The Austrian Art of Riding

Pas de deux in the Spanish Riding School of Vienna

Pas de deux in the Spanish Riding School of Vienna

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

Have you ever wondered how the riders of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna can have the perfect seat that made them so famous in the world? Obviously, there may be different answers:  it is because they work hard and train consistently; it is because each of them is subjected to a long apprenticeship on the longe and without stirrups; and then, it is notorious, as Austrians have an inclination for precision and discipline. These are all answers that have a foundation, but basically are only part of the complete explanation. Primarily, to understand the supreme elegance of these riders, who have such an harmonious relationship with their horses, you have to consider that behind them there are four hundred and fifty years of history. A unique heritage that makes the Spanish Riding School a cornerstone of Austrian cultural identity and a point of reference for all those who love horsemanship.

But then someone will probably say: history by itself does not keep you in the saddle. It is true. However, in this case history is not a mere accumulation of dates and names faded by time, but it is a cultural and technical heritage that comes from four and a half centuries of searching for the perfect harmony between horse and man. It is a wealth of experience that is handed down from generation to generation, with patience and pride. So it is true: history does not keep you in the saddle, but knowledge does.

2 - CoverSo far, however, despite the importance of the Austro-Hungarian equestrian tradition which is recognized by all, the broader public knows very little about the history of the art of horseback riding in Austria. Now, finally, a book by Werner Poscharnigg fills this gap and tells us in a very clear and enjoyable, but also documented, style about the evolution of horsemanship in Austria, from the beginning of the sixteenth century until after World War II. It is really a beautiful book, which was first published in Austria, with the title Meilensteine österreichischer Reitkunst: Eine europäische Kulturgeschichte (2013), and now is available in a richly illustrated edition in English, with the title Austrian Art of Riding (Xenophon Press, 2015, pp. 222, $ 39.95).

First of all, Poscharnigg underlines that the modern Austrian equestrian tradition begins under a double influence: the Spanish and the Italian. The first was primarily due to the dynastic ties between the house of Habsburg and Spain. The Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519), in fact, organized the marriage of his son, Philip the Handsome (1578-1506), with the daughter of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, Joanna the Mad (1479-1555), creating a family bond meant to last into the following generations. At the time, Spain had already a well-established equestrian tradition and the horses bred on the Iberian Peninsula were the most valued in the courts of Europe. The supply of Andalusian blood in the Lipizzaner is well known and evident.

The first equestrian treatise published in Vienna is

The first equestrian treatise published in Vienna is
“Il cavallo da maneggio” (1650)
by Giovan Battista Galiberto

As for Italy, it is well known that during the Renaissance, the Italian culture exercised a very important role not only in the fields of literature and art, but also of horsemanship. In the sixteenth century, the first equestrian treatises were printed in Italy and riding schools and equestrian academies were established, as well as that the majority of the horsemen who were active in the courts of Europe were Italians. And the first book about horseback riding printed in Vienna was by an Italian author, who wrote in Italian and not in German. He was Giovan Battista Galiberto, author of Il cavallo da maneggio (The school horse, 1650). His work is certainly interesting. Poscharnigg analyzes it in detail, highlighting some very significant parts of it, such as the description of an exercise, named “cantone, o angolo” (i.e. corner), which was very similar to the “shoulder-in” described by La Guérinière a century later.

Johann Elias Ridinger, Left lead canter, Neue Reit Schul, 1770

Johann Elias Ridinger, Left lead canter, Neue Reit Schul, 1770

Following this period, Austrian horsemanship developed independently and had the Imperial Riding School, which we know today as the Spanish School, as its primary foundation. Poscharnigg underlines that in the Austrian equestrian tradition, the oral transmission of the equestrian knowledge prevails over the written. This undoubtedly makes the work of historians more difficult and has led to several misunderstandings and to the emergence of some clichés. For example, that the doctrine of the Spanish Riding School is essentially based on the teachings of La Guérinière. In fact, Poscharnigg shows that the main features of Austrian horsemanship (the extreme attention to the perfection of the seat, the accuracy of the aids, the kindness of the training) were already contained in the “compendium” in which Johann Christoph von Regenthal summed up his primary directives for the Imperial Riding School, where he was Chief Rider from 1709 to 1730. Regenthal was considered one of the greatest riders and horse trainers of his time, but his text was never printed and has been handed down to us only in a manuscript. After being neglected for almost three centuries, this work of great historical and technical interest was rediscovered and finally published in 1996 (and I really hope that it will be translated and published also in English soon). Poscharnigg’s book has the merit to provide us a very interesting, reasoned summary of this work, as well as of the other books written by the most important Austrian horsemen.

