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: http://danielanz.com/podologia-equina/). 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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The new Equestrian Art Library in Queluz, Portugal


Picture © PSML – Wilson Pereira

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

Perhaps some of you may think that this is a place just for scholars or old-fashioned professors’ stuff. But the Equestrian Art Library “Dom Diogo de Bragança, VIIII Marques de Marialva”, which was inaugurated one month ago in the National Palace of Queluz, near Lisbon, is quite a different matter.

First of all, it is a charming place for anyone who loves horses and equestrian culture. Set up at the first floor of the “Portuguese Versailles”, the library is housed in three wonderfully bright, large halls, overlooking the palace gardens. It is here that the beautiful collection of books dedicated to horseback riding, which belonged to Dom Diogo de Bragança (1930-2012), one of the most significant figures of the modern Portuguese equestrian milieu, was recently relocated to and opened to the public. There are more than 1,400 works, some of which are quite rare and precious. But above all, the visitor will be thrilled by the many original engravings of equestrian subjects which are on display. There is no need to be an expert to be stunned by their beauty. The eyes of horse lovers will easily recognize the originals of many very famous pictures published in books of equestrian topics worldwide. Like the beautiful eighteenth-century engravings by Johann Elias Ridinger (1698-1767), or the famous portrait of the General Hotte, riding Laruns. And then etchings by Goya and Velasquez, and even the beautiful plate representing the use of long reins from Federico Mazzucchelli’s Scuola equestre (Equestrian School, 1805). In short, a real feast for the eyes and for the mind.

The library overlooks the gardens of the Palace of Queluz

The library overlooks the gardens of the Palace of Queluz
Picture © Carlos Pombo

Descending from one of the families of highest and more ancient lineage of Portugal, Diogo de Bragança was a man with a refined culture, a passionate horse lover and a great rider. He was a friend of Nuno Oliveira, who considered him one of his best students. He did not just collect books, but he was himself the author of several works dedicated to horseback riding, among which stands out L’équitation de tradition française (1976, now available also in English under the title Dressage in the French Tradition, Xenophon Press, 2012), in which he analyzed the close relationship between the Portuguese and the French equestrian tradition. Throughout his life he picked up, with curiosity and expertise, books and manuscripts about horsemanship, ranging from the sixteenth century to the present day. After his death, this heritage was in danger of being divided and sold. With great foresight, the company Parques de Sintra – Monte da Lua, SA, which manages the monuments of Sintra and the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, decided to buy the collection from the heirs. A choice felt by the company’s chairman, António Ressano Garcia Lamas, almost like a “national duty”, which required a significant investment (€ 468,750 in total), which was made possible also by the support of the Calouse Gulbekian Foundation and of the Banco Português de Investimento.

Tra gli esemplari più pregiati, spicca una magnifica copia del volume

Among the finest specimens, stands a magnificent copy of the book
“Equile Ioannis Austriaci” (1578) by Jan Van der Straet

Some perfectly preserved antique editions stand out in the catalog. Such as the volume Equile Ioannis austriaci (Antwerp, 1578), containing the portraits of the horses of different breeds present in the stables of the governor of Flanders Don Juan of Austria (1547-78), son of Emperor Charles V. They were made by the painter Jan Van der Straet, in the second half of the sixteenth century. The work is very interesting, because it shows the different types of horses used during the Renaissance.

Alcune opere di grande formato sono esposte in apposite teche

Some large-format books are appropriately exhibited in special showcases
Picture © PSML – Wilson Pereira

Some large-format books from the collection are appropriately exhibited in special showcases, located in the halls of the library. In particular, the beauty of the illustrations and of the bindings of two of them, leave the visitor breathless. One is the famous volume that reproduces, with magnificent engravings, the costumes, the horses trappings and the choreography of the great carousel held in Paris, in 1662, under the reign of Louis XIV, to celebrate the birth of the Grand Dauphin (Courses de testes et de bague faittes par le roy et par les princes seigneurs et de sa cour en l’année 1662, Paris, 1670). The other is the monumental edition of Philippe Etienne Lafosse’s Cours d’hippiatrique (Paris, 1772), illustrated with sixty-seven engravings, most of which are hand-colored. It is a true editorial masterpiece. And then, the most famous Portuguese equestrian treatise could not be missed. We are talking about Luz da liberal and nobre arte da Cavallaria, by Carlos Manuel de Andrade (Lisbon, 1790), decorated with wonderful plates. This is the text that inspires the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, which has its headquarters in the gardens of the Palace of Queluz. In this treatise, the fourth Marquis of Marialva, who was regarded as the greatest rider of his time, is often mentioned as an example. So much so that, in Portugal, the high school dressage is still called “the art of Marialva”. He was an ancestor of Dom Diogo de Bragança who was the eighth Marquis of Marialva.

