Baucher and the ordinary horseman
Several years ago I wrote a book about horsemanship. I went out of my way to not give advice on how to do anything. At the time I thought it was a good idea, but now I realise the truth of the matter was that I didn’t really know anything to advise anyone about anyway.
In this book I am taking the opposite approach. It is full of advice, and neither am I shy about handing it out. There are some basic truths about horses and how they go, that I believe are universal. There may be other ways of getting to the same place but there is only one place to get to. This book is about a simple, straightforward way of working horses. It works, and the horses are fine with it too.
I have the privilege of working with two very talented and knowledgeable people. My wife Sarah, who I learn most of my stuff from, and our dear friend Kate, who has turned out to be a sweet little rider. Without Sarah and Kate there is no doubt that by now I’d definitely be indoors watching the telly.
* * *
Chapter 1 - The horse’s mouth
Chapter 2 - Braces, Resistance, softness and feel
Chapter 3 - More about the bit
Chapter 4 - Balance
Chapter 5 - How to sit on the horse
Chapter 6 - Weight bearing posture, neck extension and going forward
Chapter 7 - Lifting the horse’s head
Chapter 8 - Is your horse straight?
Chapter 9 - How to move the shoulders and how to move the back end – going sideways or Lateral work
Chapter 10 - Training your horse step by step
Chapter 11 - Jargon, systems, teachers, and you.
Chapter One - The Horse’s Mouth
I was never very keen on working with my horse in the school. I didn’t see the reason. We could get about ok. We went all over the place. We weren’t too bothered by difficult terrain and not too bothered by what other people were doing around us either. As far as I was concerned the nearest I came to needing to school my horse was opening and shutting gates, and I pretty much did that when I got to the gates. And if it was too difficult I just got off, did the gate, and got back on.
So what changed? Well, a couple of things really. One day I did end up in the school and I was arguing with my wife about why she was interested in riding around in circles and not going anywhere. And she just said to me quite simply, ‘Well ok then, let’s see you ride around in a small circle in each direction’. I laughed and thought to myself just how hard can this be. I set off to go to the right, I just put a small touch on my right hand rein and my horse followed it around the circle. Then I changed the touch from the right rein to the left rein and that was the exact moment when I realised I had a bit of a job to do with my horse. She felt the feel in the rein change from right to left and instead of simply walking around the circle to her left, she kind of moved around the circle through her shoulder. To me it felt as if she was losing her balance and falling around the circle.
(((((Pic of splodge falling in onto her inside shoulder)))))
‘That’s weird’ I said, ‘I’ll try that again’. But no matter how hard I tried to get her to just follow the feel in the rein around the circle she couldn’t do it – she kept falling sideways. So then I started doing things that I have always considered to be extra to what I should be doing. I tried to block her with the outside rein, I tried to hold her up with my inside leg, and I tried adjusting my balance to one side then the other. Nothing was working for me and I was sitting on my horse having a bit of a meltdown about the future of my riding. ‘Oh my god, this could take some sorting out’, I said to myself.
And that was the start of it. For years I had ridden my horse around no problem, and on that day I had a glimpse of the future. If only I hadn’t seen that – life could have been so simple.
Around the same time that I was starting work on the steering issues I was having with my horse Splodge, Sarah had a little horse up here called Bullet. We had actually bred Bullet a few years before that and sold her on as a three year old. One way and another she had come a bit unstuck and she ended up back here with us for a while to see if we could help her along a bit.
It’s quite difficult to explain what was wrong with Bullet – some people thought she was fine. She tried really hard and she did make an attempt at everything that you asked her to do, but somehow or other she was always mentally absent. She was always up the field in her mind. It felt as if you were riding a horse that wasn’t there. Most of the time it was quite safe – it showed up in things like circles becoming ovals towards the gate end of the school, and rushing to get past you on the way back to the field. But occasionally it was quite dangerous with things like crazy rushing and suddenly refusing to go near things or to certain places.
