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Francois Baucher

The baucher is also a type of bit, named after the man.

Francois Baucher (1796-1873) was a French riding master whose methods are still hotly debated by dressage enthusiasts today. His methods diverge from many earlier masters, however he still has a strong following of riders and trainers today. Baucher also took great pride in his ability to produce a horse quickly, claiming to have trained horses the airs within months.


His book

Baucher first published Méthode d'équitation basée sur de nouveaux principes in 1842, and 11 following editions are essentially the same book reprinted until his contract expired with his editors in 1863. The 12th edition, published in 1864 and called the deuxième manière or second manner, contained exceptional changes from his original method, and was continued in his 13th edition published in 1868.

Training and riding theories

The effet d'ensemble

Baucher wished to "annul the instinctive forces" of the horse. To do so, he gradually applied both driving and restraining aids at the same time, until he was using a great deal of spur and hand, his theory being that they should cancel each other out and the horse should stand still. The horse is not allowed to escape the aids, and finally realizes that he is dominated, submits, and is "tamed". This technique was termed the effet d'ensemble.


Baucher would begin with "flexions" of the forehand and hindquarters, placing them in the exact place he wished. For the forehand, he would coil the neck toward the torso, flexing it laterally, and toward the chest. This was train straightness in the neck, and was also supposed to lighten the frontend. Baucher then employed "jaw flexions", forcing the horse to yield to the bit by opening his mouth, and yielding at the poll ("ramener"). Once these flexions are performed, the horse can no longer evade poll flexion and the jaw must stay soft, making the hand the ultimate barrier. This lightness of the front was called mise en main.

Baucher then begins flexions of the haunches, including rotations of the croup around the shoulders. This is to teach the horse to keep his haunches straight, and to help with moving them backward in the rein back, which is taught after the haunch flexions. The rein back is used to teach the horse to move his whole body mass away from the bit (to increase the power of the hand), and also to help close the angles of the hind legs, which would help increase impulsion.

Problems with impulsion

Despite the great importance put on the hand and preparation of the forehand, using the reinback to shift the center of gravity backwards and to increase respect for the hand, there is no exercise used by Baucher to increase respect for forward movement and impulsion or preparation of the hindquarters.

Many of Baucher's students had issues with the lack of impulsion resulting from using his technique, and this is indeed one of the greatest criticisms of the method. Some advocated the use of galloping, free gaits, or spurring to get the needed impulsion. Baucher never included an exercise for impulsion in his book. The closest idea he had was a technique of getting the horse to respond extremely quickly off the leg, by barely touching the horse with his calves, before immediately spurring him (without use of hand) if the animal did not immediately move off. However, this technique did not provide a great deal of impulsion.

With the effet d'ensemble established at the halt, Baucher begins work at the walk. If at any time the horse loses the softness of the jaw and neck, it is re-established within the gait or, if it can not be established there, the animal is immediately brought back to the halt until the horse submits. This resulted in a stop-go motion, and much of the work was therefore done at the walk, which Baucher termed "the mother of all gaits" (directly opposing the masters before him, who mostly worked in the trot). Baucher would continue in the walk until he could perform very tight changes of direction. He then moved onto the trot, and transitions between the walk and trot, keeping the effet d'ensemble the whole time.

The rassembler

The rassembler, an exercise that was meant to increase the mobility of the horse, when then trained. The horse was taught to move its hind legs closer to the front legs (which differs from the definition of rassembler by many other dressage schools), and decrease its base of support. Different aids were used to ask for the rassembler, so that the horse knew to activate his hind legs instead of keeping them still (as in effet d'ensemble). In the effet d'ensemble, the legs keep constant pressure, with the spurs used at the girth. In the rassembler, the legs were used intermittently, in "attacks", with the spurs applied further towards the flanks. The rein aids were also continuous in the effet d'ensemble, and intermittent in the rassembler, and they contained the horse in the rassembler rather than "pulling back" as in the effet d'ensemble.