Johann Georg Hamilton, Equine portrait from the Rösslzimmer at Schönbrunn Palace,18th century

Johann Georg Hamilton, Equine portrait from the Rösslzimmer
at Schönbrunn Palace,18th century

The evolution of warfare produced important changes in the equestrian field even in Austria, but the strong academic matrix of the Habsburg tradition continued to influence the imperial cavalry for a long time. The two world wars marked the final demise of the use of horses in the military but, despite great difficulties, Austria has managed to keep alive its equestrian traditions, mainly thanks to the activity of the Spanish School. Werner Poscharnigg offers us a fascinating account of this sophisticated equestrian culture, focusing on the figure of the “thinking rider” and on an idea of horsemanship that is refined and respectful of the nature of the horse.

La Scuola Spagnola di Vienna

The Spanish Riding School has played a central role
in keeping the Austrian equestrian traditions alive and vital


You can purchase the book by clicking on the following link:
Austrian Art of Riding by Werner Poscharnigg (Xenophon Press)

Equus frenatus. The book about the Giannelli Collection of ancient bits

Guilded bronze bit France - Restoration (1814-1830)

Guilded bronze bit
France – Restoration (1814-1830)
Picture © Michele Ostini

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

Sumptuous. With a very accurate editorial format and beautiful images, which perfectly render the value of the portrayed pieces. But, at the same time, it is also a work with a significant scientific content. Equus frenatus, the book that finally shows the Giannelli Collection, is not only a beautiful package, designed to show off what is certainly one of the most important private collections of ancient bits in the world, but it is also a unique research tool for anyone interested in the history of equestrian culture. In fact, the essays in the book not only describe the most valuable pieces of the collection, but they also present the state of the art knowledge about the evolution and use of the bit through the centuries.

I have already told you, in a previous post to this blog, of the splendor of the Giannelli Collection of ancient bits on the occasion of the beautiful exhibition that was held last summer in Travagliato (you can read the article by clicking on this link: The Giannelli Collection of ancient bits on display in Travagliato). It is an exceptional collection, gathered over decades of research. It ranges from the first bone cheek pieces from Central Asia, dating back to the second millennium BC, progressing up to refined chiseled bits of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The collection has accumulated more than 500 pieces, most of them very valuable.


Book cover

In the introductory essay, Claudio Giannelli presents all of his expertise on this complex subject. He summarizes, in an extremely clear and accurate way, four millennia of the history of bits, following the chronological development and contextualizing the different types of bits of each period and to the civilization from where they came. The result is a charming and very interesting overview. Giannelli’s historical documentation also underlines, that the parable began with the first bronze snaffles, used two thousand years before Christ by the nomadic peoples of Central Asia, moving on to the artistic bits from Luristan, to those from ancient Greece and the Roman period, and on to the very severe medieval and Renaissance bits, ending with the return, at the beginning of the twentieth century, to the simpler mouthpieces, advocated by Federico Caprilli and by his “natural system of horsemanship.” “Therefore, – Giannelli writes – we notice a return to basics with an increasing use of the normal articulated snaffle, certainly the lighter mouthpiece and the most respectful of the horse’s delicate mouth, provided that it is always combined with patience, progressive work and, above all, love for the horse” (p. 40).

The most special areas of the Gianelli Collection are two. First and foremost, the magnificent bits from Luristan, true masterpieces in bronze, made with the technique of lost wax casting, by a civilization that flourished between the second and first millennia BC in the southwestern region of what is currently Iran. The Giannelli Collection is probably the largest and most important collection of these very special artifacts in the world. Equally unique is the collection of Villanovan and Etruscan bits. Even in pre-Roman Italy (IX-VIII century BC.), the practice of burying the dead with grave goods, that frequently included horse bits, was widespread. The bits were mostly snaffles, with cheek pieces representing stylized horses, that today look curiously modern. These two areas of the collection are described in the essays by Manuel Castelluccia, archaeologist specialist of the Ancient Near East, Caucasus and Iran, and by Chiara Martinozzi, archaeologist, specialist of the Etruscan civilization. Both provide a rich historical and cultural framework in which they place the production of these bits and the description of their various types.

Luristan bit with zoomorphic shanks Luristan - around I millennium BC Picture © Michele Ostini

Luristan bit with zoomorphic shanks
Luristan – around first millennium BC
Picture © Michele Ostini

The most compelling feature of the book is that the bits are not just shown and described, but they are always placed in the historical and cultural context in which they were used. So the chapter about ancient Greek bits, written by the same Giannelli, is preceded by an interesting historical overview of Greek cavalry by Giuseppe Cascarino, who is also the author of the chapter about Roman cavalry. It was exactly with the advent of Roman civilization that bronze bits were replaced by those made of iron. The use of this more perishable material makes the findings of this age particularly rare. The Giannelli Collection has several of them in excellent condition. In the Roman era, the bits began to change. The first bits with long shanks appeared. These bits had a complicated and (at least in my opinion) still obscure functioning principle. The headstalls were complemented by the so-called psalion, a sort of metal halter that prevented the animal from escaping the action of the bit by opening his mouth. The Giannelli Collection includes also some rare specimens of the so-called “hipposandals,” which were also in use at that time.  These were a type of metal horse boots that were secured to the hooves of the horse with leather straps,

With regard to the study of the evolution of bits, the Middle Ages are definitely a difficult period. The artifacts from this period are few, as are the written sources, while the iconographic sources are difficult to interpret. The philologist and historian, Patrizia Arquint, describes this period with his usual accuracy and clarity, offering a survey in which, despite the caution due to the relative scarcity of data, the historical outline is complemented by the technical description.