So because Sarah and I are the way we are, we needed to get this sorted out for Bullet, and it became a bit of a mission for us. That summer we spent hours and hours trying everything we knew to help get that little horse’s mind back into her body. On many days we were out there working as darkness fell, desperately trying to get anything, the tiniest positive thing, for Bullet to take back with her to the field that night.
At first we were working with Bullet as a paid job, but after a few weeks of getting not very far at all we decided that we couldn’t take any more money in return for what amounted to nearly nothing in return. We asked the owner if we could have Bullet here as our own project. Our offer was accepted.
We learnt a lot working with Bullet. I guess mostly we learnt that most of what we knew at that time and most of what we did, wasn’t ever going to work. But the most important thing we learnt was the one thing that really made the difference. Looking back I can see that if Bullet walked into our yard today we would have done that job in a very different way.
Now, I’m not one for believing in the magic bullet approach to horse training. I’ve seen too many of them to think that the next idea coming along is going to be the answer to everything. Of course it’s always tempting when they do come along though isn’t it! And it was a bit like that with Bullet.
We’d recently come across the work of Francois Baucher. I enjoyed reading about his life. He worked in a circus inParisin the early nineteenth century and in those days circus entertainment was in the main centered around horses and the tricks that people could do with them. There is a fabulous story about a beautiful but impossible horse called Gericault. His owner offered him as a gift to the first person who could ride him around theBois de Boulogne. One of Baucher’s students took on the challenge, succeeded, won the horse and promptly gave him to Baucher as a gift. Three weeks later the circus was packed as Baucher did his first public performance riding Gericault. The crowd were stunned to silence by the progress he had made.
One of the first things we picked up on from Baucher was the need for the horse to have a soft mobile mouth. With not too much idea about what I was doing I began to look more closely at the relationship that our horses had with the bit. That in turn made me also look at my relationship with the bit and what I understood about it.
I stood in front of my horse, got her front feet levelled up, put my hands either side of her face and gently held the bit rings on each side of her mouth. I lifted her head until the poll was the highest point of the horse and then I tried to turn her head first to the right, which she did fine, and then to the left. She couldn’t do the left turn at all. First she resisted my ask and then, as I gently continued asking, rather than give me the bend I was looking for she kept wanting to move her whole front end to the left. It felt as if she wanted to fall to the left. The penny dropped for me at that moment, or should I say that all sorts of pennies were dropping all over the place for me, at that moment. I suddenly realised that I could feel the whole horse in my hands, and that maybe through that I would be able to help sort out all the misunderstandings that were going on between us.
(((((pic of me standing in front of Bullet holding the bit – don’t have the head high)))))
Later that day we were in the school working through a few ideas we’d had that we hoped might help Bullet. Things weren’t going that well and we could both see another marathon session stretching before us. I decided to see how things felt in Bullet’s mouth. One thing we knew for sure about Bullet was that she did go back behind the bit. Actually we’d taught her to do that ourselves. At that time, when we picked up the reins, we liked our horse’s to just give at the poll. It’s a cowboy thing – you can find it in a lot of western training books and also if you watch western trainers and riders you see it a lot.
So I put my hands up and gently held the bit either side of Bullet’s mouth. No pressure, just holding it to see what was going on in there. Oh my god, it was shocking what I felt. Her whole mouth was twitching and fidgeting. She desperately wanted to get behind the bit, in fact she wanted anything but to just be still and relax with it. She really didn’t want to feel that bit in there at all. I hung in there because I felt that it would be wrong not to make some effort to help her somehow find a way of accepting that the bit was actually ok. It was some minutes before she actually started to relax and realise that my hands holding the bit was not a threat, and that things were actually going to be alright.
