Sunday, August 26, 2012
in my last entry I introduced colonel Greenwood and his thoughts on horsemanship. In this one I want to share with you colonel Greenwood's view on the seat as given in chapter V of his book.
''There is one direction which, I think, applies to all seats. Turn the thigh from the hip, so as to bring the hollow to the saddle; this places the foot straight to the front, with the heel out and the toe in. Trotting without stirrups, on the thigh only, with the heel down and the toe up, shoulders back, a snaffle-rein in each hand, like a rough-rider, is the best possible practice for sitting.
Farther than this I abstain from giving any particular directions about the seat; because, though I consider the rules here laid down for the hands as applicable to every species of riding (I have excepted the soldier with his weapon in his right hand), I think there is a peculiar seat proper to many different styles of riding. The extremes of these are the manége and the Eastern styles, both admirable in their way, and perfectly practical, but each wholly inapplicable to the performances of the other.
What can be more perfect than the seats of M. de Kraut and the Marquis de Beauvilliers, in De la Guérinière’s work, or the engraving of M. de Nestier? But I do not think that a man in such a seat would look well, or perform well, in a five-pound saddle, over the beacon course: still less that he could lay the reins on the neck of a well-bred horse, and at full speed lie along his horse’s side, and with his own body below his horse’s back, prime and load a long Persian gun, jump up and use both hands to fire to the right or left, or over his horse’s croupe; or that he could wield a long heavy lance with the power of a Cossack; or at full gallop hurl the djerrid to the rear with the force of a Persian, and again, without any diminution of speed, pick it from the ground.
On the other hand, his peculiar seat renders the Eastern horseman so utterly helpless in the performances of the manége, that he is unable to make his horse rein back, or pass sideways a step. And I have seen three hundred Mussulman troops from the northern parts of Persia (each of whom would perform forty such feats as I have mentioned) take more than an hour to form a very bad parade line, in single rank. When one of them was the least too far forward, or had an interval between him and the dressing hand, however small, as he could neither make his horse rein back, nor pass sideways, he was obliged to ride out to the front, turn round to the rear, and ride into the rank afresh, and so in succession every man beyond him. This was an affair of seat; the Eastern horseman’s leg does not come low enough to give his horse what are called sides.
On sides depend reining back and passing; on reining back and passing depend closing and dressing, and consequently the power of acting in line. On sides also depends the central wheel of threes on their own ground. This is an invaluable attribute to cavalry, regular or irregular. On the plain, the central wheel of threes affords the only true principle of correcting intervals between squadrons, regiments, or brigades, whether in line or in line of columns. Threes also supply the most perfect principle of retiring in line in the presence of an enemy, with the power of instantly showing front, provided that (according to regulation) leaders are appointed to the rear, the same as to the front. In the defile, for advanced or rear-guard movements, threes alone afford the power to occupy the entire width of a lane, road, street, or defile, with the perfect facility of constant and instant alternation of retiring and advancing. Without some central wheel, columns or divisions occupying the width of a road or street, can not retire; or when retiring, cannot show front to the enemy. With reining back and passing (and they are easily acquired) irregular cavalry might move with the precision of regular cavalry.
I should say, that the most perfect seat for the manége should be shortened for the soldier to give him power with his weapons; that the military rider should take up his stirrups when he goes hunting; the hunter the same when he rides a race; and for tours de force, I consider the short stirrup-leather and the broad stirrup-iron of the East indispensable—they give, in fact, the strength of the standing instead of the sitting posture. The Cossack retains this standing posture even at a trot; few Eastern horsemen allow that pace at all, but make their horses walk, amble, or gallop.
The English hunting seat is, in point of length, the medium of those mentioned; and perhaps that seat, or something between that and the military seat, is the best adapted to common riding. It unites, in a greater degree than any other, ease, utility, power, and grace.''
Salve amici mei,
how have you been?
I have been reading the little book by lieutenant colonel George Greenwood (1799-1875), commander of 2nd Life Guards cavalry, titled ''Hints on Horsemanship,'' published AD 1861 England.
