A student of archrivals Comte D’Aure and Francois Baucher, General Alexis-Francois L’Hotte is essential reading for equestrians interested in understanding the theoretical divergence which separated the worlds of forward vs. light equitation.
Francois Kerbrecht (a contemporary and fellow general officer – and perhaps Baucher’s best student) considered L’Hotte the finest horseman of his time.
L’Hotte has been criticized by some Baucherists for appearing to support the rather anti-Baucherist agenda which prevailed within the French cavalry subsequent to D’Aure’s political/social victory over the master.
L’Hotte indeed supported the prohibition on Baucherist flexions (among other high-school oriented techniques) in the French cavalry at a time when, as a ranking general officer, it would have been in his power to do otherwise – and in spite of the fact L’Hotte himself he could be seen applying Baucher’s teachings to his personal horses any given day.
The seeming paradox resolves when we seriously consider the ultimately artistic aspirations of high school equitation against the utilitarian requirements of en masse cavalry equitation, which had long since regressed from the art of single mounted combat (mounted duels), to far less demanding “campaign” or formation-oriented combat.
The single combat equitation originally practiced by the aristocracy gave birth to an even more refined – and essentially artistic – manege equitation, the equitation described by the Duke of Newcastle, as the prohibition against dueling itself became instituted across Europe (though, in essence, the genre horsemanship itself certainly survived in the form of mounted bullfighting – practiced then as now – in Portugal and Spain.)
Formation-oriented cavalry equitation was a very basic discipline required to keep mediocre riders in formation and while mounted on generally mediocre horses. The cavalry trooper had be educated to a practical extent quickly, and his skills would be used only over the course of a fixed and relatively brief tour of service. As a career officer, L’Hotte saw little purpose in selling the high school agenda (neither Baucher’s method, nor anyone else’s) in the cavalry environment – and environment he clearly distinguished from his personal horsemanship. In his treatise – begun and finished at the end of a lifetime of meticulous journaling and note-taking – it is clear L’Hotte esteemed Baucher above his other teachers, including D’Aure.
Among my favorites of L’Hotte’s observations (paraphrased):
- It is not the perfect performance that is the hallmark of the master ecuyer. Rather, It is a valid conception of perfection which distinguishes him – and which he will spend a lifetime pursuing.
- Many – perhaps most – of the challenges presented by high school equitation regress to the disposition of the horse’s hips.
- In developing the high school horse, we must realize the ressambler (softness/lightness in collection) before seeking the ramener (vertical placement of the face, with an unmoving poll in the highest position) – e.g., the same warning we receive (to little avail) from virtually every competent master: Don’t obsess over the “headset” prematurely. Obsess instead over the ‘neck set‘, lightness and the eradication resistance – the ramener will follow.