THE horse, when not under the control of the man, balances himself instinctively by different positions of head and neck. But the horse under control has these various positions given to him by his rider, by way of the bits. But the feeling of the bits in his mouth is disagreeable to the horse. The result is a tendency to contract and to keep tense the muscles which close the lower jaw, on which the bits rest. This disagreeable sensation tends, moreover, to affect the entire body, and to produce a general condition of contraction, opposition, and refusal.
The object of the flexions is, by means of certain graduated exercises, to teach the horse that no real pain will follow these uncomfortable sensations, and to suppress their general accompaniments, while accustoming the animal to obey their special effects.
The hands holding the reins can, by different positions and manipulations, produce on the animal mechanism a great variety of effects, of which the three principal are, directing, raising, and maintaining. The work of the flexions will introduce the horse to these different effects, which later, after the rider is mounted, will be further complicated by the effects of the legs.
A brief consideration of the bones, joints, and muscles involved in the flexions will help in avoiding certain mistakes.
The bars, on which rest the bits, are the distal part of the lower jaw, between the molar teeth and the incisors. In conformation they are of three types. In one sort the bone is small, and covered by a thin mucous membrane. Such bars are said to be "sharp," and are especially sensitive to the pressure of the bits. Another sort has a large bone, somewhat flattened where it meets the bits, and covered with thick mucous membrane. This sort is commonly little sensitive, and is described as "fleshy." The best type of bar is intermediate between the two.
The temporo-maxillary articulation which connects the lower jaw with the skull lies between the ears and the eyes, just behind the frontal bone. It allows the jaw, moved by the digastricus, masseter, and temporalis muscles, to open and shut, to move laterally for mastication, and to glide back and forth. This joint plays an important part in equitation.
Another important set of bones are the vertebrae of the neck. The first cervical vertebra, the atlas, articulates with the occipital bone of the skull. Next to it comes the axis. These two vertebrae form the atlo-axoid articulation which permits the head to rotate upon the axis, this remaining fixed. The occipito-atloid articulation, on the other
hand, permits four motions, extension, flexion, lateral inclination, and circumduction. Its movements are given by the muscles of the neck, obliquus capitis, sterno-maxillaris, rectus capitis, scalenus, longus coll, splenius, and angularis scapulae. All these muscles are either attached or related to the three other muscles which work the lower jaw. They are, therefore, most intimately concerned in the position which is given to the head and neck, through the sensation of the bits on the bars. It is the position of the head and neck which is the object of the flexions.
Two other especially powerful muscles of the neck are concerned primarily with locomotion. The rhomboideus is connected at the atlas region with the other muscles of the head and neck; but when this atlas region is fixed, it draws the shoulder forward and upward. It is, therefore, related to the scapulo-angularis and latissimus dorsi of the chest. The other large muscle, the mastoido-humeralis, has also one of its ends at the atlas region, and the other at the shoulder and chest. When the atlas region is fixed, at the same time that the rhomboideus lifts the fore leg, the mastoido-humeralis carries it forward. But if the chest region is the fixed point, this muscle draws the head and neck to one side. It is by means of the flexions that we obtain for these two muscles the fixed point in the atlas region. When the horse accepts contact of the bits on the bars, the rider controls directly the muscles of the head, and indirectly those of the neck. Thus by the continual communication of this indirect effect, which in its turn, emanates from the first direct effect of the bits on the bars, the rider controls also the action of the front limbs.
Here, then, is the theory of so much of the animal mechanism as is exercised by the flexions. I urge the trainer, at this point, to regard as essential the character of the flexion obtained by his work, rather than its amount. The important matter is not that the horse shall bend its neck more or less readily, but that it shall respond with head and neck to the tension of the reins; that it does not cease this tension of its own will, but while keeping the contact of the bits, shall obey this tension consistently.
It is desirable for the horse's education, not to commence this work of the flexions unless there is to be time to complete it. Further consideration of the bones, joints, and muscles involved in locomotion will be found under the caption, "Legs and Their Effects" the same illustrations serving for fore hand, trunk, and hind hand.
The masters of equitation before Baucher had already employed a system of flexions for suppling the neck; but they failed to recognize the importance of a further suppling of the mouth. Baucher, in his reasoned equitation, saw the need of suppling the mouth also, and developed a series of flexions for both the mouth and the neck.
Fillis objects to the execution of Baucher's flexions on the ground that he bends the neck at the region of the third vertebra and not at the atlas region. The series of flexions by Baucher is very complicated, those of Fillis are very strenuous; the two are difficult of execution for a young trainer.
To remedy these difficulties, I have created a series of flexions similar as to object to those of the two grand masters, but more easy of execution and sufficiently comprehensive for the trainer and the horse. The first condition, sine qua non, is to teach the horse to sustain the head and neck high up, by its own effort and without the help of the trainer. To obtain this result, the trainer places himself facing the head of the horse, holding the left snaffle rein in his right hand and the right rein in his left. By raising his two hands straight upwards, not backward or forward, the horse will raise head and neck. (Figure 4.) When the head and neck are up, the trainer opens the fingers of the two hands maintained at the same height; but if the horse drops its head or neck, the trainer shuts his fingers quickly. The flexion is complete only when the horse holds the head up without help. (Figure 5.) It then becomes a question of obtaining the flexion of the mouth without letting the head change the high position. For this flexion, the trainer, facing the head and neck from the left, and holding the right rein of the bit in his right hand and the left rein in his left, causes a pressure on the right bar by
the right hand, which, acting progressively, forces the horse to open its mouth. The head is slightly inclined to the right, but sustained high, the slightest derangement of the head or neck being corrected by the left rein held in the left hand, which is carried upward, downward, forward, to the right or to the left, according to the effect necessary to correct the false position taken by the head or neck in resisting or preventing the proper position and flexion. (Figure 6.)
