William Cavendish is perhaps the most important single contributor to high school training methodology.
Virtually all modern and recent master ecuyers – whether students of Prussian or Latin high horsemanship – appeal, defer, and refer to the great French master la Gueriniere, who is widely credited for ‘inventing’ the shoulder-in exercise, which Nuno Oliveira considered “the aspirin of dressage.” But la Gueriniere appealed to Newcastle frequently to defend his reasoning, and, factually, Newcastle must really be credited with effect of ‘shoulder-in’, which is simply an adaptation of the Duke’s work on the circle applied to the track of the rectangle.
Mining Newcastle’s insights will not be as easy as watching ‘clinician’ videos on RFDTV. Though there will be a refreshing absence of down-your-throat marketing montages and monster truck music, reading Newcastle’s will feel challenging for many modern readers. To access his intelligence, we have to adjust for the language of the era, the context of his exclusive audience, and the speciality of his intended topic.
Since the Duke addresses us from 17th century England, you’ll have to acclimate yourself to the nuances of 17th century English language, in addition to the printing peculiarities of the time – particularly the usage of “f” where the lower case “f” may “reprefent” either the letter “s” or the letter “f”, depending upon the context of the word.
Moreover, given the challenge and necessity of using complex equivalents to describe the nuanced sensations of high equitation in any era, Newcastle’s works can be difficult to discern for modern readers and riders, now used to a different syntax – now further obfuscated by not only Italian, but more French, and the relatively recent introduction of a lot more German. This is especially so for new students of equitation who will lack the context and experience to understand advanced concepts written in their native language – let alone a hodgepodge comprised of multiple others.
In addition to his relationship to Charles I (to whom he was a trusted advisor and creditor) and Charles II (whom he taught to ride), understand William Cavendish kept company with and sponsored the products of some of his century’s most notable thinkers.
The small but weighty constellation of philosophers surrounding Newcastle in the context of intellectual friendship and patronage was regarded as the “Newcastle Circle”. It included names at least vaguely familiar to virtually every modern teenager, such as Thomas Hobbes (best known for Leviathon, and, arguably, modern Western political science/philosophy itself), as well as Rene Descarte – well known for his often mis-abbreviated quote I think, therefore I am (which is properly: I doubt, therefore I think … therefore I am), and also responsible for the notion of algebraic geometry and calculus.
A High School Treatise for Experts, Not a General Guide for Novices
From the Duke’s standpoint, most modern equestrians would be considered ‘novice’ riders – even most very experienced riders. At the outset, Newcastle announces his work is not for the inexperienced, but seasoned horsemen far enough advanced for his advice to be relevant. Two hundred years later – give or take – Francois Baucher is similarly specific and exclusive in his later New Method, opening his third chapter with:
” … It is understood that I only address men already conversant with the art, and who join to an assured seat a sufficiently great familiarity with the horse, to understand all that concerns his mechanism.”
- Popular ‘Natural Horsemanship’-type clinics tend to focus on the most rudimentary horse-handling and training concepts, producing, on their best days, capable trail riders, not ecuyers.
- Breed shows long ago subordinated meaningful equestrian theory, precepts, and purpose to a simpler pageantry
- As for the competitive Dressage world, I estimate less than 2% or so of “Dressage” riders compete at levels that include movements and figures actually associated with classical high school (versus performing routines indicative of a particular kind of preparation for high school) – and even the top 2% compete two-handed in a double bridle, which would have been yet ‘unfinished’ by the 18th century standards.
Newcastle and Baucher are trying to convey a theoretical calculus, as it were – not basic multiplication. Both appeal to equestrian connoisseurs faced with resolving the challenges of finished manege horse-making.
So, even if Newcastle’s text (articulated as it is at a level of sophistication befitting the most educated and elite readership of Western civilization) were presented at the 10th-grade reading level with which today’s more generally literate (and yet less educated) readership has become familiar, most would yet struggle to reconcile the gist of his thinking in the absence of already being solid horsemen, familiar with the challenges unique to high school training.
This is not at all to dissuade you from pursuing Newcastle (and Baucher). On the contrary, it is to encourage you to revisit both should they initially seem inaccessible. As your experience and understanding grows, their advice will begin to resolve.
Newcastle In the Context of His Time
Unlike most other historical or modern horsemanship philosophers (excepting perhaps Xenophon and King Eduardo of Portugal), William Cavendish was a prominent and influential military, political, and cultural figure in his day, quite aside from his equestrian passion.
Despite being a very wealthy noble (a creditor to his liege, Charles I ), and an ‘inside’ level courtier, Cavendish was eventually beset with personal, financial, and political misfortunes resulting from the fall of Charles I.
A rising star up until the English revolution, the Duke of Newcastle found himself effectively bankrupt, indebted, and exiled to the European continent, uncertain what would ultimately become of his estates and other holdings in England. Underscoring his love of the horse and the manege, he points out that he took great pains to afford nice horses when affording them was indeed painful.
