History, culture and traditions of classical horsemanship






About this blog

Gennaro Cristallino from “Opere di Giuseppe d’Alessandro duca di Pescolanciano”, 1723

The project of this blog stems from research that I have done over the last years, dedicated to the Italian treatises on horsemanship, from the Renaissance until the beginning of the twentieth century. In the course of this work, I have seen how, in spite of the crucial role that the horse has played in the history of civilization, historians have so far rather neglected the study of these kind of works and, more generally, have paid little, or no systematic attention, to the equestrian practices, the study of which has been mainly confined to the scope of enthusiasts and equestrian professionals. Only recently, shrewder scholars have recognized, in the widespread diffusion of equestrian treatises from the sixteenth century, one of the signs of the deep cultural changes that have occurred in Europe during the Renaissance and they began to connect the field of the equestrian culture to an extensive network of relationships with the material, political, military, religious and literary culture of the past centuries.

Carlo Emanuele III
(Palazzo della Venaria)

The delay of the studies on this issue has several causes, which have been well highlighted by the French historian Daniel Roche. «The first is of historiographical nature: there is historical literature on the horse, that of equestrian professionals and that of historians, but they ignore each other. The first study history without knowing the tools, methodology and issues of social and cultural history, while the latter are not much interested to the equestrian culture because they do not consider it as part of the problems of the modern age, due to their ignorance of the current status of the horse and of their forgetfulness of its past importance» (Roche, Daniel, Dei cavalli e degli uomini. Per una ricerca storica sulla cultura equestre, in “Società & Storia”, anno XXX, luglio settembre, 2007, p. 460). In addition, on one hand, the historians rarely have the expertise to appreciate the technical merit of works and material findings relating to the horse (and thus to establish their correct classification), and on the other, enthusiasts rarely have the appropriate methodological tools to ensure their proper analysis and historical placement, and they are often influenced by the partisanship and clichés of their national traditions.

Paolo Uccello – San Giorgio e il drago (detail)
London – National Gallery

So I thought it might be useful to propose some hints for those interested in equitation – whether to enrich their experience as practitioners, or simply because they are eager to deepen their understanding of a significant aspect of our culture – reconciling a popular approach (and thus favouring comprehensibility even for an audience of non-professional historians) with the stricter method, to avoid the approximations and inaccuracies that characterize most of the publications on this subject. In this respect, the images are of great importance: both those of objects (such as bits and other equipment) and the illustrations (often beautiful) from ancient books dedicated to horsemanship, as well as the many testimonies of equestrian practices that come to us from the history of art. For those who wish to further deepen the understanding of the topics discussed, also provided are a number of bibliographical references and online resources.

The items are sorted into four categories which are connected to one another: History, Myth, Characters and Techniques. For ease of navigation, the most recent posts are listed in the menu, but the reader can access the complete index of each category. In each post there are also links indicated to other articles within the blog, or to external resources, dealing with related topics. There is also a further list of links to sites about the history of horsemanship and other related resources on the web.

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