Riding Dressage In the French/Portuguese Style
©By Ingrid Edisen 
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 piaffe.

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 exhibitions.

    The Cochrans can be reached at (979) 567-4842;

cochran-corral.com
email is: CochranCorral@cs.com.
 

Francisco Trevino’s email is francisco@javelly.com.