This first act of submission,
which might appear unimportant,
will have the effect of quickly rendering him calm,
of giving him confidence,
and of repressing all those movements
which might distract his attention, and
mar the success of the commencement of his education.
of a half hour each,
will suffice to obtain the preparatory obedience
of every horse.
The pleasure we experience in thus playing with him
will naturally lead the rider to continue
this exercise for a few moments each day,
and make it both instructive to the horse
and useful to himself
The single most controversial, misunderstood, and misapplied aspect of Baucher’s work is his emphasis on positioning the horse’s head and flexing the horse’s jaw. In his work, he strove to develop a method that would allow cavalry, especially officers, to quickly and dependably develop a connection between horse and rider that would allow them to communicate their thoughts to one another even during the deadly chaos of the battlefield rather than a mechanical obedience that failed under stress. Unfortunately, he did himself no favors in further describing his goal as having the horse become a submissive slave. I can only surmise that the connotations of his words were likely different in his native French and in his era, especially as he insisted that his methods would bring about a sincere attachment between horse and rider. Here is Baucher’s description of ramener:
- In what consists the ramener?
- In the perpendicular position of the head,
- and the lightness that accompanies it.
Understanding the effect of Baucher’s work took combining recent research into pandiculation (click here) with the particulars of the horse’s anatomy. Pandiculation is a behavior peculiar to mammals who can reset their central nervous system to wakeful alertness, recalibrate the tensions within the entire field of myofascial tissue that supports their bones, organs, and muscles, and fine-tune their proprioreception by stretching and yawning. My own understanding of the effect Baucher was trying to illuminate is woven from several different aspects.
Going to the source and actually reading Baucher himself makes it clear that he begins his work with the horse’s head and neck by tapping on the sternum, the very spot where one of the horse’s major proprio-receptive muscles, the sterno-hyoideus, attaches. On the behavioral front, watching the profound transformation that resulted from one of my rescue thoroughbreds rehabilitating his awkward companion by thumping him repeatedly on the sternum with his hock showed me just how effective stimulating this sensitive point could be in transforming a horse’s self-carriage. Here is Baucher’s description of the phenomena:
- What is the distribution of the forces and weight in the ramener?
- The forces and weight are equally distributed through all the mass.
The main proprioreceptive locus for the horse is the hyoid apparatus that floats between their lower jaws. The hyoid apparatus has no bone-to-bone joints, but is connected to the two major muscles of the tongue and the three hyoideus muscles. The hyoideus are long muscles that extend along the underside of the neck to the horse’s breast and respond to the most minute changes in the position of the horse’s head, neck, and shoulders. Tension and stress anywhere in these areas is instantaneously radiated throughout the horse’s entire body through both the myofascial field and central nervous system.
When the head and neck are at ease, so is the rest of the horse’s body. Finally, I had an explanation for how profound the impact of the horse’s positioning of their head could be. My effort to express Baucher’s goals for the rider utilizing his exercises in our times and language resulted in this version:
- Seek to habituate horse to willingly exhibit the full display of pandiculation from the ground by tapping the points where the sterno and omni-hyoidus muscles attach at the tip of the sternum and points of the shoulders, ensuring their suppleness, freedom of movement, and preserving their soundness.,
Triggering this involuntary response calms the horse by resetting their central nervous system to calm aware responsiveness and recalibrating the tensions throughout their entire myofascial system. Starting by tapping on the boney point of the horse’s sternum in order to stimulate the full expression of pandiculation is key to Baucher’s method. While he recommends that his cavalry students attempt his preliminary exercises while holding the reins of a curb bit:
The whip will be held firmly in the right hand,
the point towards the ground,
then slowly raised as high as his chest,
in order to tap it at intervals of a second.
The first natural movement of the horse will be to withdraw
from the direction in which the pain comes;
it is by backing that he will endeavor to do this.
The rider will follow this backward movement
without discontinuing the firm tension of the reins,
nor the little taps with the whip on the breast,
applying them all the time with the same degree of intensity.
The rider should be perfectly self-possessed,
that there may be no indication of anger or weakness in his motions or looks.
Becoming tired of this constraint,
the horse will soon seek by another movement
to avoid the infliction,
and it is by coming forward that he will arrive at it;
the rider will seize this second instinctive movement
to stop and caress the animal
with his hand and voice.