“Prometopidion”: frontplate with “psalion”
Bronze – Roman era
Picture © Michele Ostini

The Renaissance is, in contrast, the era in which more importance is given to the bit and the “art of bridling”, i.e. the art of choosing the most suitable mouthpiece for each horse was considered a key to showing the competence of the true rider. This is clearly testified by the equestrian treatises that began to be published since the mid-sixteenth century. Most of these works include a series of drawings of bridles, whose bewildering variety was designed precisely to suit the different types of horse, under the illusion of correcting any possible defect with the use of specific instruments. In fact, given the severity of their action, it is probable that those bits produced quite the opposite effect. Nevertheless, from the manufacturing point of view, they are real works of art.

Wrought iron Renaissance bit, pierced and engraved Germany - Seventeenth century

Wrought iron Renaissance bit , pierced and engraved
Germany – Seventeenth century

The flourishing of the new literary genre of the equestrian treatise is evoked in an essay by Mario Gennero, curiously focused on Claudio Corte’s Il cavallerizzo (The Horseman), which is one of the most interesting books about horsemanship of the sixteenth century, but is also one of the works which devotes less space to the art of bridling, while other authors of the time write at length about this subject. It is certain that the technical capacity of the Renaissance “bit makers” was amazing. By virtue of the strong progress of iron metallurgy, the craftsmen of the time, as Alessandro Cesati wrote in his essay, were able to make, with simple tools, such as files, hand drills and chisels, “artifacts that looks like small iron sculptures: art objects which sometimes are so refined that they make one almost completely forget their original function” (p. 188).

One of the most incredible pieces of the Giannelli Collection: Wrought iron Renaissance bit , pierced and engraved. There are only two other known similar specimens. Sixteenth century Picture © Michele Ostini

One of the most incredible pieces of the Giannelli Collection: Wrought iron Renaissance bit , pierced and engraved. There are only two other known similar specimens.
Sixteenth century
Picture © Michele Ostini

The final essay by Pierre Desclos has the merit of describing the complexity of the Renaissance bridles from the technical point of view and of explaining the progressive simplification of the bits during the following three centuries. Particularly interesting is the section devoted to the three main parts of the bit (the mouthpiece, the shanks and the curb chain) and to the complex technical terminology used in the treatises of the period, to which is also devoted a very useful glossary.

Finally, it should be pointed out that this work was made possible by the decisive contribution of the Fondazione Iniziative Zooprofilattiche e Zootecniche (Zooprophylactic and Zootechnical Initiatives Foundation) of Brescia, which has been funding scientific, experimental and cultural activities related to veterinary and biomedical sciences for sixty years. Since 1979, the Foundation has also been active in the field of scientific publishing. This book is number 100 of its series of monographs and it is a worthy climax of the Foundation’s meritorious commitment in the promotion of culture and scientific research.

Villanovan bronze bit Ninth - Eight centuries BC

Villanovan bronze bit
Ninth – Eight centuries BC

To buy the book

Unfortunately the book, which is available only in the Italian edition, is not distributed through normal commercial channels.

Anyone interested in buying it, can request it by sending an email to this address:

A book that changed my life. A personal tribute to Sylvia Loch.

IMG_3005by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

It seems that nowadays we read less and less. Or rather, it seems we read fewer and fewer books. The crisis of this powerful means of communication is now supported by a thousand statistics. For most people, it seems that they are bombarded with too many messages to find the time to devote themselves to books. Undoubtedly, compared to television and social media, books require more zeal and concentration and, in an increasingly frantic and superficial world, this makes them less attractive than other means of communication. Nevertheless, I’m still deeply convinced, that those who regularly predict the inexorable disappearance of books are wrong. This is because books have a force that only books possess and that, even in the age of Facebook and Twitter, this force is still irreplaceable. Books keep on being the ideal vehicle for the irrepressible need of men and women to give voice to their feelings and to pass on their knowledge, overcoming the barriers of space and time. This is what continues to make books able to move and fascinate us. And it makes no difference if today they turn into immaterial objects, which we can download with a click on our tablets. A book is not, in fact, just an object, but it is first and foremost an intention: the vector of a creative energy that can change our existence.

There are many books that have influenced my life and my views, making me what I am today. However, I can say that only a few have really produced a deep change. And it is of one of these in particular that I want to tell you.

