Alexander Nevzorov. Le phénomène russe. (Cheval Attitude #7-2007. France)
Cheval Attitude: Alexandre Nevzorov, who are you? The French people don’t know you, but we would like to know more. What is this Haute Ecole that you are promoting?
Alexandre Nevzorov: I am a good person! But I am Russian, which can be used to explain everything. To tell you the truth, and to make you feel more at ease: you will always be able to explain my opinions, my convictions, my knowledge and everything that you may find inconvenient with my “Russian maximalism”. But deep down you might understand that they are not merely exaggerations, but solid knowledge and a good understanding of the horse; an understanding in terms of “exact science”. And if you succeed in truly working with a horse – free of the traditional human lowness towards this absolutely fabulous creature – you will surely come to share my convictions.
In the meantime, I think that you can only explain my rather violent wording and “politically incorrect” expressions with some “Russian exaggeration”. I guess that you Westerners are choked by some of my statements. I think that you are too often accustomed to more indulgence.
Anyway, the story of my life is pretty simple and quite uninteresting … let us rather speak of the School. Nevzorov Haute Ecole is a school built on the fundamental principle of raising horses without any – not the slightest – mean of control or constraint. It is a school where all that is “punishment” of the horse is forbidden: spurs, iron of all kinds, halters etc. The school is based on the fundamental understanding that the horse is capable of cognition. To conquer his spirit is a more honest goal and is much more constructive than stupidly hamper him with ropes or straps and all sorts of ironmongery.
Whatever hypocrite arguments the classical schools of equestrians sports may choose to justify themselves, they treat the horse as a machine made of flesh and with no intellect, that you can set in motion with a kick of the spurs, that you must always control through the pain provoked in the mouth by the “iron” (the bit); and whose whole life must be dedicated to serving the desire (or lack of desire) of man to use it and have fun with it.
With us, everything is different. Every student of the School must know the anatomy and biomechanics of the horse to perfection. To acquire this knowledge, the student should watch horse dissections and autopsies. He/she must also understand the psychological processes of the horse, and have a thorough knowledge of mythology, hippology, history, philosophy and even religious doctrines.
With us, it is unacceptable to do even a simple “ground work” if you do not know about the horse’s anatomy. It is forbidden (and this interdiction is strictly respected) not only to hurt a horse, but also to put the horse under any psychological pressure such as the “dressage” for example. You will achieve nothing by installing a “reflex -response” on this or that signal. Either the student is able to make the horse understand what he/she wishes, or he/she will leave these studies for good and look for something else, for a method that makes life more simple (where what he/she wants can be obtained by hearting the horse or with a treat).
We dedicate all our time to learning to be “understandable” to the horse. But to be intelligible is only half of the way to success. In fact, people are often able to make themselves understood, and the horse understands very well the meaning and the nuances of their exigencies, but sometimes the horse will not respond for physiological or psychological reasons. Then things get complicated. If the reason for the refusal is not a veterinary problem, then we begin by teaching the horse to be exited, passionate and to show his temper, though at the same time staying disciplined.
Needless to say: at this level as at all levels, we do not by any means force the horse. We cultivate the horses’ ardour and their temper, their emotionality, and the “high spirited” state of mind. To this end, we have included some games in the school programme that will choc people who see our photos. I will tell you a secret: playing is a magical key. A good combination of games and lessons to teach the techniques of different elements give extraordinary results. I must also make one thing clear about the school: the principal safety precaution in our school is to completely reject the usual safety measures. Helmets for example are not permitted. First of all because it is an attribute for sportsmen and for us any resemblance – even the mere appearance – between a student of the school and a sportsman is inadmissible and insulting. Second, we believe that if you are afraid of the horse, you should simply not approach him. If you follow the other logic, you could just as well wrap your whole body in plaster cast from the beginning.
WHY HAUTE ECOLE?
The Haute Ecole is a grand and ancient French School. Its founding father was Antoine de Pluvinel. He was the very first to have said: “The iron, the bit, causes the horse to suffer” … It is the only school in the world that is able to constantly develop and perfect itself: hence the HAUTE Ecole.
In my opinion, the aim today is to work with a completely free horse, to who the relation with the human being is a voluntary choice, and with the greatest finesse. In the beginning, it is rather complicated. But those who seek a very simple life should not come to us. Their place is in equine sports, with horses for rent, Natural Horsemanship etc. This by the way leads me to stress that in my opinion there are no common points between the School and Natural Horsemanship.
