The Educated Horseman – The importance of reading historical works on horsemanship

Caprilli's Forwar Seat

This started out as a FaceBook comment…

It’s no secret that I spend a lot of my spare time perusing historic literature on horsemanship. By ‘historic’ I mean the written word of previous generations of horsemanship masters. Reading the works of these masters of horsemanship is something I encourage not only my students to do, but also for every horseman of all levels to do.

One of the old adages I often use is “good riding is accomplished more with one’s head than one’s arse.” Of course, book learning only goes so far and then one must eventually get off the top rail of the fence, climb into the ring and actually work with horses.

This is where the importance of knowing as much as one can in terms of understanding the existing historical literature of those horsemen who came before us (and had the good sense to write it all down for the benefit of future generations). It gives us the ability to learn from the past, advance the good work and hopefully avoid the mistakes of the past by knowing what not to try.

Horsemanship is a cumulative process that each individual must build on his own. The written work is a necessity, but so is the ability to apply what one has learned academically in the real world. Experience is the best teacher and one must understand where one came from in order to know where one is going, or should go.

When one has the additional tools that result from academic study of the development of modern horsemanship, one also has the ability to test certain theories, methods and practices for one’s self. In fact, such experimentation, and the willingness to do so, is a requirement of the true horseman.

When Vladimir Littauer commented that, “all horses ride they same. They have four legs” the actual implication is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. One must not only be a learned horseman but also a rational thinking horseman.

One of the most disconcerting thing I find about most horsemen/riders/trainers (or any combination thereof) is that they tend to be blissfully ignorant of the work of others that came before them. Most people today don’t study the works of previous generations of master horsemen nor to they tend to question things that are taken as the immutable truth. They do not experiment for the most part and as a result they do not make progress for themselves nor for the art of horsemanship.

Today, if once cites the methods and techniques of the old ‘masters’ or questions the methods and techniques of today’s ‘big name’ commercial trainers who are selling their own ‘unique’ systems of equestrianism, one risks the chance of being accused of having ‘strange’ ideas and being branded a ‘black sheep’.

It’s also a pity that the average rider and riding instructor do not investigate and apply the various skill sets and tools of military horsemanship. Such tools and skills, while viewed by some today as relics of the past, are, in fact, tools to develop the skills needed in order to be a true horseman. Today, jumping a horse over obstacles has become an end unto itself rather than a tool for developing a rider’s skills to promote an over-all picture or skill set.

The more you read, the more you know, the more tools you have to work with – and I tell this to my students regardless of what discipline of horsemanship they wish to pursue.

Posted in Bits and Pieces, Equestrian History, Horse Training, Riding | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Bits and Pieces, Cavalry, Horse Training, Riding | 2 Comments

Mounted Skill at Arms

Here’s a video that was posted on the Facebook “World Open Cavalry Championship – Poznan – 18th-22nd April 2012” group page.

This is some of the best ‘skill at arms’ riding I’ve seen in a long time. While mostly Russian and Cossack in technique, there are some Japanese and Chinese elements added in for flavor.

You don’t see much of this type of riding in the United States.

Posted in Bits and Pieces, Cavalry, Equestrian History, Equestrian Sports | 1 Comment

This comment was so good, I thought it should get it’s own post!

This was a comment on the “Which Discipline of Horsemanship is Superior?” article. I thought it was a very interesting bit of horse poetry relating to ‘pig-sticking’  or ‘boar hunting’ (see: “Which Discipline of Horsemanship is Superior?”).

For the full context of this poem, there’s an interesting article that appears in a “The English Illustrated Magazine”, Volume 22, October 1899 – March 1900, page 87; (London, Ingram Brothers, 1900) titled “Pig Sticking in India” by Major Dalbiac.

It’s an interesting read on an interesting sport in which the prey is quite capable of fighting back (and will do so if ever given the opportunity).

