Jean Luc Cornille
Dressage and In hand horse trainer
(Introduction from the transcript for a video from IHTC 6 which is on shoulder-in and shoulder-fore)
“Unfortunately, it is much easier to turn to false practice than to achieve what is correct.” François Robichon de laGueriniere (1688-1751)
False practice is making dysfunctional athletes executing movements for which their physique is not adequately coordinated. The result is “compulsories,” which do not have any educative effect, both physically and mentally. These compulsories are creating abnormal stresses on the athletes’ physique and dressage, which originally was a gymnastic educating and developing the horse’s athleticism has become a major cause of suffering and lameness. In the five first installment of the IHTC, you have learned how the horse physique effectively functions. The second half of the course is now furthering your knowledge, by focusing on different dressage movements, from the shoulder for to the piaff and tempi changes. We commence this series with the shoulder for and shoulder in. For each movement, we start with the history, follow the evolution of the performance over time and above all, we focus on the body coordination preparing the horse’s physique for the athletic demand of the performance.
You are now familiar with the fact that “repeating the movement does not educate the horse’s body”. Any dressage movement does not have any benefit as long as the horse’s physique is not adequately developed and specifically coordinated for the effort. Judging standards are simply rules of presentation. Dressage movements are effective gymnastic only if the rider does have a sound understanding of the conditions that render the movement effective.
False practices are not only useless; they are detrimental on several aspects. First of all, it is much more difficult reeducating a horse that has been improperly trained than properly educate a horse on the first place. This is true for the quality of the performances as well as for the reeducation from injuries created by false practice. The piaff for instance is not a difficult performance if the horse is properly educated for the athletic demand of the piaff. At the contrary, it is very difficult to reeducate a horse that has been trained to the piaff by activating the hind legs with a dressage whip. Same can be said for the flying change or any movement. The main difficulty is that the brain is wired the wrong way associating improper muscular work with the move. Since the horse mind initially protects familiar patterns even if they are incorrect, the reeducation has to deal with protective reflex mechanisms that complicate the issue.
“It is easier to turn to false practice” and therefore, false practice sell well. Knowledge is the rider and the horse best defense against false practices. If you remember, In IHTC 2 and 3 we were talking about the role of the Central Pattern Generators. “Movements are generated by dedicated networks of nerve cells that contain the information that is necessary to activate motor neurons in the appropriated sequence and intensity to generate motor patterns. Such networks are referred to as CENTRAL PATTERNS GENERATORs, (CPGs). The most basic CPGs coordinate protective reflexes, swallowing or coughing. At the next level are those that generate rhythmic movements. Some, such as respiratory CPGs, are active through life, but are modulated with changing metabolic demands. Others such as locomotor CPGs, are inactive at rest but can be turned on by signals from command centers.” (Sten Grillner, The Motor Infrastructure From Ion Channels To Neuronal Network.) You might even have thought at this time “do I really need to know that.” You are now facing a practical application of such knowledge. Central Pattern Generators have the capacity of learning from each other, which means that once the horse has been trained through false practice, not only the muscular system is educated improperly, but the nervous system is wired the wrong way. This of course is very difficult to correct. .
As example, we are going to analyze two movements illustrating what false practice is about. One belongs to the dressage world, it is the leg yielding. The other is promoted in natural horsemanship approaches where the trainer is spinning a rope with one hand and the horse is moving away more or less sideway. Both movements give to the rider or trainer, the illusion of doing, ”dressage,” but do not have much educative value in terms of muscular development, athletic coordination and mental processing. At the level of body coordination, both moves create inverted rotation of the thoracic vertebrae. Lateral bending is always coupled with a movement of transversal rotation. The rotation can be proper shifting the tip of the dorsal spines toward the inside of the bend. The rotation can also be inverted, shifting the dorsal spines toward the outside of the bend. Such inverted rotation creates shearing forces on the vertebral structure stimulating protective reflex contraction of the surrounding muscles. We have discussed this issue many times and you are now familiar with the problem of inverted rotation.
An even greater problem with both movements is the concept of “moving away,” moving away from the rider’s leg for the leg yielding or moving away from the spinning rope for the western move. The concept of “moving away” keeps the horse as well as the rider away from subtle equitation. Half pass for example, is a movement where the horse needs bending around the rider’s inside leg and not away from the rider’s inside leg. Straightness, demands keeping the horse within the limits of a narrow corridor that includes the rider’s both legs. Flying change is a move that is often stimulated by contact of the rider’s outside leg. The horse expected response is ground contact of the correspondent hind leg and definitively not moving away from the rider’s leg. Examples can go on and on demonstrating that the only movement where the horse moves away from the rider’s leg is leg yielding and the natural horsemanship compulsory. In fact, if the horse moves away from the rider’s inside leg during the shoulder in, the move became a leg yielding.
Talking about the shoulder in, François Robichon de la Gueriniere wrote, “This lesson produces so many good results at once that I regard it as the first and the last of all those which are given to the horse in order to make him develop complete suppleness and perfect freedom in all part of his body.” (Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere, Ecole de cavalerie, 1731). This is what dressage is about, preparing efficiently the horse’s physique for the athletic demand of the performance. When La Gueriniere put together the concept of the shoulder in, dressage tests did not existed. Equestrian presentations were about the airs above the ground. La Gueriniere and a century earlier, the Duke of Newcastle who is the mentor of the shoulder in, focused on proper functioning of the horse’s physique. If the French classic author, as well as many authors after him, felt the need to warn against false practices is that at their time as well as today, two generations of riders are doing “dressage”, the ones who think that dressage is about executing compulsories on a dysfunctional horse. Those are touching the horses’ legs, over-bending the neck and other gimmicks. There are also the real riders, the ones who respect the horses using dressage for what it is originally, a physical education preparing the horse’s physique for the effort. This is the equestrian art, it demands skill and knowledge. Webster dictionary defines skill as, “expertness in the practical application of knowledge.” Let us improve your skill with knowledge.
Jean Luc Cornille July 2013