Excerpted from the book PASSION OR THE WAY OF A MAN WITH A HORSE by S.A.H.A.A.Imam which is available on the Author’s website
“4. The Mise En Main
I quote from General Decarpentry’s ACADEMIC EQUITATION (J.A.Allen & Co.Ltd.1987) p.63 :
“The ‘Mise en Main’ is the relaxation of the mouth in the position of the ramener, defined in a later chapter.
The relaxation of the mouth essentially consists in a movement of the tongue similar to that which it does in the act of swallowing, when upper and lower jaw separate only to the extent required to permit the movement of the tongue.
The movement, a slow and supple one, causes the paratoid glands to come out of their lodging, induces a slight salivation, lifts the bit or bits which the tongue draws towards the rear of the mouth and then drops as it resumes its place in its channel. As they drop, the bits chink, producing a typical clinking noise.” (Bold lettering is mine).
The heart of the matter is para.2 of the above. Discount para.1 as irrelevant. The requirements of the Mise en Main are clear from para.2 of the excerpt and may occur sans ramener, sans bit, and when the animal is running free. See Chapter VIII – SEDUCTION of my book SEDUCTION OR THE HACKAMORE AND THE MISE EN MAIN.
If the Mise en Main is a proof of absolute lightness (when apparent lightness exists) it is only so because a horse cannot fall into the Mise en Main unless it is eagerly willing. Eager willingness is inherent in absolute lightness. Baucher has enriched equestrian art, and this arises not only in a reprise but too in bloody combat between man and man and man and wild animal, be it wild boar, leopard, or wild elephant , by his discovery of this relaxation of the mouth. When a horse which has achieved the Mise en Main does not offer a spontaneous Mise en Main sufficiently frequently, or refuses a requested Mise en Main, he is indicating a clear falling off of his physical and mental equilibrium. When the Mise en Main is eventually obtained once more, because of its effect on the entire body of the horse, it restores this balance, and acts much more quickly and with greater precision than any other effect of the aids may. Of course, in the first instance there must be a suitable horse-rider relation for the Mise en Main to be possible.
Working for the Mise en Main involves “enclosing” the horse with light leg pressure and restraint through the weight of the reins in two-track work. Movement on two tracks in the walk, the trot, and the passage involve front and hind legs crossing their fellows when there is a tendency towards falling in the direction of the passaging.
In the shoulder-in the neck and head of the horse are away from the direction of the sidestep and thus act as counterpoises which militate against the above referred to tendency to fall. On the other hand, the half-pass, haunches-in, haunches-out, and counter shoulder-in have the horse’s neck and head positioned in the direction of the sidestep when they contribute to the falling over tendency in question as long as there is no relaxation of the mouth. The moment the mouth mobilizes, the muscles of the neck increase their support of the neck and head which then do not so aggravate this inherent falling over tendency in the sidestep. This matter has been commented on by General de Lisle in his book POLO IN INDIA.
It will be seen that working for the Mise en Main involves work on two tracks with the horse’s head and neck pointing in the direction of the sidestep in order to cause him to relax his mouth in order to help himself.
The shoulder-in is much easier for a horse to perform than a sidestep in which it looks in the direction of lateral movement because the head and neck, in the shoulder-in, act as a counterpoise. It will be instructive to watch racehorses using sidesteps as a defence, the head always being carried over away from the direction of sideways movement. Thus for preliminary schooling on two tracks the shoulder-in may be of value, but for the rest I would say not, even though the Spanish Riding School of Vienna includes the shoulder-in in its presentations.
In the context of the hackamore and the Mise en Main, as will be seen in due course, no question arises of requesting a Mise en Main, which with such tackle in use can only occur spontaneously. This is not to say one may not work for the Mise en Main. Very relevant to what we are considering in this chapter, a horseman can but request of his mount a Mise en Main, NOT obtain it by domination.
Eager willingness being inseparable from absolute lightness, and eager willingness being invariably indicated by the horse’s pricked ears, one may boldly assert with complete confidence that there can be no absolute lightness unless the horse’s ears are cocked. However, we are to bear in mind that from the cocked position one ear or both of them may momentarily point in some other direction in order to catch some sound. Further, when a horse is about to shy it will look at the object from which it is going to shy with cocked ears. Of course, here no question arises of eager willingness and pride.
Of less importance to our thesis are the various positions of a horse’s ears other than the two considered above. A flattening back of the ears denotes obvious temper, may be in the circumstances righteous, while if the ears point haphazardly any way the animal is neither eager nor acting under, let us say, complete constraint. Such cases, notwithstanding any apparent physical lightness shown, cannot be taken as perfect by absolute standards.
We may note, additionally, that if a horse sees something which interests it there will be a cocking of the ears while looking at the object concerned. Then again, if a horse is moving in his pride with ears pricked one of these ears may momentarily move to a side to catch some sound.
I quote from ACADEMIC EQUITATION where on p. 234 we find :
“………. resistances which even when they are destroyed impart an air of ill humour to the horse. His tail and his ears will reveal it, despite his obedience. The horse does not enjoy his ‘air’ (Ne se plait pas dans son air’ as the old masters used to say.)”
