Horsemanship

For the past month my family and I have been in the throes of moving, (a condition that we’ll be in for a little longer) so I am very happy to have ” an Abstract  by RH from  HORSEMANSHIP  by WALDEMAR SEUNIG ” to share with you. RH is Roger Hanington, Major (retired), late Royal Artillery. He’s a friend and a wonderful horseman who has studied Seunig and McTaggart in depth.  Both of these authors have had a huge impact on horsemanship worldwide and particularly in the U.S. where McTaggart was list on the recommended reading list for the Calvary School. I read Horsemanship by Waldemar Seunig as a youth which was no small feat because it is a translation from German. I would recommend Horsemanship by Waldemar Seunig to any serious student of  horsemanship.

Thank you so much to my friend Major Hannington for this insightful guest blog post.

On the Rider and Riding — an Abstract  by RH from  HORSEMANSHIP  by WALDEMAR SEUNIG

WALDEMAR  SEUNIG  was educated at Maria Theresia Military Academy in Vienna, at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna and at Cadre Noir in Saumur. Colonel Seunig was one of the last royal stable masters of Europe for several years serving as Master of the Horse at the Court of King Alexander of Yugoslavia, and became Chief Riding Master of the Yugoslavian Cavalry School. Coach of a successful German Olympic Team,  he was appointed Plenipotentiary of Riding and Driving Instruction with the German Army during the war. He has had a long career as a  respected rider, trainer and international judge.

Many of’ the methods employed at the former Vienna Riding Instructors’ Institute were not accepted by him at the time and he wanted to observe the horsemanship in other countries before reaching definite conclusions about the value of what he  had learned at the Institute.The years  which he spent at Saumur, were an  opportunity to learn methods which differed considerably. They involved the application of principles that stemmed from the same roots, but  had been interpreted and understood differently in Germany and France.

He  made an analysis of the differences , wanting  to reach a wholly independent judgment, , discarding any of the methods that could not meet the challenge of his new knowledge. In spite of the many new and good things that he I saw in Saumur, he grew firmly convinced that the course of instruction that he  had followed until then was the better one.

As a result of his  own experience, he found confirmation of many truths from the former Riding Instructors’ Institute of Vienna, in the Spanish Riding School, and to some extent in Saumur. He was however confronted with dilemmas that seemed to arise from interpretations of the works of masters old and new that were not always correct.

His  stay in Saumur was  followed by many visits to foreign training centres. . After contrasting what he  had seen and tested he was convinced of the superiority of the Teutonic school;  he returned  to the principles of his apprentice years as a horseman. His ideas are the result of weighing of the good against the less good, and he does not hesitate to reproduce tried and tested material in the same form in which he was taught. Some of his ideas are inferences from new knowledge, which he largely owes to his teacher  General von Josipovich. whilst some concepts are the fruit of his own efforts and experience. He publishes them as such..” What does matter is that new truths and know ledge crystallize out of the clash of opinion, and supply fresh, healthy impulses to horsemanship. that is how we can best serve the cause so dear to all of us—our beloved art! ”

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THE RIDER

I should like to classify the rider’s psychological states under three headings: love of the horse, mental equilibrium, and energy.

Most important is love of the horse. It is this that should underlie all our intercourse with this most lovable of creatures. A horse will overcome its inborn shyness and gain confidence, the fundamental condition for mutual understanding, with a man whose love it feels.  It has been able to judge the rider’s good nature by the fact that he was on the lookout,  to find an opportunity to reward his horse, and that he was magnanimous in forgetting to punish when the mistake was due to clumsiness or inadequate understanding.

The classical words of the old Austrian cavalry manual: ” The rider who depends on his horse, which he loves and cares for more than himself. . . .”  indicate that the only one who can depend upon his horse under all circumstances and be certain that it will be ready to give its very last bit of obedience and endurance is the rider who has made it his friend by affectionate treatment.
Anyone who loves his horse will be patient, and patience, inexhaustible patience is necessary to make the horse understand what we want of it– especially when psychological and physical defects are present– . Patience is equally necessary in order not to grow immoderately demanding, which always happens when we do not reward an initial compliance by immediate cessation of the demand.

