The Ethical Horseman

If you’re in the horse business long enough, you will see just about everything in terms of unethical behavior. And just when you think you can say “I’ve seen it all”, someone will hit you with something you never even thought was possible. So, after being poked and prodded by others to make up a list of ethical rules, I came up with the following “Rules For The Ethical Horseman”. All of these rules have been put forth by others in different words over the years and are all essentially points of common sense. Unfortunately, common sense is not all that common. In fact, it’s rarer than hen’s teeth.

You are responsible for the safety and well being of all horses and students with whom you are entrusted. Instill this concept in your customers, students, employees and anyone else who is trusted with the care or handling of horses.

The care, safety and well being of a horse is the primary concern of every ethical and competent horseman. The highest attention should be paid to the physical and psychological well being of the horse. Teach students to protect themselves and their horses.

Be civil to others both inside and outside of your professional practice. Maintain highest moral and ethical conduct both your professional practice and personal life.

Treat all people and horses with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Be honest, ethical and moral in both business, public and private life. Your word is your bond. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Always use the proper tone of voice and proper language with your students and customers. Avoid language that is inappropriate or offensive.

Understand the history and development of horses, riding and training. Follow this rule and you will avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and help advance horsemanship in the present and future. Understand all disciplines and take the attitude that no discipline is superior to another but that each discipline is superior only in its proper and specific application. History and horsemanship go hand in hand – if you don’t know where you came from you assuredly will not know where you are going.

Use horsemanship to develop character in your students and yourself. Also remember that adversity and difficulties do not develop character, they reveal it. The ultimate goal of horsemanship is to produce efficiency and harmony between horse and rider.

Always take responsibility for that which you are responsible. Actions have consequences. Understand the relationship between actions and consequences. Instill this principle in yourself and your students.

Know your limits, the limits of the horses and the limits of your students. Never ask a horse or a student to do anything that they are not ready to do or are not capable of doing.

Maintain and base your professional and private relationships on loyalty, mutual respect, courtesy and collaboration. Work with others, not against them.

Do nothing to ‘steal’ the customers of others or otherwise and do not solicit the business of another’s customers. If someone else’s customer wants to do business with you, let them come to you.

Make sure that your students are properly equipped and attired at all times.

At shows or other events, always cooperate with officials. Respect all rules, regulations and directions at shows. You, as the instructor, are responsible for all the necessary paperwork and forms. Make sure that your students and customers always obey proper protocol and procedure. Your students are a reflection of you.

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A Horse Is Not An “It” – A Horse Is A “Thou.”

I see it all the time – the horse with the personality of a fileted fish that comes in for training. This is the horse (like so many others) that has been passed from trainer to trainer and from barn to barn. It is the horse that has never been given the opportunity to actually form any bond with any particular human being (other than perhaps the occasional groom or handler that actually cares enough about horses to do so). This is the horse that has been treated as a means to an end rather than an end unto itself.

All too many horses are never given the opportunity to become anything more than a machine for the control freak, a fashion statement for the egotistical, or a commodity for those who are simply into horses for no other reason than to make money. This type of approach to training and handling horses is a shame because it denies a horse its true potential. It also denies the rider the chance to actually develop anything even resembling a bond between horse and human which is the basis of any cooperative effort between a horse and human.

Over the years, I have run into any number of “trainers” who will openly and quite proudly say that if a horse doesn’t immediately respond to their peculiar or particular training techniques, they will send it down the line to whomever they can pawn the horse. This, in my humble opinion, is absolutely disgusting. Rather than questioning their own methods and techniques and expanding their knowledge, skill and ability to be able to work with a horse that doesn’t fit their ideal mold, they simply choose to stick to their narrow and deficient little paradigm and pass on the horse to whomever might wish to take a chance on it. After all, the type of person who only sees the opportunity to make money has become all too common. Hopefully, the horse will eventually find himself in the hands of someone who actually like a horse and will treat the horse as more than simply a means to end.

Of course, there are economic considerations, some trainers will contend. Then again, that’s why there are more horses than people who are willing or able to take on such horses. To a certain class of trainer, it’s all a “numbers game” conducted in hopes of eventually stumbling upon one horse that has enough natural talent that such a trainer doesn’t have to do any real work to train the horse, or develop that horse’s abilities and natural talents. Some people actually want a horse that functions like a machine. My advice to them is get a motor cycle to ride if you want a machine to ride.

I prefer a different approach. I often find myself working with horses that other trainers or owners have absolutely given up on. It’s the rare horse that doesn’t deserve a chance. In fact, I have never run into a horse that doesn’t deserve a chance to have a good, useful and productive life. Oh, there is the occasional horse that is an absolute tough nut to crack but giving up is not an option in my book. For me a horse is not a means to an end – a horse is an end unto itself. A horse is not an “it” – a horse is a “thou.”

