Quiet Riding

Equestrian Book Reviews

Book Review

Classical Horsemanship
for Our Time

Boy, the horse.
…who would deny that the essence of training, for any purpose, is to render the horse easy to handle and pleasant to ride, where regular paces in and by proper balance ensure his long and trusty service!

In Classical Horsemanship for Our Time, Jean Froissard—with the assistance of his wife, Lily Powell—endeavors to provide his reader guidance on taking a horse from basic training to the highest levels of dressage. This is a high goal for a book of only 125 pages.

Despite this limitation, Froissard (who holds the (French)) state–conferred degree of Ecuyer Professeur includes much worthwhile information. Nowhere else, for example, have I found an explanation for the controversy over whether a shoulder–in should be performed on three or four tracks.

Froissard holds to the classical tradition and goes against the modern trend of starting horses at a young age. He states: “…below the age of four a horse is too young to go to school.” He puts great emphasis on how this training should be approached.

His approach to communication with the horse is revealed in the statement: “…conversation, let alone agreement, cannot exist where one partner speaks without trying to hear while the other is expected to listen without being heard.” He emphasizes the responsibility of the trainer: “…you are the teacher and therefore it is up to you to understand him [the horse].…”

For Froissard, this communication includes use of the voice. While some feel they should never use the voice aid since it is banned in the dressage test, Froissard states: “Outside of this particular and rather less than everyday occurrence, the voice must be looked upon as a normal aid to be used as often as required.” The voice provides an element of shading which is far from true for legs and hands. Froissard contends that “…it is the music of the song he reacts to, not the words.” He further holds: “Voice punishment indeed has often a stronger, I would say deeper, effect than a whiplash, and this without the attendant upset.”

In seeking to improve the horse, we should constantly seek to improve ourselves. As Froissard points out: “…the education of the taught reflects the education of the teacher.” Such improvement comes not only through instruction but through practice.

While one can recommend a given aid for a given movement, may even explain the technical whys and hows, the rider's feel for measure and timing will make the difference between fumble or ease. Feeling is to the rider as the ear to the musician: it can be developed but not acquired where the predisposition does not exist.

Development of both horse and rider should not be rushed. “The idea is, at any stage of training, not ever to surprise a horse: always to require a single new thing at a time and never to take a step ahead before the preceding one has been assimilated.” Froissard summarizes this idea in the following:

Your main hazard lies in hastily going on to the next problem before the preceding one has been completely solved. Making the horse understand the connection between the aids applied and the movement requested does require a great deal of repetition.

He adds: “…a good progression must not be rigid but must keep in mind the reactions of the horse during both the present and previous lessons as well as many other considerations.” And the horse must know what the rider is asking. “…a horse cannot obey a gesture unless aware of its sense and prepared and fit to carry out the order conveyed.”

Finally, one should remember: “Horses, like people, do well only what they enjoy.”

Buy Classical Horsemanship for Our Time: From Basic Training to the Highest Levels of Dressage