So that is the beginning of a story that has come on a long way. I have come from a humble and slightly nervous beginning to a point where I am now certain about what I am doing. I know without doubt that my horse has to trust and 100% accept that the bit and the person controlling it have to be ok. For my horse to understand that, I also have to understand it. It is not possible to correctly teach a horse something that you don’t understand yourself. From here we can go on to build things up with our horse. It is not a five minute job, that’s for sure. There are many, many steps along the way, and in this book we are going to go through all of them in a way that I hope will be simple and clear for anyone who wants to follow them. This is a practical book about horsemanship. I am going to try and write it for ordinary riders like me, who don’t necessarily want anything more than a nice horse to ride around the place. But remember, if you do want to do more with your horse, and there is nothing wrong in that, then it is even more important that you put the correct basics and understanding into your horse (and yourself).
So before we go any further with this I just want to mention a few basic points about how to be with horses. There are some very simple practical things that need to be in place to enable the horse to be relaxed and happy around you. As I write this I am thinking, ‘Oh no, this subject is a book in itself, and I really don’t want to write that particular book right now’. So I’ll try and keep it brief. Just remember, you need to get this part of your horsemanship really sorted, or the rest of it isn’t going to make much sense at all.
You need to sort out your boundaries and your personal space. You need to be able to work with your horse in a non-emotional way. You need to understand that the horse has no hidden agenda - he is only interested in survival and an easy life. Your horse does not look at life through human eyes. You absolutely need your horse to know that you are not a threat to him, and that you are not going to put him in danger. For the human this is a way of being, it is not some kind of intellectual understanding or whimsical choice of how you’d like things to be.
If you don’t understand any of the above, or are struggling to put any of it into practice, then you need to find yourself a good horseman to work alongside until you get it, and until you feel yourself naturally presenting yourself to the horse in the way that includes all the stuff described above. The reason that I say this is because the best way, if not the only way, to learn this is to watch someone over a period of time, to whom this comes naturally – watch them until it becomes natural to you too.
Let’s talk a bit more about the horse’s mouth. I know some people get quite upset about putting a bit in a horse’s mouth, and that is of course up to them. I personally don’t have a problem with using bits. In fact I see huge advantages to using them. Of course I can also see huge potential for some terrible horse abuse there too, as I can with lots of situations and things that people do with horses. So let’s get this straight – it’s not the bit, it’s what you do with it that makes it good or bad.
I have seen horses that are really struggling with having a bit in their mouth, but after a few minutes of careful explanation to them about how it works and what it means, I have seen them really settle down and become very happy indeed with the situation. When I realised the power of explanation when it comes to working with horses it fundamentally changed my view of horse training. Now I look at everything I ask my horse to do, from the point of view of ‘does my horse understand what I am asking him to do?’ Without exception, making sure that your horse understands what is going on is the key to having a peaceful horse.
When you gently hold the bit with your hands either side of the horses mouth you will feel in the horse every little reaction in him to what is going on. If you move the bit in any direction you will feel whether the horse is happy to go with the bit, or maybe slightly reluctant, or even violently against the idea. I’m guessing that everyone accepts that it is obviously best if the horse is happy to follow the bit wherever you take it.
After doing this with a few different horses I worked out that a really good way of helping the horse, if he is worried by the bit, is to make sure that there is as little movement of the bit within the horse’s mouth as possible. If the bit sits there quietly, the horse begins to trust that it is safe, and that it isn’t going to suddenly move in some way that is completely irrational. Imagine if you will, having a lump of metal in your mouth that you have no control over, and that might, at any point, move in any direction and at any speed: and on top of that you have no idea what causes the irrational movements that you are threatened by. This, my friends, is the situation that most horses find themselves in.
And that situation is precisely why so many horses have developed so many different techniques and strategies for defending themselves against the bit.
Many years ago one of my friends arranged for a group of us to go out for a trek on the moor. The outing was to be his birthday treat, given to him by his girlfriend. I arrived at the yard and joined the group of about ten of us. The owner of the yard came striding out of the barn and went through a few safety precautions and then asked if any of us had ridden before. I put my hand up along with a couple of the others. We were given horses that required more experience than the complete beginners in the group.