Moltissime le stampe di argomento equestre esposte nelle sale, tra le quali le bellissimi incisioni Johann Elias Ridinger (1698-1767)

There are many beautiful engravings of equestrian topic, displayed in the halls,
including those by Johann Elias Ridinger (1698-1767)
Picture © PSML – Wilson Pereira

Being a lover of books, I’m tempted to keep on listing the many beautiful volumes kept in this library, but I don’t want to annoy my readers. Anyone who is interested will soon be able to consult the catalog of the Library on line (we will provide you notice when it becomes available) and then discover a treasure trove of bibliographic information and a significant opportunity for research. It is time that not only riding enthusiasts, but also professional historians,  can begin to study the equestrian culture in a systematic and scientifically reliable way. By doing this, they will soon discover that the history of horsemanship is a fundamental chapter of the history of our civilization which cannot be limited to the field of material culture, but that has deeply influenced the imagery and the ideological orientation of the European, Muslim and Asian cultures. A specialized library with such a rich collection of books is an opportunity not to be missed by researchers all around the world.

Il marchese di Marialva, antenato di Dom Diogo de Bragança, in una stampa del trattato di Manoel Carlos de Andrade (1790)

The Marquis of Marialva, ancestor of Dom Diogo de Bragança, in a plate of
Manoel Carlos de Andrade’s treatise, “Luz da liberal e nobre arte da cavallaria” (1790)
Picture © PSML – Wilson Pereira

The Library stands alongside the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, the riding Academy that for over thirty years has picked up the baton of the Portuguese equestrian tradition, becoming its most recognizable and influential representative in the world. A vital synergy is thus established between these two institutions, destined to arouse the admiration of all those who love the noble art of horseback riding.

In short, there is now one more reason to visit the splendid Palace of Queluz and then discover that a library is not at all the dusty mausoleum of a mummified erudition, but it is a living and adventurous place.

La Biblioteca è strettamente collegata alla Scuola Portoghese d'Arte Equestre

The library is closely linked to the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art
(picture: Rui Almeida and Que-Jeito performing a beautiful cabriole)
Picture © PSML – Pedro Yglesias

The Equestrian Art Library of Diogo de Bragança, 8th Marquis of Marialva National Palace of Queluz
Opening times: Monday – Friday, 9.30am – 1pm and 2pm – 5.30pm
Entrance fees:
Researchers and academics: free (subject to prior reservation at sandra.oliveira@parquesdesintra.pt)
General public: National Palace of Queluz entrance ticket

The Giannelli Collection of ancient bits on display in Travagliato

The suggestive setting of the exhibition

The suggestive setting of the exhibition “Cavallo: storia, arte e artigianato”,
on display in Travagliato (Italy) until June 29
Foto © Gaetano Cucinotta

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

Hidden treasures are still discovered, even today. For those who love the history of horsemanship, to visit the exhibition of the Giannelli collection in Travagliato, Italy, is like entering into Ali Baba’s cave! I confess I was really surprised at what I found there. I did not expect such a rich exposition and such an impressive setting in a small provincial town. But I was wrong. For the quality and completeness of the collection presented, the exhibition on display in Travagliato (not far from a Milan) until June 29, entitled Cavallo: storia, arte e artigianato (Horse: history, art and craft), could be held in great museums all over the world because it presents pieces that not even the British Museum, the Louvre, or the Metropolitan possess. I swear I’m not exaggerating.