In chapter I our colonel turns to holding and handling rains in the military, with single hand, and how this military style is not adequate and two hands riding is much better:
"When you wish to turn to the right pull the right rein stronger than the left. This is common sense. The common error is precisely the reverse. The common error is, when you wish to turn to the right to pass the hand to the right. By this the right rein is slackened, and the left rein is tightened, across the horse’s neck, and the horse is required to turn to the right when the left rein is pulled. It is to correct this common error, this monstrous and perpetual source of bad riding and of bad usage to good animals, that these pages are written.England is the only European country which admits of more than one style of riding. But in all Europe, even in England, there is but one style of riding taught, as a system; that style is the manége or military style. The military style is, and must ever be essentially a one-handed style, for the soldier must have his right hand at liberty for his weapons. The recruit is indeed made to ride with a single snaffle in two hands, but only as a preparatory step to the one-handed style. His left hand then becomes his bridle hand, and that hand must hold the reins in such a manner as will require the least possible aid from the sword hand to shorten them as occasion may require. This is with the fourth finger only between them.
For these reasons, as far as soldiers are concerned, I do not see how the present system can be altered for the better, unless it be by placing the three last fingers of the left hand between the reins, instead of the fourth finger only. The reins held in this way are as easily and as quickly shortened, by drawing them with the right hand through the left, as if they were separated by the fourth finger only. I always adopted this mode myself when my sword was in my hand; and I should think it worth trial for all soldiers. My two last chargers had been notoriously restive horses, and I could not have ridden them in the strictly regimental mode.
But I see no reason why, because soldiers are compelled to guide their horses with the left hand only, and with the fourth finger only between the reins, that ladies and civilians should be condemned to the same system. On the contrary, I would have ladies as well as gentlemen use both hands to the reins, whether of the curb or of the snaffle, somewhat as the rough-rider or colt-breaker uses the reins of a single snaffle; but the reins should enter the hands outside instead of inside the fourth fingers, and they should quit the hands between the first and second fingers instead of between the first finger and thumb, as will be explained in the next chapter.
Fasten the end of a rein to the upper part of the back of a chair; pull the reins enough to raise two of the legs off the ground, and to keep the chair balanced on the other two. Take your reins as ladies and soldiers are taught to take them, both grasped in the left hand, the fourth finger only between them, and (I quote from the regulations of the English cavalry) “the top of the thumb firmly closed on them—the upper part of the arm hanging straight down from the shoulder—the left elbow lightly touching the hip—the lower part of the arm square to the upper—little finger on a level with the elbow—wrist rounded outwards—the back of the hand to the front—the thumb pointing across the body, and three inches from it.” In this position we are taught that “the little finger of the bridle-hand has four lines of action—first, towards the breast (to stop or rein back); second, towards the right shoulder (to turn to the right); third, towards the left shoulder (to turn to the left); fourth, towards the horse’s head (to advance)."
"Try the second motion: you will find it a very nice operation, and that you are capable of shortening the right rein only in a very slight degree; you will also find that, if the hand ceases to be precisely opposite the centre of the body, the moment it is passed to the right the right rein becomes slackened, and the left rein is pulled. This is still more the case when the horse’s neck is between the reins; the left rein is then instantly shortened across the neck.
I will not assert that the art of riding thus is impossible, though it has ever been so to me; and though, in my own experience, I never saw a cavalry soldier, rough-rider, riding-master, or any horseman whatever, who turned his horse, single-handed, on the proper rein. But I may assert that it is an exceedingly nice and delicate art. It is the opera-dancing of riding. And it would be as absurd to put the skill of its professors in requisition in common riding or across country, as to require Taglioni to chasser over a ploughed field. For single-handed indications, supposing them to be correctly given—which, as I have said, I have never known; but supposing them to be correctly given—they are not sufficiently distinct to turn a horse, except in a case of optimism.
That is, supposing for a short time a perfectly broken horse, in perfect temper, perfectly on his haunches, going perfectly up to his bit, and on perfect ground. Without all these perfections—suppose even the circumstance of the horse being excited or alarmed, or becoming violent from any other cause; that he is sluggish or sullen; that he stiffens his neck or pokes his nose—single-handed indications are worth nothing. But as for riding a horse perfectly on his haunches through a long day’s journey, or in rough or deep ground, or across country, one might as well require infantry to make long forced marches at ordinary time, and to strictly preserve their touch and dressing; or, still to compare it to opera-dancing, Coulon to go through a day’s shooting with the pas de zephir.