Ferdinand Albrecht, Later Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg-Bevern, by John Wotton  (1682-1764) (courtesy of Arthur Ackermann & Son, London)

Ferdinand Albrecht, Later Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg-Bevern, by John Wotton (1682-1764)
(courtesy of Arthur Ackermann & Son, London)

About twenty-five years ago, I was on holiday in London. As I always do (at least in the places where I still find them), as well as visiting museums and monuments, I also visited various bookshops in the area of Charing Cross Road, a place famous for its second hand and antique bookshops. At that time, I already had been riding horses for more than a decade and I had experienced how difficult it was to find books about horseback riding in Italy. For this reason, my curiosity was particularly attracted to the shelves devoted to publications about horses and the equestrian art. I remember that while I was scrutinizing the volumes in a very large, four story bookshop, my gaze was captured by a big, beautiful book. The cover was superb – a magnificent picture by the famous equestrian English painter John Wotton (1682-1764). It portrayed Ferdinand Albrecht, later Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, in his eighteenth-century dress, mounted on a beautiful gray stallion. For me, that image finally summarized the elegance, strength and dignity that I, vaguely, sensed as the most attractive essence of horseback riding. That picture showed me an ideal of rigor, grace and lightness, but also of strength and agility, that I had hardly ever seen in contemporary riders and that, in that moment, I realized belonged to a different era and to another way of conceiving equitation. That revelation brought me a new consciousness: that was the way of conceiving and practicing the equestrian art that I wanted to become mine too.

Capriola da fermo a fermo al piliere, in Carlos de Andrade, Luz da Liberale e Nobre Arte da Cavallaria, 1790, Stampa 83

The charm of an equestrian knowledge refined over the centuries.
Cabriole on the pillar, in Carlos de Andrade,
Luz da Liberal e Nobre Arte da Cavallaria, 1790, Plate 83

I already began to devour the book on the underground that brought me back to the hotel. I was fascinated by the beautiful pictures and by the story of an equestrian tradition rooted in classical antiquity. No matter if I did not understand everything of that story. There were, in fact, names and technical terms that I confess, at the time, I had never heard before and I did not comprehend. But I understood that in those pages, an ancient wisdom was evoked: wisdom developed in millennia of coexistence between man and horse. The same wisdom and skill that made possible that miracle of refinement that struck me in the cover picture of the book and that I also found in many other pictures of that beautiful edition. But above all, two things were clear to me. The first was that the culture of my country had, in the past, a major role in the evolution of the equestrian tradition. The other was that there were still places in the world where this tradition was kept alive by people who may still be considered its interpreters and custodians. These two certainties were a good starting point.

Ricordo ancora con quanta emozione sfogliai per la prima volta un'edizione cinquecentesca degli Ordini di cavalcare di Federico Grisone

Frontispiece and plate from one of the many sixteenth’s century edition of
Ordini di cavalcare by Federico Grisone

At that time, I was a young student of literature, who was on the point of discussing his graduation thesis. I had already begun to publish essays and reviews in various magazines and I dreamed of a career in the field of research. It was, therefore, quite logical that reading this book suggested to me the idea to deepen the study of the first Italian equestrian treatises. I still remember the great emotion I felt while leafing through, for the first time, a sixteenth century edition of the Ordini di cavalcare (Rules of Riding) by Federico Grisone, at the Central National Library in Rome.

Those readings sent my mind adrift. Some years before I already visited Jerez de la Frontera, in Spain, and I was dazzled by the beauty of the famous cartujanos horses and by the skill of the jinetes of the Real Escuela. Now I wanted to broaden my horizon. Among the illustrations of the book that had most attracted my attention, there was a picture that showed a group of Portuguese riders, mounted on beautiful Alter-Real stallions, performing in the garden of a mysterious Palace of Queluz. I had found another destination for a new equestrian pilgrimage.

Una foto nel libro ritraeva un gruppo di cavalieri portoghesi che si esibivano nei giardini del Palazzo di Queluz

A picture in the book showed a group of Portuguese riders
performing in the garden of the Palace of Queluz

You should consider that at the time the Web did not exist. Today if you want to know something about a place or a person, you just search for them on Google. At that time, instead, someone had to tell you about it. Or you should have the luck to stumble on a newspaper article, on a book, or on some rare television documentary. My first riding master (who had worked in Spain with Sergio Leone’s crew) often told me about the splendors of Andalusian horsemanship. She mentioned once that in Portugal there were riders who were considered even more refined. And it was exactly for this reason that that picture of the equestrian carousel in the gardens of Queluz ignited my imagination.

A couple of years later, I crossed Europe in a camper with a group of friends in the direction of Portugal. My friends were simply on holiday. I had, instead, a clear goal: Queluz. We arrived early in the morning. Outside of the magnificent palace there were few cars parked. At the ticket office I did not find any trace of the presence of an equestrian school. I asked the guy who was at the entrance. He looked at me quizzically. Then, when I finally managed to explain what I was looking for, he said that there was no school there. The horses were in Lisbon, at the Jockey Club. They had performed a few times in the gardens of the Palace and it was perhaps in one of those occasions that the picture I had seen was taken.

