Equitation/Chapter 18

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THE "in hand" obtained by the series of flexions with the horse standing still has not yet trained the animal to move its limbs while still keeping the head and mouth in the "in hand" position. If, therefore, the rider now tries to send the horse forward, "in hand," the four legs, not being trained to move properly in that position, will become disunited into twos or threes. The problem is, therefore, by means of the pirouettes, to educate the horse to be still further under the rider 's control, the effects acting, at first, separately, the fore legs under the direction of the hand, the hind legs under the direction of the legs, and later, united, collected, assembled under the direction of both hands and legs.

The mobilization of the hind legs is obtained by means of the reversed pirouette, obtained either by lateral or direct effect.

The horse, being mounted and kept standing and "in hand," the trainer will ask the movement from left to right by the effects of the left snaffle rein and of the left leg against the flank. Meanwhile, the reins of the bit will keep the horse "in hand" and standing nearly still on its front legs.

In other words, the left snaffle rein draws the head to the left, while the rider's left leg pushes the hind quarters to the right. The movement begins by the lifting of the left hind foot and its movement toward the right in front of the right hind foot. Thereupon, the right hind foot also shifts toward the right, and the first step is made. Repetition of these effects continues the movement, which, however, cannot proceed beyond four steps. The reversed pirouette from right to left is obtained by the same means, reversed.

If at first the horse does not understand the pressure of the rider's legs, the whip is used to augment their effect, by repeated contact near the leg. Very soon the horse learns to obey the pressure of the leg alone.

As soon as the horse executes the reversed pirouette calmly and correctly by the lateral effect, the rider asks the same movement by the direct effect. For this, the horse is held "in hand" either by the two snaffle reins or by those of the curb, but not by all four. The rider's left leg then asks the rotation of the haunches toward the right, while the right leg urges the horse forward. (Figure 17.) Finally, comes the same movement from right to left.

For the direct pirouette, the horse, being always "in hand," has to pivot on a hind foot, while the fore part of the body circles, let us say, from right to left. For this, first of all, the right fore foot lifts, crosses over in front of the left, and comes to the ground about one foot to the left of the latter. As it comes to rest, it takes the weight in its turn; and the left fore foot, now unloaded, shifts still farther to the left, passing behind the right. Once more the left foot takes the load, and the right foot crosses as before. (Figure 18.)

Meanwhile, the hind legs have carried much of the weight of the fore hand. They have not, however, remained fixed. As the shoulders, after the first step of the right fore leg, travel toward the left, the right hind foot also lifts, moves to the left, and takes the ground in front of the left hind leg. Then, as the right front leg begins its second stride to the left, the left hind foot moves to a position two or three inches forward and to the left of the right, and takes once more the load. Again, as the left front foot shifts to the left, the right hind foot repeats its former movement to the left. This makes two steps around the imaginary circle of the pirouette. Repetition of these two continues the turn from right to left to a complete about-face.

Such is the mechanical motion executed by the horse. At this point I ask of the anatomists and masters of equitation, how is it that the pirouette is anatomically possible, if the scapular and the numerous are fixed to the thorax and the sternum, and the only movement of the fore legs is forward and back, without elongation? When the right fore leg has passed across the left, if it cannot lengthen before coming to the ground, then it can fall to the
ground only as the left fore leg rises. Therefore, is the theory of locomotion false which holds that one limb cannot leave the ground until after its mate has made contact. The sophists will reply that locomotion is always a succession of falls. Very true, but these falls operate successively upon the front legs as each in turn goes forward at the walk, the trot, or the gallop; there is no crossing over of the feet at each step, right to left or left to right.

Consider the case where the fall is greatest. The leaping horse is entirely out of contact with the ground. It comes to the ground at the end of the leap, with its two front legs extended; and immediately after, the hind legs also come down. Is this natural to the anatomy of the animal? Yes! But suppose that the horse finishes the leap with its two front legs in the position demanded by the pirouette or the half passage. What will be the consequence? Answer me, please!

Returning now to the effects employed to execute the pirouette, the front hand has to be unloaded, and the hind legs, which are the support and pivot, have to be loaded, especially the left hind leg. The rider must, therefore, carry the line of his body backward from the perpendicular, and also bear more heavily on the left haunch. The right fore leg, since it makes the longer step, has to be unloaded by a very slight effect of the right rein. But as this right fore leg is to travel over from right to left, the right rein must bear upon the right side of the neck, the hand of the rider being carried to the left. If, on the other hand, the right rein were to operate alone, the result would be to carry the head too much to the right by the flexion of the neck. Consequently, the left rein has to maintain the head straight by the proper opposition. But, of course, the natural effect of moving the hand to the left is to swing the haunches to the right. And since the right hind leg must, on the contrary, pass leftward in front of its mate, the rider's right leg is brought an inch or more behind the girth, to forestall this movement and maintain the haunches as pivot and support.