Personally, I have found attempting these exercises with the horse loose most illuminating. Working with the horse at liberty allows the horse their full range of possible responses and is in keeping to my principle of teaching both horse and human one thing at a time. It might take longer to establish the desired behavior in you and the horse initially, but keep in mind that developing your awareness of yourself and your horse saves time and frustration in the long term. If your horse flees at the sight of a human and/or a whip… well, you have some serious work to do before you even consider this step. If you have established a calm and friendly relationship with your horse, collect your whip, take your horse to a round pen or paddock, and turn them loose. Make sure it is large enough for them to move freely. Once the horse has explored the area and finished rolling and the like, you can begin to work with them.
The test of your tact is your ability to tap the horse’s sternum in such a way as to intrigue them rather than alienate them. Your timing must be impeccable for the horse to understand that their calm attention is what you want, so stop tapping the instant the horse responds. A horse that is relaxed and curious is one that can relate to their rider. If they do step away, mirror their movement and back off yourself. Again, rather than focusing on this exercise as a means of forcing the horse’s head into a rigid pre-determined position, use it as a means of increasing your own awareness, your own ability to seek out, mirror, and reward the horse’s moment of curiosity and opening. Whatever else you do, do NOT chase them around, whip in hand. Wait for them to come back to you before you try again. Look for the horse:
- tucking under the croup
- Arching the entire back
- Elevating the withers
- Freeing the shoulders
- Stretching and arching the neck,
- Lifting the entire forehand,
- and only then lowering their head
- relaxing their jaw
- moving their tongue
- and swallowing
Some horses may thoroughly enjoy this exercise and eventually offer a full on bow, rocking way back on their haunches and stretching their whole back and neck with both front legs straight out ahead. This is more likely to happen at liberty then when reins and a bit confine the horse’s response. Teaching a horse tricks can be tricky, but since people rarely think of patting a horse on the tip of their breastbone, praising yours when he bows can cross the border into showmanship . Most horses like to be openly admired as well, so an appreciative audience is another reason for the horse to enjoy the exercise.
Baucher also recommends tapping near the points of the shoulders where the omni-hyoideus muscles begin their attachment to the fascia between the horse’s shoulder blades and ribs. The horse’s response to these points may not be as obvious as tapping the sternum in its results, but is especially important because it allows you to check for stiffness and subtle injuries in the neck, shoulders, and back. The horse should be able to turn their head to either side with minimal bend in the lower neck and a relaxed jaw. The movement should come from the atlas joint at the poll. If the horse responds to your tapping on the points of their shoulders by stiffening up, twisting their jaw, inverting their neck, and/or bending near the base of their neck, they are telling you something is wrong.
Be sure to check the horse’s teeth and feet and make sure they are in good shape and not causing problems. If there is persistent stiffness and/or a notable difference between sides, there may well be pain and constriction from old injuries. Horses who have been forced to carry their head in any of the unnatural positions prized in the show ring can have calcifications, bone spurs and arthritic changes, between the cervical vertebra, especially between the skull and the first cervical vertebra as well as compensatory problems with muscle, nerve, and connective tissue. Take the time to find the source of any pain or unevenness and correct it before asking the horse for more. Pandiculation can help ease these disorders, but it will take time and patience for the injured tissue to repair itself.
Your horse will mirror you, so it is important to check yourself for stiffness, tension, and/or imbalance as well. You can get a feel for what you want the horse to experience by:
- Looking straight ahead
- straightening your back and neck
- then taking a look at each shoulder by
- tucking in your chin and
- just moving your eyes and head while
- still keeping your neck, shoulders and chest facing front
- then yawning
- and swallowing
- and relaxing
You should be able to feel a subtle relaxation all through your spine down to your tailbone as you yawn and swallow. When you are ready to work with your horse make sure that you are calm and breathing easily and that your taps are subtle and intriguing to the horse, not harsh thumps the horse needs to guard against. Your paramount goal is a horse that is a calm, confident, quiet, happy, attentive, relaxed, and responsive partner. So:
- Keep your sessions short and end on a happy note
Pushing your horse for rapid results will only undermining your efforts, increase tension and resistance in both of you, and worst of all, your horse will come to dread working with you. Instead, watch for the slightest move towards the behavior you want and reward the horse by praising them effusively and promptly ending the session in favor of doing something you both know you enjoy.
all quotes are from :
Baucher, F. (2011-12-06).
New Method of Horsemanship
Including the Breaking and Training of Horses,
with Instructions for Obtaining a Good Seat.