Resounding throughout his work is an abiding commitment to equestrian truth, a sincere love of the horse – and, endearingly – the sarcasm and witt of an opinonated friend.
There is a tendency, I think, by many modern equestrians, to dismiss the 1st Duke of Newcastle as merely a ‘historical figure’, whose methods must somehow be outdated and irrelevant today – much as we might compare muskets to machine guns.
But horses are not a “technology” per se. And what little “technology” we use in the course of training and developing them preceded Newcastle by more than ten centuries. And while muskets have become machine guns – and even missiles launched from spaced – since Newcastle’s time, very little has really changed with respect to horses, horse training, and horse tackle, save arbitrary movements along a continuum of “styles” du jour with respect to bridles, bits, saddles, stirrups, and spurs. There is no basis, therefore, to assume his methods are any less applicable to high school equitation today than they were over three centuries ago.
In practice and spirit, I believe Newcastle was a “Baucherist” long before Baucher. By this I mean: were we to witness Newcastle’s dressage today, students of French classical dressage and Baucherist methods would recognize both his progression – and the finished work – as the academic/artistic/romanic type of dressage innovated (or at least assimilated and popularized) by Baucher and his followers, including Kerbrech, Decarpentry, Beudant, l‘Hotte, Oliveira, et al, (as opposed to the “other” cross-country oriented French equitation advocated by d’Aure); and also in contrast to the Prussian-based training progression of Seeger, Steinbrecht, et al, which survived to the German cavalry manual of 1912 – the basis of modern FEI-sanctioned contests (and thus the Olympics, and thus competitive dressage in general).
Recap: Academic Equitation vs. Modern Competitive Dressage
As a quick refresher: the academic high school progression (as pursued by Newcastle, and Baucher) begins with lightness, pursues collection immediately, moves through the double bridle (to the curb alone) quickly, and promotes a strict balance between the aids of the hand and the heels.
In contrast, modern Prussian-derived “show dressage” is virtually an inversion of such a progression. The Prussian manner handicaps the development of self-carriage by teaching the horse to push through the hand, in practice destroying any notion of lightness and flexible mobility (in exchange for an artificially fixed poll too early in the program), and pursues extension over collection until the end of the program – the “end” itself being a bit nebulous, as the horse never graduates from the double bridle. (Why not? Because while the horse can be conditioned to accept an extremely heavy contact on the snaffle bit, he will not accept such contact on the curb). By historical standards, therefore, the bridle horse – and certainly the equine bullfighter – adhere more closely to the classical manege standard than most modern ‘Dressage’ horses.
Newcastle was a Baucherist: Softness, Fixed Hand, and Collection
So then here is Newcastle describing the state of the Noble Art during its apex as a fine art, and as one of its most sophisticated practitioners and connoisseurs (pages 180-181 of his second manual):
“The Hand should … [be] … Easy, but Firm; for there is nothing makes a Horse go more of the Haunches, than a Light Hand, and Firm; for when he hath nothing to Rest on Before, he will Rest Behind; for, he will Rest on something; and when he Rests Behind, that’s upon the Haunches: A light Hand is the greatest Secret we Have; but there is no Horse can be Firm of Hand, except he Suffers the Curb, and Obey it.” – Newcastle
Here, in a single paragraph, we can see Newcastle advocating three core principles of a future Baucherist school:
- The Priority of Softness (a.k.a. Lightness)
- The Fixed Hand
- Equilibrium/Pervasive Collection/Balanced Movement
Baucher’s “Fixed Hand” remains virtually weightless and malleable as long as the horse willingly gives to it, yet instantly becomes strictly fixed and immoveable (without pulling) should the horse resist its action (and thus is simultaneously “Light” and also “Firm” in the words of the Duke).
To be clear: “Firm” here necessarily refers to the fixity of the hand – not a continuous traction (which so many misunderstand as the “contact” associated with “English” style riding). This may seem a subtle distinction, but it’s not really. Imagine a dog tied to a pole. He’s a big black Mastiff. He’s sitting there peacefully watching the day. Can you see him? Suddenly, a white cat scampers by. The dog reflexively bounds to pursue him. Just as he gains momentum, the inevitable happens: he hits an invisible wall when the length of rope is spent. This is fixity. The pole never moved. It was not “pulling” when there was slack in the rope; it was not pulling when the slack ran out – it simply held its position. It only takes one, maybe two, cats to train the dog not to challenge the pole.
Now, rewind the scenario. Keep everything the same – except instead of being at the end of rope tied to pole, he’s at the end of a leash held by a handler. The cat walk by. The dog pursues him. He quickly removes the slack that previously existed in the rope, as he charges ahead, dragging his reluctant handler behind him. The handler doesn’t weigh enough to stop the dog, so he leans against the force of the dog, slowing the dogs pursuit, but not stopping him. The handler is now “pulling”.
