Dressage in the French Tradition by Dom Diogo de Braganco BOOK EXCERPT FROM Xenophon Press
CHARACTERISTICS OF ACADEMIC EQUITATION:
In beginning the study of what we call Academic Dressage, we are presented with two specific ideas, that of the rassembler and that of lightness. We will consider the second as an easy means for the rider to apply the aids, and for the horse to respond, and the first as a balance or equilibrium on a short (collected) base of support (the horse’s feet placed close together).
We prefer the concept of the rassembler as the characteristic of School Horsemanship, which does not mean that we discount the value of lightness, but that we reckon that the idea of collection as required by High School, or the conjunction of forces necessary to its practice, finds its best expression in the rassembler, which is the harmonization of the means necessary for the execution of natural gaits, or those that are derived from them, on a short base of support.
Lightness is conceived as a requirement of the rassembler, among other things, and not as a quality that by itself indicates that a horse is schooled in an academic fashion.
Even though there have been passionate discussions and various interpretations of the real value of lightness, the great majority of écuyers consider the rassembler absolutely indispensable to true High School, and consequently, when referring to any method, they have always defined the form of the rassembler by the interpretations of the great equestrian schools. Thus one speaks of the “sitting rassembler” on the haunches in the Old School, of the horizontal rassembler in Baucher’s First Manner, or of the rassembler without the concentration of forces in Baucher’s Second Manner.
It appears to me that Pellier fils (Jr.) had a reason when he wrote “High School being only the extension and perfected practice of the principles that serve as the base of dressage in general. We will call it exactly: équitation rassemblée (dressage in the rassembler).” (J. Pellier fils, L’Équitation practique, 3e éd. 1875, p. 133.)
ORIGINS OF THE RASSEMBLER
The rassembler of academic dressage was first seen in the Iberian horse.
After the invasion of the Iberian Peninsula by the Arabs in the VIII Century, the invaders were mercilessly counter-attacked and harassed by the Christian Celt-Iberians for seven-hundred years until they were permanently driven out after the capture of Grenada by the Catholic Kings in 1492.
Thanks to their horses, whose qualities, outside of natural selection over millennia, never ceased to improve with war, the adversaries of the Moors had arrived at “an excellence in combat on horseback, never attained until then, and never surpassed since.” (Ruy d’Andrade, Boletim pecuario, Lisbon, Jan. 1943.)
The horses of the peninsula had taken on a posture so collected that halts, rein-backs, turns, steps to the side, and sudden departs were performed easily. They put at the disposal of their riders an extraordinary weapon: mobility in every direction.
Ferdinand the Catholic was a pretender to the Kingdom of Naples, as was the King of France Charles VIII. The battle turned to the advantage of the Spaniards. It was then that the Italians of the Renaissance discovered the horses from the Iberian Peninsula. Not having been able to obtain from their mounts what they had seen done with the greatest facility by the Spaniards, they were driven to invent training rules permitting them to bring their horses to the degree of collection observed in the peninsular horses, who in that collected equilibrium disposed themselves with the greatest of ease. Therefore it was the horses of Iberian breeding that served as models for the Italians, thus enabling the discovery of the different airs and school jumps. To learn a passage or a pesade would never have come up in the mind of a rider unless he had seen or felt a horse execute them. It was the écuyer’s challenge to discover a method conducive to preparing horses which, by their constitution or temperament, would be less apt to the execution of the airs.
Thus was born the science of horsemanship.
Through methodical and deep study of cause and effect, its essential function was to find the progressions of mental and physical gymnastics that allow non-peninsular horses to carry themselves under their riders with impulsion and dexterity comparable to that deployed by Iberian horses.
Horses worth educating to become good “School” horses, or as said today according to a questionable but prevalent label, good “dressage” horses, must present, outside of the favorable qualities of conformation and character, the primordial quality that is made up of energy, natural impulsion, and sensitivity, and that which we call: blood.
Perhaps this opinion will not be shared by those who have a concept of contemporary horsemanship as “dressage”, totally different from that which the peninsular horses have shown us.
If I take the opinion that the blood horse is the best for School dressage, I think that I must practice with such a horse exactly what I really understand as horsemanship, in all that it comprises in study, modification of the balance, tact, and method. Academic dressage must be used to achieve with the horse a rassembler that would be as close as possible to that of the peninsular horse. If an Iberian horse naturally possesses the rassembler that serves as our example, it is evident that the dressage we would practice with him will present much less difficulty. There will not be as much preparation required to bring the horse into desired balance. This balance already exists; what is simply required is to develop it. With a blood horse, if he is not a peninsular horse, the écuyer must prepare the rassembler. With the peninsular horse, he must not undermine the rassembler that the horse is disposed to give him. With the first, there is a real horsemanship problem that the rider must solve; with the second, there is a natural balance that the rider must respect.
THE RASSEMBLER AND ITS REQUIREMENTS
Academic dressage is characterized by a superior use of the horse, during which he must work in balance on a short base of support. I am not excluding the possibility of a transition to a more extended (or horizontal) balance. But when the écuyer practices this variation, the return to a collected balance must be done without difficulty, and the horse must remain in that collected balance as long as his rider requires it.
We consider the rassembler the characteristic of High School. However, it is not a position that the horse does not come out of. Instead, the horse achieves a balance (in the rassembler) into which he comes, then leaves, and ultimately returns.
Many authors consider the rassembler to be an air, or a simple movement, that the horse executes in place with diagonal steps, more or less precipitated, that could be the prelude to piaffe. At the beginning, Baucher accepted this concept bringing the fore and hind legs of the horse close together. Later he recommended only a measured advance of the hind legs under the mass of the body in order to achieve the type of collection to be suitably adopted for the practice of School horsemanship.
For us, the rassembler is not only a movement destined to prepare an air, nor is it only a more “engaged” attitude of the hindquarters. We consider it a general state of “concentration of the forces,” or even its possibility. The impulsive thrust of the hind legs are regulated by the action of the rider’s hand in the three gaits, with the possibility of reducing these gaits to null speed or even to practice any one of them backwards.
Considered this way, the rassembler is a general equilibrium. It facilitates the practice of these gaits on a short base, and consequently also facilitates a regulated distribution of weight between the forehand and the hindquarters in a fashion that favors this equilibrium.
The rassembler, as a general idea, comprises other requirements that together constitute and define it. The requirements for the forehand are the ramener, and for the hindquarters are the engagement of the hind legs, which together, correspond to what can be called the rassembler in a limited sense. Flexibility allows impulsion to pass from back to front by way of gymnasticized muscles and flexible joints. Lightness allows the horse to work “with only the force necessary to the movement requested.”
 The perfect vertical position of the forehead realized by a raised poll, the quasi-verticality of the forehead, and the clean definition of the parotid glands
Dressage in the French Tradition by Dom Diogo de Braganco EXCERPT FROM Xenophon Press: Copyright 2011 Xenophon Press LLC
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