I always get a number of email every week asking me to write an article on a specific subject. Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten a particular request from a number of people to write a sort of ‘how to’ concerning the forward seat as originally used by Federico Caprilli.
One of the difficulties is that everything you can do in terms of horse training and riding can be described in terms of the written word. However, the written word is somewhat insufficient to describe the whole process let alone even some of the finer points. The only thing that the written word can do is to give someone a framework to build upon and a starting point with which to start experimenting on one’s own.
This experimental part is something that Federico Caprilli would have encouraged. In fact he states exactly that in his article Per L’Equitazione Di Campagna. (On Riding in The Field). Caprilli realized that riding in his “Natural System” of forward riding had any number of variables in pulling it off correctly.
Differences in the conformation of individual horses and the conformation of the rider imply that variations in seat used by the rider will vary from horse to horse, from rider to rider, and from one combination of rider and horse to another. This must be worked out by the rider (with the proper guidance of the instructor in most instances) once the rider is made away of certain principles and theories concerning the forward seat.
Applying the mechanics, principles and theories of Caprilli’s forward seat is largely dependent upon developing tack and feel on the part of the rider. This is easier said than done, but a proper forward seat is easy to learn.
Another difficulty in teaching the forward seat is that certain points must always be kept in mind:
1.) The ‘seat’ is part of a complete system of equitation and not a ‘style’ or ‘method’ of riding in and of itself.
2.) As a system of equitation, forward riding as a system is organized into three distinct elements: Schooling, Seat, and Control. Each element is dependent upon every other element and all elements of the system must be designed to promote a specific end goal.
Hence, we often hear people say they ride “Western”, “English”, “Hunt Seat” or “Dressage” when queried as to what “style” of riding they engage in. If you ask what “System” of riding or equitation they engage in it more often than not draws a blank stare from the queried individual.
At risk of sounding like a total pignolo, each of those terms are often used to describe a method of riding. More correctly, they are styles of riding that primarily refer to specific disciplines of riding but generally speaking, not systems of riding. Terminology is important in making this point.
“English” and “Hunt Seat” are forms “Forward Riding” which have become over the years ‘educated’ systems. By educated I mean they have become codified and systematized, a process that makes instruction and learning a lot easier. “Dressage”, in purest terms simply means “Schooling” but has commonly been applied to Haute École as well as Haute École as a whole – the divisions of which are Remontenschule (Forward Riding), Campagneschule (“Campaign School”) and Hohe Schule: (High School or Haute Ecole for you Francophiles).
In Caprilli’s “Natural System” of Forward Equitation, the concentration is on Forward Riding as means for Campaign Riding (riding in the field usually as a military riding system). Certain elements of this particular system, mainly some of the military elements such as “mounted skill at arms” have, over the years, been eliminated from the system as applied by ‘civilian equestrians’. This is quite unfortunate because many of the military aspects and riding exercises are very useful in developing the skills of the rider today as they were back when cavalry still used horses.
While most of Caprilli’s original system is (or should be) totally familiar to any modern forward rider, there are certain elements that have become over complicated, over simplified and simply forgotten over the years much to the detriment of modern forward riding. One particular point that is often over looked is that Caprilli noted that jumping with a horse is a tool for teaching a rider to not interfere with the natural locomotion of the horse or other wise not to impose artificial balance upon the horse in Forward Riding. In essence, jumping with a horse is an instructional and practical tool and not an end unto itself. (see: Federico Caprilli, The Natural System and Forward Riding – The Importance of remembering its military origins. September 25, 2011)
This particular point has been the subject of a substantial amount of correspondence I have had with readers of my blog as well as the subject of much conversation with other instructors and students. Given the simplicity of Caprilli’s original system and methods it is astonishing how complicated the writings on forward riding have become.
But back to the original point I was making – given the number of requests to further detail I have received concerning Caprilli’s “Natural System”, I’ve started working on a somewhat compact, but not cursory article on the “Forward Seat” as Caprilli intended. The “Forward Seat” will be treated as part of a complete system of equitation. Hopefully, I will be able to fill in some of the holes in Caprilli’s original writing, holes that he assumed were points of ‘given’ knowledge for his fellow cavalrymen.