But correct single-handed indications, with the fourth finger only between the reins, will not be obeyed by one horse in ten thousand. Try them in driving. There the terret-pad prevents their being given incorrectly, and a bearing-rein, a severe bit, and a whip, give you every advantage in keeping your horse collected; yet you will find them wholly inefficient. The soldier, who is compelled to turn to the right by word of command, when the correct indication is unanswered, in despair throws his hand to the right. The consequence is, that no horse is a good soldier’s horse, till he has been trained to turn on the wrong rein.
Without the same excuse for it, the same may be said of all ladies and civilians who ride with one hand only, and of almost all who ride with two hands. For, strange to say, in turning, both hands are generally passed to the right or left, and I have known many of what may be called the most perfect straight-forward hands; that is, men who on the turf would hold the most difficult three-year-old to the steady stroke of the two-mile course, and place him as a winner to half-a-length—who in the hunting-field would ride the hottest, or the most phlegmatic made hunter, with equal skill, through all difficulties of ground, and over every species of fence, with admirable precision and equality of hand—or who on the exercise ground would place his broken charger on his haunches, and make him walk four miles an hour, canter six and a half, trot eight and a half, and gallop eleven, without being out in either pace a second of time, but who marred all by the besetting sin of side-feeling—of turning the horse on the wrong rein. The consequence is, that they can ride nothing but what has been trained to answer the wrong indications.
This is something like steaming without steering. Set them on a finely broken horse, on a colt, or a restive horse, and they become helpless children—the powerless prisoners of the brutes they bestride. How often does one see one’s acquaintance in this distressing situation, with courage enough to dare what man dare, but without the power to do what the rough-rider has just done! First comes the false indication of the rider, then the confusion and hesitation of the horse; next the violence of the rider; then the despair and rebellion of the horse. The finish is a fractured limb from a rear or a runaway. The poor brute is set down as restive and in fact becomes more or less a misanthrope for the rest of his days. I have seen the gentle and brave, under such circumstances, act very much like the cruel and cowardly; that is to say, first rough an innocent animal for their own fault, and then yield to his resistance. It is in consequence of this that we find so many restive horses; that so few thorough-bred horses—that is, horses of the highest courage—can be made hunters; that, in fact, almost all high-couraged young horses become restive after leaving the colt-breaker’s hands. It is, indeed, in consequence of this that the class of people called colt-breakers exists at all. For if we all rode on their principle, which is the true principle, any groom or moderately good rider could break any colt or ride any restive horse.
No horse becomes restive in the colt-breaker’s hands; nor do any remain so when placed in his hands. The reason is that he invariably rides with one bridle and two hands, instead of two bridles and one hand. When he wishes to go to the right he pulls the right rein stronger than the left. When he wishes to go to the left he pulls the left rein stronger than the right. These are indications which, if the colt will not obey, he will at least understand, the very first time that he is mounted, and which the most obstinate will not long resist. But as may be supposed, it takes a long time to make him understand that he is to turn to the right when the left rein is pulled, and to the left when the right rein is pulled. And it is only the meek-spirited and docile who will do this at all. Such, however, is the general docility of the half-bred horse, that a great proportion of them are, after long ill-usage, taught to answer these false indications, in the same way that a carthorse is brought to turn right or left by the touch of the whip on the opposite side of the neck, or the word of the driver; and indeed such is the nicety to which it may be brought, that you constantly hear people boast that their horses will “turn by the weight of the reins on the neck.” This, however, only proves the docility of the horse, and how badly he has been ridden. For a horse which has been finely broken should take notice only of the indications of his rider’s hands on his mouth, not of any side-feeling of the reins against his neck.
By indications generally, I mean the motions and applications of the hands, legs, and whip, to direct and determine the paces, turnings, movements, and carriage of the horse. I have used the word throughout instead of aids, as being more explanatory and certainly less liable to abuse. For common sense tells us that a horse receives no aid from a pull in the mouth with a piece of iron, or a blow with a whip, or a kick in the side with an armed heel, however these may indicate to him the wishes or commands of his rider. I have also used the term bearing on the horse’s mouth instead of appui, since to those who do not understand French appui will convey no meaning at all,—and to those who do understand French it will convey the false ideas of the necessity and power of the rider to support his horse. I promise my pupil every aid and support from his horse. But I beg him not to think of offering either aid or support to his horse. I beg him to believe that the horse carries the rider, and not the rider the horse. But this we will discuss in another chapter. That the horse supports the rider is common sense: that the rider supports the horse is the common error"