The beautiful Palácio Nacional de Queluz, built between 1747 and 1770, was one of the Portuguese royal residences  © PSML - Wilson Pereira

The beautiful Palácio Nacional de Queluz, built between 1747 and 1770,
was one of the Portuguese royal residences
© PSML – Wilson Pereira

In short: a failure. However, it was during that trip that, in a small bookshop near the famous cafe A Brasileira, in the center of Lisbon, I found the French edition of Nuno Oliveira’s complete works (Éditions Crépin Leblond) and the beautiful volume by Fernando Sommer D’Andrade, about Portuguese bullfighting on horseback. More tracks for me to follow and other ideas to make my imagination run wild.

Since then, many years have passed and I returned many times in Portugal. Not only I have seen many shows of those incredible riders of Queluz who form the Escola Portuguesa de Arte Equestre, but I also assisted in their training, visited their stables, met them personally and become friends with many of them. I also had the pleasure and honor to take riding lessons from some of them. Meanwhile, although I became a journalist in the field of politics, I kept on studying the ancient treatises about horsemanship and I finally published the results of my research in a book.

Francisco Bessa de Carvalho of the Escola Portuguesa de Arte Equestre performing a cabriole in hand © PSML - Pedro Yglesias

Francisco Bessa de Carvalho of the Escola Portuguesa de Arte Equestre
performing a cabriole in hand
© PSML – Pedro Yglesias

I do not think this would have happened, if one afternoon many years ago, in London, I hadn’t bought Dressage: the Art of Classical Riding by Sylvia Loch. That book has literally changed the course of my life. It induced me to travel, to study, to write. It opened a window to a wonderful world and showed me a path along which I met many people and great friendships were born, I read books, I learned a lot of things, I got excited, and I had fun. All of this was gifted to me by a person who I did not have the pleasure, nor the honor, to meet personally, but in spite of this, I am grateful to her as to a benefactor.

Every writer first of all obeys to the personal need of expressing his dreams, of giving shape to his own experiences and, in some cases, of exorcising his obsessions. When this impulse is translated into action, and feelings and ideas become written discourse, the author abandons his work to others, hoping that they can benefit from it. It is impossible to determine which short circuits trigger the decisive spark, but some books speak to us differently. They touch keys to which we are more sensitive and so they produce great changes.

Sylvia Loch riding (picture from the Classical Riding Club website)

Sylvia Loch riding
(picture from the Classical Riding Club website)

I recently joined the group that Sylvia Loch founded on Facebook and I began to regularly post small excerpts of my articles. On several occasions Sylvia’s comments confirmed to me that she appreciated what I had published. But it was an extraordinary accident that induced me to write this article and to let her know what the influence her work has had on my life and to tell you an example of the unique power of books. At the beginning of this summer, I visited the beautiful equestrian library that has been recently opened in the Palace of Queluz (you can read the article I wrote for this blog by clicking on the following link: The new Equestrian Art Library in Queluz, Portugal). After seeing, with enchanted eyes, the shelves on which are preserved many precious ancient books about horsemanship, my gaze was drawn to the shelf of recent publications. That’s when, with a soaring heart, I discovered the American edition of my book right next to that volume by Sylvia Loch’s from which everything began so many years ago. The circle had finally come full. Thank you, Sylvia!

The American edition of my book, The Italian Tradition of Equestrian Art, side by side with Sylvia Loch's book on the shelf of the Equestrian Library of Queluz © PSML - Fabiano Teixeira

The American edition of my book, The Italian Tradition of Equestrian Art, side by side with Sylvia Loch’s book on the shelf of the Equestrian Library of Queluz
© PSML – Fabiano Teixeira

Sylvia Loch’s links:

A passion called farriery

Emiliano Scipioni (on the left) and Carlo Montagna preparing a horseshoe

Emiliano Scipioni (on the left) and Carlo Montagna preparing a horseshoe

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

“If you exclude prodigious and individual moments that destiny can give us, to love your own work (which unfortunately is the privilege of a few) is the best approximation to real happiness on earth” (*). Primo Levi is right: there is a sense of freedom and deep joy in being competent in your own work and in taking pleasure in doing it. And, of course, this is true, no matter what the job is. There are many professions that require special skills and sensitivity, making it perfect to develop the passion of those who practice them. Think, for instance, of the farrier. In his job, there is the manual skill in working iron, the knowledge of anatomy to understand how to trim the hooves, the sensitivity to be aware through touch and sight of how far to sink the knife into the sole, and how this all comes together. Moreover, a farrier also has to deal with strong and enigmatic animals, who can be docile as lambs and rebels like wild beasts. And under those big beasts he must bend and work. In short, it is a profession that it is really impossible to do if you don’t like it, but for those who love this work, it is a field for infinite discoveries.