The exhibition shows one of the largest private collection of ancient bits in the world Foto © Gaetano Cucinotta

The exhibition shows one of the largest private collection of ancient bits in the world
Foto © Gaetano Cucinotta

I have been studying the history of the equestrian culture for many years  and I have often dedicated my research to the different types of bits in use during  various periods. On this same blog, I began publishing a series of articles dedicated to this topic: Bronze Age bits; The Corinthian bit; Bitless equitation in ancient times; The bit that tamed the flying horse: Pegasus and Bellerophon. However, I had to stop because it was nearly impossible to find images and reliable information about the bits used during the Roman and medieval periods. The few scientific articles and books on this subject and the catalogs of the largest museums in the world, offered me little material to work with. So you can easily imagine my surprise when I discovered in Travagliato, hundreds of Mesopotamian, ancient Greek, Roman, Lombard and medieval findings, displayed side by side with the gigantic Renaissance and Baroque bits, along with some elegant nineteenth century specimens.

Claudio Giannelli - Foto © Gaetano Cucinotta

Claudio Giannelli – Foto © Gaetano Cucinotta

But it is best now to proceed with some order in this article. First of all, you will probably want to know where this amazing collection comes from. Claudio Giannelli put it together through decades of passionate research. He is a truly unique personality, combining an extraordinary intellectual refinement with a politeness and class that seems to be from another time. The son of a cavalry officer, Giannelli grew up among horses and began riding at a very young age, taking good results in three day eventing and dressage. He graduated and practiced for several years as a notary. At some point, however, he decided to turn his passion for beauty and old things into a profession, becoming an important antiquarian. Meanwhile, he moved to Switzerland, where he still lives, and continued to ride, becoming also a three day eventing and dressage judge. His collection was born by accident. In the fifties, while browsing through the stalls of the flea market of Portaportese in Rome, he found an old bit, buried among various odds and ends. Gianelli, who at the time already knew the famous illustrations of Grisone and Fiaschi’s treatises, realized immediately that it was an antique piece, probably from the Renaissance. After the usual grueling negotiations, he bought it, managing to get it for a good price. The rest of the collection came together through his love for horses and history, his unique culture and his expertise as an antiquarian. Within a few years, he was found in the most important auction houses around Europe, bidding for the finest ancient bits available on the market to the curators of museums like the Louvre, or the British, and to a very restricted elite of collectors from all around the world.

Some very well preserved Ancient Greek bronze bits and muzzles are on display Foto © Gaetano Cucinotta

Some very well preserved Ancient Greek bronze bits and muzzles are on display
Foto © Gaetano Cucinotta

The exhibition begins with some very ancient artifacts. Some cheekpieces made of bone from Central Asia, dating back to the second millennium before Christ, are on display in the first case. It then goes to the Mesopotamian civilization, and then to ancient Greece. In addition to some very well preserved bronze bits, there are some very interesting psalion on display. These were a sort of metallic noseband that restricted the opening of the mouth of the horse. There are also some perfectly preserved bronze muzzles. A beautiful shaffron (horse’s head defense) made of  bronze, with its psalion, stands between the other findings. We then move to the Etruscan civilization, with several specimens belonging to the so-called Villanovan period [see the article on Bronze Age bits], characterized by beautiful zoomorphic cheekpieces. But the main attraction, with regard to the Bronze Age is the incredible collection of Luristan bits, dating from between 1100 and 700 BC. They belong to a mysterious civilization, which flourished between the second and first millennium BC, in a region of southwestern Iran. The remains were found mainly within the tombs, where they were placed under the head of the buried body. They are made of bronze and they consist of a cannon of a single piece, straight or slightly curved, with, at each end a cheek piece, the form of a winged animal. These figures of animals had a large hole in the body through which passed the end of the mouthpiece, and two loops to tie the bridle and the reins. Those which are displayed in Travagliato are absolutely extraordinary. They also include a rare jointed snaffle, with cheekpieces decorated with anthropomorphic figures.  This is the piece chosen for the exhibition poster. Neither the catalog of the British Museum, nor the Metropolitan, which also have important collections of these findings, can boast examples of this quality and condition.