The Duke is specifically denouncing any tendency of the horse to lean on the bit (thus creating a traction himself) – and in doing so, Newcastle immediately removes himself from the Prussian style of modern competitive dressage. On the contrary, his program focuses on lightness, balance, and conditioning as a means of moving weight to the rear (which is to say, moving the hind legs underneath, or “resting on the haunches”) to achieve the essential grail of high equitation: collection (in direct opposition to the characteristic elevated in competition dressage: extension).
Newcastle is perhaps most famous for his innovation of “draw reins” and the “cavesson”, though it would be a grave misinterpretation to think of these items as the devices surviving under the same names today, and in the context which they are most often used today.
The Draw Rein
Let’s address the draw rein first. Experienced horse people are quite familiar with the notion of draw reins, and are most likely to associate them with the means some trainers use to achieve artificial head sets – that is, to force their horses to carry their heads in a position that only has merely cosmetic value in terms of winning basic walk/trot/canter beauty pageants and mounted costume parties, versus any real utilitarian or gymnastic benefit.
The position of the head and neck, in such cases, have no actual practical value, have not been achieved through gymnastic progressions which would make that or this position most logical and comfortable for the horse, and will not ultimately contribute to the balance required for high mobility and future high school airs and figures (an infinitesimally small percentage of them will ever experience such equestrian delicacies).
Since the trainer’s objective is to win, say, a Western Pleasure class (where the current fashion implies the horse’s nose all but touch the ground in every gait) running “draw reins” from the the bit through a very low loop or ring near the girth seems to make sense: the rider has so much leverage against the horse’s head, even an adolescent girl in pink chaps can easily and continuously keep even a relatively green horse’s nose forced to the ground.
The Duke’s innovation (and intent) was not this. At all. In addition to the reins going to either the snaffle or the curb, he added a single auxiliary rein attached to a training cavesson. The auxiliary rein was run through a ring at the top of the cantle, typically as a supplement to his inside rein only. The draw rein was used in advance – or instead – of the inside rein to promote softness via signal (not force). The leverage gained via the ring on the cantle was used to support the notion of the Fixed Hand principle (described above), in the event of resistance, and avoided hardening the mouths of young horses just becoming familiar with the bit (and prone to over-reaction and resistance).
Moreover, we can be certain Newcastle’s draw rein was never intended to forcibly lower the head. The illustrations included in his works present horses in training and finished horses. In all cases, one can plainly see the horse’s neck is being/has been lifted (a la Baucher’s “second manner”), and therefore ipso facto draw reins have been used only to better enable the fixity of the hand (vis-à-vis the above). Specifically, the draw rein is not used to force the horse’s head into an artificial position (a la virtually every headset seen in every show ring in the US, where the object is a particular silhouette of the head and neck, versus primarily a particular balance and distribution of weight – or, in a word, mobility). To put a finer point on it: Newcastle’s draw reins were not at all intended to enable any moron with a horse and a hat to win future Western Pleasure classes.
For further evidence, we may simply refer to the numerous plates accompanying Newcastle’s manuals, which show him both training and presenting horses – and observe the tackle in context. That the characteristics visible in his plates represent his ideal (which I think it is safe to presume they do) is, in my view, evidence enough of certain techniques he applied, and by the same token, evidence of techniques he must have avoided. What headgear have the finished horses? With elevated necks, moving rassemble, they wear only the curb, are ridden with one hand, and with light, weight-of-the-rein contact evidenced by the visibly loose tension on the reins.
Further, there is no “cavesson” on finished horses – neither the Duke’s training iteration of this tackle, nor the modern muzzle variety … nor even the residual training bridoon (the snaffle component of the double bridle). There can be little question the Duke’s horses were dressed using a characteristically romanic progression to achieve such ends – and not the more modern campaign-style progression we associate with Prussian horsemanship.
Next let’s consider Newcastle’s cavesson. Today, we associate “cavesson” with the noseband of the “English” bridle which, confoundingly, often goes by the same name. This “cavesson” has less than nothing to do with Newcastle’s innovation of the same name – being neither his innovation, nor an evolution of it. The “cavesson” roughly associated with modern “English” riding (as used in the hunter/jumper and competitive dressage domains) is for all intents a muzzle which, instead of being used as interim training device, is a standard piece of tackle from which the horse is never retired, which binds his mouth closed, artificially effecting a “quiet in the mouth”, and also reducing his ability to avoid the bit.
The training cavesson innovated and prescribed by the Duke is – in form, function, and effect – an industrialized bosal, which, when combined with reins, becomes the functional equivalent of the hackamore (which has gone by various names since being innovated by the Arabs for camels long before either the Spaniards or Newcastle came to it). Combined with the curb bit, what the Duke innovated with his cavesson was an assembly enabling a technique we would recognize in the US as the Californio vaquero/buckaroo two-rein for high school. Importantly, as with the hackamore, the tackle itself is irrelevant in isolation and absent the context of technique: that is, the value of the device has value only when accompanied by methodology and technique it is designed to support.
As with the vaquero’s two-rein progression in the making of finished stock horses, the training reins and the nose piece are eventually obviated by the curb once the horse is truly finished, or bridled, or, as the Duke would have said: dressed or maneged.