“I believe that there are two categories of ecuyers. Those who while skilled, use the horse as a tool, and those who love him and allow him to express the brilliance of which he is capable.
The former are not less expert than the latter. During dressage test they may even triumph although never taking the risk of making mistake when the opportunity to yield with the hands occurs and lightness presents itself. The later always risk being the damned poets of this art. They are misunderstood by the masses of riders who cannot distinguish between the means used by the former and those of the later.
Only the latter enjoy the true pleasure of feeling how a creature collaborates without constraint, as a friend.” (Nuno Olivera)
In the same line of thought, Albert Einstein emphasized value over success. In the early seventies, the late Commandant Durand, who later become Colonel and then General, delighted the spectators of the “Grand Parquet” with his jumping courses Durand teamed with a horse name Pitou. The Grand Parquet is very famous a show jumping place at Fontainebleau in France. Years earlier, Pitou was the winner of Three-day Event Individual Olympic gold medal of Bromont (Canada) with Jean Jacques Gillion. Pitou started a second career in show jumping with his new partner, Commandant Durand. Durand was very well known for the beauty of his stadium jumping courses. He was a delight to watch; the discretion of his rebalancing. The subtle adjustment of the take off stride, the fluidity of the course. Each jump was a demonstration. It was like a dressage freestyle over the jumps.
It was the jump off and Durand approached the last jump. The distance was a little long and Durand rebalanced the horse finding the perfect take off place. He cleared the jump and passed the finish line half a second slower than his opponent. I was watching next to the coach of the French jumping team and the coach commented, “Damned poet; he could have taken the long stride. The horse is powerful enough to make it and he would have won.” He would have won but he would have placed the horse in front of an unfair challenge. I kept my thoughts for myself but looking around, I saw a new dimension of the conflict that was in my mind. Competitors criticized Durand for choosing value over success. He was admired and criticized for been an artist more than a competitor. The jumping coach did not want Durand on the team because the career of a jumping coach relies on successes, but the blinders were full of peoples appreciating the value over the success. As soon as Durand entered the course everyone came to watch knowing that it will be beautiful. As competitors, we are slave of success; We believe that success is what spectators expect from us and we push our horses beyond their limits. Applauding the winner is part of the norm, the next day, spectators don’t even remember who was the winner, but as competitor we believe, or want to believe that the applauds are personally directed to us. Durand offered respect for the horse. He took the risk of giving to his horse the liberty of adding his style to the accuracy of the performance. He was a poet indeed and a damned good one.
I was at this time assisting the French Tree day Event National coach, riding and training world class and Olympic horses. We were applying fancy techniques making the horses do it, the team veterinarian checked every day how the horses withstood the training program, but it was no in depth analysis of how the performances challenged the horses’ physique and how we could specifically develop and coordinate each horse’s physique for the athletic demand of the performance. We believed in the efficiency of what we were doing but earlier as a young gymnast, I experienced the difference between a regional coach focusing on the problem and a more advanced coach focusing the source of the problem. I had difficulties with the landing of the summersault and the regional coach focused on the landing. I did not progress starting to think that I was not good enough. The better coach instead, analyzed my difficulty and identified the root cause, which was an imbalance in my back muscles. The national coach did not let me practice the move as I was using wrong muscles and developed instead a gymnastic program correcting my back muscles imbalance. Once he felt that my back was functional. The coach let me try the summersault and I landed perfectly square. I expected the same level of analysis with equine athletes but both, training and therapeutic concerns were about the problem but not the source of the kinematics abnormality causing the lesion or the soreness.
I dreamed that one could be a winning poet. I wanted to win but I totally agreed with Colonel Margot when he told me, “There is no glory in a victory gained at the expenses of the horse’s soundness.”
Equine researches were at this time in their infancy, but it was already pertinent thoughts. Richard Tucker suggested that it was the back muscles that lifted the back instead of the abdominal muscles, the core, as commonly emphasized. “An initial thrust on the column is translated into a series of predominantly vertical and horizontal forces which diminish progressively as they pass from one vertebrae to the next”. (Richard Tucker-1964). It was obvious that abdominal muscles could not create the sophisticated coordination of the back muscles converting the thrust generated by the hind legs into horizontal and vertical forces. Shortening the horse lower line could only create an overall flexion of the horse thoracolumbar spine. I always have found this traditional explanation overly simplistic; The flexibility of the whole thoracolumbar spine is not even; vertebrae situated in the cranial thoracic vertebrae have twelve articular facets while vertebrae situated further back only have six articular surfaces, Lateral bending occurs within the ninth and sixteenth thoracic vertebrae, transversal rotation is located mostly between the ninth and fourteenth thoracic vertebrae, etc. It never appeared accurate that such a diversity of motions could be precisely orchestrated form a contraction of the abdominal and pectoral muscles. The thought that such refinement was made by the back muscles was more in line with the anatomy of the equine back.
The problem is that conventional riding principles promoted concept such as shifts of the rider weight that were in contradiction with the construction and setting of the back muscles and therefore ineffective in creating subtle muscular coordination. It was then necessary to reconsider the teaching of our predecessors in the light of new knowledge. As I further understood how the horse physique effectively functions, it became more and more difficult to combine value and success. Techniques that I had successfully applied for success were no longer acceptable from the perspective of ethic and value as they did not prepare efficiently the horse physique for the athletic demand of the performance. These techniques were making the horse do it but failed to provide adequate muscular development and orchestration. Even worse, some of these techniques induced damaging stresses on the vertebral column and limbs joints.
I came to the realization that even if I believed that I loved the horses, what I was doing, and have been trained to believe, was about loving to win more than loving the horse. It was a crisis; my business demanded that I won, or at the less I was brain washed to believe it. General Durand proved otherwise. He had a successful career placing respect of the horse and therefore value above success. I decided that using the horse as a tool was not a way I wanted to live my equestrian life. I decided that I will not make the horse do it but instead I will further study how the horse physique effectively functions and, damned poet, I will never ask a movement without giving first to the horse the athletic development and coordination allowing expression of the athlete’s full potential and style and soundness.
Interestingly, the percentage of success did not diminish. Some judges did not like it, but the ones with greater experience and sound intuition did. The soundness was a major result. Horses remained sound, performing better and for a longer period of time. The problem was to explain. It was no doubt that many riders had the intuition and the skill and the will to further their equitation but all the words had already been used for the wrong feeling, the wrong coordination, the wrong meaning and the wrong picture. When I was using the term “collection” I was thinking about proper education of the back muscles but the word was understood according to the definition promoted in the training pyramid and other schools. The solution was explaining the practical application of advanced research studies through a clear explanation of the way the horse physique effectively functions.
The ones who want continue to believe in simplistic and false theories such as stretching and relaxation, will continue to believe in stretching and relaxation even if the horse body functions at the level of subtle nuances in muscle tone instead of lack of muscle tone. They confound equitation and religion. They want that the horse embrace their faith instead of questioning their faith in the light of factual documentation of test analysis, which is Linus Paulin’s definition of science. Those are the formers. The later instead, upgrade the wisdom of our ancestors to actual knowledge and enjoy the true pleasure of feeling how a creature collaborates without constraint, as a friend. Jean Luc Cornille