Equitation/Chapter 20

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AFTER the discussions of the preceding chapters, there still remain certain matters, which either have not been touched upon at all or else require still further elucidation at this point.


TO "place the horse " is to put him into whatever position he needs to take in order to understand or to execute the particular movement which is next to be asked of him. This is really one of the difficult parts of the art of equitation; but the esquire who understands placing has always the assurance that the following movement will be correctly performed, since it is by the proper position that the rider appeals to the animal's intelligence and at the same time paralyzes any sign of insubordination. The principle seems paradoxical to the rider who merely experiments, but for the experienced master, the position thus taken by the four legs of the animal is the only one which supports the weight equally on all its members. It is, therefore, the sine qua non of equilibrium, without which the movement is impossible.

Nothing, therefore, is more invariably true than the principle enunciated by Baucher: "The position gives the movement." The fact is, a horse, well conformed, healthy, and well mounted, when under transmitted equilibrium, finds it much more difficult, physically and morally, to alter that state and refuse the movement asked, than to obey. The proof is that the same movement, asked of an inferior animal, will result in revolt.

It is evident, then, that the horse is compelled, by the condition of transmitted equilibrium, to seek instinctively that state of balance which involves a less physical effort in executing any change of gait or direction, than when it is not in balance. After this position of balance is given by the rider, the horse will not refuse to execute a movement which does not compromise the condition. This is the reason why the competent esquire, who knows how to place his horse preliminary to the movement, never has a restive or disobedient animal. What is more, if a well-educated horse, accustomed to the position of equilibrium, is by circumstances put out of that state, it is simply lost and does not know what to do with itself. But, of course, riding of this sort is no offhand matter. It requires study and knowledge, time and self-control.

But, unfortunately, there is always the rider who, for example, asks of his mount the turn to one side at the trot, but neglects first to place the horse in the position which makes the movement possible. The animal necessarily refuses. To whom belongs the fault? Obviously, to the man. Yet it is the horse who is blamed and punished. But will the punishment change a law of nature? The more the poor brute is abused, the less is it correctly placed to execute the movement. No horse will ever refuse what is asked, when its rider has previously made sure that the placement is right.

A standing horse is correctly placed when the four legs, perpendicular to the ground, form a rectangle. In this position, each leg bears one quarter of the entire weight. Very few horses, however, take and keep this position instinctively. They have to be trained to it. In order, then, to place the horse, the rider needs to understand the diagonal effect for standing, walking, and trotting, and the lateral effect for the gallop, since these effects are the only means for correcting a wrong position and for maintaining the horse straight.


A HORSE is said to be straight when the whole spinal column, from the atlas to the last sacral vertebra, is precisely in line.

For the spine of a horse is like the keel of a boat. One could not steer a boat with a crooked keel, without strain on the hull and a waste of force on the rudder. Even more true is it for the horse that, with a crooked spine, the four legs will not carry equal weights, and the steps and strides, with their resultant, the gaits, will not be square and equal. Therefore does the reasoned equitation accept as sine qua non the two basal principles, "straight" and "forward." Indeed, if the horse is not straight, it cannot go forward, but advances in the direction in which the spine points. Then are the steps and strides not equal, the coupling yields more to one side than to the other, and carries with it the pelvis, the haunches, and the hind legs. On the other hand, when the spinal column is straight, the coupling gives equally, the pelvis becomes the center for the motion of the two hind legs, the fore and hind parts of the body act in unison, collection and assemblage become possible, and, equilibrium being secured, the center of gravity finds its natural place in the medial plane. In this condition, strides, steps, and gaits become equal and square, the horse suffers less fatigue and wear, and continues in the best condition to develop its natural and instinctive forces.

Very few riders, amateurs or masters, are able to put a horse exactly straight, and to keep it so while they carry it forward or backward. Yet nothing whatever can be done properly by a horse which is not straight.


En avant, as the French say, means not only forward, but in addition, the condition of the horse when in contact with the bit and ready to advance frankly and without hesitation at the effects of the rider's legs. One often hears a master say, "This horse is not enough forward, "meaning that the animal is behind, not upon, the rider's hand.

