An Overview of the Three Training Phases of the Classical School
Excepted from Monsieur Baucher and His Art: A Serious Word with Germany’s Riders by Louis Seeger
Translated by Cynthia Hodges, J.D., LL.M., M.A.
Louis Seeger was an Old School dressage master in Berlin who trained with Max Ritter von Weyrother of the Spanish Riding School. Seeger was also the instructor of Gustav Steinbrecht, author of Gymnasium of the Horse. Seeger wrote Monsieur Baucher and His Art: A Serious Word with Germany’s Riders (original title: Herr Baucher und seine Kuenste. Ein ernstes Wort an Deutschlands Reiter) in 1852. In this book, he compared and contrasted the Old School methodology to that of Francois Baucher’s new training techniques. This article excerpts portions that discuss the three phases of the Old School training system: the initial training phase, dressage phase, and the collection phase.
The basic rules of our entire methodology consist of one bringing the horse to the point where it energetically steps up to the hand and takes contact on the reins, which happens first in lengthened gaits. One must then ensure that the horse becomes perfect in flexing its haunches. The two factors, rein contact and flexion in the haunches, enable the rider to attain perfection of the gaits. Producing rhythmical gaits is the only goal of our efforts. Everything else is only the means to the end.
There are three separate phases in the training of the horse. The first phase of riding is aimed towards developing the pushing power [impulsion] of the hindquarters. The second is the dressage phase where we raise the head and neck, thereby balancing the forehand. The third is the real training, which consists of balancing the forehand and haunches, and honing the horse’s skills.
Our initial riding phase has, apart from the purpose of developing the impulsion of the hindquarters, the goal of having the horse engage in a voluntary cooperation with the rider. We worry less about the forehand and seek to bring the horse to the point where it takes support on our hands. Usually, this can only be done in lengthened strides.
In this period, we try to let the horse stretch in the outline through lengthened walk and trot. We prefer to trot out as freely as possible. Tight turns hinder the development of the gaits, so we avoid them as much as possible and ride the horse on straight lines. If one is forced to ride in an enclosed arena, one should round off the corners such that one makes more of an octagon than an oval. Riding out in the open is preferred, but try to avoid uneven terrain.
Phase II: Dressage
If the purpose of the initial riding phase is to develop the impulsion, then one calls for a new strength from them in the dressage phase. The work is equally forward, but is not directly a result of the normal driving aids. It is, rather, an indirect result of the effect of the weight of the head and neck on the hindquarters.
The right time to begin the dressage work, i.e. the raising of the head and neck, is when the horse takes a more constant contact on the rider’s hands. This is a result of a steadier neck position akin to the natural neck position. In other words, the horse finds the main point of support on the forelegs while in a lengthened frame.
If one knows the difference between the direct and indirect half-halts and between the direct and indirect driving aids and can make the right choice, one can school the horse in this raised work until it yields in the neck by flexing in the stifles.
With proper training, the horse will soon shove his body weight so powerfully on to the rider’s firmly held hands that it finally becomes possible to drive the hind legs under the horse as far as possible. We can tell the horse to either shorten or lengthen the stride. When combined with a full halt, the result is the lifting and balancing of the forehand to the highest degree.
An important result of our balancing of the forehand is the change in the horse’s movement. It does not travel downhill as in the beginning stage anymore, but rather more parallel to the ground and lighter in front. Through this, the horse gains the most impulsion allowed by his conformation and abilities.
When we begin the work of collecting, a new phase of our training system begins. Up until the completed dressage phase of the training, our purpose was to prepare the horse via the forward movement. In the collection phase, we begin to communicate a new, more solid way of going forward. Through the dressage process, the desire to move forward has been so thoroughly ingrained that one can now be sure the horse would not suffer from being ridden in a more collected frame rather than a more lengthened one.
For this purpose, we now use the forehand against the hindquarters more often and for a longer time than before. We work the horse, therefore, in what is called the third phase of training. We seek to hold in check the impulsion of the haunches through shortened forward movement. We try to further develop the carrying capacity of the hindquarters and to finally equalize it with the carrying capacity of the shoulders.
When moving in a collected manner, the pushing power is in no way disturbed. However, it no longer works directly forward in a straight line, which is most demanding on the carrying capacity of the shoulders. Instead, the momentum works from behind and low to forward and high. In this way, one mainly puts the carrying power of the haunches to use by directing the energy from the forehand to the back and down. This will press together the springs of the hocks. The pushing power will push in the opposite direction against the pressure exercised on the hock. Through such a motion, all jarring and jolting is lessened and overcome. The highest precision of the gait is achieved and, at the same time, the parts of the horse are more evenly and, therefore, less strenuously used.
In every necessary preparatory dressage session, there are moments when the rider takes a steady support on the horse’s head, that is, holds fast with the reins. In this, he either raises the forehand or puts the horse in the bridle. If he needs the horse to reach forward with the hind legs, he does this through the use of the leg and spur. The hind legs assume the weight of the forehand mainly by flexing in the stifles, so that they balance against the part of the horse (forehand) that is being held. They do this by assuming a spring-like position.
From this position, using the hindquarters, the horse is able to distribute its and the rider’s weight equally on all four legs. He can also keep himself collected for a greater or lesser number of strides. Via the alternating stepping down and raising up of the hind legs, the horse can develop the springiness of the hocks for a period of time almost without the rider having to do anything. When this strength begins to slacken off, we need only to encourage the horse to collect itself again.
To induce a horse to perfect collection, which is described in the dressage training and in which the highest degree of training is reached, there must be a willingness to bring the hind legs into the spring-like position. The horse must also be willing to bring its center of gravity behind the middle of its body when asked to by the leg and spur. Eventually, it should do this almost entirely through the use of the hand. What is meant by this is to continue using the even, gradually increasing effect of both reins. This causes the stifles to flex, the croup to lower, and the neck to be carried in a raised, swan-like arched position in the bridle, that is, its head and neck at an angle, but not perpendicular.
In such a position, the center of gravity of the horse shifts to the rear. The effect of the previously taut reins is now achieved almost entirely by their weight alone. It is now up to the horse to place the center of gravity in the middle of its body while moving forward. The rider seeks to preserve this position of balance in the horse through a combined effort of hand and leg.
Seeger, Louis. Herr Baucher und seine Kuenste. Ein ernstes Wort an Deutschlands Reiter. Verlag von Friedr. Aug. Herbig. Berlin, 1852.
Seeger’s book, which had previously only been accessible to an elite group of German-speaking experts, is now available to the English-speaking dressage community. The translation contains a foreword by Karl Mikolka, former Oberbereiter of the Spanish Riding School and coach of the Brazil Olympic Team. Monsieur Baucher and His Art: A Serious Word with Germany’s Riders by Louis Seeger translated by Cynthia Hodges, J.D., LL.M., M.A.