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:
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"