The Effet d’Ensemble

Baucher’s Golden Key:  The Effet d’Ensemble

Baucher’s effet d’ensemble, or, in English, the combined effect is a cornerstone of Baucherist dressage referring to the simultaneous application of the hand and heel to produce complete immobility.  It is the one seeming exception to the Baucherist principle:  Hand Without Legs, Legs Without Hands.

Many readers of Baucher’s works during his lifetime found the technique confounding in the absence of interactive instruction, leading to much criticism of Baucher, and providing fodder for his most outspoken critics, including Seeger, Steinbrecht, and D’Aure. This should serve as a bit of forewarning:  While I will describe the technique as best I can herein, I cannot overemphasize the tact with which it must be introduced in order to avoid unnecessary conflict and confusion with the new high school horse.

What Is It?

Physically, the combined effect principle simply requires the simultaneous application of the hand and the heel, with the expectation that the horse remain completely immobilized under both pressures even if both pressures are increased – as long as both pressures are increased simultaneously.  All things equal, the effect of one aid should neutralize the effect of the other.  At a basic level, the same technique may be applied to a golf cart or an automobile with a similar outcome:  applying the accelerator and the brake at the same time should equate to zero forward progress, right?

Bear in mind, this “immobilization” feature of the effet d’ensemble is only a point of departure – the combined effect enables far more than just an emergency brake, eventually enabling a level of fidelity in communications you likely have not experienced before.

The concept can be difficult to get your head around at first, particularly if you are an experienced rider.  If you are not a Baucherist already, the notion is going to be fundamentally new, as the combined effect is specific to Baucherism.  Moreover, at first blush, the combined effect may seem a little sadistic, but stay with your servant:  I would not lead you there.  We will not harm the horse’s mouth with the bit, nor his sides with the spurs.  To put our use of the spur into context, and at the risk of a shameless tu quoque, let me say the pressure we will apply with the spur in this study is less than we see applied by so many “show dressage” riders every stride – just to keep the horse trotting.  In the case of most German/Prussian-style riders, I do not consider their use of the spur “abusive” per se – it’s simply nonsensical, if, in fact, we want the horse to remain responsive to the most subtle indications from our legs.

But You Said Never Push AND Pull At The Same Time?

For what possible reason would we, in the context of a methodology which is so ruthlessly and intuitively logical in all other respects, introduce what appears to be to two mutually exclusive requests at once?

Isn’t the notion of ordering “stop and go” at the same time precisely the most glaring and problematic issue we Baucherists level at the German school?  Will we not, as they tend to, dull the horses sensitivity to the spur by forcing him to endure it while remaining at the halt?  Are  we not also tempting him to challenge the barrier of our hand?

These are natural, sensible questions.  If they have not already occurred to you, you’re following me too blindly (which is fine in my case, naturally, but don’t make it a habit).

For you to use the technique effectively, you need to be confident it works.  There will be some initial disorder and resistance – which will be exactly the wrong time to change your mind and abandon the lesson.

To that end, let us reconcile the apparent anomalies.

It’s All in His Head

For some, use of the spur conjures visions of enraged cowboys, or dressage queens, who, having lost patience at the end of a long, bad day, spur their horses maniacally.  If it is necessary for me to say this is not how we use the spur in high school equitation, consider it said.  If we have not learned to completely master our emotions while on horseback, we have no business tinkering with high school equitation yet – nor have we earned the right to wear spurs.  Like eating utensils, we will use the spurs in various ways – but always humanely, precisely, and as delicately as possible.

Though the combined effect will prove to be the ultimate means of “domination”, the mechanism which gives it such utility from the horse’s perspective is more mental than corporal – provoking the ‘freezing’ response horses exhibit when either their upper lip or ear is held fast.  It is a bit of a bug in the psychological software of most large prey animals – a little gift from the gods to hard-working predators.  When we use a twitch, or hold fast an ear, we are hacking the system more or less.

So it is not the physical pain of the spur upon which we’re relying in cases where we use the combined effect to shut down a restive or revolting horse (one of several uses of the effect). In fact, if we comply with Baucher’s own instructions, we will never, under any circumstances, raise our leg away from the horse in order to “jab” him like a goon.  (This is isn’t Planet of the Apes, man.  Not yet.  Stay with me.).

The punitive feature – the negative stimulus the horse will seek to avoid in the future –  is not the pain of the spur.  Rather, it is his natural aversion to being confined between the hand (or bit from his perspective) and the heel (or spur from his perspective).  The claustrophobic effect is psychological – not corporal in nature.  

Having been confirmed in the jaw flexions on the ground and from the saddle, the horse will not challenge the fixed hand.  (Should he, remember to lift the reins against the corners of his mouth instead of reflexively pulling directly against his bars).  Having been confirmed in the lesson of the spur, he will move forward with intermittent taps on both sides – or displace his hindquarters left or right in response to taps on one side or the other.  Thus, he realizes he may neither escape left, nor right, nor backwards, either.  Should he try, we will apply the opposing aid, then resume our hold, until he stands perfectly still – at which point, we immediately reduce the pressure of the heel and hand, while retaining the lightest possible contact.