It turned out that I was to ride a 10 year old thoroughbred mare called Touch and Go. To this day I have never enjoyed riding a horse as much as I enjoyed riding her. She truly lived up to her name but in the most sensible way that you could imagine. I was relatively new to horses – I’d say about three or four years into it at that point – and although I didn’t know much in terms of technique or specifics, I did know how nice it was to gently ask the horse to turn and to have no resistance whatsoever to my ask. Actually, looking back all those years ago I can see that I was already searching for how things should be between me and the horse. Touch and Go was the first horse that I had ever sat on that seemed to operate in sync with me as opposed to separate from me. It was a joy and I have never forgotten that ride. I tried to buy her there and then but the owner knew what she had got there, and unsurprisingly, she wasn’t for sale.
Let’s get back to the stories about Splodge and Bullet.
Once I had started to feel what was going on in the horse’s mouth while she was standing still I decided it would be a good thing to see what happens when we moved along. So, facing the horse head on, and holding the bit on either side, I began to walk backwards with the horse. It didn’t take Splodge long to get the hang of that. Then I tried my left turn and that went fine. I tried to simulate the feel that Splodge would get from the rein when I asked her for the turn. I put just a touch of the bit towards the corner of the mouth, and a little bend leftwards in the neck. Yep, no problem, around the corner we went. Then we went straight again and then I tried the same move to the right. ‘Whoa, what the hell is going on there’ I thought to myself as Splodge lurched over onto her right shoulder. I could clearly feel that she had lost her balance there and that she was totally unable to walk around the corner.
I did it a couple more times and I began to feel that there was quite a resistance there in the neck when I asked for the right hand bend. She really, really didn’t want to bend that way. I went back to getting the bend with us standing still, and that was coming quite nicely now, so I tried it on the move one more time. As soon as I felt the resistance I became a little more persistent in my ask and for a few steps there was a bit of a minor confrontation as I asked Splodge to do something that she clearly wasn’t happy to do. And then, just for a moment she let it go, and found a release from my ask. A couple more times and she had the idea, or as I would see it now, she felt safe about giving me that bend.
So now that my horse could give me that right hand bend she could also start to practise walking around the right hand corner without losing her balance and falling over. And from there it was only a short time until that was all working nicely with me riding her too.
Meanwhile the job with Bullet was taking us into even more new territory. We had already read quite a bit about the soft mobile mouth. Originally put forward by Baucher in the early nineteenth century, it has been well documented by several horsemen since then. Sarah was working hard with Bullet to establish the soft mouth on cue.
Now think about what this entails, for the horse. Think about what I said about the metal in the mouth, and the crazy things horses have to put up with there. And think about all the defences that horses build in to cope with all that crazy stuff. And then someone comes along and says, ‘No, it’s ok, trust me, you can relax your mouth’. Add in all Bullet’s anxieties about wanting to be back up in the field with her mates and this was proving to be quite a job.
What you are asking for when you ask for a horse to have a soft mouth on cue is actually, total trust. Anyway, one way and another we began to get a bit of a result and Bullet unbelievably began to change. It was quite interesting for us actually, because it was as if we were watching Bullet’s mind come back from up the field and slowly take up residence inside of herself where it was supposed to be. The more we went on the better things got and the softer the horse became.
So here is how to train a horse to have a soft mouth on cue.
Stand in front of your horse facing him head on. Take a hold of the bit either side of his mouth. If there are any resistances from him, say for example pushing down on the bit, or pulling back off it, just hold firm and wait for him to accept that it is ok for him to just stand there with the bit in his mouth. When he is quiet and happy with that gently lift the bit into the corners of his mouth in a movement towards his ears and keep the pressure there until he begins to move his jaw. When this happens gently release the pressure.
It won’t be long before he learns that when he feels the bit move towards the corners of his mouth he releases his jaw. Soon he will start to kind of lick the bit and you will see (and hear) his tongue coming in and out of his mouth. The plan is that soon, when you are riding him, you will be able to ask him to release his jaw whenever you want him too, by gently using the reins to lift the bit.