Some 20 years ago I was riding Baaz (see Fig.45) in a rope hackamore when with surprise I sensed him in a spontaneous Mise en Main by the sound of his softly meeting teeth, not the noisy grinding of the molars heard at times when the mobility of the mouth is in its early stages. Looking at his mouth by leaning down to a side I could clearly see it working with no opening of the mouth visible. I was, of course, riding Baaz collected at the time using the hackamore by the weight of the rein and an occasional touch of the calf. I called out to a groom to come and watch and put Baaz to effecting a half-pass at a walk. Not only was the Mise en Main obvious to the onlooker, who could see the mouth softly moving and hear the gentle meeting of the teeth as they met from time to time, but when I immediately dismounted after executing the half-pass in question this so spirited yet docile animal kept up the Mise en Main sans ramener.
This horse when approached by me in his paddock would now frequently come up to me showing that relaxation of the mouth evinced by it fleetingly opening sufficiently for the tongue being drawn back to be seen and the sound of the teeth gently meeting to be heard. And this occurred sans ramener.
Ridden in a hackamore in the Descente d’Encolure he would, sans ramener, off and on fall into the Mise en Main.
Considering that when there is no bit to help one feel the tongue lifting it as the tongue is drawn back when the horse falls into the Mise en Main that very day I put Baaz in a bit, a 9th Lancer with a rubber covered mouth-piece, and stood by watching. I always hang a curb bit low, just clearing the tushes in stallions and geldings — though Baaz was too young to have tushes —and the bit could clearly be seen lifted and dropped in this mobilisation of his mouth. I had my proof.
Thereafter, I rode this horse in a bit, something not done for weeks. He was continuously in the Mise en Main. I rode him rassemble’d, hardly holding the rein and my calves barely giving the aids of the leg. He was perfection itself.
On giving thought to the subject, I can but feel that this gift of Nature to the horse which is the mobilisation of the mouth could scarcely have been given by Providence with the bit in view. Does the horse when running free and in, say, the natural passage pictured by Xenophon have unseen and unknown this relaxation of the mouth which can not only be a proof of absolute lightness but which itself leads to this absolute lightness, this absolute grace ? I would say yes.
Here where there was no “cleverly insinuating hand” to skilfully obtain the Mise en Main, this horse in all innocence gave this token of his trust, his happiness, not only in the work involved, not only thereafter, but too when free in his paddock he came forward to meet me. It is of such stuff that Crispens come to be. That day brought to me a new vision.
A recently acquired Thoroughbred straight from a racing stable, renamed by me Big Ben, when free in his paddock came up to greet me some days ago exactly as Baaz did about 20 years earlier.
There are methods which seek to obtain by force a sort of counterfeit Mise en Main which, of course, can never be either a proof of absolute lightness or a help to the attaining of such lightness. I refer to them here for what they are worth — what any counterfeit is worth.
Bits with very high ports by reason of pressing on the unfortunate animal’s palate compel it to open its mouth wide. When the reins do not prevent this the mouth may open and the tongue endeavour to lift the bit in order to shift the port from the bruised site on the palate. There is, of course, no true mobilisation of the tongue. So far as the forcing open of the mouth is concerned one might as well train the animal to bite everyone and everything present which too would have it open its jaws.
Light taps of a whip over the loins near the croup induce a better counterfeit of the Mise en Main, but it differs from it in the overall attitude of the horse. It tends to the lifting of the croup as against the true Mise en Main which leads to a lowering of the haunches, a matter of importance. More important, it is neither a proof of absolute lightness, cannot itself lead to that lightness, and cannot lead to the horse offering a spontaneous Mise en Main which is a result of, to quote the old French masters “Le cheval se plait dans son air” (the horse is happy in his work), when to quote General Decarpentry “the muscles, which were cramped by the horse’s attempts to adapt himself to his rider’s demands, relax and their relaxation is progressively communicated and extended to the entire muscular system.”
The simultaneous pressure of both spurs in the region of the girth as practised by Raabe, can result in the animal opening its mouth wide in jerks and closing it suddenly with a clashing of teeth. The bits are hardly lifted or are not lifted at all by the tongue, the movement of this last being fleeting and insufficient. The mouth behaves as when in chewing or biting and that resemblance to swallowing which we find in the true Mise en Main is totally absent. This travesty of what the Mise en Main actually is, is valueless either as a proof of lightness or as a means to attaining that lightness.
Much of the foregoing practised on that helpless, gentle yet courageous creature which is the horse, until it is spoilt by Man, is not merely revolting but stupid. Rape has been fruitlessly done where seduction was indicated.
Fillis habitually rode his horses overbent by coarse use of the hands and, as he confesses, ruthless use of the spur for impulsion for he writes about tearing his girths to ribbons, apparently using his heels close to them. Obviously he threw lightness, essential to the Mise en Main, to the winds.
