Dressage: the German School
Classical riding is foremost concerned with the the aquisition of a classical seat - this is a balanced, deep and feeling seat. In this context "seat" includes the seat bones, pubic arch, thighs, lower back and very importantly the abdominal muscles. Classical riders develop wonderfully light, responsive horses because they ride from their "centre". The horse is ridden from the seat first, then the legs and into the hands. "The hands receive what the leg puts into them - no more, no less" - Dr Thomas Ritter.
The emphasis is placed on the you, the rider, to learn about your own body and how even slight variations in the way you hold yourself affect the way the horse moves beneath you. How can you expect your horse to achieve self-carriage if you're not in self-carriage yourself? In Classical Riding much is made of the position of the pelvis and seat bones and the use of lumbar and abdominal muscles. You learn that you don't follow the horse's movement you lead it and to be able to lead it you have to know that "To be an aid, the seat or weight effect of the rider must not only be correct; it has to occur at the right moment" - Brig Gen Albrecht, former Director of the Spanish Riding School. (ed. note: The Spanish Riding School is located in Vienna, Austria.)
Q: I am hearing a lot about "French Classical Dressage" where there is little or no use of the seat and leg aids. Having learned a more "German" method, I find this to be a little confusing. Can you explain the difference in French versus German Classical Dressage? Is it really physical or philosophical?
A: When people talk about "French Dressage", they often don't define very well what they mean by it.
There is a continuous tradition of horsemanship that starts with Federigo Griso in Italy during the Renaissance, that is taken to France by Pluvinel in the early 17th century, and that continues in Germany and Austria after the French Revolution. In addition, there is a separate movement that was started by Francois Baucher. The first edition of his book appeared in 1842. There is an entire tradition that is based on his teachings, which is often referred to as "French (Classical) Dressage". The main difference between German dressage and Baucherism is that in the former, the entire horse is worked in motion, whereas in the latter, the individual body parts of the horse are flexed at the halt first, before the horse is allowed to move off. The Baucherised horse is often extremely overflexed in an attempt to obtain lightness. Especially in the earlier stages of Baucherism, the effet d'ensemble plays an important role. That is a simultaneous continuous application of driving and restraining aids at the halt, aimed at immobilizing the horse and getting him to tolerate spur pressure and bit pressure at the same time. It is Baucher's way of obtaining total submission - often at the expense of impulsion. In the later stages, the effet d'ensemble plays a smaller role, and the complete separation of the aids takes over. That is the period in which the famous "hand without legs, legs without hand" was created. Baucher's idea behind this formula is that the rider tends to correct the hand's mistakes with the legs and vice versa. By keeping all the aids strictly separate and isolated, he hopes to achieve greater clarity in their application.
Baucherism can indeed be confusing. It has become a bit of a fad in this country, because it promises "lightness", whereas German dressage has acquired a reputation as "riding in resistence". Unfortunately, there are very few people who are truly educated in Baucherism and can really teach it. So it is very difficult to obtain a fair impression of what the method can do. Most riders who dabble in it understand neither classical German dressage nor Baucherism, so they don't do either method justice. - Dr Thomas Ritter.