Now let’s look at a few details covered in the above paragraphs. Firstly, it is important to make sure that the action of the bit is always towards the corners of the mouth. That way, you avoid pressure on the tongue, which for the horse is, to say the very least, uncomfortable. There would never be a time really, that I can think of anyway, when you would want to use the bit to put pressure onto the tongue.
(((((pic of horse’s head from the side with the bit, showing with an arrow the direction to lift the bit)))))
(((((pic of horse’s head from the side showing with an arrow the direction of conventional rein use and how it crushes the tongue)))))
Secondly, let’s look at what to do if your horse has learnt to put pressure onto the bit. I know that some people teach their horses to travel with weight on the bit, but for our purposes that is simply a complete no no. We are looking to train our horse to completely carry his own weight and to be free from the physical brace and loss of balance that would be caused by leaning on the bit. So when you pick up the bit in your hands, if you feel any lean from your horse you need to explain to him that this isn’t what you are looking for. This explanation could range in difficulty from quite easy to near impossible depending on how confirmed this behaviour is.
As you feel the lean come into the bit, lift the bit higher until your horse carries his own weight. You may find that for now you have to work with the bit higher than you would like to avoid the lean. Hopefully as time goes on the work will become clear to the horse and the lean will disappear. If the lean is really confirmed and persistent I am not averse to just asking the horse to quit doing it by vibrating the bit up and down a bit to show him it’s not a good thing to lean on.
(((((pic of the horse’s head from the side showing the handler holding the bit and asking the horse not to lean on the bit – arrow showing the up and down vibration on th bit)))))
I’m going to say right here, I have worked with a few horses, generally older and almost always used for competition, where the lean is so confirmed and so difficult for the horse to leave behind, I have come away from the job thinking, ‘Nah, it’s not worth it, and it’s not really very fair on the horse either, so maybe I should go and find a younger horse – there’s plenty of them out there’. But on the whole I’d say that you can get most jobs done so don’t give up too easily.
We are starting our work at the mouth, or more specifically at the relationship between the bit and the mouth. If we can help the horse to relax his mouth and accept the bit, then we can move on and help the rest of the horse to relax too. Everything that we do along the way is going to make perfect sense to the horse and we are not planning on moving on until we are pretty sure that each part of the job that we are doing is in place. Our goal is to help and show our horse that he is able to work freely, without tension, and in a way that will keep him healthy both physically and mentally.
We had made a pretty encouraging start with Bullet’s mouth. But one day when we took her into the school there was a huge pile of white plastic chairs right there where we wanted to work. Bullet was not at all sure about them to the extent that she felt the need to keep no less than twenty metres away from them. This could so easily be one of those situations where you could have an endless discussion how best to sort it out – should we keep riding around and as she gets more comfortable with the chairs try and get closer to them etc etc. We have spent hours and hours over the years discussing all this kind of stuff. We have used all kinds of little tricks and techniques to sort out this and similar situations. And also we have discussed not only the immediate success of any particular method, but also the long term effect of different methods on the relationship between the rider and the horse.
But this time we tried something different. Could we override Bullet’s anxiety by using our newly built in cue to relax her mouth. So every time Bullet baulked at the chairs Sarah just asked her to relax her jaw. And then when she did she asked her to move closer, until she baulked again, and then she repeated the process. It took no time at all for Bullet to reach the chairs and give them a thorough checking out with her nose and tongue.
So let’s be clear here – I’m not saying that the soft mouth alone is the magic technique that solves all problems, but that little scenario did make us wonder if we at least might possibly have some kind of effective say in the stress levels of our horse. We began to see that the horse could see us as pretty useful in times of crisis. Of course we had always strived for this kind of relationship anyway – through the way we set up our basic relationship with the horse, and I know that is of course absolutely a must to have built in. But now we were beginning to see a whole new level of communication between the human and the horse. We saw on that day, what I now see as the start of a total communication – a kind of system of oneness or unity between the rider and the horse. I have to admit, I was excited.
Thinking about the small example above of Bullet and the chairs, that leads on to another very important concept concerning training horses.
