Response to the waspish ghosts of theological thinking.

Part V

(The high of the jump is 1m 70, which is about 5.6 feet and the wide, is 5m50 that is about 18 feet).

There always have been great riders and extraordinary horses which have succeed whatever the riding and training technique applied. The jump is enormous and would have still been an unusual performance even if the rider was in a forward seat.

The technique at this time promoted absorbing the jump leaning backward. When years later, Colonel Danloux introduced the new technique known as the forward seat, he encountered strong resistance. Under the name of tradition, opponents argued that they were protecting the classical equitation. Their reaction prompted Danloux to write, “Respect for tradition should not prevent the love of progress”. The saying remains as today the quote of the riding school where both pictures have been taken, The Cadre Noir of Saumur.

No one would question today the superiority of the forward seat, except perhaps, the ones who do not jump.

At an age of extensive equine research studies, one would think that advances in scientific knowledge would be used to better prepare equine athletes for their performances. This is without counting the incongruity of human ego. The ones who can’t jump in particular and more broadly, the ones who can’t ride are the ones commenting on studies offering a better understanding of the equine physiology. They comment on subject that they do not know, hoping to value themselves. Doing so, they mislead the scientists inspiring the study, the author of the study, the followers who believe in their words, and the horses.

“We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.” (John Naisbitt)  Information allows all types of interpretation. We received a statement one day, On the circle, the inside of the horse is for balance and the outside of the horse is for forward movement. The author seemed to be quite young. Therefore somebody must be teaching such incongruity. The statement reminded me the story of the trainer who was so cheap that he was always buying only one spur at the time. His theory was that if one half of the horse is moving forward, the other half must follow.

Ghosts always pretend that their statements are based on scientific information. Recently, a scientist who refers to himself as O.B.M. pointed out the difference between causal researches, which are analyzing the cause and researches which are pointing out correlations. “This kind of research mostly involves sending questionnaires to a whole bunch of people, or asking for anonymous medical records from doctors and clinics. The researchers then pour over the mass of stuff and record who had cancer of the whatever, what did they usually eat for breakfast, what was their shoe size, how often did they drink, and on and on, recording a whole lot of details.

All of this is then fed into a program that calculates lots and lots of esoteric statistics and tells the researchers when there are “correlations” between things. This means something like “of the people who had bladder cancer, more than we would expect had larger than average feet”. That’s a correlation. Unfortunately, it’s not what is known as a “causal” relationship.

A “causal” relationship is something like “because the Earth has a gravitational field, the ball I dropped just hit the ground”. Causal relationships are just like the word sounds…. an affect that happens because of a KNOWN and UNDERSTOOD cause. In my previous example (big feet and bladder cancer), there is no cause”.

 Riders believed in the backward seat over the jump because some riders like the one introducing this discussion were capable of outstanding performances. Correlation, allowed authors, in the history of riding, to promote incongruities such as legs without hands and hands without legs. Correlation allows the same incongruity to resurface today using the hands only. Correlation allows riders to believe in activating the hind legs with a dressage whip because many horses have succeeded to perform the piaff while trained this way. On the contrary, studies based on known and understood causes, have demonstrated that during piaff, the hind legs were producing a considerable braking activity and very little propulsive activity. “The hind legs have a considerable braking activity to avoid forward movement of the body over the forelegs.(…) The  forelimbs have a larger propulsive activity.” (Eric Barrey, Sophie Biau, Locomotion of dressage horses Conference on Equine Sports Medicine and Science - 2002)  The term braking is a little confusing. A better word would be decelerating. During the initial 45% of the support phase, the alighting hind leg is decelerating the horse’s body resisting gravity and inertia forces.

Two types of riders will oppose theses scientific measurements. The ones who talk about it but cannot train or ride the piaff, and the ones who have the skill to ride the piaff but do not understand how the horse does it. These will continue to activate the hind legs with a dressage whip because others have done it and some horses succeeded (correlation). Increasing the propulsive activity of the hind legs induces elevation of the croup shifting more weight over the forelegs. Many horses deal with the incongruity by shifting the forelegs backward underneath their body, balancing themselves over the forelegs. Of course the compromise alters the kinematics of the forelegs and the piaff turns into a pantomime ruining the quality of the performance and the horse’s soundness. Instead of dusting off the bamboo pole from the attic and adding a second incongruity, (hitting the forelegs), to the initial incongruity, (activating the hind legs), the ones who talk about piaff but cannot ride it should learn to ride. The ones who have the skill to ride the piaff and the luck to partner with a talented horse should study how the horse performs the piaff furthering their skill and their horse’ talent with sound knowledge.

The bamboo pole was common practice in the jumping ring where a bamboo pole was used to hit the front limbs of the jumper over the jump. The practiced was supposed to teach respect. Years later, the F.E.I. forbade the practice considering that the technique was overused instead of educating the horses. Later scientific studies demonstrated that fault of the forelegs where in fact due to insufficient propulsive activity of the hind legs in the early phase of the takeoff. In hitting the front legs with a bamboo pole, jumper trainers where addressing the wrong end of the problem. Dressage trainers hitting today the front limbs of the horse during piaff are repeating the same error.

Interestingly, YouTube is the horses’ best ally. The ones who can’t ride can’t resist showing off publishing videos of themselves. As say Napoleon, “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”          


Jean Luc Cornille

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