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Equitation/Chapter 24

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CHAPTER XXIV
MY OWN SYSTEM

THE various figures of manege, together with the low airs of the high school, constitute the circus equitation. This differs from the équitation savante in that while the one keeps the horse always in the state of equilibrium, the other neglects this, and depends for the horse's training upon straps, tricks, and the memory of caresses or severe punishments. Nevertheless, Franconi, Baucher, and Fillis have shown in the beautiful circuses of European capitals some horses which, always in the state of equilibrium, executed these low airs so brilliantly that they have never been equaled.

Baucher offered his system to the different cavalries of Europe, but without success. Fillis, though not accepted in France, became instructor to the officers of the royal chevaux-legérs in Belgium, and also taught for several years at the cavalry school in Russia. Both these grand masters were continually studying the application of their principles; and because of their great reputations, they were able to obtain, for education or purchase, some animals of a quality, both of temper and of conformation, very near perfection, and in every way greatly superior to the general run of horses.

I, on the other hand, like other artists, always poor, have always been criticized for the inferior natural quality and conformation of the horses which I have trained. I have, therefore, amidst all the confusion of theories, methods, and principles, devoted my life to training imperfect animals. In so doing, I have had opportunity to discover what is right and what wrong in the methods of my predecessors. They selected perfect animals and taught them the low airs in the state of equilibrium. I have taken imperfect animals, and by means of the low airs, using these as gymnastics, have corrected their imperfections, and brought them to a conformation that makes the state of equilibrium possible.

I have been so invariably successful in correcting and educating the horses which I have owned, or which have been sent to me for training, that as early as in March, 1888, a commission of the United States Army was sent to my school to examine into my system. A portion of their report appears in the Appendix.

The modus operandi of my method, and the progression of movements of the low airs which I employ as a system of physical culture for the horse, are best explained by specific examples. In general, the scientific equitation can locate the cause of lameness or unsoundness more precisely than can a veterinarian, since the latter has neither the equestrian tact nor the accuracy of seat to detect the member which is not acting as it should. For instance, a horse has some disease, no matter what, affecting the left fore foot. A veterinary treats the trouble, but the horse, during the treatment, shrinks from putting its weight on the lame foot. The muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the left fore leg, therefore, doing less than their full duty, become more or less atrophied, while the right fore leg, doing more than its share, becomes correspondingly developed. When, at length, the diseased foot is cured and once more sound, no trouble appears so long as the horse stands still. But as soon as it begins to move, the weaker left leg fails to stride symmetrically with the stronger right. The trouble is, however, no longer in the foot, but in the muscles, ligaments, or tendons of the leg. The remedy is, then, gymnastic, to bring the weak organ to the level of the rest of the body. This belongs to the master of the scientific equitation. It is exactly like the case of a man kept in bed with a broken limb, whose physician gives him at first massage, and then, after the bone is knit, turns him over to an instructor in gymnastics, who, by flexions and exercises, restores the energy and elasticity which the patient lost during his enforced rest.

I have, I have said, always been criticized for not buying good and sound animals for myself, as other masters do. But to educate such an animal teaches the rider nothing. It is too easy. The master does not prove his own ability nor the practical usefulness of his art by training horses already made nearly perfect by nature. The test of his science and his utility lies in his ability to correct the natural defects of an ordinary animal and make it useful.

But how can a teacher of this art direct his pupils, if he does not himself understand the importance, direct or indirect, of what he teaches? "An ounce of prevention," says the proverb, "is worth a pound of cure." Riding-masters, teach your learners correct seat and correct effects, in order that they may not themselves lame their horses!

To take now an example of a very different sort, I have seen, in the course of a lifetime passed in studying horses, some that were near perfection after their education was finished, but not before. One and all, before they were trained, they had some defect of conformation or of temper. Furthermore, I have particularly noticed that physical defect has a great influence on the temper. For if a horse has the conformation and the strength to accomplish what the rider asks, it makes no difference what the service may be, the horse will try its best if only it is treated with humanity and intelligence. But if a horse is weak, or badly conformed, or too young for the task put upon it, notwithstanding all its good-will it cannot obey for lack of physical power. It tries, fails, and refuses. If then, the rider, neither humane nor intelligent, treats the horse brutally or unjustly, the animal's retentive memory stamps the lesson on its temper. It becomes restive, vicious, dangerous.

My long observation and study convince me, moreover, that not only does the physical strength of the horse affect its temper; the very temper itself is created by the treatment which the animal receives. This treatment, more or less practical, more or less reasoned, is the horse's education. The memory of wrong treatment is what fixes the instinctive reactions which we term defense, restiveness, and vice. Is it not, after all, precisely on this basis that we direct the child's development to manhood?

Or to take yet another example illustrative of my principles, every horse, like every man, though on the whole well conformed, is virtually never exactly the same on the two sides of the body. We ourselves are either right- or left-handed, and usually right- or left-legged. We seldom have quite the same power or freedom in one set of members as in the other.

