20 August 2009

The American Baucher

Tom Bass (1859-1934)

My title "The American Baucher" is not meant as an insult to Tom Bass. Although Francois Baucher (1796-1873) is controversial in dressage circles--to say the least--few people deny his talent. I associated Bass with Baucher because both trained equines to canter backwards and do other circus dressage movements that are unnatural and hence outside the parameters of "classical" dressage. In fact, Bass rode saddleseat and trained gaited horses. So he wasn't a dressage rider at all.

Or was he?

Take a look at the photos below.

June 2014 UPDATE:  This site has much info: http://www.audrain.org/tom_bass.aspx  

This recent video of Edward Gal's freestyle ride on Moorlands Totilas, a Dutch warmblood, inspired me to look up more info on Tom Bass:


Read the comments about Gal's ride. Some people are wowed. Others are appalled.

I'm both.

It's not that Gal's ride is bad. It's not. It's masterful, but it's not classical dressage. It's "modern" dressage, and "modern" dressage is starting to look less and less like "classical" dressage and more like a version of the movements of many gaited horses. Disengaged hocks, lowered backs, tight necks, and obvious front end flash.

But then there's old Tom Bass and HIS gaited horses.

Look at the trot of Gal's horse and then look at the photo of Bass on his gray Columbus. Which horse has more impulsion and better parallelism of shannon and cannon? How many contemporary dressage riders with their deep seat, heavily blocked saddles get the sort of forward movement that Bass is getting from his position on his cutback saddle? Need more proof that dressage masters like Walter Zettl and Paul Belasik are right about the seat being more important for impulsion than the lower leg?

From everything I know, Bass was a natural, a gentle genius. He surpassed the limitations of his time and culture, but for lesser mortals, problems usually creep into a riding system without an emphasis on the classical principles descending from Xenophon to Pluvinel to the other great dressage masters.

It's ironic I suppose that after watching Gal's ride, I immediately sought out photos of a saddleseat rider. But, after studying the photos and the video, which reflects a deeper understanding of the principles of "classical" dressage?

In fact, if Bass had studied "classical" dressage, might I have been able to retitle this entry "The American Master" instead of "The American Baucher." I think so because the gifts and sympathy I see in these photos and read about in his biographical information reminds me of Nuno Oliviera, the man still known simply as The Master.

Brag time.

I once met an old, old man who'd ridden horses trained by a "colored boy down the road" in his hometown of Mexico, Missouri.

I said, "Mexico, Missouri? Tom Bass?"

Old Nolan nodded and said that these horses were the kindest, most responsive he'd ever ridden. This moment was in 1976 and it's still a highlight of my life. I not only met a man who KNEW Tom Bass; I knew a man who'd RIDDEN Tom Bass-trained horses!

I'm still sorry so few people know about Tom Bass. What a remarkable human being.