The second quality the rider must have is mental equilibrium. This should cover riding and everything involved in riding, but it should also protect the rider against losing his sense of proportion and his ability to estimate his own achievements and those of ~ his horse . The inscription on the temple of Apollo at Delphi, “Know thyself “, holds true for the horseman as well as for the philosopher. , To be in psychological equilibrium as a rider, one must have a sure understanding of what and how much can be asked of a horse and when it can be asked  based upon result of experience, hard work, and  study. The rider must have a sure understanding of the natural limits to what a horse can do. The result of this mental attitude will tell the rider that a breach of the contact between the two souls produced by disappointed confidence is harder to restore than it is to maintain. Once this contact has been broken, a scar will always remain , because of the horse’s tremendous memory, and will break open again on occasion.

Mental equilibrium, or the correct mental attitude towards the horse, is most important in training  that is, in its education.. If the rider has the gift of correct and appropriate diagnosis as an ideal complement to understanding,  he will be able to handle the hardest job anyone has to do in a saddle—-restraining ruined and particularly difficult horses. The ability to diagnose will keep him from doing the wrong thing when only a quick decision can save the situation.

Now we come to energy, another quality that the rider must have at his command constantly.
It is always well, if only for the sake of the character and the legs of a horse, to use diplomacy instead of struggle in reaching our goal. but yielding just for the sake of not disturbing the good relationship and maintaining friendship at any price would be quite wrong, for this friendship loses its value if it is not based upon respect, upon the animal’s acknowledgment of man’s authority.                                     ——————————————–
SEAT  

Our notions of the nature of the seat and of its employment must be quite unambiguous, allowing of no doubt.

De la Gueriniere was the first to introduce, together with his seat (which today we call the balanced seat), the light French saddle. In this saddle, also known as the English hunting saddle, the rider was no longer squeezed into an artifical standing saddle seat, with stiff legs; there was enough room in the saddle for his buttocks, and his legs could assume a natural position.

Only towards the middle and the end of the nineteenth century did the spread of cross-country riding and easy trotting loosen the excessively rigid framework of the regulation seat. Such concepts as “natural suppleness of the spine ” and “natural balanced seat in harmony with the movements of the horse “, became common knowledge among horsemen. . Around the turn of the century Caprilli extended the  action of the seat from the original position of the normal seat, and reconciled it with the extended framework of the  jumping horse, a tendency,  whose advantages had been set forth forcefully and convincingly by Steinbrecht.

As well as the racing and jumping seats just mentioned the “repertory ” of the seat is confined to the basic form—the normal seat-and two other forms based on it, the crotch seat and the seat that exercises increased driving force, which need be used only temporarily until the control has achieved its purpose. There are numerous intermediate stages between these two extreme forms of seat, although barely perceptible to the eye, they provide just as many nuances for the sensitive and understanding rider, enabling him to increase the precision of his controls, as circumstances may require, to an unprecedented degree of fineness.

Normal Seat

First let us take up the normal seat. This is a seat in which —-
(I) it is easiest for the rider to keep the distribution of his own weight in balance with the equilibrium of the horse determined by the energy and direction of motion which  often change with lightning speed;
(2) the rider can continue riding for the longest time without appreciable effort,  without fatigue, and with the horse exhibiting correct motion and posture.