I never use a bit with a plain steel mouthpiece. I have the straight mouthpiece covered with soft rubber. When such a bit is put into the mouth of a young animal still unbacked it almost at once starts lifting the bit on and off with its tongue, the Mise en Main. The thick softness in its mouth, the steel naturally well off the bars, seems to occasion this. If a racehorse comes to me I expect it to be an animal which has not had the maltreatment of “taut reins” which are in essence but a variation of the Effect d’Ensemble continuously used, because racehorses are ridden with a jointed snaffle high in the mouth operating on the corners of the mouth and not on the bars. The mouths of such horses may be taken as fresh and unspoilt, particularly with regard to the bars low down next to the tushes in stallions and geldings. Such animals with a bit with a rubber-covered mouthpiece hung low nearly always show the Mise en Main of their own accord on and off immediately. As with young unmouthed horses, the thickness and the softness lightly touching the bars seems to have this effect.
With all due respect to Baucher I can only conclude that his mouthing exercises are quite unnecessary. The same may be said of any exercise with regard to the ramener. But it is to be borne in mind that I am considering only horses of the desired conformation with regard to the neck and the placing of the head on it, the Mitbakh of the Bedouins of yore.
Sympathy, inherent in sensitive schooling, stems from empathy. This last seems almost unknown in equestrian cultures today. The Weltanshauung of the equestrian world may be perceived from words and phrases commonly used outside this world, words and phrases which originate in this world of the horse. Consider “horsewhipping”, “flogging a dead horse”, the nauseating “flogging a willing horse”, “spurred to greater effort” etc., etc. Can one imagine Chetak doing what he did whipped and spurred ?
It would be difficult to visualize today a horserace without jockeys whipping their mounts to greater effort yet in 1856 Lucifer imported into India from Arabia ran unbeaten in nine races without being touched by spur or whip. This animal certainly carried Turcoman blood and was therefore of the Aneezah Arab type.
I must clarify. I do not wish to be misunderstood. Horsemen are by and large kind, as they understand the word, to their horses. But empathy ? No, completely lacking. Else how does one explain “taut reins” ? A mauling of the mouth as a sensitive horsewoman put it. General L’Hotte must be turning in his grave.
Watch a high-blooded horse being girthed up. It is likely to open its mouth and make biting snatches at anything in front of it. This is due to ticklishness in the girth region. No question of the Mise en Main arises.
Occasionally one has to deal with a horse which has a snaky tongue. In such cases a bit with a rubber-covered mouthpiece and sympathetic use of the hands may well lead to the true Mise en Main, be it but available only on and off. Nevertheless, with the requisite tact an entirely acceptable equivalent of the Mise en Main is possible, readily available, often continuously given by the horse, even leading to the Mise en Main sans bit. The soft rubber-covered mouthpiece barely touches the moving tongue which may not necessarily be as when in the act of swallowing as is the case in the true Mise en Main. Of course, in such a case there is complete relaxation of the mouth as happens in the case of the Mise en Main proper.
If the horse is wont to put its tongue over the bit at times while having a snaky tongue, such going over the mouthpiece of the bit is invariably due to the pain felt by the tongue caused by coarse use of the hands plus the steel mouthpiece of the bit. When the mouthpiece comes to be covered with soft rubber and the hands are used with sensitivity and sympathy, the tongue going over the mouthpiece of the bit comes to an end.
For all riding if a hackamore is not used I use a curb bit without a port and a soft rubber-covered mouthpiece. My choice is a 9th Lancer because the effective length of the lower cheeks can be varied depending upon the point of attachment of the reins. I use a curb not on account of any power this may give but because all horses respond to the feel, NOT pressure, of the curbchain in the chin groove. I expect my horses to respond so well that curbchain pressure and the power a curb affords are not worth considering. The bit is hung LOW, just clearing the tushes in the case of stallions and geldings. Such a placing of the bit makes fitting a curbchain strap difficult, and this item is left out. A curbchain guard, however, made of soft rubber is used when the feel of the curbchain in the chin groove remains with maximum comfort possible for the horse when a bit is in use. That mildness pays will be apparent from Figs. 1, 2 and 3. Particular attention is to be paid to Figs. 1 and 3 considering Shataan was fresh from a racing stable at the time and was sold as something of a “rogue” who could not be got to face a starting gate when he was brought to Delhi, though earlier at Bangalore this was not the case even though his Passport issued by the Turf Authorities of India was endorsed for mandatory blindfold starts and blinkers and tongue strap to be used.
Incidentally, Shataan eventually came to show the Mise en Main almost continuously sans ramener with a bit in use on a slack rein, as Baaz used to do. Again, like Baaz, Shataan would show off and on this relaxation of the mouth when free in his paddock, with no bridle in use, he came up to greet me.
[Illustration will be found in the book PASSION OR THE WAY OF A MAN WITH A HORSE]
The Author in his 88th year riding TB The Black Prince straight from a racing stable in the Mise en Main going in the diagonal walk, the Pas de Biche or Pas de Conscrit Fig.9”