This posed a problem, as the horse had been taught in the effet d'ensemble that immobility was the correct response to leg aids. Baucher's horses often became dull to the spur, making "impulsion difficult to obtain." Baucher therefore employed the whip, using taps to get movement from the horse. According to Seeger, who watched Baucher ride in Berlin: The whip seems to be a necessary instrument for Mr. Baucher. One never sees him without it, nor riding without using it ... Mr. Baucher uses it with extraordinary severity.'

The 12th addition to his method (the "second manner")

Baucher was severely injured when a large chandelier fell on him while riding and needed several years to recover. After the accident, Baucher could not apply the aids to the same degree of severity as before. He therefore changed his system slightly. To achieve the mise en main, or lightening of the front, the neck was raised, which caused a slight shift of weight towards the back. This achieved lightness not only quicker but with less effort than the ramener.

The ramener was still used as a control device. Baucher no longer pulled the horse's nose towards his chest, but instead had the rider push the horse's body closer and closer to his head (fixed by the rider) so that flexion of the poll increased and the head became vertical. This technique had its origins in the rassembler.

The effet d'ensemble was no longer used on horses to re-establish lightness, but for certain horses that were resistant and defensive, in order to dominate them and force them into submitting to the aids.

Baucher then began using the half-halt and vibrations to decrease muscular tension. To do so, he rejected his long-time use of simultaneous application of hand and leg, and came up with the idea of 'hand without legs, legs without hand.' The hand is used to regulate the action, the legs to increase impulsion. Therefore, if the hand is dropped and the leg keeps pressure, the horse should immediately move off the leg. This was a great advancement of Baucher's theory, keeping horses sharp to the leg instead of restraining them in the effet d'ensemble. It also simplified his method, making it easier for the amateur or average horseman to use. This method also employed the use of only one rein at a time, instead of both.

Criticisms of Baucher

Baucher's methods were never approved during his lifetime, and critics included Count Antoine Cartier D'Aure, P.A. Aubert, M. Thirion and the Duc de Nemours. Many modern dressage riders are strongly opposed to Baucher's training ideas.

His harsh methods were frowned upon by the masters, especially his use of force to combat resistance in the horse. This included his great use of spurs on the flanks of the horse, to which Aubert remarked that a horse ridden by Baucher was simply an 'ambulatory cadaver.' Additionally, the paces of the horse were not regular.

Louis Seeger had a chance to ride Baucher's horses and watch him work. His impression of the horses was poor, saying that they lacked energy and impulsion with the hindlegs dragging out behind them, especially at the trot, and the hindlegs were stiff. They were difficult to sit, dead to the leg, moved flat, and travelled on the forehand. Unsurprisingly, they could not take up even contact with the reins, and had great difficulty bending the joints of their hind legs, swishing their tail in displeasure when asked. They were also very stiff at the canter, including during the one-tempi flying changes, and could not collect, having a canter more hopping than a jumping motion. The piaffe was very incorrect, with stiff hind legs and the horses stepping sideways or backwards, the forelegs having little action since the horse was on the forehand, and the hind legs having most the action. The passage was stiff, instead of elastic and springy, and Baucher had to use a great deal of leg, spur, and whip to keep the horse going (contrary to the correct way, where the rider appears to be doing nothing at all). The horses would throw themselves around in the pirouette, instead of easily turning around.

His method of severe bending of the horse's neck towards his chest and torso has also has had great criticism, many people believing that it is exceptionally harsh and uncomfortable for the animal. It is still employed today, however, with the methods of rollkur showing great similarities.

Despite the criticisms of Baucher's harsh "first period", many trainers today are finding validity in the work he did during the second phase of his career. In particular, the flexions of the poll which Baucher developed, and the principle of "hand without leg, leg without hand", are to be found under slightly different terminology in the techniques of natural horsemanship.


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