Since in the normal seat the upper body rests chiefly upon the two seat bones at their lowest. point,  the load may be shifted to their front edge (the crotch seat) by tilting the hips slightly forward. Similarly the load can be shifted to their rear edge (the seat that provides increased drive) by a similar tilt of the hips backward. Together with other factors this enables the rider to “go along”

Waldemar Seunig

with the horse. In turn, the position of the seat bones, as the base of support,  enables the rider to protect himself against continual effort  of the muscles in the small of his back . It also protects him against fatigue, because the point of support lies in the same vertical line as the rider’s centre of gravity, and he requires no effort to maintain his balance .
The buttocks rest in the middle of the saddle, with their muscles relaxed, supported chiefly by the lower edge of the two seat bones. These bones must be as close to the surface of the saddle as possible; contraction should not force the buttock muscles between the bones and the saddle. The hips are vertically above the seat bones.and  allow the flat inner surface of the thighs to embrace the side of the horse and thus give the knee a firm, low position that increases the base of support and thus facilitates balance and the ability to feel motion.

Crotch Seat
The first type of seat evolved from the basic form of normal seat just described is the crotch seat (also known as the forward seat), with all its modifications and nuances, such as the racing seat, the hunting seat, the jumping seat, the cross-country seat. All these seats have one thing in common: they are intended to ease the load and facilitate the activity of the back., The crotch seat is one of the controls helping to achieve a definite purpose for a short time. The rider returns to the normal seat as soonas this purpose is achieved. It is used to lighten the hindquarters for jumping, for young horses, for horses with weak or sensitive backs, for accelerating the gaits, and for horses moving freely, as at the full gallop, racing, etc. (The crotch seat that acts as an aid has nothing in common with the false type of seat bearing the same name, which is produced by stirrups that are too long).

The correct crotch seat arises from the normal seat when the rider, with the small of the back strongly braced, carries the upper part of his body farther forward cc going with the movement “, and shifting his weight from the bottom of his ischia, his seat bones, to the front edges of these bones and his thighs. The crotch seat cannot be maintained by balance alone like the normal seat. It requires the muscular force of the knee, which presses against the saddle somewhat more, though not tensely. The increased forward push of the pelvis forces the knees and the heels downward. Generally speaking, the knee is the most important factor when shortened stirrups are used for faster gaits and for jumping. Fixed in position, it becomes a shock absorber and acts like a hinge for all the parts of the body above the knee, since the rider is supposed to stand from his knees and not in his stirrups.
Seat that provides increased drive.

The second type of seat arising from the basic form of the normal seat is the seat that provides increased drive. I say cc increased drive” because the normal seat itself, without any contribution on the part of the rider, sustains motion and thus acts like a driver as the result of the correct action of the rider’s weight upon the motion of the horse  If the pelvis is pushed forward by a contraction of the small of the back, the rear edges of the seat bones carry a greater load than in the crotch seat.  The increased tightening of the small of the back when the pelvis is pushed forward and the upper body is carried upright—- the characteristic of the seat that provides increased drive—-pushes the horse forward to the hand, puts it “in hand “. It begins to  grow supple, stretching or bending the joints of its legs more fully as the reins give or are kept elastically taut.

LEG

The leg, which is slightly bent back from the knee, will hang down alongside the body of the horse just behind the girth.  The leg will easily be able to maintain contact with the horse’s sides in natural, elastic tension with- out deliberate pressure. The low heel, will then lie i.n approximately the same vertical line as the shoulders and the hips if the legs are of normal length. When the thigh is flat and the knee and heel are low, this contact will continue all the way to just above the ankle  But continuing in this position for any length of time would make the horse insensitive to the action of the legs or make  it feel that it was being squeezed,  Stensbeck described the condition of a leg that. exerts correct  influence as “active suppleness “. It must be emphasized that the build  of the horse and of the rider affects the position of the legs, and nothing is more harmful than to try to press all riders into one mould of seat.

The position of the foot should be the same as it is in walking, the toes turned somewhat away from the horse, as is the natural consequence of the position astride the saddle. This makes the inner edge of the sole  lie a fraction of an inch lower than the outer edge, as may be easily seen by an observer in front of the horse or at the side.