The incredible collection of bronze bits from Luristan, dating between 1100 and 700 BC. View museums in the world can boast specimens of this quality Foto © Gaetano Cucinotta

The incredible collection of bronze bits from Luristan, dating between 1100 and 700 BC.
Few museums in the world can boast specimens of this quality
Foto © Gaetano Cucinotta

Also, the many Roman and medieval bits are very interesting. In front of their display case the heart of the scholar makes a jump. With the transition from bronze to iron, which is much more perishable, the findings from this era are, in fact, far more rare. Even in the books of the specialists, there are very few images to be consulted and they are almost always the same. The Giannelli collection shows snaffles similar to the current ones and the ancestors of modern curb bits. In fact, in Roman time, we start to find bits with long shanks, but still without a curb chain. The same specialists of this matter continue to argue about their exact principle of operation. They generally have a very rough and brutal look. The mouthpieces are often bristling with spikes and it is quite horrible to think of them in the mouth of a poor animal.

There are also many, very rare, bits of Roman and Medieval times Foto © Gaetano Cucinotta

There are also many, very rare, bits of Roman and Medieval times
Foto © Gaetano Cucinotta

Even the Renaissance bits look very severe. You can find in Travagliato exactly the same types of bits that are obsessively represented in the illustrations of the equestrian treatises of the sixteenth century. It is difficult for us to figure out that their incredible variety was conceived to fit the mouthpiece to the anatomical peculiarities of the mouth of each animal! Beyond this, however, you can not help but admire their extraordinary craftsmanship. Many of them are true masterpieces of metalwork and are all the more remarkable when you consider the simple technical means used by the craftsmen who made them.

Renaissance bits look very severe, but they are also real masterpieces of metal work and they are exactly the same represented in the equestrian treatises of the sixteenth century Foto © Gaetano Cucinotta

Renaissance bits look very severe, but they are also real masterpieces of metal work and they are exactly the same represented in the equestrian treatises of the sixteenth century
Foto © Gaetano Cucinotta

With the passing of the centuries, we note the progressive reduction of the length of the shanks. which decreases the lever action on the jaw of the horse, and the constant simplification of the mouthpieces. The progress of the training techniques demonstrated not only that strong bits were unnecessary, but that they were counterproductive. Despite being used by expert hands, it is easy to imagine that they exasperated the animals, subjecting them to unnecessary coercion. If, however, in the eighteenth century, the mouthpieces were gradually simplified and reduced in size, at the same time their workmanship became even more precious, in some cases like that of real jewels. The collection is completed, also, by some oriental bits: Chinese, Tibetan, Japanese and by a remarkable collection of wooden stirrups by the Mapuche Indians of Chile.

In the eighteenth century the bits get smaller, but at the same time, they become real jewels. Like these French bit and stirrups Foto © Gaetano Cucinotta

In the eighteenth century the bits get smaller, but at the same time, they become real jewels. Like these French bit and stirrups
Foto © Gaetano Cucinotta

This brief synthesis certainly cannot really express the beauty and the importance of the pieces that are on display, whose history and meaning are explained in a series of panels which make the course of the exhibition understandable also to non-experts. And the setting is enriched by several paintings of equestrian topics of major authors of the eighteenth and nineteenth century and many by original engravings, such as those from the books by Jan Van der Straet, Antoine de Pluvinel, the Duke of Newcastle, or from the beautiful plates about horseback riding from d’Alembert and Diderot’s Enciclopédie.

The setting is further enriched by pictures and engravings of equestrian subject, from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century Foto © Gaetano Cucinotta

The setting is further enriched by pictures and engravings of equestrian subject,
from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century
Foto © Gaetano Cucinotta

The exhibition of the Giannelli Collection, in Travagliato, offers an extraordinary journey through the history of thousands of years of coexistence between man and horse. A past that is too often idealized, or criticized, without an exact knowledge of the techniques and methods that were actually used in other eras. Instead, an extraordinary exhibition like this puts us in front of the concrete objects, stimulates our curiosity and denies stereotypes and legends. Studying the history of the relationship between man and horse does not mean to put a nonexistent golden age of horseback riding on a pedestal, but rather to illuminate an important chapter of our civilization. And it is useful for today’s riders to understand the roots of their passion and to learn from the mistakes and the wisdom of those who, over the millennia, have preceded them in the worship of these wonderful animals that are the horses.


