Upcoming Articles on Horsemanship

Federico Caprilli and His Favorite Mare

Federico Carpilli

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.

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2 Responses to Upcoming Articles on Horsemanship

  1. Roger Hanington says:

    The following is a letter which I wrote to the Editor of a certain well known periodical a few years ago; parts of it might be of interest —————-

    Dear Madam,

    Your issue dated 28 June2007.

    I read the article on ex-racehorses with interest. Whilst the intention no doubt is to be helpful I fear that the result may have been to deter people comtemplating the homing of a thoroughbbred or an ex-racehorse with the consequent loss of great pleasure and satisfaction to the rider and a safe and happy home for the horse.
    The details of particular cases were of interest but the information in the blocks at the side emphasised difficulties and dangers out of proportion. I offer the following thoughts as encouragment.

    I have ridden horses over sixty one years ranging from common ponies, light draught horses, troop horses and chargers, show-jumpers and a variety of hired hunters. I rode my first ex-racehorse fiftyseven years ago at the age of twelve and until a few weeks ago kept my own ex-racehorse.

    As Border Collies are different from other dogs so thoroughbreds and ex- racehorses are different from other horses. Despite the fearsome warnings implied by your feature they are different primarily in two respects. Firstly they are usually more intelligent and secondly they have been trained (or not trained) to behave in particular ways. That very intelligence however enables them to amend their previous training and to learn.

    The intelligence gives the ability to think, to imagine and to anticipate. This can lead to unwarranted reaction to minor unkown situations but seldom a reaction that can not be brought under control and in my experience is seldom so extreme that it is difficult to sit. I have been chucked off so many horses that I could not possibly count but only once have I been removed by an ex-racehorse and that was largely my own fault. The intelligence also gives the ability to learn about new situations and to recognise that new responses are now required by the rider. Re-schooling or even basic training becomes that much easier. So much so that over a period of only two or three days it is possible to recognise that the horse has learned.

    Because the horse thinks and remembers he or she is likely to regard the new rider or keeper with wariness, especially if the animal has been treated unkindly in the past – and not all grooms are kind. The first thing that has to be established is trust. When the horse trusts the rider and the groom (who are preferably the same) then the rider will trust the horse, will be that much more relaxed upon the horse who will in turn relax. Trust is achieved only by kindness and gentleness coupled with consistency. There is more to horsemanship than riding and the secret of a good ride starts in the loose box.

    Of course an ex-racehorse will initially do unexpected things – not unexpected to the horse of course – unexpected to the rider, so it is the rider’s task to learn the horse; but these are initial things of no great import and with trust and confidence will soon pass. The horse is of course also learning the rider and a classical seat and light hands will achieve much. (Unfortunately one sees the classical seat and leg less often these days even among the dressage contingent; but it works! ). The horse will become a sensitive and cooperative partner. (more than just compliant).

    The horse is sensitive. If his saddle hurts he will try to get rid of it – and whatever is on it. If his mouth hurts he will try to get away from it. Just because the horse is fast does not mean that he is impossible to stop. He does not have to be ridden in a Pelham or a Bit and Bridoon. Start with the mildest bit you can find; you might just find that you need never change.

    So where does all this leave us? Do not be deterred by xxxx. It helps to remember that if something is not right it is almost always the rider or handler’s fault – something you have done, or not done or have failed to notice. We must be prepared to take the blame, we usually deserve it.

    As encouragement I offer this — I started not so long ago with an unre-schooled ex-racehorse. Where initially he did not understand leg pressure, after eight months I could ride him without stirrups and perform a figure of eight without reins. He learned about gates in three days and where he had been frightened of puddles he would cross the river. I rode him in an eggbutt mullenmouth and never changed. An unschooled ex-racehorse is not for a novice. For a sympathetic rider who is prepared to be the horse’s friend an unparalleled joy awaits.

    Finally I feel that xxxx have been unfair to dismiss Grace Muir as just a registered race-horse trainer. She runs an impeccable establishment (I have inspected a few) incorporating HEROS as a charity for rehoming ex- racehorses. You also fail to mention HEROS in the list of contacts. It would be a pity if HEROS was overlooked by those who might otherwise give a good home to an ex-racehorse.

    Yours faithfully,
    Roger Hanington

    Major (Retired)

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