Equitation is divided into several branches: that of the promenade, that of the army, of the races, of polo, of the circus. The equestrian art consists in the practice of these different sorts of equitation, in teaching the principles accepted for their practice, and in training the horse for these different uses. The present work, however, will treat only of the equitation of the promenade.
This portion of the general art has, in its turn, three subdivisions. These are:
The usual or instinctive or "lateral" equitation.
The rational equitation, l'équitation raisonnée, based upon reasoned principles worked out by the masters of the art.
The scientific equitation, l'équitation savante, based upon the scientific study of animal motions, and involving a scientific system of gymnastics for the physical development of the horse, designed to adapt the animal to the controlled use to which it is put.
It is evident that, from antiquity to our own epoch, the usual or instinctive equitation has beenand is still the most practiced. In the infancy of the art of horsemanship, men taught themselves by instinct and habit, not yet having even the most elementary principles. Soon, however, from custom and from the practice of experienced riders, there arose certain theories and methods, which were taught to beginners.
Even in the earliest times riders had the idea of balance; but they applied it only to the seat of the man on the horse, and did not at all consider the balance of the horse under the weight of the man. This was assumed to be taken care of by the animal's own instincts.
When, later, this instinctive horsemanship had still further progressed, and there had been invented saddle, bridle, stirrups, and spurs, the experience of riders and teachers developed the principles which govern the use of these instruments. Such masters as Pignatelli, Gaspard, Saulnier, Pembroke, the Duke of Newcastle, Comte de la Guérinière, and others, worked out the theory of mounting and dismounting, of seat, of the lateral effect, of the bridle, of the use of the spurs, and of the pillars. In all this they considered, not only the improvement of the rider's seat, but also the collection or balance of the horse. Of this last, however, they had only a confused and elementary conception. They thought that the horse, when mounted and in action, would always find its proper balance for itself; and so they devised series of movements, which, executed by the horse at walk, trot, and gallop, should practice the animal in carrying itself with its load. There is, nevertheless, a vast difference between such purely instinctive training, and the rational equitation which understands the reasons for the horse's condition of equilibrium, and allows him to execute the various movements only while retaining this state. The early masters of equitation were ignorant of many facts of animal motion now known to science, and they had no clear idea of the animal mechanism involved. Ignoring the theory of levers, they controlled the horse by the lateral effect of the rider's hand and leg acting on the same side. It is, therefore, perfectly fair to call this kind of equitation, instinctive, usual, lateral. This lateral equitation can be practiced by the beginner by rule of thumb, without acquaintance with the principles or theories of any formulated method. But a learner makes faster progress and is in less danger of accident when he puts himself under a riding-master. The riding-master or the riding-school will provide a horse already trained, with all the needed apparatus. It is then not necessary for the pupil to train the animal; but only to learn to mount and dismount; to sit properly on the horse when standing, walking, trotting, or galloping, in a word, to make his seat; and to control the horse by the lateral effect at these different gaits, in any direction, without losing the correct position. When the pupil has acquired a sufficiently firm seat, he may practice jumping. This will test his progress, and will also show him what he has still to learn. My own long experience proves to me that the rider's seat is the foundation of his progress. Without seat, nothing can be learned. With seat, everything, simple or difficult, becomes possible. The cavalier can never have too much of this sine qua non. Indeed, he can never have enough.