The exhibition, in the former Sant’Agnese Church, in Piazza della Libertà, in Travagliato (BS), has been extended until the end of July

Open: Saturday and Sunday, 10-12. a. m. / 3-6 p.m.;
            weekdays on request by calling +39 030 6864960.
            Monday closed.

For information:
call +39 030 6864960;
email: segreteria@aziendaserviziterritoriali.com.

 Claudio Giannelli is working on a book about his collection, which will be published next Autumn. We will keep you posted as soon as it will be published.

You can see other beautiful pictures of the exhibition, by Gaetano Cucinotta, visiting his website, by following this link: www.gaetanocucinotta.com

A new generation of Italian riders

Andrea Giovannini in Piazza del Popolo, in 2012. The shows of the Roman Carnival were a terrific showcase of talents Foto © Robbi Hüner

Andrea Giovannini in Piazza del Popolo, in 2012.
The shows of the Roman Carnival were a terrific showcase of talents
Foto © Robbi Hüner

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

There are historical reasons why, in our country, even though Italy has been the cradle of equestrian academic art, we have lost the tradition of classical horsemanship. Between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, Italy was the epicenter of a real revolution in the equestrian field. It is at that time that Federico Caprilli devised a new way to approach obstacles and invented the modern jumping-seat. As with any genuine revolution, Caprilli’s “natural method” established itself in clear opposition with what came before. Viewing the effectiveness on the race fields, in Italy and elsewhere, everybody became “caprillian” and this meant first of all anti-academic. Since followers usually tend to be more radical and dogmatic of their masters, as time went on, in Italy a sort of real hostility to classical dressage became apparent. If to this situation we add that, in the past decades, the Italian Equestrian Sports Federation and the various agencies, which were supposed to be devoted to the promotion of Italian horse breeds, have systematically neglected the transmission of the equestrian culture, it is easy to understand how we came to forget our heritage.

For a long time, the Italian official equitation, that of horse shows and three day eventing, has despised (and in many cases still despises) the lovers of classical dressage. At best, considering them to be extravagant conservatives, but in the worst, branding them as circus riders  (forgetting that also Baucher performed for years in a circus). On the other hand, it is also true that those who, in such a hostile environment, became passionate of the baroque forms of Iberian horses and dreamt of the elegance of the horses portrayed in the engravings of old treatises, until a short time ago, in Italy had to learn as autodidact as they could find very few teachers to teach the subtle art of riding in the classical style. Consequently, apart from a few isolated cases, the average level of those riders in Italy who called themselves “classic” was, for a long time, quite mediocre. Only a few enlightened riders had the culture, the sensitivity and the means to travel abroad to seek the live ferments of authentic academic riding.

Eva Rosenthal has proven  to be an Amazon capable of ranging from high school to dressage

Eva Rosenthal has proven
to be an Amazon capable of ranging from high school to dressage

Today it seems that the background is slowly, but significantly, changing. There is a new generation of Italian riders who are stubbornly emancipating from the amateurism that unfortunately characterized the practice of classical dressage in Italy in years past. This new generation is made up of young people who have had the humility and the obstinacy to study, to work hard, to look for the best teachers, and to progress together with their horses.

I think, for example, to Eva Rosenthal who grew up in the school of the great Portuguese master Luis Valenca.  Eva has proven to be a complete rider, capable of ranging from high school to dressage, achieving exciting results in the Italian Dressage Championship, in the Iberian Master, the national and European competition reserved for Iberian horses, and traveling to participate in the WEG in Aachen, in 2006.

Excellent results are also those achieved by Andrea Giovannini.  With his six year old PRE mare Soelada, that he trained from the beginning, last October he was up on the podium twice in the Italian Dressage Championship in Arezzo, winning a silver and a bronze medal. These were in addition to the many other successes he has achieved on the race fields. But the commitment that Andrea puts toward his ambitious sporting goals, has not caused him to lose the taste of performing in shows that, in addition to his ability in dressage and high school, also demonstrate his reckless skill as a vaulter.

Gianluca Coppetta and Cardinero © Barbara Roppo 2012

Gianluca Coppetta and Cardinero
© Barbara Roppo 2012

The path followed by another talented rider from Rome, Gianluca Coppetta, is in many ways parallel. He also combines participating at high levels in the national dressage competitions, with performances in national and international shows. Gianluca was very much appreciated for his refined performances at Cheval Passion in Avignon, at the Salon du Cheval in Paris, and in the beautiful scenery of Piazza del Popolo in Rome, during the Roman Carnival.