Of the two equestrian axioms, straight and forward, this is the more important, since it is easier to have the horse straight when going forward than when standing still. It is from this state of forwardness that everything else becomes possible; so that, very often, even after a horse is far advanced in its training, it has to be carried forward again, before its education can be continued successfully. From the beginning of the equestrian art, by the oldest masters, this state of forwardness has been commended. I am, therefore, of the opinion of Fillis, who reiterates, "Forward, again forward, always forward." One may turn the rudder of a boat as much as he likes, but if the boat has not way, the rudder is without effect. It is the same with a horse; first forward, then direction.

Unfortunately, it is very much easier to keep the fore hand straight and forward by the natural tact given to a man's hands than to develop in his legs the purely artificial tact which comes only with long practice. Nevertheless, a horse is neither forward nor straight, when anything is wrong or crooked at the coupling.


BOTH the reasoned and the scientific equitation use the term, "rein of opposition," to mean whatever effects have to be used to counteract the fault of a horse which is unequal in its movements, and which refuses to be put straight or to stay straight. The matter is seldom taught; and the causes, effects, and corrections have been quite ignored. Authors who have mentioned rein of opposition have not explained it clearly. Frankly, I suspect that very few men have really understood it.

Unhappily, very few horses are straight when mounted, for reasons which are discussed in part under the captions, "Weight" and "Seat." But the horse with a tendency to have the spine crooked tends also to stride unequally, in order to compensate for the first defect. This we correct by means of the rein of opposition.

Suppose, for example, that, instead of walking, trotting, or galloping straight, a horse turns its haunches to the right. The haunches are apparently at fault, so we will start our problem from them. The masters tell us to push the haunches to the left with the right leg. This is an error, in that it attacks the consequence and neglects the cause. The real trouble is that the left front leg is making a shorter stride than the right. The left hind leg has, therefore, too little space for its step, and comes to the ground too soon and too near the right. This pushes the back part of the body to the right, and throws the line of motion of the right hind leg out of parallelism with the axis of the body. The rider can, indeed, for the moment, push the croup over with his right leg. But the effect soon evaporates, and the haunches return to their former place. It is all labor without end, not a corrective.

But why does the left front leg not gain ground equally with the right? For a great many reasons, which are all, at bottom, one. The weight is more upon the right fore leg, so that this has to reach out farther at each stride to check the forward fall of the body. The point, then, is to equalize the load on the two front legs. This we can do by pressing with the right rein against the right side of the neck so as to throw the head over to the left, until the two fore legs are loaded equally. Then the left fore leg will reach out farther, and allow room for the full stride of the left hind leg. This, in turn, will no longer push over the right hind leg, and the horse will travel straight.

But, to go back another step, why was the weight not equal on the two fore legs? The answer is that the spine was crooked. By using a rein of opposition on the side opposite to the shorter stride, we correct the wrong position of the haunches. This means of placing the spine straight will be understood by a horse whose progressive education has gone so far as to include the pirouette.


THE rein of contraction is a complex and special effect of a rein, which, bearing on one side of the neck, pushes the shoulder toward the opposite side.

For example, the rider desires to turn his horse to the right. Holding one rein in each hand, the right hand immovable, he passes his left hand across, above the right, so that the rein bears upon the muscles of the left side of the neck. The horse, therefore, contracts these muscles. But, since his head is held straight by the fixity of the right rein, the result is to pull the left fore leg over toward the right, in front of its mate. But as soon as the left leg takes the Weight, the right leg also steps toward the right. Repetition of the contractive effect will compel a second similar step; and the body will turn toward the right impelled by the hind legs. In order for the horse once more to travel straight ahead, the rein of contraction ceases its effect and returns to equality with the other.

This action of the rein of contraction is what is commonly called " guiding by the neck." I do not, however, understand that the expression, to "guide by the neck," must always mean the rein of contraction. With the rein of opposition or with the rein direct, the horse is also always guided by the neck. But these are really three different effects.