This asymmetry of the two halves of the body is, in the horse, known as "side." All methodists, from Xenophon to the present day, have recognized the defect. I shall not dwell on the various causes which various writers have assigned for the trouble. It is sufficient to point out that it exists, undeniably; and that it appears at birth. The young creature, therefore, its "side" being uncorrected, forms the habit of moving unsymmetrically. Certain of its members, thereupon, being slightly less energetically employed than their mates, develop less strength. In the end, slight atrophies result which derange the precise equality of the strides, steps, and gaits. The horse does not go sound, and is condemned as lame. Naturally, such "side" is a more serious matter for a horse than for a man, since the horse gets its utility from its locomotion and the movement of its four members.

This inequality, this atrophy, is not easily located by the non-professional, often not even by the veterinarian. The inequality or the lameness is apparent. But which leg is at fault, or where in the stride the derangement occurs, is, in the opinion of competent veterinarians, a very complicated problem. The cause may be in a hind leg, while the effect appears in a perfectly sound front one.

Recognizing the importance of this matter, and interested also because of my ownership of a great variety of horses in my different schools, I have studied the problem deeply, and as the result of wide experience aided by experiments, I have developed a system which was adopted by General P. H. Sheridan, after a favorable report from a board of army officers.

This system involves locating the derangement, discovering its causes, and then repairing the defect by means of the low airs of the high school. A complete account is beyond the scope of the present work, but I shall be glad to supply complete information to the interested reader. I touch upon the matter here to emphasize the difference between myself, on the one hand, and Baucher and Fillis, on the other. They employ these airs of manege for the sake of public exhibition. I use them as a means of correction or development. I want a horse, sound, strong, and well developed, in order to have a square and equal walk, trot, or gallop. Since it is impossible to find a horse having these qualities by nature, I attain my object by means of gymnastic exercises derived from the movements of the high school.

I have, then, invented no new air of high school, though I have complicated some old ones, but always for the sake of more strength, more precision, more energy. I begin my course of training always by the work with the longe, the horse turning the circle successively at the two hands. It is during this first part of the horse's education that I make my diagnosis of the case, and my prognosis. That done, I attack immediately the local cause of any derangement.

For example, the horse, walking round the circle, proves weak in loins, coupling, hind quarters. I load it progressively with a proper weight, and watch its progress. When it carries the weight energetically with its hind quarters, I make it walk backward, a few steps at a time, several times at each lesson. When its progress becomes still more evident, I mount and continue the education by flexions, pirouettes, reversed pirouettes, and backing, until finally I come to the assemblage. When this state is attained, I use the piaffer from the beginning, progressively. When a saddle horse can execute the piaffer, the hind hand has all the strength needed to carry weight over wall, hurdle, or ditch.

Another example. My horse shows that it is weak in its left stride. I immediately begin the Spanish walk, demanding more movement of the left front leg than of the right. Then I exact progressively the Spanish trot, provided that the trouble is localized in the left shoulder, a point easy to verify by the lack of contact upon the left rein. How? Well, if the contact upon the left bar gives the fixed point at the atlas region, this fixed point is the center from which originates the action of the two muscles, rhomboideus and mastoido-humeralis, which by their contraction raise the left front leg and extend it forward. But, of course, if the shoulder is weak, the horse is not willing to move this left shoulder or leg, and so refuses the contact, in order not to establish the fixed point from which the action starts. But if the difficulty is not in the shoulder, but in the arm from the humerus to the knee, by a little more steady flexion with my rein, I flex the arm upon the humerus. The head, being now more flexed, gives the fixed point to the rhomboideus, but prevents the action of the mastoido-humeralis. The leg, therefore, raises, with the arm extended and the knee flexed. Or, again, suppose the derangement is located in the right trapezius, which gives to the raised front leg the time of the three movements of the forward stride. I keep a more persistent flexion to the right, in order that the muscles of the neck, by their arrangement and their connections with the trapezius, may force the trapezius to remain contracted for a longer time. So as the right fore leg lifts, flexes, and extends, the trapezius keeps it extended. Thus, the trapezius is especially exercised, and in the course of time becomes developed to the degree needed to give as long a stride on that side as on the other.

Still another case. The stride of the left front leg is longer forward than that of the right, and consequently gains more ground than its mate. Naturally, then, the right hind foot, having less open space in front of it, cannot reach out so far as the foot on the other side. The strides are, therefore, unequal; and the horse is judged to be lame in the right hind leg. Yet it is not. The short stride of the right hind leg is only the effect. The cause of the trouble lies either in the fore leg, or in the shoulder, or in the muscles which operate the right fore leg. But the horse, being lame, balances itself with head and neck, so that it is impossible to locate the trouble. Paralyze this balance, and the horse, if not unequally conformed, will stride squarely. It merely had a bad habit.

In a word, find the derangement, its location, its cause, by means of effects which appear only when the horse moves. Then treat the cause by means of the low airs, using these as gymnastic exercises, a method of physical culture.