The History of French Classical training
Let's start with why what we do is called "French Classical Equitation."
What we teach is called “French” because the lineage of teachers we are influenced by are from France. Just as every country has its own culture, every region where trainers influenced one another has its own riding culture as well. French culture is known for its subtlety and savoring of flavor, French riding is known for its subtlety and sense of delicious connection, too.
It's called 'classical' because it is based on ideas sourced in ancient Greek philosophy, because it has a recognized unbroken lineage of practitioners, because it produces a predictably masterful result in the student who pursues it, because it is based on the idea of a transcendent, universally recognized beauty, because it is beneficial for both the horse and the rider.
How is it different from other forms?
Most riding being taught today (whether Americans would consider it ‘English’ or ‘western’) is a 19th century solution that addressed the needs of the competition industry.
The universally accepted modern form of work is oppositional, the rider contains the horse between opposing forces. The horse stops because the rider pulls on the reins and goes because the rider squeezes or kicks with the legs. The assumption is generally that the horse is dominated by the rider. The oppositional approach was chosen in the 19th century because it is easy to learn rapidly as the aids are expressions of the rider's natural instinct to become aggressive when uncertain. This approach had been rejected by high level riders for thousands of years, as it is known to cause problems for the horse physically, damaging joints, causing ulcers, creating behavioral problems.
These problems are so common in riding horses today that riders assume it's not avoidable. The older work benefited the horse and supported healthy joints, balanced emotions and engaged and curious minds.
The older work was used to train noble riders the art of leadership through service, as it supports the best in human beings as well as in horses.
Imagine the difference between the natural beauty of a healthy, happy, curious child, and the beauty of a child in a children's beauty competition. This is the distinction between competition based training and training based on creating a great riding horse that will remain a valued, healthy and beloved companion over time. Many of our riders do choose to compete, but they do it for the fun of it, not for acclimation or for approval. The opinion of the judges and other riders becomes less interesting to them than the pleasure that they share with their horses.