The pirouette is to be executed step by step. At the beginning, one or two steps are sufficient. It is evident that the "in hand" position must be undisturbed during the entire movement, since it is only under this condition that this mobilization of the forehand has any real bearing on the future progressive education. Again I counsel, for the student, moderation, patience, perseverance; but more important still are positiveness, and quality rather than quantity, since quantity alone will have little value for the future training.

Other masters dictate this pirouette immediately after the "in hand" has been obtained, and before the reversed pirouette. I, on the contrary, first mobilize the hind legs by means of the reversed pirouette or rotation; and only after my horse well understands my effects of leg, do I begin the mobilization of the fore hand by the pirouette.

Forty years ago, noting the confusion in the minds of riders between pirouette and reversed pirouette, I renamed the latter, rotation—pirouette for the mobilization of the fore hand; rotation for the mobilization of the hind legs or croup. The change is, at first sight, not important. It becomes so only because it helps to clear the matter for beginners.

Even at first sight, the figure of the pirouette is easy to understand. The difficulty comes in executing it. Moreover, it is sometimes extraordinarily hard to make the beginner comprehend just the difference between pirouette and rotation. I have seen really intelligent men confuse them, month after month. Changing the name from reversed pirouette to rotation has helped not a little.

Finally, for the sake of one of my pupils in particular, who insisted that he was doing the one when he was really doing the other, I hit upon the following device.

Stand facing the edge of an open door, and take the knobs in your two hands. The hinges represent the horse's front legs; your legs are the horse's hind ones. Now pivot the door from right to left, passing your right foot between your left foot and the door, bringing it to the ground, and then bringing the left foot into its usual place beside it. This imitates the movement of the rotation. Taken from left to right, everything reverses, both motions and effects.

For the pirouette, turn your back to the door. The hinges are now the horse's hind legs, and your single pair are the horse's fore legs. Once more, swing the door from right to left, and follow it with your feet, by shifting the right foot across in front of the other, and then passing the left foot between the door and the right to its usual position.

Do not, I repeat, attempt to execute these figures on horseback, until you are sure that you understand precisely each detail. After that, if you proceed with moderation, the movements are so easy that, like everybody else who has tried it, you will laugh at the novices who have not yet caught the idea.

When the pirouette is properly done at the walk, it can be tried at the trot, but only after the horse has so far advanced in its education as to trot properly. The chief difficulty with the pirouette at the trot is to gauge accurately the horse's sensitiveness to each of your effects. Otherwise, it may cross its legs too quickly, and in order to avoid the tendency to fall, which is greater at the trot than at the walk, it is likely to change to the gallop, preferring to execute the figure at this gait rather than at the trot.

At the gallop, the pirouette should always be asked at the same hand or same side at which the horse leads—the right-hand pirouette to the right, and vice versa.

Motion backwards is not a gait, but merely one of the three movements which the horse executes by carrying rearward its center of gravity, and consequently a part of its weight.

The movement has given rise, among methodists, to a great diversity of theories, more or less impractical and absurd. Some writers recommend having two men to teach the action, one in the saddle, who pulls alternately on the reins, the other on foot, who touches chest or knees with a whip. Others advocate having the rider dismount, and, facing the horse's head, take one rein in each hand, and push backward, first on one and then on the other. If the horse does not then back, the trainer steps on the horse's fore feet as he gives the tug at the reins. What confusion! There is no real principle. How can one write concerning an art without greater knowledge of it!

It must be evident that, in order to make the horse back, the rider must carry backwards the center of gravity. Then, whenever a hind leg leaves the ground, it must go to the rear to receive the weight, which otherwise tends to fall backwards. If, at the same time, the rider's hand indicates to the horse that it cannot go forward, a front leg must follow the hind leg in diagonal. This makes the first step. To repeat the same effects of hand and legs obtains the second step.

The objection of the horse to backing arises from the stiffness of the muscles of the back at the region of the coupling. These muscles and the articulation can, however, be suppled by the preparatory work on foot, with the whip. The rider, standing at the horse's left, holds the two curb reins in his left hand, and touches repeatedly, with the whip, the croup behind the saddle, meanwhile making a moderate but repeated effect with the curb on the horse's mouth. Very soon, the horse backs. By repeating this work two or three times at each lesson, the horse soon learns to execute the movement, first with the trainer on foot, afterwards with the trainer mounted and employing his legs, supplemented if necessary by the whip. A saddle horse, well collected, should move backwards with the same step and cadence as forward.