Roger Haningtonsays:
January 11, 2012 at 9:54 am

While pig can be found on the Kadir,


"Pioneer" (Source: Facing page 48; "Modern Pig Sticking" by Major A. E. Wardrop, McMillan and Co., Limited, St. Martin's Street, London, 1914.)

And foxes in Stapleton Gorse,
While sportsmen collect around a fireside,
And men love the hound and the horse;
There’s an argument ever confronting
All those that ride hard and ride fast;
Is Pigsticking better than Hunting?
Like Time, to the end it will last!

A few dozen pig I have ridden,
And I’ve hunted right up from my birth,
So I’ll give you my faithful opinion,
(for what you may think that is worth!)
I wouldn’t for worlds be dogmatic;
I’ll just show the light and the shade,
In a case that can never be static;
For that’s how opinions are made.

Just take a nice day about Christmas,
The jungle is scented and sweet,
The air though not cold has a crispness
That bites as I hack to the meet.
In the first hour I’ve seen six good sounders,
And ‘nailed’ three boars – fighters big:
As I note two are three hundred pounders,
I go nap on hunting the pig.

But when it’s the end of the season,
With flies and mosquitoes galore;
And a heat that takes toll of your reason,
While every scratch turns to a sore,
When I’ve hunted for hours with no fortune,
But crocked my best horse in a well,
As I hack back to camp o’er the sand dunes;
I’m for hunting – and Pig-sticking’s ‘Hell’.

Its the same when I’m back in old England,
When there’re snow patches left by the thaw;
And the scent is breast-high on the grassland,
Then we ‘find’ the first covert we draw.
As my horse changes feet on a ‘double’
Then flies ‘cross a brook – deep and big –
As we lead the ‘First Flight’ o’er the stubble,
‘No! – I wouldn’t chuck Foxes for Pig!’

But soaked to the skin after hunting
From eleven to four in the rain;
The weather by no means abating,
And my horse lame in front with a sprain.
By his side ‘long the slippery tarmac
Then a car knocks me down in the lane,
And I swear that if I ever get back,
‘Twill be ‘Hunting? No, NEVER again!’

So, you see that is how I regard it,
A good day at either is Best.
And if some misfortune should mar it,
Then you feel you should give it a rest.
But you can’t find the wild boar in Britain,
And so we will just let it stand,
That with each in its turn you are bitten,
For each is the best in ITS LAND!

So, if fate gives you leisure and horses,
A country and good hunting-box,
You’ll never make up for your losses
If you arn’t out and hunting the Fox.
But then should your fortune so deem it,
That Eastwards you go for a tour;
Take a tip from a fellow whose seen it,
Get a horse and get after the Boar.

Posted in Bits and Pieces, Cavalry, Equestrian History, Equestrian Sports | Leave a comment

Which Discipline of Horsemanship Is Superior?

It is inevitable that whenever you get a bunch of professional horsemen (or practitioners of a given discipline of horsemanship) that the conversation eventually devolves to, “which discipline of horsemanship is the superior discipline.” I happened to find myself at a gathering of professionals in the horse training and instruction community the other day in which such a conversation arose.

I uncharacteristically sat back and listened to the conversation and waited until all the various arguments on the topic had been expended.

First, the dressage people and the gaited horse people presented their argument. It essentially boiled down to, “dressage is the superior discipline because it requires absolute refinement.”

The second group to chime in was the forward riding crowd. Their argument was, “well, our discipline is superior because we don’t interfere with the natural locomotion of the horse and we don’t impose any unnatural balance on the horse.”

The third group was the Western crowd. Their argument was, “Well, all you people are too esoteric. Your disciplines don’t have any practical application in the real world.”

I listened to the various arguments (not limited to these specific disciplines) and remained silent until someone asked me, “well, you usually babble one about stuff like this, what discipline of riding do you thing is the superior system of riding?”