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EPA Declares Hay a “Pollutant”?!

Apparently, the EPA had declared hay a pollutant. Will the wonders of our tax dollars at work never cease? Read: EPA Declares Hay a “Pollutant”

Hey, don’t tell the horses this.

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“The Winner” – an interesting horse image in advertising.

One of my hobbies is collecting antique phonographs and phonograph records. From time to time horses and vintage phonographs come together in odd ways. This record label sports a jockey and race horse. The marque “The Winner” was an Edison Bell product in the UK. This example dates from sometime around 1917. You don’t see creative trademarks like this anymore.

Now, if I could just find a Jim Key harness advertisement or other Jim Key related item, I’d be really happy!

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Taking The Plunge

From time to time people send me some interesting photographs.

Crazy Italians

Before the Forward Seat (left) - After the Forward Seat (Right)

This particular photograph is of a comparison in riding techniques. Depicted here are two approaches to taking severe descents on horseback. On the left is how severe descents were taken prior to Federico Caprilli’s “Natural System” of forward riding. On the right is how such descents were taken using the methods designed by Caprilli. The rider on the left I believe is Col. Francisco Forquet (c. 1937?).

Oddly enough, even today some forward riders forget their forward seat and take radical descents like this in the way the rider on the left does.  Caprilli intended for a forward seat to be maintained regardless of the attitude of the terrain or obstacles being passed.

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Madeleine Pickens – Saving America’s Mustangs.

A great video on the work of Madeleine Pickens in her effort to help save America’s Mustangs.

The BLM is engaging in the destruction of this symbol of America. Mustang herds are being ‘zeroed out’ by the BLM. It’s time to put a stop to it. Help save the mustangs. Visit:

As a trainer and owner of Mustangs, I support her work.

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Federico Caprilli, The Natural System and Forward Riding


"Caprilli jumping horse over a chair"

Federico Caprilli demonstrating the jump in his "Natural System" of Forward Riding.

Just completed my article “Federico Caprilli, The Natural System and Forward Riding – The Importance of remembering it’s Military Origins”.

Federico Caprilli’s main goal was to create an entirely new system of military equitation based upon efficiency and in consideration of the horse’s nature. His theories were largely based upon the concept that the rider should accommodate the nature of the horse and not change it to suit the rider.

Caprilli’s student Piero Santini seems to imply through his riding that Caprilli’s actual goal was to create a system of forward riding mainly for the purposes of competition. Reading Caprilli’s own words, we can see that the only goal was to create a better system of military equitation:

It is my increasing opinion for reasons easy to understand that the purpose of military equitation is to train men and horses in the shortest amount of time possible, to obtain from them maximum effectiveness and maximum speed in a way that promotes the temperament and physique of both and to do so with less waste of resources.

    Horses above all else must be trained to military purposes as it is the intent that cavalry is to be used in actions of war: both horse and rider must be familiar with rugged terrain and varying conditions so they both can be calm in the face of difficulties. It is therefore appropriate that training exercises are rational and continuous to promote the required boldness in both the horse and rider.

So, the purpose of military riding lies in good performance in the field.

The traditional system believes that a soldier is best served by a horse trained by methods which desire to modify the horse’s balance, head position, natural movement of the joints and based upon the concept that a horse must only be balanced on the center of its mass, with head vertical and only articulated in the first vertebrae of the neck. The very fact that there are few horses in the regiments that match this requirement perfectly and other horses that serve them well would demonstrate that the methods suggested by existing rules as applied are too difficult and, at the same time, unnecessary.”

——- Federico Caprilli – from “Per L’Equitazione Di Campagna” from the January/February 1901 issue of Revista di Cavalleria (Gilmore Translation)

In the very few pages that Caprilli wrote on riding, he doesn’t indicate a distaste for the “High School” based system in place at the time of this article. However, he displayed great distaste at the ‘traditional’ High School based system when applied to riding in the field.

(read the article at:

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Federico Caprilli – “Principles of Cross Country Riding”

Federico Caprili

Federico Caprilli

I just finished my new translation of Federico Caprilli’s article “Per L’Equitazione Di Campagna” from the January/February 1901 issue of “Revista di Cavalleria”, the official journal of the Italian Cavalry Arm. Now it is in the final editing stage and should go into print in the next couple of months.

This translation is substantially different that the Piero Santini translation from “The Caprilli Papers” (1967) in that Santini essentially re-wrote and altered what Caprilli intended. Caprilli was strictly designing a new system of military equitation and not a system of equitation for competative sports.

If you are interested in obtaining a copy of this new translation when it becomes available, drop me a note at my website:

Update: You can read the entire translation I did @

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