A HORSE is said to be "in hand" when the bars are in contact with the bit with which the rider's hand communicates through the reins. From the invention of the bridle, the "in hand" has been the subject of the researches, writings, methods, and principles of the masters of every epoch and age. A horse so placed has its head perpendicular to the ground, and therefore parallel to its fore legs. But, unhappily, the myology and the physical structure of the horse, and the principle of gravitation, have not always been as well understood as now by these masters; with the result that each one of them has created his own "in hand." When we consider the saddles which force the rider to sit bolt upright with the legs extended downward like crutches, the severity of the ancient bits, the heaviness of the horses, and the movements demanded of them for tourney, carrousel, and battle corps-à-corps, we understand why the riders and masters favored so exaggerated a position. Moreover, in earlier days the horse carried his neck flexed at the fourth vertebra, more to show its elegance than for reasons of utility. It is only in our own time that the development of racing has emphasized the idea of speed, and, ignoring elegance, has altered the "in hand" to the position which, while favoring obedience to the rider's effects, does not interfere with the action of the animal mechanism.

All modern uses of the horse for riding ask the "in hand." The scientific equitation asks also that the head shall be "upon the hand." Baucher required the horse to be "in front of the rider's legs and behind the hand." Raabe asked the horse to be "before the rider's legs and in the hand." The scientific equitation calls for a horse "before the legs and upon the hand."


WHEN the horse is "upon the hand," there is a state of contact of the lower jaw upon the bit which makes possible the communication of sensation in both directions by way of the reins, between the horse's bars and the rider's hand.

Orator and musician must be in communication with their hearers by means of voice or instrument. It is not otherwise with the horse. From the bit, the sensations pass along the nerves to the brain, the will is formed, and the appropriate message is returned along the nerves to the muscles. These, contracting upon the joints, produce the movement. But as soon as this contact ceases, there is an end to the series of sensation, transmission, volition, and act. The horse passes under the control of its own instinctive forces, and is no longer subject to the will of the rider.

It is like the blind man led by his dog. So long as the cord between them remains tight, so long will the man follow it. But if the dog stops, the cord slackens; and the man also stops, uncertain and hesitating, because communication is broken. The case is exactly the same when for the blind man we substitute the horse, and for the dog the rider. The rider ceases to impel the horse forward. The reins are loose. The contact is broken. The horse stops, not knowing where to go.

But if this state of contact between hand and mouth is important for the ordinary equitation, it is a great deal more necessary for the scientific, since this is founded upon the principles of equilibrium, collection, the assemblage of forces continually united in the medial plane and establishing the center of gravity.

From the earliest days of equitation, every rider has studied the "in hand" by means more or less rational. But so many mistakes have been made that I must try to explain the precise nature of the first element of the "in hand," the contact. It is, however, a difficult matter to explain a feeling in words, and though comparisons are useful to illustrate a point, I shall have to ask the indulgence of reader and student.

I touch elsewhere upon assemblage and collection.


A HORSE is forward of the hand, if, on its own initiative, it goes forward against the bit, according to its own will, disposition, or temperament, instead of conforming to the impulsion of the rider's legs. If this exuberance is not the result of unsoundness, viciousness, bad conformation, or bad habit, it is more a merit than a defect in a saddle horse, since it is easily remedied by proper education, while the underlying good quality still remains.


A HORSE is, on the contrary, said to be behind the hand when it is loath to take contact with the bit. This may occur for either of two reasons. A young horse may have become discouraged by being ridden under a hand without tact, which has maintained the contact too long, or has shaken too severely. Or the trouble may be weakness of hocks, haunches, loins, spine, or of the ilio-spinalis muscle or the great pectoralis.

Evidently, if the horse lacks strength in those parts of its mechanism which drive its body forward, it will hesitate to go forward against the bit; and will, in consequence, be behind the hand. Similarly, the horse which, at the beginning of its training, was willing to enter into contact, but has become discouraged, fearing the rider's tactless hand and the resulting pain, is really in an analogous condition to the weak horse. In either case, the fault must be remedied, since an animal which the rider cannot send against the bit is at all times ready to stop and enter into revolt. If the horse is behind the hand because it is badly conformed and weak, training is the cure. But if the horse is well conformed and strong, and still stays behind the hand, the remedy is education — more often for the rider than for the horse. It is, then, somewhere between a horse that is forward of the hand and one that is behind, that we find the ideal condition, "upon the hand." The first two sorts of horse are out of the man's control. The one because it takes the initiative for itself; the other because it does not respond to that of the rider. The third is under control, because the forward impulse of the rider's legs is received by the rider's hand, which, by means of the fingering, accepts it and lets it pass forward, or denies it and sends it back, accepts and raises, accepts and directs.