Turning the toes out affects the whole  leg below the knee, so that the muscles of the calf begin to pinch the horse.
Many instructors demand that the rider’s feet be perfectly parallel to the axis of the horse.But if the pupil wants to retain
a fixed knee and  contact and still tries to follow that instruction literally, he has to turn his foot inwards at the ankle. Turning in at the ankle is just as bad as turning it out. In both cases the foot loses its springiness. This stiffness is communicated to the muscles of the calf and interferes with their unconstrained contraction and relaxation (elastic springiness), thus rendering delicate control more difficult.

The widest part of the sole, from the little toe to the ball of the big toe, rests on the stirrup bar. If the latter is wide enough, only the outer parts of the foot, the toes, touch the outer side of the stirrup. When the toes are held parallel to the horse or turned towards it, the ankle is turned and hence stiffened, so that the ball of the foot no longer touches the stirrup bar.
The heels should lie lower than the toes even when riding without stirrups. Letting the toes hang down completely relaxes the biceps femoris, which must contract and relax elastically like the extensor muscles on the outside of the leg in order for the seat to be firm and the controls precise. If the toes hang down, we can squeeze until we are out of breath, but we make no impression upon the horse, and the “control” does not come through.

The stirrups must be long enough to enable the heels to lie lower than the toes when the buttocks fill the saddle, the thighs are closed, and the legs rest with the ball of the foot against the stirrup bar. Their length varies according to the gait of the horse, the length of its ribs, and the length of the rider’s legs.

They should be shortened by two to four holes for jumping and for supporting the relieved crotch seat in rough terrain, since the horse be- comes thinner as its framework is lengthened and in the extended gallop, thus narrowing the horizontal area of support of the seat and making the latter less stable. This also enables the rider’s knee and hip joints to absorb the more severe movements of the horse, while the buttocks, which are now supported rather more by the crotch and are on rather than in the saddle, facilitate suppleness of the back and “going -along ” with the horse.

Generally speaking, I might add that in case of doubt it is better to have the stirrups one hole too short than one hole too long. If they are a bit too short, your legs will not grip the horse as well, but your control will be steadier because of your firmer seat. If they are too long, you are making a sacrifice for the sake of alleged good form that must be paid for dearly, for every inch of excessive stirrup length loosens the seat and deprives the rider of control. If you feel that your seat needs freshening and ironing out, which is the case at least once a year even for the best riders, ride without stirrups on the lunge for a few weeks if possible.

After this sort of treatment you will be astonished that your feeling has grown finer. Your seat has stretched out and grown deeper, so that you feel cramped by the shorter stirrups and you buckle them longer than before.

HAND

The hand is correct when the back of the hand is in the same plane as the outer surface of the forearm. Hands that are bent in at the wrist necessarily allow controls to take place from the arms, while hands that are bent out at the wrist allow their yielding controls to take place in the same way. Both impair precision of control . Whether the hand is held higher or lower should depend solely upon the position of the horse’s mouth, which in turn depends on whether it carries its head higher or lower; in other words, it is a function of the degree of collection of the horse. It follows, therefore, that any binding instruction, say, to hold the hands about one handbreath above the pommel, is quite wrong.

When the hand is not exerting influence, it should constitute a straight line with the outside surface of the forearm, the fingers bent only at the middle joints and lightly closed to form a hollow fist. It should be kept passively in a straight line from the horse’s mouth to the rider’s elbow. The thumb lies flat, without pressing, in the same direction as the bone of the forearm. (The wrist should not be rounded or bent outwards, as this produces an artificial, hard control.) Thus the hand must be steady, as if it were holding a glass of water, and it must never turn into a cramped fist even when strong action is employed, which requires a fixed hand with firmly closed fingers. The fist makes the rider lose his ” feel” for the horse’s mouth and kills “feel” in the horse’s mouth.
The hand can be steady only if it finds support in the small of the back, which is flexed more or less for this purpose. But the small of the back can provide the support only if the seat is firm and independent. This is a prerequisite for a soft hand.