Even if Francesco Vedani’s character and curriculum are very different, it is certain that his exuberant personality, his extraordinary communicative verve and his equestrian culture, have contributed very much to the divulgation in our country of the principles of classical equitation, aspiring to an ideal of lightness. In addition to Francesco’s technical qualities, I especially appreciate his courage to challenge himself and his desire to have discussions with others on these subjects. Perhaps even arguing, but always animating a discussion on horsemanship that is food for the soul.

In recent years Francesco Vedani divulged an ideal of  riding with lightness

In recent years Francesco Vedani has divulged an ideal of riding with lightness

Over the years, the solid professionalism of Silver Massarenti has been appreciated by many in this same light. Silver trained as a rider in Camargue and in Spain. He is not a rider who boasts, but he has established his own solid technical background. With Maria Baleri and Francesca and Riccardo Di Giovanni, he has also made a meritorious educational project, which brought horseback riding and the love for horses into many primary and secondary schools in the district of Travagliato, in the province of Bergamo.

But there are still many names that could be noted in this article and, certainly, I am omitting too many of them to hope that someone will not take it to heart. But at least I would like to mention the talent of Giuseppe Cimarosa, the Sicilian rider who was able to give an artistic expression to his love for horses and turn it into a means of personal redemption and of public declaration against the Mafia. I also think that the efforts to spread, in small steps, a more correct view of classical dressage made by Francesco Nidoli, in Sicily, as well as by Michele Massarelli and Alessandro Tameni, in Brescia, should be appreciated. Likewise, I think, for certain, that the intentions of the Italian riders who refer to Philippe Karl’s Ecole de légèreté are positive. And it should not be forgotten the impulse given to the evolution of the Italian classical by the shows of the Roman Carnival.

Silver Massarenti  on Jerez (PRE) - © Laura Santelli nel 2012

Silver Massarenti on Jerez (PRE) – © Laura Santelli nel 2012

To this new generation of Italian riders I say: unite, talk to each other, collaborate, over come the individualism that has always been the primary limit of the Italian spirit. Do so, even if on certain things you may have different opinions. Confront each other. Become a group. Let your voice be heard like that of a significant entity of Italian equitation. Do not be content to remain mavericks. For too long in this milieu, people feared that by getting together, one person and their ideas would have to take precedence over another.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite:  together you will put each other in a better light.

And above all, stop with sects. Stop with wars of religion. Classicists against show-jumpers, pro-Spaniards against pro-French, Lusophiles against Germanists, Baucherists against dressage lovers, Guelphs against Ghibellines. I can’t stand it anymore! But what are we talking about? In Italy, there are still people who believe that high school means make a horse scamper like monkey, trained by thrashing, while in the meantime you brawl because of your purists diatribes? When in Italy there is a real classical horsemanship movement, you can then have all the debates and the heated disputes you want, but today those who have a more serious and professional idea of this discipline have the duty to spread it and to work hard to give it the dignity it deserves. And this can be done only when you will put aside petty rivalries and small personal advantages and you will then begin to look to a horizon a little bit larger than that of your barn. Even beginning to dialogue with other equestrian disciplines.

Giuseppe Cimarosa is an artist engaged also in a civil witness against the Mafia  © Alexander Portnoy e Giuseppe Cimarosa

Giuseppe Cimarosa is an artist engaged also in a civil witness against the Mafia
© Alexander Portnoy e Giuseppe Cimarosa

I have the privilege to ride in a beautiful equestrian center, where there are riders who compete at national and international level, mainly in three day eventing. I do not deny that, in the beginning when I arrived with my PRE, they looked at me as though I was a little strange. But as time passed, we got to know each other. And we understood that in the end we were not doing such different and opposite things. Indeed, knowing each other, we understood that the basis of good horsemanship is the same in all disciplines, whether jumping an obstacle, or performing a canter pirouette. This is because the real basis of horsemanship is our love for these wonderful animals.  And it is on the common ground of our respect and our dedication to horses, that we can, and we must, give strength and more attention to the Italian equestrian movement.