The first sort, therefore, pulls on the bit, because it pushes by its own will. The second sort does not pull, because it cannot or will not push. The third pushes just so much as is indicated by the legs of the rider, who, by his fingering, accepts or prevents the pulling. The first horse will push, pull, and run away. The second horse will stop, kick, and rear. The third cannot perform other movements than those asked by its rider.


Léger à la main has long been used by masters of equitation to describe a horse which responds calmly and readily to the gentle and progressive effects of the rider's hand.

But the horse light in hand is not at all the animal which escapes the contact of the bit on its bars by shaking its head in every direction. Nothing is easier for a human being than to be a lawabiding citizen on a continent by himself. Very possibly the same man would be a criminal if he were living in the society of others. Likewise, a horse which refuses contact with the bit cannot be directed. Nobody knows in advance what it will do, acting by itself and without means of control. The horse which is light in hand accepts the contact of the bit, without altering its speed or gait, its head slightly out of the perpendicular, its neck directed upward from the withers to the atlas region, and opens its mouth if the rider's hand insists on the contact, but without changing the cadence of its step. But if this lightness in hand is a test of the quality of the horse's education, it is also a test of the rider's skill. Only with accuracy of seat will the rider's legs act with precision to obtain the propulsion forward. Only with accuracy of seat will the hand judge correctly its own effect upon the mouth. If hands and legs are used to correct faults of seat, the horse cannot be light in hand. Bad seat, bad hand, bad legs; good seat, good hands, good legs; accurate seat, accurate hand, accurate legs — it all sums up in the words, "equestrian tact." Any horse, well conformed and well ridden, is always light in hand.


SO Newcastle translated alléger son cheval. Since the horse, at the beginning of its education, does not understand the effects of hands and legs, and is not wonted to the pressure of the girths and the weight on its spine, it contracts its body and is heavy. But a horse of good conformation, breeding, and temper is naturally energetic, so that it is very easy to lighten such an animal by a wise and progressive education. A more ordinary horse, without these native qualities, requires the training of an able master. Yet any horse can, by education, be sufficiently lightened to be mounted with pleasure.

The old equitation advocates for a heavy animal, great vigor and energy in the effects of hand, and still more of legs, helped out by spurs. Nothing can be more wrong. If the horse is heavy because it does not understand the meaning of hands and legs, and therefore contracts itself, surely it is not by still severer effects that the horse will be cured of its apprehension. On the contrary, it is only by especial lightness of effects, applied cautiously and progressively, that the trainer will make these so pleasant to the animal that it will receive them without fear, contraction, or heaviness.

Thus we come back always to the same principle, strength of effects, not effects of strength: intelligence, not brute force. The rider who understands and puts into practice the principles of an equestrian method with a heavy horse, will very soon find himself with a light one.


AN intelligent hand is one which, at all times, under every condition and circumstance, no matter what the motion, action, gait, or speed, the state of obedience or revolt, understands instinctively every impression that comes from the horse's mouth, and is ready at once to accept, refuse, counteract, or suppress both the effect and the cause.

The English expressions, "fine hand," and "light hand," suggest the skill of the pianist or the prestidigitator, whose tools have no will of their own. The intelligent hand responds to and controls the vital forces of a creature animated by the will to live. The hands of the rider are two vowels of the equestrian alphabet; the legs are two consonants; accuracy of seat unites the four letters into a word of the language with which rider and horse communicate. If a letter is lacking, or if the word is not formed, then there is no sense.

All this is no dream, no illusion of the mind. It is a fact, a reality; albeit, it is understood only by the master who knows the language and appreciates the significance of each letter and each combination, as the educated horse understands them. A fine hand means nothing. A hard hand is a fault. An intelligent hand is all in all.

