"Descent de Maines et Descente de Jambes"
Dressage Today: January 2010 Issue
Explaining the French Terms by Pierre Cousyn
Q: What is meant by “descent de mains et descente de jambes”? Should I incorporate this into my training?
“Descente de mains” or “descente de jambes” are techniques riders use specifically in French classical dressage training. Trying to translate it word for word from French to English does not make sense. However, the terms can be defined as when the rider stops using his aids at a particular moment, leaving the horse alone to continue what he is doing.
“Descente de mains” is specific to the hand aids. It is when the rider stops using his hands when the frame, the balance, and the contact are correct. The horse continues the exercise without the support or direction of the rider’s hands and remains soft and light. You should feel only the weight of the reins in your hands. By allowing the aids to rest, the rider verifies and rewards the correctness of the frame and balance.
“Descente de jambes" is specific to the leg aids. It is when the rider stops using his leg aids when the horse has the correct amount of impulsion. By resting the leg aid, the rider verifies and rewards the consistent and generous production of impulsion from the horse.
During lessons, clinics and competitions, I see many times riders overusing their aids. I notice riders pushing every stride and maintaining a strong contact for far too long. Depending on the sensitivity of the horse, the overuse of the aids can have very negative effects such as creating tense horse, or the opposite, a lazy horse.
Too much use of the hands can provoke resistance, pulling, tilted head, tongue out, above or behind the bit, or a loss of balance. Unfortunately, in these circumstances, there is no evenness and lightness in the contact, no steadiness in the connection, no quickness to the response of aids, no proper rebalancing, self carriage, or throughness.
Too much use of the leg also has a negative effect, as it will teach the horse to be on “life support.” By this, I mean the horse moves forward or executes a movement only if the rider pushes at every stride, and if the rider stops, the horse slows down or quits. This tiring way of riding is not fun for the horse or the rider, and it is not correct. Not only is the slow response to the driving aids not effective, it is impossible to have a beautiful, efficient, quiet and elegant seat when you are pushing at every stride.
Here are ways to apply this concept:
1. When you execute a movement like shoulder-in or half pass, first you need to prepare the horse by establishing the correct amount of impulsion, balance, frame, etc. Then, when you feel the horse is ready, you ask him to do the movement. As soon as he is executing the movement correctly, you leave him alone with your aids. You just follow him with a supple seat, in the middle of the saddle, trying not to disturb the movement. You enjoy the ride!
2. If, during an exercise, your horse loses his balance, you make a quick rebalancing correction with your restraining aids (seat, upper body, arms, hands). As soon as the horse comes back and carries himself again, you release your restraining aids and leave him alone with a soft, light contact.
3. If the horse loses his impulsion, you make a quick correction with your driving aids (seat and leg). As soon as he moves forward again, you stop the use of the driving aids and you remain quiet and light.
By teaching “descente de mains” and “descente de jambes" to your horse, he learns to be responsible and perform with minimum aids. When the riding becomes effortless and easy for the rider, the horse is much happier. The horse can then express himself which produces magical moments and pieces of art. This is a perfect example of “less is more.”