Daniel Anz forging a horseshow under the watchful eye of Domenico Bertolami

Daniel Anz forging a horseshow under the watchful eye of Domenico Bertolami

Recently I was invited to an equine podiatry and trimming clinic, organized by Emiliano Scipioni at “Casale San Nicola” Equestrian Center in Rome. The teacher was Daniel Anz, a brilliant Argentine podiatrist who travels the world spreading his trimming method, called Balance F. For me it was an opportunity to discover a new world, that of the farriers, which I knew only in a rather superficial way. It was a very surprising discovery, which revealed to me the passion with which the majority of these professionals carry out there jobs and the curiosity with which many of them are ready to question their own experience, in order to learn new techniques. A desire for knowledge, an openness to new ideas and an enthusiasm that I rarely, at least in Italy, have found among riders. The clinic was open not only to farriers, but also included a group of veterinarians who are specialists of the horse’s foot and limbs, and who have studied Anz’ method as related to a scientific evaluation. These varied professionals and their experience fed a very animated and stimulating debate.

In the profession of the farrier craft skill, knowledge of anatomy, manual sensitivity come together

In the profession of the farrier craft skill, knowledge of anatomy
and manual sensitivity come together

The main issue of the clinic was as essential as (apparently) simple: how can we bring the horse’s hoof to its natural balance, eliminating the disproportion resulting from the natural process of growth and from deterioration? Different answers have been given to this question throughout the centuries. And recently, about this matter, there is a great proliferation of theories and methods. I do not pretend to have the expertise of explaining in detail Daniel Anz’ approach, nor of evaluating its effectiveness. Anyone interested in learning more can get an idea by visiting his website (by clicking on this link: What I found interesting is Anz’ effort to establish parameters as objective as possible to determine what he calls “the zero point” of the hoof. That is to say, the point where the foot is in its condition of full functional balance.

Allessandro Canni forging a horseshoe

Allessandro Canni forging a horseshoe

Unlike most traditional methods, which tend to adapt the hoof to an ideal model, Anz suggests to use the information that the same hoof capsule provides to the farrier. Therefore, he uses some natural factors that are visible on the hoof to determine the point where the foot should be brought back through trimming. That is to say, to know where and how much to trim, how and how much to rasp. His goal is to bring the foot back to the level of what he calls (with a clear similarity with the concept of “uniform sole thickness” developed by the Californian farrier Mike Savoldi) “functional sole”, i.e. the “good” layer of the sole: the one which performs the real structural function in the balance of the foot. It is not said, Anz explains, that this layer is on a unique plane. Indeed, it has a certain mobility because of the longitudinal flexibility of the hoof. While traditional methods tend to trim the foot evenly on one plane, according to Anz it is instead necessary to determine the functional limit of the hoof, and follow it, independently from where it is. For example, examining the horse’s heels, Anz identifies what he calls “stress points”, where the horny tubules show a slight deviation, which mark the plane of the “functional sole”. And it is always analyzing the hoof that the farrier should spot the other signs that indicate to him the plane to follow. As for the sole, the farrier must “search” the functional layer with the knife eliminating the part that is exfoliating, but only that one.

Daniel Anz, Emiliano Scipioni and Dr. Caroline Rengot

Daniel Anz, Emiliano Scipioni and Dr. Caroline Rengot

This method requires the farrier to use great precision. For example, Anz emphasizes the importance of using a compass to take the measurements of the hoof. “Even the most experienced eye – he explains -, is not enough.” Similarly, the gestures with which tools such as the knife, the tongs and the rasp should be handled must be extremely careful and guided by a great concentration and awareness. Being a layman, I was struck by this accuracy and by the delicacy with which I saw the participants work on the hooves during the practical training. “It’s a way quite different from the one to which we were accustomed,” Simone Cioni, from Bologna, said to me. “For example, the rasp should not be used on both sides of the hoof wall to level the hoof, as it was usual in the past. By following the functional limit, you must always use it on half of the hoof, with a spiral movement. You do not need to use more strength, but it is a gesture to which I am not still completely accustomed and that’s why I make more effort,” he added, wiping his sweaty forehead.

Anz recommends to always use a compass to check the measurements of the hoof

Anz recommends to always use a compass to check the measurements of the hoof

However, what really impressed me was the attention with which the participants have followed Anz’ theoretical explanations and practical demonstrations and the way they compete with each other in order to practice the new technique, under the guidance of the master. There were people coming from all over Italy: some from Milan, others from Bologna and many obviously from Rome and its surroundings. Domenico even came from Sicily. And everyone was asking questions, not only to Anz, but also to the most experienced and respected colleagues in the group. They were all exchanging opinions and jokes with each other, and they all gathered around the veterinarians, who checked the results obtained by applying the method with radiographs. So much so that at lunchtime I had to amicably complain because they did not even want to take a break to grab a bite!

