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POINT OF VIEW


is the alpha and the omega of lateral flexibility: training starts with adequate circles that precede shoulder-in, etc., and ends by the excellent circles developed by the full range of gymnastic exercises. The square halt can be produced artificially by


teaching the horse to pose in that way by operant con- ditioning, but this approach has no value for collection, it is just a “shaped look.” The halt is part of the education for the piaffe, but the square halt can only be achieved by a one or two half-steps that occur after the horse has learned a modicum of mobility from the early piaffe les- son. In that way, the horse rounds himself in the halt and ends up standing with his back rounded and his haunches and hocks flexed, with his rear cannons an- gled under the body. As the circle is to lateral flexibil- ity, so the piaffe is the alpha and the omega of the halt. This is why we can frequently observe bad piaffe from international horses, while we also see defective halts in which the head lowers too much and the hind leg(s) disengages instantly. The correctness of one movement cannot happen without the education of the other.


Changing Theories Fast forward from my early education to 2018. New training schools of thoughts have emerged in the last 15 years and their fans too often insist in putting them in opposition to each other. It would be more useful to study their complementarity than harp on their differ- ences. When a person starts learning to ride, every new stage of progress feels like scaling a Himalayan summit. Gaining a sense of control and safety while handling a horse on the ground is where we all started. The new wave of natural horsemanship has focused on solutions for behavior control because it relates directly to rider survival. It is based on a few notions of ethology (the behavior science of animals in their natural habitat) as their scientific backing but, by in large, it ignores bio- mechanics (the science of movement). The old classical school consisted mostly of a lot


Lowering of the neck: the rider elevates his hand and take a light contact on the curb, he closes his legs until the horse yields on the hand and starts lowering his head. The rider then lowers his hand and releases the reins progressively until the neck is fully extended downward.


of hard work in the saddle and considered horse han- dling on the ground as the ‘stuff’ of the first lesson, tak- ing equine good behavior for granted in a riding acad- emy program. It also convinced riders that everything wrong that occurred was their exclusive fault and perfecting riding technique had to be a lifelong endeavor, as if all horses were born willing to work! The classical school and natural horse- manship are both correct, at least in the ar- eas they respectively address. On one hand, riders must endlessly work at improving their personal technique and strive to be as close to the ideal as possible in the simplest exercises, while indulging occasionally in whichever version of the spectacular stuff that ‘floats their boat.’ On the other hand, horses’ desire to participate in horseman- ship has to be developed through progres-


sive modification of their natural behavior, so riders can show as little effort as possible when performing what they have painstak- ingly learned. The reconciliation of those two approaches boils down to understand- ing something simple yet at times frus- tratingly elusive: the nature of willingness, and then mastering the best techniques to achieve it.


Piaffe is the diagonal animation in place of the collected horse. A modicum of piaffe is necessary to achieve a collected halt, as on the right. The engaged halt is also "the flexion of the whole" in which the horse yields in all his parts to achieve this elevation of the front end, flexion of neck, poll and mouth, elevates his withers, round his loins a little and flexes all the joints of the hind end. (illustrations by Margaux in The High School Method of Raabe by Decarpentry.)


60 May/June 2018


Understanding Willingness Willingness is highly facilitated by doing what comes easily (particularly when it feels good). There is only so much willing- ness in each of us for work, but unlimited


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