoting at the region of the atlas. This inclination will be very slight at the beginning; but with repetition and caresses, the horse very soon learns to swing its head far enough to transfer at will the weight from one fore leg to its mate, dispose its center of gravity, and make the various changes of direction. During the lateral flexion with the snaffle rein to either side, the hand holding the curb reins should be kept immovable, and only the fingers give and take with the mouth. After the head has been flexed, it is to return to its straight position, little by little, by the progressive slackening of the snaffle rein, always at the will of the rider, never suddenly at the will of the horse. The lateral flexion is complete when the head turns to a right angle with the axis of the body and the frontal bone is perpendicular to the ground.

At the beginning of this work, in order to make the horse understand the compound effect, it will be necessary to carry the right hand over little by little and to cease the fingering of that hand. Do not demand too much flexion at first. The slightest inclination of the head should be rewarded, and the head turned straight.

The object of these flexions is to make it possible to shift the weight borne by either fore leg on to the other, always on the side away from the movement of the head. Thus, if the flexion is to the left, the load transfers to the right front leg; and vice versa. It may happen that, when everything is otherwise correct, the horse will paw the ground with the foot on the side toward which the flexion has been made. This is natural, and not a serious fault. Nevertheless, it is something which the horse does on its own initiative, not in obedience to the rider; and it is, therefore, not to be permitted. Moreover, the horse may learn to paw only, without making the flexion. Furthermore, the horse should not champ the bit under the fingering of the right hand. It should, at the indication of the right hand, complete the direct flexion of the mouth; while at the same time it makes the flexion of the neck to the left and returns straight again, and vice versa for flexion to the right, as shown in Figure 6 and discussed under "Descent of the Hand."

Do not, therefore, accept motion of the lower jaw to right or left. This is not correct. The flexion of the neck to one side or the other follows the direct flexion of the mouth. If the flexion of the neck interferes with that of the mouth, the flexion has no meaning, and the rider who accepts this condition creates an asymmetry of the neck which is reflected throughout the entire body.

If the horse, at the beginning of the flexion of the neck to either side, throws its haunches toward the other, put it straight again, first by ceasing the flexion, and then by slight pressure of the legs. Do not, however, under any condition, kick.

Fillis is entirely logical when he objects to beginning the flexions of the neck before the animal understands the separate effects of the legs. I was myself of the same opinion until I experimented successfully with several horses at the beginning of their training. It is all a question of progression, of moderation in demands, and of perseverance. Without the least doubt it is possible to flex de pied ferme, without the help of the legs. I recognize, however, a difficulty, and to meet this I have advised placing the horse near a wall when the lateral position is being taught, in order that the presence of the barrier may help to keep the haunches straight. We have to consider, also, that the great masters of the art, because of their equestrian tact, are able to omit from their own training the work on foot. Nevertheless, they were themselves obliged to employ this at the beginning of their professional careers; they accept it as essential for beginners, and they include it in their systems.

Only after both the lateral and direct flexions of mouth and neck are mastered standing, should the student proceed either to the mobilization of the hind legs by means of the ordinary rotation, in accordance with Baucher's method: or, following Fillis, should execute a form of the rotation in which the horse moves at a walk in such wise that the tracks of fore and hind feet make two concentric circles, with that traced by the hind feet outside the other. The latter is, in my judgment, the more progressive and the more rational.

When the beginner has mastered the reversed pirouette, he next "carries his horse forward" at a walk, the horse always giving the direct flexions of mouth and neck without altering its gait, and then asks the lateral flexions of the neck. I advocate making this flexion in such wise that the horse's head shall turn toward the wall of the ring. Otherwise, the pupil will think that it is his own leg which keeps the haunches from turning, when really it is the presence of the wall. When, therefore, the pupil tries to keep the horse straight away from the wall, he finds that he cannot do it, and must go back to the wall again.

Even when walking with the right side against the wall, the haunches of the horse tend to be displaced to the right at the lateral flexion of the neck to the left, so that it is by the effect of the right leg that the rider corrects this tendency and keeps the spine straight. I do not, at the beginning, employ my legs to maintain the straight position; but going straight, if I ask the flexion, and the haunches have a tendency to swing (a tendency, only, I say), I do not wait until the haunches have actually swung—it would then be too late—but at the first slightest feeling in my seat, my leg is ready with its effect. But I do not kick. To kick a horse with leg or spur is to me blasphemy.