CONTROLS

Individual controls, exercised separately without co- ordination, will never achieve their purpose.  All the controls must always work together, must affect the whole horse. This means that individual controls, exercised separately without co- ordination, will never achieve their purpose. All three instruments, weight, legs, and hands, the entire seat, must always co-operate . Only the purpose and the individual case can say which of these three instruments will predominate or whether all three will be of the same importance and intensity. Before dealing with the controls separately and then considering their co-ordination, we shall confine ourselves to the general principles governing their use. There will be departures from this ideal , depending upon the degree of dressage, the will, and the verve of the horse, so that they cannot all be encompassed in one rule. Each deviation demands the individual attention of the rider to that special case.

The seat, by its very nature, is a control in a certain sense. The forward-tilted crotch seat, which makes the rider’s centre of gravity harmonize with the forward-shifted centre of gravity of the horse, becomes a weight control. Likewise, when the small of the back is pushed forward without the rider’s upper body leaning backwards perceptibly, the increased forward-driving seat enables the horse to bend its hindquarters more because of their increased load and to adapt its own centre of gravity to that of the rider’s, as is done when weight control is used to halt the horse. If the loading and driving weight control is not supported by any corresponding  rein control, the driving action predominates. The horse moves faster if the reins yield  but improves its carriage and gait (half halt) if the reins merely sustain.

The leg is the control that produces the motion of the horse, setting it in motion and maintaining it. Neither the hand nor the rider’s weight can take its place. The equal pressure of both legs, graduated to conform with the sensitivity of the horse, makes the horse go forward, that is, commence its gait, accelerate it, or make it more pronounced, so that it is essentially always a driving force.

Only after the horse is in motion,  can the rider drive it forward, slow it down, or make it change direction by distributing his weight. But these weight controls will achieve their purpose only when supported by leg and hand, that is, when all three controls work together.

Leg pressure may be brief or prolonged; when prolonged, it pushes the horse forward. It must cease as soon as obedience is secured, and the legs should then resume their previous state of “active suppleness “, resting gently against the flanks of the horse.
The result will be a change in pace or of carriage or of both, depending on the seat-weight – hands . This result can likewise merely maintain pace and carriage, if they are about to be lost .

Whereas the leg control is a driving control, the rein control produced by the action of the hands is essentially a restraining one.. When used alone, it can bring the horse to a standstill in one way or another, but cannot fulfill its real purpose of leading  –determining gait, pace, carriage, and direction.

Leading presupposes positive contact with the bit, the elastic contact with the rider’s hand sought by the horse as it stretches out to reach the bit as a result of driving.

The rein controls required for good guidance may be yielding, sustaining, or  receiving; they comprise a whole gamut of hand influences, ranging from the mere opening of the fingers to an extension of the entire arm, from a tighter closing of the fingers (as if one wished to squeeze only a few drops from a sopping wet sponge), when the small of the back  is flexed, to the turning in of the completely closed hands and the slight withdrawal of the arms.

Though there may be times at which more energetic control is unavoidable, guidance must never become rigid and unfeeling. The completely closed hand used when the reins are tightened must never become hard and fixed, and even with this increased sustaining action, the elasticity residing in the fingers rather than in an artificially turned-in wrist must keep the contact with the bit elastic. Whenever it is necessary to use the reins, it should start as a mere hint; it must never degenerate into continuous pulling. It must cease at the slightest sign of yielding, since otherwise it will produce resistance that interferes with the gait.

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The danger of dulling the horse by having to drive it all the time disappears in the open air, where it naturally goes forward.
Riding with a great deal of neck freedom, often with the reins surrendered entirely (a feasible objective even with temperamental horses), maintains the horse’s self-reliance and attentiveness and thus lays the foundations for the indispensable qualities of the hunter and jumper.

These rides, which should be taken with the young horse at least once a week, also keep it from losing its contact with the countryside and make unnecessary any subsequent “familiarization ” for all sorts of uses.

