François Baucher was born in France in 1796. As the son of a wine merchant, he was not part of the French aristocracy and it appears that he was never fully accepted by the equestrian masters of his time. In 1810, he was given the opportunity to travel to Milan with his uncle where he was given lessons in equestrianism by Mazuchelli, who used harsh training methods, unlike Pluvinel and the Duke of Newcastle.
In 1814, Baucher returned to France to continue with his equestrian career. At this time, French equestrianism had two trends; the classical ménage and outdoor English riding, which was becoming fashionable with the increasing popularity of English thoroughbred horses. This new form of equestrianism was favoured by the Comte D’Aure who would later become an outspoken opponent of Baucher.
A few years later, Françios Baucher bought a ménage at Le Havre and took over another in Rouen, publishing “Dictionnaire raisonné d’équitation” in 1833. As his reputation grew, he moved to Paris to work at the circus ménage, an entertainment that was equal to theatre and opera. Over the years his work in the circus and further publications enhanced his reputation.
Baucher is known to have used 2 methods of training. The first is primarily about bringing the horse together by simultaneous use of the rider’s legs and hands, bringing the horses head towards its body. However, Baucher continually developed and refined his techniques as he increased his knowledge of training horses, and the most significant change came when he began to engage the horse’s quarters and send them towards the head, now known as his second method. The flexions he used were important to this change; it is not to push the horse onto the hand, but to train the mouth and neck of the horse and send the energy from the quarters towards the mouth.
Baucher’s second method shows a tactful rider using gentle bits and spurs, not as a severe punishment, but used with discretion and delicacy, creating vibrant horses and developing new airs such as tempi changes.
In 1842, Baucher published ” Méthode d’équitation basée sur de nouveaux principes “. Baucher wanted his horses to be flexible, light and well balanced, and in this work he details the system of flexions he had devised, based on his understanding that resistance in horses can be first felt in the horse’s mouth.
He recognised that the most critical area is the horse’s neck and jaw. A horse’s strength is in the hind quarters; the connection between the quarters and mouth mean that any stiffness in the quarters is reflected in the horse’s neck and jaw.
The flexions were designed to train the horse’s mouth and supple the neck and poll, giving the rider a very subtle control over the forehand – a technique that requires a trainer with very sensitive hands. This teaches the horse to yield to the lightest pressure from the bit, giving lightness and balance to the forehand.
In the mid 1840’s, Baucher’s method of using flexions was introduced to the French army, sponsored by the Duke of Orleans. There were many critics of the method who continued to work behind the scenes to discredit Baucher, and at the death of the Duke of Orleans, Baucher’s methods were replaced by those of the Comte d’ Aure.
Baucher’s contemporaries disliked the flexions as they felt the horse was in constant tension, but they did concede that the method had remarkable results with problem horses as Baucher demonstrated with Capitaine, a horse considered to be un-rideable, that Baucher trained in 4 weeks.
Baucher is known to have been an excellent teacher, but the same cannot be said of his books, as he made many revisions to his works, removing parts that he believed were not relevant or of little use, and replaced them with simpler and more effective techniques. Today, without being able to ask Baucher himself for clarity on his methods, we can only read and reread his books and apply his techniques with tact and discretion.
Baucher was involved in an accident in 1855 which resulted in his legs becoming weaker, and he no longer rode in public or wrote books, but continued to work on his method, teaching dedicated pupils and leaving them to carry on his work. Today Baucher’s method is still controversial, but, in intelligent hands, it produces the lightest, most agile and responsive horses. edit.
Diane Followell Classical Dressage Trainer