When the depression of the lower jaw is obtained, the head being lightly inclined to the right, the trainer, by carrying his left hand progressively backward, places the head straight, always continuing the flexion of the mouth. When the head and neck are inclined to the right or to the left, the flexion is called the right or left lateral flexion. The flexion is called direct when the head and neck are straight. The two lateral flexions are only the means for obtaining the direct flexion, which is only complete when the horse depresses its lower jaw. (Figure 7.) The effect of the bits upon the mouth and neck produces a cause and effect. The mouth refuses because the neck resists, the neck refuses because the mouth resists. This difficulty is found in the different conformations, and to obviate it, the alternate flexions of mouth and neck are the proper work.
For the flexions of the neck, the trainer places himself on the horse's left side near the head, takes the right rein of the bit with his right hand and the left rein of the snaffle with his left hand. The flexion of the mouth is obtained by the right rein and the flexion of the neck by the left hand carried to the right over the nostrils of the horse. (Figure 8.) The lateral flexion of the neck is complete when the head is turned facing to the right. After the lateral flexion of the neck, the head is to return to the direct flexion, by the rein or reins of the snaffle. If the horse has a thick, short, and fleshy neck, it is proper to enforce more bending from the neck. For that purpose the trainer places himself on the right side of the horse for the lateral flexion to the left, holds the right rein of the snaffle in the right hand and the left rein in the left hand. The left rein, bearing upon the neck, is kept at the same tension by the left hand, assuming that the right hand allows the head to flex to the left and follows the head in its flexion backward, so that, by raising the right hand, the head is maintained perpendicular and flexed at the atlas. (Figure 9.)
This position of the head flexed perpendicularly has to be obtained by moderate progress, passing from the position in Figure 9 to that shown in Figure 10, and finally to that obtained by the bit alone in Figure 11.
After arriving at this stage, the trainer continues the direct flexion of mouth and neck. The two reins of the bit are held in the left hand, and the two reins of the snaffle in the right, the forefingers
between each pair of reins. The left hand operates a progressive but continual tension upon the bit, while the right hand corrects with the snaffle the false position possible at the beginning and thus secures the flexion at the atlas only. (Figure 12.) The flexion is completed when the mouth is open.
Finally, to obtain proof of the quality of my work of flexions, the horse straight, the head up and light, and yet in contact with my hands, I place myself facing the horse, the left reins of snaffle and bit in my right hand, the right reins in my left hand, and by a progressive and moderate action of my two hands, I obtain the direct flexion of mouth and neck, the horse keeping the same position of body. (Figure 13.) At the completion of the flexion, the horse is upon the hand, with the lower jaw completely depressed. (Figure 14.) The flexions have to be executed equally to the right and to the left by the same principles, but by the opposite means.
In explaining above the principles of the flexions, I have changed sides several times in order to make it possible for the photographer to reproduce on the plate the position of hands, reins, head, and neck, so they will be more apparent to the reader.
The next step is to secure lightness. The trainer stands facing his horse, with the right snaffle rein in his left hand, and the left rein in his right. By repeated vibrations he raises progressively the head and neck, until, after a few lessons, the horse re- mains straight and still, head and neck elevated, without the help of snaffle or bit.
As soon as this position of lightness is obtained, comes the flexions of the jaw. The trainer, holding as before the two snaffle reins, makes very light oppositions, but without allowing the head or neck to drop. Now begins the "fingering." By this I mean the repeated, rhythmic opening and shutting of the mouth: mouth shut, bit contact, fingers closed on the reins; then mouth open and fingers unclosed, the hand always at the same height.
When the lower jaw is depressed squarely at the effect of the snaffle, the trainer repeats the same exercise, holding in each hand a rein of the snaffle and one of the bit. The snaffle maintains the position of head and neck, while the bit controls the depression of the jaw. But the effect of the two, especially of the snaffle, is peculiarly upon the atloaxoid articulation.
But while this flexion is the most important of all, it is nevertheless so entirely at the atlo-axoid joint that the rhomboideus and mastoido-humeralis muscles are so completely contracted that they do not, in this condition, gain the development which is desirable and which is so noticeable in the neck of "Why-Not."
For all this work, especially, I recommend patience, perseverance, and slow advance. What counts for the future is the quality of the performance. The quantity is a small and temporary matter.
The series given above is sufficient to teach the rider the manipulation of the reins, and to train the horse to yield by mouth and neck to the effects of the bits. Many other flexions have been worked out by methodists to meet special difficulties of conformation and temper. But such a variety of cases is outside the limits of this book. Those which have been given, done first on foot and then mounted, are quite sufficient for suppling neck and mouth.