On a beautiful October afternoon, four
of us drove from Austin to Caldwell to observe the classical training methods
of Francisco Trevino. He was in the U.S. at the Twin Creeks Ranch working
with several horses owned by, Dr. Glenn and Sallie Cochran. Francisco
hails from Monterrey, Mexico, and draws from several schools of thought in
his methods. However, his main repertoire stems from what he's learned
from a 70-year-old trainer named Joaquin Nunez who is of the Portuguese bull
fighting tradition. Nunez, Francisco’s mentor, still works and rides
horses—up to ten and 12 hours a day.
Francisco Trevino working Orion
In Caldwell, at the “Cochran Corral,” the Cochrans train and breed Andalusians,
Quarter Horses and Peruvian Pasos. Dr. Cochran takes in outside horses
and youngsters to train as well. Although an accomplished rider himself,
Dr. Cochran invites Francisco to his operation every chance he can so he can
learn more from the trainer.
Francisco is tall and looks to be of Spanish decent. He is a strawberry
blond. His body is even muscled and supple—despite his large physique.
In fact, his riding style reminded me of seeing Hans Reiger, who was the lead
rider for the Spanish Riding School when he gave a large clinic in Austin
about fifteen years ago. Francisco seems to whisper to the horses with
his body and has some of the quietest hands I've ever seen on a rider.
There were no huge leg swings or jerky limbs. It was all very much composed,
intense and focused. The horse learns that if he runs into any resistance,
it seems to come from himself, not the human as Francisco has set up the
parameters so well and allows “a way out” that the horse does not feel trapped.
Just as I’ve always heard one should in classical dressage, Francisco wants
the horses kept moving forward. There were very few static movements
whereby one would simply stop a horse and ask for a turn on the forehand,
for example. He coached us from the ground to keep our mounts in forward
mode even if we were doing lateral movements
We were impressed that the cavasons on all the horses ridden that day were
kept loose despite the fact we were working in a double bridle. The
horses are started in a double bridle with this style of training and Dr.
Cochran and Francisco both underscored that they were looking for a loose,
mobile lower jaw. A tight cavason would preclude such from happening.
During the five hours of this mini clinic, we watched Francisco and Dr.
Cochran work four of Dr. Cochran’s horses and also got to see Dr. Cochran
ride his main mount, Solitario, or Soli for short. And all of us had
the chance to hop on and ride the various horses to feel how correct and
straight they were. I particularly was heartened to notice that all
of them kept their heads centered as I stood on the ground and watched horse
after horse come right towards me on the long side with its head in the middle
of its chest and shoulders straight. Also heartening was seeing that
the horses were worked “poll high,” and not with the under tipped, behind
the vertical found in work done in rollkur. The horses are started
in a balanced mode and kept there. A system of flexions might be utilized
during a break or from the ground before mounting and these are designed
to break up areas of resistance throughout the horse's body.
Of course, once mounted, it was a joy to feel how centered and straight they
all were. There was no tendency towards popped shoulders or haunches
swinging out that the rider would have to try to fix on an “ad hoc” basis.
They did not feel behind the bit or upset with anything. Instead they
felt like they were each waiting for their next instruction from us and quietly
so. These animals all felt like you could do just about anything on them and
they were there “at your command” without fuss or banter.
Judy, a rider just beginning her dressage education, was among us, and we
all watched with envy as she was allowed to sit on Soli while Dr. Cochran
clucked and tapped the whip's tip rhythmically to gently get the horse into
While I rode and felt how level the horse's backs were, and how light and
centered they were, I kept thinking of a Swiss watch, working with precision
and ease. Another give away that the horses were doing proper work was
their muscling. Their necks had the proper top tubular look. They
remained active in their stepping. Cantering on Orion proved to be
a snap. He kept his back up to my seat the whole time and there was
no crimping, crowhopping or diving with any one of his quarters as we made
our way around corners.
Sallie Cochran owns the schoolmaster, Trovador or “Truvi.” He is a
Lusitano stallion, age 15, and is trained to the upper levels. Francisco
worked him with ease, cantering the long diagonal into a corner and just as
solidly as could be imagined, turning him in a six-meter volte while the horse
maintained a regular tempo. I think our jaws dropped while we watched
that little gem displayed. Piaffe, passage, one tempi changes (lead
changes done at the canter). It was all “natch” for this horse.
My friend, Rachel, burst into glee as she realized she merely had to pick
up alternate reins and switch her legs a bit to get Soli into a Spanish walk,
and Soli seemed to like to show off. And Robin was intrigued to realize
all she had to do was move her pinkies and her mount would respond immediately
by slowing down.
Francisco explained that he works the horse until the horse wants to “lean
on the bit.” At first we thought he must have been mistaken. No
real dressage queens like us would ever want our horses going around purposely
on the forehand. However, once we got on the various Cochran horses
and realized that what “leaning on the bit” meant was a soft contact, we realized
this was just a matter of semantics. And in keeping with its training,
one of us got momentarily heavy handed on Orion Each horse was honest in
its bit contact…except it was us who weren’t used to riding with such sensitivity.
These animals all felt like you could do just about anything on them and
they were there “at your command” without fuss or banter. They felt
like they were waiting for you to tell them what to do next, like well tuned,
well timed, well-balanced race cars. Rev up the engine and they'd rev
with you, quiet yourself and they'd come down with you. It was almost
an out of body experience for us plebeian riders, lots of fun and sheer joy.
Dr. Cochran, who has an encyclopedic knowledge about horses and the Baroque
breeds in particular, said he had been working with training youngsters for
decades. He had a difficult, critical moment in his horse education
after realizing he had to find a better way that led him to discover John
Lyons’ methods back in the ‘80’s. And ever since then, he's sought out
as much as he can about training from all different traditions. Francisco
has been trained in what can be called generally the Baucher tradition, which
finds its modern day way in folks such as Jean Claude Racinet, a Frenchman
who currently resides in Pennsylvania. This method primarily postulates
that one starts from balance and works towards movement, remaining keenly
aware of aiming for a finer state of balance.
We also witnessed work done with a five-year-old Azteca--that’s
an Andalusian crossed with a Quarter Horse--named Pecos, done around the pole.
Basically this was like watching spiral in and spiral out a la John Lyons.
Sallie Cochran belongs to a Peruvian Paso sidesaddle
exhibition group called Texas Ladies Aside. The members ride in group
drills and do performances to audiences around the state and nationally.
In fact, the very next day they were to perform at Texas A&M. Occasionally
she drafts her entire family, son and daughter and husband, to join her in