The Perfect Circle And the Seven Essential Qualities to Get There


t 16, I started my quest for a higher form of horsemanship. All that meant is that I was try- ing to get a clue on the how-and-why of what I had been doing on horseback ‘by the seat of my pants.’ I had ridden lots of colts, done a bit of eventing, some show jumping and ridden (without great success) in steeplechase races. My new passion was dressage and I had trained a few horses to do my bidding, ‘kinda-sorta.’ This is when I visited Portugal for the first time to study with my selected teacher, the Portuguese classical mas- ter Nuno Oliveira, on the recommendation of the late Michel Henriquet.

Eye-Opening Education The day I arrived at his school, the master casually asked me “if I knew how to do a shoulder-in” and I proudly assured him that I did. “Can you do a half pass?” he next asked. I immediately became a little suspi- cious of where this conversation was leading. With a little less assurance, I told him, “Yes, I have done some.” “How about a circle?” In a meek voice, I uttered, “I think I can,” preparing myself for some form of rebuke. Instead came his tongue-in-cheek, yet sincere, answer: “You are one lucky rider. I have been attempting to ride a per- fect circle for 40 years and I hope I will soon succeed.” In this ironic statement lies the entire secret of horsemanship: rather than exclusively pursuing the pride of showing-off one’s talent by performing difficult tricks (or higher levels of competition), a serious rider must always be preoccupied by the search for the per- fection of the simplest exercises, such as circles, turns, halts, departs, etc. Each of them addresses a specific quality that reverberates in the complete picture of the horse and all are useful because they address the fun- damental problems of training. Departs demonstrate impulsion; regular stops improve balance; square halts are the basis of collec- tion; circles, but most importantly turns, de- velop symmetry; and immobility proves calm- ness and submission. Their practice is the means as well as the

proof of the correct- ness of the work. Let’s not be con- fused on the strat- egy: endlessly prac- ticing the 20 meter circle—as we see too often—will not lead to a perfect circle, quite the contrary. Any exercise repeated endlessly under constraint (too much aid and manipulation) leads the horse to find clever ways to avoid the ef- fort and to develop a defective form of the exercise (asymmetrical flexions, etc.). The circle may “look” perfect, but it is so only by the hold the rider exerts on the horse through leg placement and rein tension, rather than by an autonomous flexion of the back obtained by the slight outward tipping of the withers. The qualities need-

ed to achieve those excellent circles (as perfection is impos- sible due to the natu- ral asymmetry of the horse) are flexibility and symmetry and the best way to develop them are turns, shoul- der-ins and half passes. In that sense, the circle

Right: Floor plans of classical gymnastic exercises, as practiced at the Royal Portuguese Manege circa 1800. The drawings show sequences of "one track" (shown as 2 track) and lateral movements (shown as 4 tracks) in the seminal book by Manoel Carlos d'Andrade,The Light of the Liberal and Noble Art of Horsemanship. The particular- ity of this school is that the quality of dressage is demonstrated facing the fighting bulls. The Portuguese School of Equestrian Art continues the method codified by the 4th

Marquis de Marialva, Master of the Horse to King D.

José I, who inspired this book. He fought bulls, even at an advanced age and was considered the best rider of his time and a leader in the development of the national equestrian tradition that still carries his name. The last holder of the title was dom Diogo de Braganca, author of Dressage of French Tradition (Xenophon Press).

Warmbloods Today 59

By JP Giacomini

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