Principles of Training in the Ecole de Légèreté

There are a series of clear principles that those of us training in the Ecole de Legerete subscribe to and try our darndest to understand and apply.  Over the festive period, in order to provide some small breaks from mince pies and Netflix,  we will share some of these principles with extra detail and accompanying  photos. Hopefully, this will allow anyone who wants to know more to ask questions and better understand the differences and similarities between other approaches or systems.

We can use photos to get ‘our eye in’ and utilise that information when working with our horse.  The principles can helpfully guide what you do and when, and help you recognise which things benefit your horse, and which things don’t.

As a fairly comprehensive starter for ten, here are the principles Philippe Karl shared in his letter to Unesco concerning ‘Equitation in the French Tradition’. They are:

  • Work on the lunge replaces the single pillar
  • The double pillars disappear in favour of work in hand
  • Bits are reduced to their simplest form
  • Nosebands, if not removed altogether, are never tight
  • Auxiliary reins are banned, on the lunge as well as under saddle

Consequently, a rational education to the aids (firstly from the ground and then from the saddle) is preferred over authoritarian gymnastics.In this context, where the horse’s willing participation and the intelligent development of the postures necessary for relaxed and effective gymnastics are prerequisites, the following fundamental principles quite naturally assert themselves:

  • The primacy of the hand over the seat and the legs
  • The principle of “hand without legs, legs without hand”
  • The education of the horse to all the effects of the reins is given the name “mise en main” (literally: putting the horse in hand). Note that this expression remains without a direct equivalent in any other language. It is achieved through the following progression:

– Firstly, secure the relaxation and mobility of the mouth by the yielding of the jaw (the warranty of ‘décontraction’ and balance)

– Then gain control of the neck through pronounced lateral bending (to address flexibility and straightness) and by elevation and extension (changes of longitudinal balance)

– Finally, seek the flexion at the poll in ramener (combining elevation of the neck, flexion at the poll and the yielding of the jaw)

– Turns are requested by lateral effects: direct reins (or opening reins), indirect reins (supporting or neck reins)

– The hand acts either sideways or upwards … never backwards

-Any position of the head behind the vertical (a brutal, painful position which puts the horse on the shoulders) is forbidden. The poll should remain the highest point with the nose in front of the vertical.

All these elements define what is known as “lightness to the hand”.

  • The first condition of collection, the elevation of the neck, is achieved through the combination of demi-arrêt and descente de main. After acting upwards (demi-arrêt), the rider lowers the hand (descente de main) and puts the horse “at liberty on parole”.
  • The horse learns to be in self-carriage. The extension of the neck (neckline close to the horizontal and nose in front of the vertical) is an indispensable complement. It represents at one and the same time:

– a gymnastic counter balance, by stretching the whole top line

– and an unerring test of fidelity to the hand.

  • Likewise, reacting to “the draft of the boot”, the horse learns to maintain his activity without the support of the rider’s legs. He is “light to the leg” and works “in descent of the legs”.
  • Collection is the result of the horse rising in front, associated with superior impulsion in the absence of any undesirable contractions. Any idea of compression between driving aids and restraining aids is unthinkable. “  –

Mr Philippe Karl 2016

Now there’s something to get your teeth into!   Over the next few weeks we will look at each of these principles individually,  and dive into the  detail of what that means in practice…

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