His only possible escape – and the occasional horse will try it (especially if the previous lessons of the hand and heel are shakey) – is “upward“.  For advanced riders who are ready for this possibility during the initial lesson of the effet d’ensemble, the solution is very simple:  release the pressure on the reins such that he is not blocked from moving forward, while applying a frank, punctual action of the spur.  He will advance forward (and thus to the ground), whereupon we will return to the lesson.  Typically, within the very first lesson, the horse will deduce his willing, complete immobilization is the only path to release.

From Here:  More Effet d’Ensemble Magic

The combined effect enables much of the magic of Baucherism – a degree of lightness, responsiveness, and control which a) clearly separates this school of dressage from the German/Prussian/cavalry school, and b) to my thinking at least, makes Baucherism a more legitimate dressage paradigm, if we consider the dual-oriented dressage of Newcastle to be closest to the origins and intents of advanced high school training (which I do).

Whereas our legs used to be a simple means of asking for acceleration and/or upshifting to the next gait, their role will become much expanded.  Our legs will have not just one, but three invaluable applications in our equitation, becoming:

  1.  An “accelerator“, and
  2. A “clutch“, and
  3. A “brake

Doesn’t this seem unthinkable on the face of it – based on how most of us have ridden for many years?

With these three powerful effects at our disposal, we will learn to use them in pursuit of Baucher’s equilibrium – leading us to perfectly balanced self-carriage, and a truly “finished” horse who handles like a fine riding instrument.

In and of itself, like a magic pill, the very sensation of “equilibrium” will rapidly increase your own tact and feeling exponentially.  Like the first time you rode a bike without the training wheels (and managed to stay off the ground), you will experience a new sensation which I am probably powerless to describe precisely in advance of you actually feeling it for yourself.  Moreover, you will, for the first time, see how sensitive the horse actually is – and how malleable each movement he makes has become.  “Riding” will come to seem an insufficient word for the new thing you are experiencing on a horse … implying you are merely atop a thing, whereas you – and your horse – will have rather become a new thing altogether.

You will go home, weep, and wonder how you could have ever been so barbarous with a creature you now realize was this sensitive all along – so sensitive, you and I will spend the rest of our days rising to his potential fidelity, and not the vice versa.  Get it out.  Forgive your savage self, and move on.

The combined effect simultaneously describes a) a lesson we will give the horse, b) an aid we will subsequently “threaten” to engage as needed, c) a frame of reference for the horse, subsequently enabling lightness in general – because it quite literally calibrates him to the amount of weight or resistance we will tolerate in our hands, before, in essence, threatening the combined effect by the mere approach of our leg, while blocking (never pulling) with our hand.  After the first lessons, we will very rarely have to make good on this threat – if ever – depending upon the horse’s age, disposition, our tact, etc.

Hereafter, the effect of our legs will become manifold, taking on different meanings, depending upon the kind of pressure we exert, such that:

  1. A punctual action of the leg translates to “mobilize” and “mobilize yet more” from an active gait (forward, presuming the hand remains open, or backward if the hand blocks);
  2. A slow, graduated approach of the leg means “collect” (presuming the hand blocks – think of sustaining RPMs, while reducing speed);
  3. A more sincere, continuous squeeze of the leg means “halt” (regardless of what the hand does).

As will become obvious to you, a broad range of results exists between these three basic marks along a broad continuum – further expanded when complemented with the action of the hand. Your ability to affect the right result within this continuum will naturally become increasingly refined as you and your horse become familiar with the Baucherist dialect.

Prerequisites and Precedents of the Combined Effect

It is relatively pointless to try to teach a young person algebra in advance of multiplication tables and basic division.  We will only spawn anxious guessing and needless confusion, which we will later have to unwind, creating confusion, slowing progress, and creating more work for everyone.  The fastest engine in the universe will not move our car without a transmission, no matter how hard we press the accelerator.

Though the lesson of combined effect is part of the ‘basic training program’ of Baucherism, we’re still merely teaching our horse the language, versus really applying it so far.  It is an advanced concept, it must be managed with the utmost tact, and, most importantly, we cannot rush to “install it” before its precedents are confirmed and expect any benefit.

Before approaching the lesson of the combined effect, we must ensure our horse is confirmed in the flexion of the jaw (we must be able to effect relaxation of the jaw with the lightest pressures from the bit), and the lessons of the leg and spur (the horse must be familiar with the feel of the spur, such that it is not a surprise to him; and he must know to move forward from the leg if asked, and to displace his croup left or right if asked).

With these foundations in place, we can begin to oppose them (releasing when the horse immobilizes), by, from the halt, gradually increasing the opposition of our hand and heel to a medium pressure for confirmation – and subsequently, if necessary, a more firm opposition during the occasional, inevitable, intermittent episodes of restiveness among young and green horses.

Remember, especially when using this technique to resolve resistance and restiveness , we are seeking the opportunity to release the horse from the combined effect as soon as he complies – not venting against him for misbehaving.

Used correctly, very soon, you will observe his eager willingness to “freeze” when pressed between the aids – using merely discernible pressure from your calf and hand.  You will find he is as eager to avoid conflict as you are from here out.  You will also have an easy means of re-instilling lightness to the hand by simply leading with a gentle squeezing pressure from your legs just ahead of effecting a blocking signal with your hand – thus literally transferring control of the signal from your leg to your hand, which, due to the legs’ preparatory command, will be communicating with an already light mouth (no traction required – and if it seems required, escalate to the combined effect, right?).  So easy.