As the horse reaches the corner of ring or manege, the rider continues the flexion of the neck to the left, sends the horse forward by means of his left leg, and turns it by the effect of the right, as in the reversed pirouette done at the walk. In this, the rider is entirely rational, in complete accord with the nature and anatomy of the horse, the regularity of its motion, and what it has been taught from the beginning of its education. But I submit that, after having taught the horse, with its head to the left, to move its haunches to the left at the effect of the right leg, as in the reversed pirouette or rotation, it is the height of absurdity to turn a corner to the right by means of right rein and right leg, a violation of the nature of the animal, a contradiction of all that it has been taught, and the reason for those terrible tempests of revolt so often experienced by Baucher and Fillis, when they asked movements, by lateral effects, when the r mounts were moving in diagonal action at walk and trot, while they used a diagonal effect with the horse at the gallop, which is a lateral gait.

These lateral flexions of the neck, with the direct flexions of the jaw, are to be done at the walk, not too continuously, but occasionally only, and with frequent return to the direct flexions of mouth and neck. I emphasize this, because the horse is built to travel straight—an axiom of the reasoned equitation—and only occasionally to alter its natural posture.

When these lateral flexions can be done, to either side, at a walk, they are repeated in the same way at a slow trot.

When the animal executes them properly at the trot, the trainer should begin passing a corner to the right, with a half lateral flexion to the left, while he bears down his weight on his own right buttock, but without relaxing contact with his legs.

I recommend to the student, at this point, to take note of his own progress. The work on foot has given him the power to see with his eyes and to feel with his fingers the action which he has asked of the horse. Equestrian tact has been born in him. The problem is now to keep this tact developing progressively. The requirements are quality, not quantity, perseverance, honesty, patience, generosity.

In dividing the time for this work on the flexions, it should be understood that the horse is not to be kept in one fixed position for the entire time indicated, but is to be relieved by intervals of freedom. My own experience is that a few steps forward, light "in hand," or a few moments standing head up, without the effect of the reins, but by the horse's own free will, is a great rest. Without some such respite, the trainer asking the flexions too continuously, the horse becomes discouraged and nervous.

Very probably, too, the rider's own action of hand and fingers will not be altogether correct at first. But practice is the road to perfection, and as I am convinced that my theory is correct, I urge the student to be patient and perseverant. Furthermore, I myself entertain always a friendly sentiment toward the horse; and I try to inculcate this feeling in the mind of the student.


To "render the hand" is to relax the tension of the reins, either by movement of the arms or by loosening the grip of the fingers. It is not the same as to "abandon" the horse, as already discussed. Since, in equitation, the various means act by strength of effects rather than by effects of strength, they tend to lose their effect the longer they are continued. We must, then, cease the effect for a longer or shorter time, in order to renew the sensibility. Raabe, Baucher, and Fillis, although they evidently themselves employed the device, seem not to have thought it necessary to discuss or teach it.

I recognize, in rendering the hand, three different actions.

The first occurs when the horse has his head flexed at the axoid articulation, and the muscles of the neck, being under restraint by the tension of the reins, begin to show fatigue, stiffness, and a failure of sensibility. But if, after a time, the rider eases this tension, either by advancing the hand or by letting the reins slip in his fingers, he allows the animal to rest his muscles, and renders his hand in the first sense.

The second way of rendering the hand depends on fingering. When the head is flexed, as in the first instance, the rider's control over the neck is by way of the lower jaw. But since the bars are of uncertain sensibility, if the mouth remains closed notwithstanding the pressure of the bit, the contraction at the tempero-maxillaris articulation will be communicated to the alto-axoid. The result is still greater fatigue, stiffness, and loss of sensibility. But when the neck is flexed and the bit in contact with the bars, pressure of the fingers on the reins opens the mouth, while cessation of this pressure allows it to close. This cessation of the pressure which has flexed the lower jaw is rendering the hand in the second sense. The repetition of this flexing and rendering constitutes fingering.

"Fingering" is the only possible translation of the French, doighter, used by musicians to mean the delicate sensibility by which they distinguish


the quality of pressure which they exert upon their instruments to make them produce the exact quality of sound which renders the musical phrase. Their instruments, however, are machines which do not tire; whereas the horse is a creature with bones, muscles, nerves, and will, capable of fatigue, and needing relaxation, lest the will move nerves and muscles to resist. It is, therefore, to prevent the state of revolt occasioned by fatigue that we must, though always retaining the contact, render the fingers, so that the horse vibrates under the rider's control, without excessive fatigue.

The third sort of rendering the hand consists in allowing the horse to place its head and neck in a position other than that which they have been holding under the rider's control. The horse has completed a series of movements, head in position and fixed point at the atlas region. The contraction starting from this point tends to create weariness, so that the horse needs to rest this region. The rider, therefore, by lengthening his reins, lets the horse extend his neck. The fixed point shifts from the atlas region to the shoulders, and the horse rests. This action of rendering has to be learned by the horse, first standing; then progressively at walk, trot, and gallop.