Our priority must always be to protect the horse’s mental state. There will always be circumstances where our own personal priorities over-rule that rule, and many times I have fallen into that hole. From the horse’s point of view when that happens, any faith that you have helped him built up in you, he loses that right there and then.
Recently I worked very hard with a horse of mine that over the years I have had some difficulties with. Some days she was utterly brilliant but other days she was really nervous and jumpy. I spent several weeks working her in the indoor school slowly building up the new way that I was schooling my horses. I got her to the point where she was really happy with all the work that I was doing, and actually it had been quite a long time since she had been at all edgy.
I began to ride her around the yard a bit and do a bit of work in the outdoor school too. It all appeared to be going pretty well. Anyway, after about three months I really did think I was onto something with the way I was doing things. What happened next I really regret – I should have been more careful. The only positive I can take from the situation is that from that day on I take even more care when it comes to looking after my horse.
Two of my friends turned up with their horses and about six or seven of us decided to ride out. We all set off to ride to the pub. I wanted to go a bit steady with my horse so I opted not to go across the moor, but to stay on the road. I had clearly said that I wanted a steady ride to continue the good work I had been getting from my horse. Anyway my two friends assured me they were happy to have a quiet ride and they decided to join me.
We hadn’t gone far when I realised that my two friends were riding what I would pretty much deem to be, untrained animals. They had no brakes or steering – it was very much a point and hope situation. For about a mile I was feeling pretty chuffed. Despite all the chaos my horse was really calm and mentally like a rock. I actually remember I was thinking quite smug thoughts along the lines of, ‘well, at least my horse is quiet’, as we rode down the road between the trees. And then it happened. We were in single file with me in the middle and the horse at the back was having some problems about not being next to its mate. Suddenly horse and rider barged past us and knocked us sideways into the hedge. ‘Sorry, coming through’, was the accompanying message as they charged along, completely out of control.
From that moment my horse seemed to forget everything that I had been working on with her for the past few weeks. She totally reverted to her old anxious self. We made it to the pub and I decided to ride off on my own to try and rebuild my horse. I managed to get quite a lot done on the way home, but for several days afterwards I was pretty down about what had happened. I was sad about my horse and I had lots of doubts about whether it was ever going to be possible to totally sort things out for her – in fact, and this might be linked to my age, this was also the point at which I seriously began to think about all the less anxious horses out there and whether they are in fact the ones that we should be working with.
So hopefully now have a horse with a nice soft mouth and a good relationship with the bit. You can lead him around the school following the bit and there are no leans and no pulls from him, and also he can stop in balance when you stop. If you are struggling with the stop what you need to do is gently raise the bit a little to rebalance him front to back just before you come into the halt. This is a very important piece of information which I will discuss in a lot more detail later, but for now if you can get a balanced halt happening nicely – that in itself will begin to lead you towards working your horse in balance.
(((((pic of a horse led from the front coming into a balanced halt – use arrows to indicate the rebalancing)))))
Now we are going to add in what a lot of people refer to as the flexions. I have actually heard quite a famous horse trainer warn people off using Baucher’s flexions, saying that you need years of training with a master before you can even attempt it. I would say to that, ‘What utter rubbish!’ Loads of people do variations on these flexions and as hard as I try I cannot see how you can cause damage to your horse by doing this. I can see how you could get it a bit wrong and teach your horse a few things that later you might wish he didn’t know, but compared to most of what goes on with horses I reckon it’s pretty safe territory. I think over the years there has been a slight vibe amongst some so-called classical riders, that Baucher’s flexions are/were some kind of secret information. Well, if it is, the secret is well and truly out now, but anyway loads of western riders practise these flexions and have done for years. And you can find them in loads of books too.
Have your horse in a bridle. I prefer to use a bit with side pieces – remember what I said about the less movement in the mouth the better, and horses hate the feel of a bit that pulls sideways through the mouth. Stand in front of your horse and softly take the sides of the bit in each hand. Now ask the horse to release his jaw and give you a nice soft mouth.