Riding over rolling country is better than the flat terrain of the indoor school to teach us to adapt to the balance it has chosen for itself. We must use a particularly supple seat in order to allow for the sudden changes in the centre of gravity dictated to the horse by the changes in the terrain. The action of the horse’s back should be facilitated by the rider’s upper body, which bends from elastic hip and knee joints to relieve it of some of the load. The rider’s weight is shifted more to the inside of the thigh and the fixed knee is in a low position. The hands must be ready to allow the horse’s neck full freedom of motion, yielding from both elbows in the direction of its mouth, since the neck takes over the role of a balancing rod in this freer posture and becomes the most important regulator of the horse’s balance.  The reins are there to maintain contact with the bit and obedience but not balance.

The buttocks must fit the saddle as if the rear end of the saddle were cut off. The upper  body must not go forward  as a result of the buttocks being lifted out of the saddle, for contact  with the saddle, which is needed in open country for unforeseen movements and which  supplements balance, would then be lost. Only when the rider adapts himself to the rhythm of even the slightest movement of  his horse will his seat, balance and guidance , his harmony , co- operate correctly.

The support that the rider gives up in this relieving seat for the sake of  freer action of the horse’s back, with his buttocks no longer resting completely in the saddle, must be compensated by the support afforded by  shortening the stirrups by two holes when jumping. The foot rests on  the stirrup behind the widest part of the sole, the ankle is elastic, and the small of the rider’s back is braced somewhat more.Movement of the ankle is easier when the ball of the foot rests on the stirrup, in the normal position, so that the entire width of the sole is in contact with the stirrup bar. But any endeavour to maintain this position during the shock of difficult jumps would produce stiffening of the rider’s ankle. Literally placing the stirrup bar at the heel, however, interferes with the necessary mobility of the ankle.

The same groups of muscles are responsible for engagement of the haunches and for the development of thrust, which occurs chiefly when the ordinary gaits are ridden on long lines and across broken terrain. Therefore, a well-planned change from work in the riding hall to cross- country riding and vice versa, including climbing and jumping, affords the most dependable guarantee that the hindquarters,  will develop harmoniously Cross-country riding,  which is the major objective in training the saddle horse, thus becomes the practical application and complement of what it has learned in the riding hall.

The rider must adjust his weight by using the forward crotch seat, with the small of his back braced to determine and regulate the extent to which his body follows the movements of the horse; this in turn, again, depends upon the changes in the horse’s equilibrium, which occur with lightning rapidity. His knee is the support, fulcrum, and shock absorber of the whole “rider” system. His heels are pressed low, with elastic ankle joints.  Even with more experienced riders, the legs slip back when the horse’s movements become irregular unless the knee’s position is fixed as if it were screwed on  or else they are thrown forward in turn with the toes pointed downward.

All of these faults are doubly serious in jumping, where only the absolutely fixed knee guarantees support and firmness for the seat and absorbs the shock produced when the horse lands. The rider’s  upper body follows the horse’s movements during the jump and especially at the take-off, without remaining behind and interfering with the action of the horse’s back. The small of the back should be braced and pushed forward ,  to enter into the movement, while the low positioned knee, firmly  acts as a hinge to support the rider’s upper body and base of support. The rider’s legs must remain fixed at the horse’s side, the elastic deep heel points downward with the widest part of the foot passing through the stirrup  so that the instep rests on the stirrup bar .

(The seat employed in steeplechase races over difficult jumps where the landing side is lower than the take-off-such as the Becher’s Brook jump in the Grand National-with the upper body leaning back and the leg pressed forward in the stirrup, has a certain advantage despite its interfering with the rider’s following of the motion of the horse. The shock of landing is so great that if the rider used a forward seat, he would fly over the head of the horse even if the horse did not stumble).

Over difficult jumps the rider can add a few highly valuable inches to the yielding by holding the reins directly with the thumb and index finger (assuming that a simple snaffle bit is used). This makes it possible to re-establish contact without the assistance of the other hand.

RH

One comment for “Horsemanship

  1. Felix

    thanks 🙂

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