The effects of the method Balance F were verified with radiographs  (from left) Ermanno Ciavarella, Gioacchino Ventura, Lorenzo d'Arpe, Ilaria Grossi

The effects of the method Balance F were verified with radiographs
(from left) Ermanno Ciavarella, Gioacchino Ventura, Lorenzo d’Arpe, Ilaria Grossi

(*) The quote is from one of Primo Levi’s most beautiful books of: The Wrench (USA), (The Monkey’s Wrench in the UK) (1978). [By clicking on the following link, you can access the page of Primo Levi Foundation’s website, dedicated to this beautiful novel:]

GruppoDaniel AnzLorenzo d'Arpe e Franz ChiavelliMisurePiedeCarlo MontagnaFerriMarco Cappai e Lorenzo d'ArpeGioacchino Ventura



Back to Belem. 
The inauguration of the new arena 
of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art in Lisbon

Gonçalo Soares and Vejetal Picture © Melis Yalvac

Gonçalo Soares and Vejetal
Picture © Melis Yalvac

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini
pictures by Melis Yalvac, Rita Fernandes and Bruno Barata

At the center of the arena, Quejal is elegantly piaffing between the pillars. There is no tension in the ropes that secure him to the two poles decorated with flags. The beautiful Alter-Real stallion dances to the rhythm of the minuet of the Suite No.1 in F major of the Water Music by Georg Friedrich Handel. His movements are seemingly without any effort, as if to show off his power and elegance. Behind him, tactfully, João Pedro Rodrigues, mestre picador chefe of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, watches him, pleased, and encourages his dance imperceptibly waving his whip. Five other stallions, conducted in hand by their riders, file past on the track. In turn, they move towards the center, performing spectacular jumps, cabrioles, courbettes, ballotades, following one another, alternating with magnificent levades.

After over two hundred years, the equestrian art is back in the Belém district, in the heart of Lisbon. On July 16, with a special gala held in the presence of the Portuguese Prime Minister, Pedro Passos Coelho, and of the Minister of Agriculture, Assunção Cristas, the new covered arena of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art was inaugurated. Finally, this prestigious riding school, for years hosted in the gardens of the National Palace of Queluz, has a suitable place in the capital where they will be able to perform throughout the year. And the new Picadeiro Henrique Calado is located just a few hundred meters from the building which, in the eighteenth century, housed the Picaria Real, the riding academy established by João V to which the school explicitly refers.

The arena is made particularly striking by giant projections of images and video on one of the walls. Vasco Pinto and  Senior Picture © Melis Yalvac

The arena is made particularly striking by giant projections
of images and videos on one of the walls
Vasco Pinto and Senior
Picture © Melis Yalvac

The new arena is modern and functional, with two stands for a total of 282 seats, a cafeteria and a bookshop. The arena is made particularly striking by giant projections of images and video on one of the walls. From now on, every morning people can come here to watch the training of horses and riders and, twice a week, there will be shows with music and costumes. And just a few hundred meters from the new arena are the new and old Coach Museums, one of Lisbon’s tourist attractions even for non horse-lovers.

The bullfighter António Maria Brito Paes with the “tourinha”
Picture © Melis Yalvac

The debut was full of emotion. The riders of the military school of Mafra were the first to perform. Then, introduced by valets and standard bearers on foot, with a fanfare mounted on horseback in eighteenth century costumes, the riders of the School paraded around the arena, accompanied by two bullfighters mounted on beautiful stallions and by the falcons and hounds of the Alter Stud. Suddenly the spectators found themselves in another epoch. It was as if, by magic, the beautiful illustrations of ancient equestrian treatises, which were projected on the wall, became animated and the characters and horses represented in the pictures, materialized in the arena. The magic continued with António Maria Brito Paes and his brother Joaquim, who gave a demonstration of bullfighting equitation. They, in turns, made a duet with the tourinha, the typical wheelbarrow with a bull’s head which is used for training bullfighting horses.

João Quintas' solo, performed riding with just one hand, in the pure classical style Picture © PSML – Bruno Barata

João Quintas’ solo, performed riding with just one hand, in the pure classical style
Picture © PSML – Rita Fernandes

Then it was the turn of the School. First, came the airs above the ground in hand, followed by a wonderful solo by João Quintas. This was a real example of equestrian philology, with the rider performing half-passes, tempi changes, pirouettes, piaffe and passage, strictly riding with just one hand and holding the whip high in his right hand. The performance was just like the riders portrayed in the plates of Carlos de Andrade’s treatise, Luz da liberal e nobre arte da Cavallaria (1789), which inspire the School’s philosophy and technique.