A RIDER is in accord with his horse when his aids are in correct ratio to one another and to the movement which is required of the horse.

The rider's hand retains, sustains, and directs the forward impulse of his legs. But if the legs produce a greater impulse than the hand can receive, the center of gravity will pass to the fore hand. Contrawise, if the hand produces a greater effect than the legs can overcome, the center of gravity will shift to the hind legs, and the forward impulse will be lost. In either case there is lack of accord. Again, suppose that the rider wishes to carry his horse forward at a walk. If thereupon the legs produce so powerful an effect that the hand cannot receive it, the horse will take the trot. Legs and hand, rider and horse, are not in accord.

Not only, however, must the rider's effects be in accord with one another in order to obtain the gait or the movement asked, they must, in addition, be in accord with the nature and energy of the horse. The rider, therefore, to obtain any particular movement, has to ask that particular movement by adjusting accurately his effects to that movement, not to some other. Otherwise, horse and man are not in accord, because the man's effects do not match his special demand.


THE center of gravity of any body is that point upon which the body will balance in all positions. The balance of our own bodies upon the legs, which support the weight and prevent it from falling to the ground at each step, is so familiar and instinctive that we fail to appreciate it or to reflect on the consequences if that balance were to be for one moment destroyed. Gravitation is really an essential condition of our natural existence, like the air we breathe. Its force is precisely measured by a body's weight.

Every animal, therefore, is under the influence of two forces, the inert pull of gravity, and the active force of its own muscles. So long as the animal is recumbent, its weight is immobile, and it is in a position of inertia. To change this position under the first force, the second, the contractive force, is needed. This is developed by the muscles, by a tension sufficient to support the weight immobile upon the legs. But in order to propel the weight in any direction, the animal needs a contractive force greater than that needed to keep the weight immobile. Therefore must the muscular force be sufficient for both the weight and the velocity.

Sir Isaac Newton teaches that the motion of an animal is a series of falls, received and prevented by advancing one leg after the other. Since the force of gravity is constant, the velocity does not affect it. But the velocity does affect the momentum, which varies directly with the frequency of the falls. The greater the velocity, the more do the bases of support multiply their action; and consequently the flatter becomes the trajectory, and the more perfect the equilibrium of the forces involved.

With horses of good conformation, the center of gravity is well established. But with horses of deficient conformation, its position is variable, and this hinders the union of the animal's forces at any center. Though its proper place is at the middle of the spine when the horse is collected, it seldom is actually located here until after the horse has been trained. The beautiful conformation only makes the training easier. But, of course, the horse has also its instinctive center of gravity, when at liberty, without a rider to direct its movements, gaits, and speed.

With these principles in mind, it becomes easy to understand the defenses of the horse. If the horse kicks, rears, or runs away, the cause is always the wrong location of the center of gravity. Kicking means that the center is in the shoulders; rearing, that it is in the haunches; running away, that it is in the spine, but too much forward of the middle.

The constant object of the rider is, then, to keep the center of gravity where it belongs. Equitation cannot completely alter bad construction of the locomotor organs; but it can ameliorate the effect by modifying the cause. By uniting the animal's forces at the proper point, one can paralyze the defenses of a badly conformed animal. This is the reason why the masters have maintained that a well-conformed horse cannot defend itself, without destroying the harmony of its conformation, and at the expense of a very great increase of muscular effort, to give the power needed to displace the center of gravity. For these reasons, also, the scientific equitation insists on the absolute necessity of giving to the horse a factitious equilibrium in place of that which comes by instinct; not only in order to prevent disobedience, but also to remedy faults of conformation by a due combination of the animal's forces at the center of gravity. The entire education of the horse is, indeed, toward this result.

When the center of gravity is established, the horse is in a condition of equilibrium. The weight of the man, combining with that of the animal, becomes, by its position, an essential element in maintaining the center of gravity, in direct ratio to the displacement of this new force, forward, backward, to right or left of the perpendicular. If the man's weight shifts forward, the excess compels the horse to advance a base of support in order to prevent the fall. In this case, the center of gravity does not alter; the change is of the momentum. It is the same with movement backward, or to right or left, always supposing that the horse keeps its state of equilibrium.