I gave my rote response to this question: “It depends upon to what purpose you are riding to. Which discipline is superior depends upon to which purpose you are riding. You ride for a specific purpose and you choose a discipline that meets the utility requirements of the task you wish to accomplish. Each discipline is superior to the other when one considers the specific purpose to which one is riding. Choose the right tool for the job at hand.”

Posted in Bits and Pieces, Horse Training, Riding | 2 Comments

Merry Christmas from All The Horses at The Barn(s)

Posted in Bits and Pieces | Leave a comment

Lewis Edward Nolan – “The Training of Cavalry Remount Horses, A New System”

One of the greatest treatises on horsemanship can be found in the form of Lewis Edward Nolan’s book “The Training of Cavalry Remount Horses, A New System” (Parker, Furnivall & Parker, London, 1852). What makes this book an important addition to any horseman’s personal library lies in not only it’s historical significance but also in it the technical information on the training of horses.

While the book is geared to riding to arms and speaks little concerning the rider’s seat, it is an invaluable source of information concerning the overall effective training of horses. The information contained in “The Training of Cavalry Remount Horses, A New System” is as valid today as it was when written in 1852 and is easily adapted to modern forward riding by any thinking modern horseman.

Lewis Edward Nolan (January 4, 1818 – October 25, 1854) is most noted for his role in launching the famous (or infamous according to most historians) “Charge of The Light Brigade” at The Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. A brief description of his career can be read at:

Many of the sentiments, techniques, methods and theories put forth by Nolan in this book are echoed by future riders such as Caprilli, Littauer, Santini, Chamberlain, Wright and others. The commentary concerning the psychology of the horse is also useful to any rider or trainer in any given discipline and is one of the ‘must read’ books on horsemanship. While geared to the double bridle, it offers valuable insight into the applications of the snaffle and the curb as distinct and combined elements.

Many thanks to Staney Watts of Wisbech, Cambridgeshire for pointing me towards this book.

Posted in Cavalry, Equestrian History, Horse Training | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

How Well Does A Western Saddle Fit?

Here’s an interesting thread that appeared on the Horsetopia Forum: Does Your Western Saddle Fit?

The document they link to in this thread can be found here: Western Saddle Fit Study – Saddle Fit Study in the Western Saddle Market, By Skyla Cockerham, President of NMSU’s National Agri-Marketing Club2

The Horsetopia Forum is an excellent community of horsemen and horsewomen:

Posted in Bits and Pieces, Horse Care, Riding | Leave a comment

Fearless Victory, Mustangs, PTSD, Veterans

Fearless Victory pairs traumatized mustangs and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder
Mindfulness with mustangs at Medicine Horse

By Stephanie Gates

A very good program for PTSD vets!

Posted in Bits and Pieces, Wild Mustangs | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

World Open Cavalry Championships – Poznan, Poland. April 18-22, 2012



World Open Cavalry Competiton, Poznan - 18-22.04.2011

The International Cavalry Competition being held April 18-22, 2012 on Poznan, Poland.

So far, the competition will include (as per a prelininary email I recieved the other day):

Standard Dressage Test, as per current Polish “Lancer Days” Comp

Standard Show Jumping, as per the current Polish ‘Lancer Days’ Comp.

Standard Cross-Country (Military) Competition, as per the current Polish ‘Lancer Days’ Comp.

Rifle competition with live ammunition.

Mounted Skill at Arms competition to take into account:

Charging targets both with lance and sword. Use of hand guns against targets with the inclusion of obstacles in the course.

The use of the lance, both in multiple hits (melee) and the inclusion of Tentpegging and the Running at Rings.

A form of team event such as the Campaign Competition of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry(mounted), or the Howze Cup of the USCA. This is to test the team work of the cavalry teams and to demonstrate drill and manoeuvres.’

Anyone seriously interested in this competition should check into the Facebook page for more information:

Facebook: World Open Cavalry Championships – Poznan, Poland

Addendum: Here’s the detailed information:

Posted in Cavalry, Equestrian History | Tagged , , | Leave a comment