As I understand it, Natural Horsemanship is based on the following dogma: the human being is perceived as a sort of “dominant” horse. I think that we are making an absolute idiot of the horse by supposing that he is able – even just for a minute – to mistake a human for a horse! No, a horse will never see a human as another horse! He sees perfectly well and he perceives very well the diversity of these two species. In fact, he builds his relations to a human being and to another horse in completely different ways. The horse has a wide range of expressions to show his feelings that he naturally uses in all his relations. In the same way we humans use certain signals in our relations with horses that we also use among ourselves (the voice, the caresses, the whistling, the gestures etc) - but that does not mean that we mistake the horse for a human …
The theory of the human as a “dominant” horse in natural Horsemanship seems absurd to me. Much importance is given to the human’s role as leader, but in reality you make the horse understand from the very first moment that the more passive and dull he is, the more comfort he will obtain. At least that is what I think! The horse is extremely intelligent – and he very quickly becomes perverted in the hands of a Natural Horsemanship adept. He accepts the model of comportment that is proposed to him. But you can teach stupidity and dullness just as you can teach for example the Spanish walk! The horse will learn his “lessons of indifference and apathy” that can be seen in the “games” of natural Horsemanship easily and fast. The layman always takes the man with the strings moving around the horse for a “leader”. But that is nothing but a lie. In fact, the games of Natural Horsemanship have been created by people with a good knowledge of equine psychology. In these games, you demand only of the horse to perform things which do not cost him any effort. Few people understand that the horse will accept to be inert and dull until the moment when you ask him to do an unpleasant effort – to carry a person on his back for example; or to make do even the simplest exercise in the arena. In the moment when this kind of effort is needed, the so-called “leader” has to use an aggregate of constraint on the horse’s head that is not delicate at all: it consists of thin strings with small nods that are incrusted into the animal’s head. That way, pain is inflicted in exactly the same way as in equestrian sports. If this same person wants something even more complicated, he must press directly on the horse’s facial nerves by using the “iron” (bit). Why?
As far as I am concerned, I do not practice “leadership” with a horse. I do not take part of the game, pretending to be “horse”, “leader”, or “head of the herd” … and pretend to whom? To the horse who knows very well that I am not a horse! That is absolute craziness!
On the contrary, I am conscious not to dominate, with no display of force, which must be done very carefully. I do realise that power is sweet. A strong and healthy horse will fight for power (as would in fact any other being) if you give him this option. Someone who pretends to be “leader” or “master” must be conscious of the constant risk of being dethroned, if he shows signs of weakness.
This disposition is not at all convenient for the School work – a delicate and complicated work. Even more so because I raise very passionate, arduous and temperamental horses: real battle horses! These horses, in accordance with their nature, love power and take great pleasure in conflicts. Show off your “power” to these horses, and you will immediately cause a fight. Meanwhile, I have absolutely no use of power over the horses, it is only necessary for me to be understandable for them.
HOW ARE YOUR HORSES’ LIVING CONDITIONS?
They are rather good I believe. Each horse has his own space for winter. It is nice and warm, vast and comfortable. During the famous Russian frost, when outside temperature reaches minus 15 degrees Celsius, they spend the night indoors. But the stables are just a temporary measure, an arrangement that should be avoided. He horse must live in movement, in open spaces.
For that purpose, each one has a spacious shelter in his own little personal paddock, but they can also walk around in a big garden. Of course, shoeing is banned. The destructive influence of horse shoeing on the feet, the heart and almost all the functions of the horse’s organism is a fact that has been scientifically proved. We rely on the works of the most powerful and most progressive people in the world, such as Doctor Strasser. In Russia, the veterinary medicine is very poorly developed…it hardly even exists. We are therefore forced to do almost everything ourselves. The European veterinaries help us a lot. Our horses are fed according to their personal diet needs. We use forage from Europe and from Russia.
WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON EQUESTRIAN SPORTS?
For me the sportsmen, people who ride horses without thinking, are nothing less than savages!
They ignore the scientific evidence that proves the extreme pain caused by the “iron” (bit) and all its destructive effects on the horse’s organism. We are normally all able to feel the horse’s pain. But even if we suppose that it is a privilege of people that are specially gifted with an “equine sense”, and even if we believe that there are riders who are incapable of feeling the sufferance endured by their horses, if they can’t feel it at least they can read about it.
There are very serious veterinary researchers, such as Professor Cook, who describe all the suffering that we cause the horse by inserting a bit in his mouth. But the sportsmen and those who enjoy feeling their buts on horsebacks don’t listen. They do not want to hear anything about the sufferance provoked by their pleasures. They continue to torture the horses, while pelting them with their so-called love. Evidently, if you begin to explain all this to them, they get angry. That’s normal, they are savages…
WHAT IS YOUR FINAL GOAL?
My goal is very simple. As I see it, the human being is guilty of extreme offences to the horse.
I really believe that through centuries, humans’ relations with horses has been grounded on violence and immeasurable barbarity. To me, the apotheoses of this “cretinism” are the equestrian sports in all their forms. You torture the horses by inserting iron instruments that were invented in the Bronze Age into their mouths, just to have fun …
I know what I speak of: my own past is very shameful and dishonouring. I am more than guilty of offending the horse as I have participated in equestrian sports, in teaching tricks to horses for the cinema, in using the “iron” and the spurs … it is a long time ago. But I remember it. I remember that in those times, I was “one of them”.
Unfortunately, that is the way I was told to do. Back then, when I was very young, I was told that the “iron” was absolutely necessary, and that the horse was “stupid”. I had to acquire much knowledge, experience and much courage to change myself completely.
Of course, the relation between humans and horses will develop. I know that I am neither the first nor the last to want to change the state of things. This is why the School does not only train horses, but it also participates in scientific research, it sponsors anatomic studies and research that prove the level of brutality of the “iron” and of the use of constraint. The school produces films, some that are designated to our students only and others that are produced for the larger public. Among these is the Horse Encyclopaedia that was produced in collaboration with the biggest television chain in Russia. We are currently producing a film called “The Horse Crucified and Resurrected”. It is a film based on serious scientific research. The aim is not to convince my opponents with the film; I just want to puff them off the surface like dust from a book. Just that. I believe it will work ….”.
Interview by Sandrine Betrand Nel
Photos by Lydia Nevzorova