Paulo Sérgio Perdigão and Ajacto during the performance of the

Paulo Sérgio Perdigão and Ajacto during the performance of the “court games”
Picture © Melis Yalvac

Very interesting and innovative (at least for the program of the School) is the revival of the so-called “court games”. These games were those chivalric trials that, in the past, were practiced as a military training exercise and were held during public celebrations, as an opportunity to show off the beauty and the training of the horses, as well as the skill and courage of the riders. Two teams, marked by the blue and green colors of the clothes and trappings, competed in a circuit that included the Quintain, the “game of the heads”, in which the rider must pierce a puppet with a sword while cantering, that of the Medusa, in which, always at the canter, he must throw a dart against a plaque depicting the Gorgon, and the “ring joust.”

Gonçalo Soares and António Borba Monteiro during the performance of the mounted airs above the ground Picture © Melis Yalvac

Gonçalo Soares and António Borba Monteiro
during the performance of the mounted airs above the ground
Picture © Melis Yalvac

Subsequently Gonçalo Soares, António Borba Monteiro, Carlos Tomás and Vasco Pinto performed the mounted airs above the ground, recreating the same exercises which were first shown from the ground at the start of the show: spectacular cabrioles, dizzying courbettes, elegant levades. A performance in which they demonstrate supreme composure, even in the most impetuous movements, and apparent ease, while performing the most sophisticated gestures. After all, the essence of high school riding is all based on this unceasing pursuit of perfection. In fact, such spectacular and difficult exercises are just tools to make tangible the aspiration toward an ideal of absolute communication between man and horse.

The solo on the long reins was accompanied by opera arias. Paulo Sérgio Perdigão and Que-jovem Picture © Melis Yalvac

The solo on the long reins was accompanied by opera arias. Paulo Sérgio Perdigão and Que-jovem
Picture © Melis Yalvac

Accompanied by opera arias, the solo on the long reins was great. Paulo Sérgio Perdigão easily performed all the difficulties of a dressage Grand Prix, driving his horse from the ground and concluding his exhibition with an impressive series of tempi changes.

Il carosello finale è un vero e proprio balletto a cavallo Foto © PSML – Bruno Barata

The new arena is modern, with two stands for a total of 282 seats
Foto © PSML – Bruno Barata

Finally, the carousel. Eight riders: João Pedro Rodrigues, Francisco Bessa de Carvalho, Gonçalo Soares, Vasco Pinto, Paulo Sérgio Perdigão, Carlos Tomás, Rui Almeida and Ricardo Ramalho performed a real ballet on horseback, executing with extraordinary precision a complex choreography that was a feast for the eyes and the soul.

The carousel is performed by eight riders Picture © Melis Yalvac

The carousel is a true ballet on horseback
Picture © Melis Yalvac

I confess that when, three years ago, the news that the management of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art was changing, I was worried. Also, because the first, confused news said that the school was going to be “privatized” and even that the Alter do Chão Stud, which provides the beautiful Alter-Real stallions to the School, was going to be closed. Nothing more false! Instead, the company Parques de Sintra – Monte Lua SA which is a public-owned company formed to manage and enhance the monuments of Sintra after they entered the UNESCO World Heritage in 1995, has shown it’s belief in the cultural and touristic potential of the School, made the investment to continue and enhance its work. A brilliant young manager, Theresa Abrantes, was chosen to direct the School. Together with the new picador chefe João Pedro Rodrigues, she was able to make a significant change in its activities.

La giovane direttrice, Teresa Abrantes, e il mestre picador-chefe, João Pedro Rodrigues, hanno saputo imprimere una svolta all'attività della Scuola Foto © Cátia Castro

The young manager, Teresa Abrantes, and the mestre picador-chefe, João Pedro Rodrigues,
made a significant change in the School activities
Foto © Cátia Castro

The first time that I visited the School many years ago, I was struck by the relative poverty of its means. This made me admire even more the extraordinary mastery of the riders. In spite of the effectively difficult conditions in which they were operating, they practiced a very refined horsemanship, on par with the other great European academies: the Spanish School of Vienna, the Cadre Noir of Saumur and the Real Escuela Andaluza de Arte Ecuestre in Jerez de la Frontera. Today the conditions have drastically changed, and for the better. With the opening of the new arena in the heart of Lisbon, it will be easier for horse lovers from all around the world to enjoy the supreme beauty of the Alter horses and appreciate the ability of the Portuguese riders. Thus it begins a new phase for this wonderful institution, which is keeping alive a cultural heritage of great value to all those who love horses, fine horsemanship and history. Long live!

Rui Almeida on Uxico, performing the carousel  Picture © Melis Yalvac

Rui Almeida and Uxico, performing the carousel
Picture © Melis Yalvac


For information and tickets:

Picadeiro Henrique Calado
Calçada de Ajuda 1300-006

Melis Yalvac website:

Bruno Barata website:

Rita Fernandes Facebook page:


The inauguration backstage (© GB Tomassini):

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