Equitation/Chapter 21

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CHAPTER XXI
THE ASSEMBLAGE

BY means of the foregoing work, which has been only preparatory, of the flexions, the mobilization of the fore and hind hands, and the movements backward, the cavalier has mastered the use of his various means, and the horse has come to understand their effects. The rider can now obtain from his horse the position of "in hand." Starting with this position, and using all the effects together, the rider should now be able, by means of the collection or assemblage, to obtain an equilibrium in which all the animal's forces are reunited at a center of gravity, situated exactly beneath his own weight, which, in its turn, bears equally and perpendicularly on the spinal column of the horse.

This position, obtained and continued at will by the cavalier, is the great ideal of equitation, since it gives immediate and complete control of the animal by the man. To the young trainer, at first sight, it appears difficult. Yet it is not. If one has followed the progression of the flexions and mobilizations, and has obtained regularly the "in hand" position, he will also secure, without too much difficulty, the subsequent position of equilibrium. But, of course, the conformation of the horse, both physical and moral, also enters very seriously into the problem.

In the preceding work of the flexions and the mobilizations, the cavalier has used the effects of hands and legs separately. But to obtain the state of equilibrium by means of the assemblage, he must employ hands, legs, and weight, together. This action is often called "effects of ensemble" since it requires the equalization of the forces of the horse, not only to support its own weight, whether at rest or in motion, but also to carry the added weight of the rider, and is brought about by accordant effects of the cavalier.

In short, the separate effects make possible the effects of ensemble. These effects of ensemble produce assemblage. The assemblage gives the state of equilibrium, which is the equal balance of the entire mechanism.

From the beginning of equitation, this state of equilibrium of rider and horse has been the subject of researches and theories, more or less practical. Of these, Baucher's is the most reasonable. Moreover, this grand master has proved experimentally the existence of this equilibrium, and the fact that it is produced by the assemblage. I give here one of Baucher's tests in the form in which I have several times repeated them for myself.

An ordinary saddle horse, properly trained but not practiced in the demonstration, weighs one thousand pounds. I place him, without saddle or bridle, with his hind legs on one of two platform scales and his fore feet on the other. If he took naturally a state of perfect equilibrium, he would thereupon register a weight of two hundred and fifty pounds with each foot, five hundred pounds at each end.

But as a matter of fact, the forward scales register 612 pounds; the rear scales only 388. The horse will not distribute his weight equally between the two pairs of limbs, unless his naturally wrong position is rectified by the demonstrator.

For this purpose, I add a twelve-pound saddle and three pounds of bridle; making the new weight 1015 pounds, which the horse distributes, ten pounds in front and five behind. I take the reins of the bit and raise the animal's head. At once the weights change, and become more nearly equal. The front scales now show 522 pounds and the rear 493. Fifty pounds has shifted to the hind legs.

Still keeping the head up, with the aid of a whip, I place the hind legs side by side, and both perpendicular to the horizontal line of the horse's spine. All the while, I bear lightly on the bit and flex the head at the atlas region. The scales now indicate 510 pounds on the fore legs, 505 pounds on the rear ones. This difference of five pounds arises from the impossibility for a man on foot of keeping the front legs exactly perpendicular upon the scales or obtaining perfect flexion at the atlas region. Allowing for this small difference, we have here an undeniable proof of a state of transmitted equilibrium imposed upon the animal by the man.

The demonstration is still more striking when the horse is mounted. I weigh, dressed, 172 pounds, a total weight of 1187. Letting the reins lie loose, I find that the scales read 722 and 565 pounds. I take the reins, flex the horse's head and neck to bring the animal "in hand," and at the same time, by the contact of my legs, I bring the animal's hind legs into the perpendicular position. The scales now read, in front 598, behind 589, a difference of only nine pounds. In this particular case, the horse had become pretty nervous from having his feet on the unsteady scale platforms; and in order to keep him quiet, I had been neglecting my own position, and leaning slightly forward, for the sake of loading the fore legs and keeping them still. As soon as I rectified this, and sat with head and body erect, the forward scales read steadily 593, while the other oscillated between 592 and 594 with the action of my legs in trying to keep the horse perfectly quiet. It was a convincing demonstration. Moreover, by leaning forward or backward with the head very erect, I could always take thirty-five or forty pounds from the reading of either scales and add it to the other.

For the benefit of any person who wishes to repeat these tests, I add certain practical suggestions from my own experience. I find that one of the great difficulties is to keep the horse calm and still upon his legs, so that I lost a great deal of time and the data were less accurate. To remedy this, I built a stall, three feet by twelve, with partitions four feet high. The scales, I placed under ground, the platforms level with the surface, and over them a thin layer of earth or tanbark to give the horse confidence and to keep it from slipping. If, however, the apparatus is set in a floor, solid wooden platforms should be built upon the scales, at the correct distance apart, and surfaced with tanbark or dirt. All these extra weights will, of course, have to be allowed for. The indicators of the scales should be outside the stall.

It must not be thought, however, that Baucher, in devising this experiment, or the author in repeating it, had any idea of having it used as a means of training the horse to take the correct position. Its only object is to prove to the student that the state exists, and that it is possible to obtain it by means of the effects and aids.

The deductions from the experiment are highly important. It proves the necessity of the work on the flexions of mouth and neck, since without these there would be no way of obtaining the " in hand." It proves, also, the necessity of mobilizing the front and hind hands, since without this the horse could not be placed with its legs vertical, and therefore the weight could not be made equal on the two scales. Finally, it proves the necessity of the suppling of the loins by movement backward, since otherwise the hind legs could not be brought into the perpendicular relation to the spine.

So long as the horse remains at rest with his four limbs perpendicular, the state of equilibrium can be demonstrated. But with the horse in action, only the eye of the spectator or the equestrian tact of the rider, through his seat, can detect it. The spectator can see the four legs leave the ground and return, two by two, diagonally at walk, trot, and movement backward.

The rider, under these conditions, feels in his seat the squareness and equality both of the different strides and of each step. The horse gives a light and agreeable contact upon the hand, the head and neck are perfectly steady and yet firm, while the rider feels that, with the least tension on the reins, the neck will flex like an elastic band. All the time he feels in his seat that, with the least shifting of his weight or the slightest alteration in legs, hand, body, or head, the equilibrium will vanish. The animal moves between the rider and the ground, rhythmically. Every joint is supple, and every part of the mechanism does its task with power, freedom, and in perfect synchrony. Fillis, the grand master, is right when he says, "The rider feels as if the horse were flying." But Baucher, the great dead, is also right when he says, "The sea is calm, but full of rocks!"

Unhappily, this state of equilibrium tends always to be disturbed in consequence of the various positions taken by the horse as he executes his great diversity of strides, steps, gaits, and movements. The rider must, therefore, by means of his effects of ensemble, be always checking this tendency, or restoring the equilibrium as soon as it escapes. When the horse is standing still, the rider will feel this escape of the equilibrium in his bridle hand. But when the horse is in motion, this feeling comes only through the seat. An able esquire reestablishes the equilibrium by the accuracy of his seat, economizing hands and legs.

These effects of ensemble are employed most efficiently just before the demand for a new movement, a new direction, or a new gait; and also to maintain the equilibrium during the succeeding movement without change of speed or gait. All this is in accord with the principle of Baucher, who created the effects of ensemble: "The position gives the correct movement; the movement should never give the position."

These effects of ensemble, employed on a welltrained horse, are, however, virtually imperceptible to the onlooker.