If that is all working well with no resistances, then, using the bit by gently lifting it into the right-hand-side corner of the mouth, gently ask the horse to bend his head to the right. What you are looking for here is an obvious bend in the first vertebrae (technically known as C1) where the skull joins the neck. You are not after a bend throughout the whole neck, and you don’t want a big swing from the base of the neck. You need to isolate the response to this ask to be clear in the horse’s mind – you are looking for C1 only. You also need to be sure that you don’t accept a twist from upright in the horse’s head (that would be a give from C2). Sometimes if a horse is wary of giving C1 he will use the twist as a way of protecting himself from giving you the bend.
(((((Diagrams to illustrate each point
1) stand at the front of the horse and hold the bit
2) ask for a soft mouth
3) raise the bit into the corner of the mouth and ask for a bend
5) X Not a ‘whole neck bend X
6) X Not at the base of the neck X
7) X Not a tip X)))))
Take a close look at the last four diagrams above. The only one that actually gets the result that you want for your horse is Diagram 4 – the bend at C1. For the horse to give you a good C1 flexion he genuinely has to release all of the tension in his neck. All of the other variations (Diags 5,6,and 7) can easily be done by the horse whilst he hangs on to his tensions and braces. And interestingly, those variations are all far more easily achieved than the one that you want to achieve. Also take note here, the imperfect flexions, if you practise them, are also teaching the horse responses that, if you pursue this path, you will later wish weren’t in your horse. In other words, get it right from the start.
Once you have made a bit of a start on the right side then you can move on to the left side. (or vice-versa - you can do either side first – it doesn’t matter).
So why is this flexion important, and why is it important that you know why it is important. When you ask your horse to bend at C1 you are effectively asking him to totally relax one side of his neck. To softly turn his head right at C1 he must allow all the muscles on the left side of his neck to relax and lengthen, and of course to turn his head left at C1 he must allow all the muscles on the other side of his neck to relax and lengthen too. So by using these flexions you can make a huge start on getting your horse to relax his whole neck. In terms of training horses, relaxing the neck is quite a big deal – it is a physical and psychological release, I think this is because in the wild (and also in lots of yards actually) horses use their necks for defensive purposes. Some people call achieving relaxation of the neck a submission by the horse, but in my mind, the problem with that is it implies that you are looking for some kind of domination. I would be trying to look at things from a more co-operative point of view. That might seem like a small point, but to me it is pretty clear that the way you approach your horse-work has a big effect on how the horse responds to you.
In a while we are going to talk about how the horse has to carry himself in order to carry a rider without putting undue strain on his physique. This involves a relaxation of the upper back muscles, so getting the mouth and neck to relax is a great place to make a start on this work.
And why is it important that you know why these flexions are important? Well, that comes down to the very heart of working with horses. You have to understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. If you don’t have that knowledge then you will surely come unstuck sooner rather than later. It is not enough to just blindly follow someone else’s instructions, because for sure something will eventually happen where you need sufficient knowledge and confidence yourself to find a way of dealing with the situation.
In the past, when difficulties arose, you could ask someone for help, or if no-one was there you could try a few random ideas, or maybe you could lose your temper and try doing some crazy stuff, or, horror of horrors, if you were working in public (and you are like me), you could quickly revert to ‘bullshit mode’ and try and talk your way out of it. None of these techniques are very often of much help to the horse. And that is the joy of Baucher’s work. It is logical and easy to understand, for both the human and the horse. If at the moment, you are maybe finding all this a little bit vague, or if you are struggling to put into practise what I have described so far, I would strongly advise you to hang on in there, because I promise you, that in the end it does all add up.
Once you have mastered the basic horsemanship skills that enable you to work your horse with no mental resistances in him, then this is the information that completes the job. This is the knowledge that you need to know to allow you to train a horse in a way that cares for him physically while he does the work that you need him to do. And you don’t have to be superman to understand it – I am the living proof of that.