WA Classical Dressage






Baucher's Methods

Karl Mikolka

After reading in Dressage & CT the series of articles on Baucher written by Jean-Claude Racinet, I am still very confused about his methods. Particularly I do not understand the meaning of riding with 'hands without legs' and 'legs without hands.'

Did Baucher mean that one should train a horse the entire time by using either hands only or legs only, or did he mean that at the moment the rider does something with the legs, he/she should not do anything with the hands and vice versa? What are the major differences of training methods between Baucher and de la Gueriniere? I believe that the system of de la Gueriniere is the one followed at the Spanische Hofreitschule. If I am correct, why is it so?

When François Baucher ( 1796-1873) published his controversial book: Methode d'Equitation basée sur de noveaux principes in 1842, he believed strongly that he had found a system which makes all horses supple and obedient in a much shorter time than any other system before him. A good friend of mine, who is himself a trainer, explains the newly discovered popularity of some of the Old Masters by saying: " The  longer they are dead the better they seem to be in the eyes of the general public." I must admit that my friend is right. What do we really know about the skill and equestrian ability of the equerries of long gone times? We can only trace their styles and methods through a few books which were published during their life time, or we can listen to the few eyewitnesses who happen to be around to see the masters in action. It is furthermore possible to form quite an accurate picture by listening to the pupils the masters left behind and by assessing the horses those masters made. We are therefore able to compile a few points of reference for evaluating their true horsemanship by what they handed down to the present generation of riders and trainers. François Robichon de la Gueriniere (1688-1751) stresses in his book Ecole de Cavalerie the importance of using sound principles in the education of the horse which must serve to perfect nature with the aid of the art. His guidelines from the early stages of training to the airs above the ground were based on a deep love for horses and a thorough understanding of the natural development of the horse into becoming man's best friend and most reliable partner. The development of quality gaits through suppleness and obedience was one of his main concerns. It was always a hallmark of the Classical Trainers to believe in the application of training methods according to the horses needs. With emphasis on 'the thinking horse and the thinking rider', they sought to avoid confrontation and resistance as much as possible and never forced their method as a doctrine or 'straight jacket' upon their horses, That is why Gueriniere's methods have survived the test of time and were adopted, cherished and cultivated at the Spanish Riding School for centuries up to the present.

François Baucher went through two stages in his life, the younger more aggressive,  innovative years and the more matured time following his serious accident in the circus. In his nouvelle Méthode, Monsieur Baucher introduces the technique l'effet d'ensemble: a simultaneous use of hands and legs to eliminate the horse's intrinsic strength and to replace it with the transmitted strength that comes from the rider in order to achieve balance and suppleness. In his deuxième manière Baucher speaks of ' hand without legs, legs without hand' implying the use of only one aid at a time. Some say this change of technique was the result of injuries sustained in the accident while others see it as an improvement of the nouvelle Méthode. But whatever it may be, modern dressage enthusiasts should not forget that Baucher's methods were never approved of, not even in his life time, as being acceptable and valuable guidelines for the training of the Dressage Horse. Baucher's method was rejected by many of his contemporaries, most of them highly regarded horsemen or equerries such as Count Antoine Cartier D'Aure, P.A. Aubert, M. Thirion and the Duc de Nemours, to name only a few.

Hilda Nelson's excellent book: Francois Baucher, The Man and His Method is an impressive testimony to the myth and controversy to which Baucher contributed during his life. Here are just a few examples of what these men had to say about their much controverted contemporary:

Aubert remarks in his observations : ' & the posture of Monsieur Baucher violates the laws of gravity and balance.' 'Baucher's philosophy to overcome the forces and resistance of a horse by other forces must lead to failure. All horsemen agree that to combat force with force is the worst thing one can do..' Aubert condemns the constant attacks with the spurs on the flanks of the horse and refers to a horse which has been subjected to Baucher's nouvelle méthode as an 'ambulatory cadaver.' D'Aure describes the gaits of the horses schooled in the new method by saying: "broken in their paces, uncertain in their movements, nothing is left of the paces of a horse" M. Thirion, equerry at the Manege de Luxembourg felt that & 'Baucher's method is so full of errors and contradictions that it is not worth the effort of refuting it &' In 1852 the famous and most esteemed German Riding Master, Louis Seeger -himself a student of Weyrother, published his little known book with the title: Herr Baucher und seine Künste. Ein ernstes Wort an Deutschlands Reiter: "Mr. Baucher and His Arts, a Serious Word to Germany's Riders." Baucher, who rode in the circus owned by M. Dejean, invited Seeger to come and observe his work and ride his horses. After having this unique experience, Louis Seeger decided to make his impressions about Baucher's method public .."in the best interest for future generations of horses and riders" as he quotes it.

The first thing Seeger noticed when riding Baucher's horses was the 'total absence of energy in all gaits, especially in the trot which was the weakest gait.' Unpleasant to sit and dead on the rider's legs, the horses moved flat and on the forehand, hind legs dragging without ever taking a steady contact on the reins. With tails swishing and incapable of bending their hind legs, the horses produced a stiff picture in the canter especially in the changements de pied a chaque foulée- (changes a tempo- an invention of Mr. Baucher).

Mr. Seeger complained that all horses he rode were heavy on the forehand, moved with stiff hind legs and could not be collected. Collected canter was non-existing and the canter strides resembled more a 'hopping rather than a jumping motion.' The piaffe was executed with stiff hind legs and the horses stepped sideways and even backwards with little action in front but quite a high action behind while carrying most of the weight on the forehand. The passage lacked springiness and elasticity and Baucher was compelled to use quite visible leg, spur and whip aids to keep the horse going, contrary to the classical way of riding the passage in which the rider sits still and steady while the horse gives the impression of moving with great energy, cadence and flexible joints all on its own. The pirouettes were impossible to ride and the horses had the tendency to throw themselves around instead of turning gracefully.

Anyone familiar with Dressage and the requirements in FEI competitions must admit that Mr. Seeger's analysis of Baucher's methods and the judgement of his horses is not at all in agreement with modern FEI rules. I believe that Seeger, who had the on-hand opportunity to ride Baucher's horses and to study his system, deserves to be more respected for his objective explanation of his experiences. Perhaps the modern prophets who persist in glorifying a system which failed already 140 years ago might consider the contemporary assessments of Baucher's methods more seriously. Of course, those wishing to follow Baucher are certainly free to do so but should not expect great success in the dressage arena.
As far as I am concerned I must agree with the Duc de Nemours who said: "Je ne veux pas d'un systeme qui prend sur l'impulsion des cheveaux." (I do not want a system which takes away the impulsion of horses.) 1. Do you?

Karl Mikolka

1. Oddly enough, the same passage in Hilda Nelson's translation of the same de Nemours' statement reads: "I do not want a system that depends on the impulsion of horses." François Baucher: The Man and His Method, pg.46. Or was it Clement Thomas, a staunch Baucher defender, who is purposely misquoting de Nemours?

Please visit the Karl Mikolka Dressage website ~ an invaluable resource for classical dressage enthusiasts by the former chief rider of the Spanish Riding School.

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