QUESTION: Is it to the rider or to the horse
that we ought to impute the fault of bad execution?
ANSWER: To the rider, and always to the rider.
I appreciate and quote French horse master F. Baucher, because he was an unequivocal advocate for the horse. He was and remains a controversial figure in horsemanship, perhaps because his tact was reserved for his horses not for his human relations:
QUESTION: How is it that nearly all the horsemen of renown
have invented a particular kind of bit?
ANSWER: Because being wanting in personal science,
they sought to replace their own insufficiency
by aids or strange machines.
He continues to inspire passionate, although not necessarily informed or rational, reactions even now. In his own times, he hesitated to publish certain of his thoughts, but seemed resigned to certain amount of miscommunication as he also wrote:
Need I recommend discretion in your demands?
I think not.
If the rider, having reached this stage of his horse’s education,
that fineness of touch,
that delicacy of process
indispensable to the right application of my principles,
it will prove him devoid of every feeling of a horseman;
nothing I can say can remedy
this imperfection of his nature.
I find Baucher much more comprehensible when I consider that he was working after the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars disbursed the breeding stock of both the equine and the human aristocracy. While the racing Thoroughbred arose out of the chaos of Oliver Cromwell’s short-lived overthrow of the English aristocracy, there was not an untainted distinctly French equine mystique coherent enough to form a nucleus for a particular type of horse to arise as a national symbol in a democratic France. This situation was exacerbated by the industrial revolution. Not only was the tradition of fine horsemanship associated with a corrupt aristocracy, the horse itself was no longer essential to survival. Baucher’s insistence that greatness lay within the ordinary horse and the ordinary rider arose out of that social milieu.
While his drive to capture the imagination of his countrymen combined with his native abilities made his performances spectacular, his stated intent was to popularize and invigorate a quality of horsemanship once held as a mystical aristocratic heritage, inspire more people to enjoy riding, and improve French horses. He looked to accomplish this primarily by means of working with the French cavalry (click here). His work had to focus on efficiently retraining both men and horses that had developed poor habits as well as starting young horses and unfit inexperienced cadets. While he, himself, displayed extraordinary finesse and camaraderie with his own mounts, his work with the French Cavalry was eminently practical. The French Cavalry Officers he worked with were grateful for his efforts and wrote:
“The method of horsemanship of M. Baucher
is positive and rational;
it is easy to understand,
especially when studied under the direction
of some one who knows it.
It is attractive to the rider,
gives him a taste for horses and horsemanship,
tends to develop the horse’s qualities,
especially that of lightness,
which is so delightful to discover in a saddle-horse.
* * *
Applied to the breaking of young horses,
it develops their instinct,
makes them find the domination of the rider easy and pleasant;
it preserves them from the premature ruin
that an improper breaking often brings with it;
it may shorten the time devoted to the education of the horse;
and it interests the riders employed in it.”
Unfortunately, the leadership of the French Cavalry was neither cohesive nor supportive and a combination of opposition and inopportune deaths of Baucher’s main supporters derailed official adoption of his work. However, Baucher was an astute observer of both men and horses and the accuracy of his perceptions and advice has been brought to life in our own times by another controversial figure.
A working-class youth who began riding through the French racing industry, Bartabas became a successful jockey. Dissatisfied, he began to study the old horse masters including Baucher and practice on his own. He eventually founded the Teatro Zingaro, presenting and performing some of the first contemporary horse theatre in France. He has now established a school of riding in the royal stables at Versailles where he takes on students based on merit regardless of their background, teaches, and continues to choreograph and present horse theatre to the public. Here is Bartabas performing one of Baucher’s more notorious feats, the canter in reverse, on his own horse:
Baucher is profoundly sympathetic to the horse and lays the burden of failure entirely upon the rider. Sadly, the many misinterpretations of Baucher’s methods are all similar in that they all appear oblivious to his insistence that:
Violent effects of force
should be avoided,
which would bewilder the horse
and destroy his lightness.
We must remember that
which should precede
and make every movement
is the important condition
we should seek
before everything else.
I tend to feel that perhaps the real reason Baucher and his students ruffle so many feathers is because those that would like to buy finesse on horseback become incensed when their façade collapses, and they learn that they are doomed to fail in that pursuit. Baucher was outspoken enough to say flat out that:
The aristocracy of fortune
succeeding to that of birth
is very willing to posses
the advantages of the latter
but would dispense with
the onerous obligations
which are appertained to
The art of horsemanship retains an air of privilege even now because the horse only offers their secrets and successes to those few souls that are willing and able to conquer their own shortcomings through the ‘onerous obligations’ of the riding school (click here). For those dedicated few, the doors open and they are welcomed into an ancient and honorable gathering of humans and horses that transcends time.
All quotes are from the Kindle Edition of:
Baucher, F. (2011-12-06).
New Method of Horsemanship
Including the Breaking and Training of Horses,
with Instructions for Obtaining a Good Seat.