Memories of a gentleman: Adriano Capuzzo

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

Adriano Capuzzo riding Nevischio da Rota in the Criterium of Italian 5 years old horses where they were ranked in second place
1978. Adriano Capuzzo riding Nevischio da Rota in the Criterium of Italian 5 years, old horses, in which they were ranked
in second place

On the third anniversary of Adriano Capuzzo’s death, the book containing his writings and the testimonies of his students, edited by Patrizia Carrano, can be downloaded for free from the website of the Regional Committee of the Italian Federation of Equestrian Sports. This is an opportunity to learn about one of the great horsemen of our recent past.

Imagine you woke up early. It is a morning in May. It is still cool, but the first sunbeams begin to warm the air and scents announcing the summer rise up from the countryside. You put the horse to a walk and after just ten minutes, you arrive on a big rolling lawn, covered with flowers. You walk in the tall grass, hypnotized by the song of millions of crickets. There are no other sounds than that melody, the rhythmic breathing of the horse and the whisper of the breeze. You stop on the top of a hill to admire the valley, dotted by the isolated foliage of monumental oaks and by the trunks of big cross-country jumps. In the background, the green of the chestnut trees softly covers the mountain that forms a backdrop. The sky is clear and you feel happy.

If I have to imagine Heaven, this is the way I dream of it. And this heaven exists and I have been there. For years I entered in it on the sly nearly every morning. It is the Federal Equestrian Center at Pratoni del Vivaro, in the south of Rome. Indeed we should say “it was”, because the stupidity and dishonesty with which public properties in Italy are managed, condemned this wonderful place to decay and neglect. For many months, this authentic temple of Italian equitation, built for the Rome 1960 Olympic Games, has been closed due to lack of funds, and stables have been plundered of all furnishings by thieves.

The Federal Equestrian Center at Pratoni del Vivaro
The Federal Equestrian Center at Pratoni del Vivaro

But I do not write about it to denounce yet another Italian scandal. Some time ago, I told the writer Patrizia Carrano about my fantasy regarding this magical place and about how it represents for me a sort of horse-lovers paradise. Patrizia, who wrote the most beautiful Italian tales and novels dedicated to horse riding, stared at me for a moment and then told me with a smile: “Adriano Capuzzo used to tell me that he imagined Heaven very similar to the Pratoni del Vivaro.”

Every time I think of Adriano Capuzzo, who was one of the great horseman of our recent past, I cannot help but feel pleased by this secret and unaware affinity. Especially since I hadn’t the pleasure and honor of meeting him in life, but I could appreciate his unique personality through the stories of some of his most illustrious students and of the people who have been close to him, as well as through his writings.

1956. Jump n. 6 of the Olympic cross-country in  Stockholm. The horse is Tuft of Heater
1956. Jump n. 6 of the Olympic cross-country in Stockholm.
The horse is Tuft of Heater

Born in Rome in 1927, Capuzzo began to ride horses when he was seven years old. His first instructor was Constante D’Inzeo, father of Piero and Raimondo. Soon he began the first races. After the war, in 1953, the Italian Equestrian Sports Federation invited him to train at the Centro Preolimpionico Ippico Militare (Preolympic Equestrian Military Center) at Montelibretti. The instructor there was Fabio Mangilli. Three years later, Capuzzo participated in the Olympic Games in Stockholm on the three-day-eventing team, with Giancarlo Gutierrez and Giuseppe Molinari. In fact, that year the Olympic Games were held in Melbourne, but the equestrian trails were held in Sweden, to avoid the compulsory quarantine for the horses. Capuzzo finished ninth at the individual level (although during the cross-country he had to stop to tighten the girth of the saddle that had loosened) and fifth in teams. Again selected for the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960, at the last moment, he was not allowed to participate in the show jumping competition because, the then president of the FISE, general Formigli, decided to keep his horse as a reserve for one of the brothers D’Inzeo, who rode before him and finished in first and second position. For over fifteen years Capuzzo was part of the first team of the FISE, participating in many international competitions, both in the discipline of show-jumping and in that of three-day-eventing. In 1974 he rode for the last time in Rome’s international horse show in Piazza di Siena. His horse was named Beau Regard. The Italian team won the Nations’ Cup after the barrage with the French.

1962. C.H.I.O. Lausanne. With Rubicon
1962. C.H.I.O. Lausanne. With Rubicon

Since at least 1960, he put the teaching of equitation to young people alongside his agonistic activity. For nine years he was technical director and instructor of the Pony Club Roma and for four years of the Società Ippica Romana, where he was also vice-president. He held various positions inside the Italian Equestrian Sports Federation, first as a counselor and then as technical supervisor and representative of the three-day-eventing department. Finally, from 2001 to 2008, he was, for two consecutive terms, the President of the Regional Committee of Lazio.

A curious video of 1951 about Preolympic Equestrian Military Center

But I’m not going to talk about his sports results (although they were remarkable), nor about his activity in the Italia Equestrian Sports Federation. There are two other features of his personality that seem particularly significant to me. The first one is that, for all his life and also while competing at the highest levels, Adriano Capuzzo remained an “amateur”, that is to say someone who rode not for profit, but for pleasure. Indeed, Capuzzo continued to work in the hotel industry until retirement. For sure, in those days in equestrian sports, there was less pressured competition than today, and this allowed him, or perhaps imposed him, to keep an alternate job other than riding. But I think his choice was above all related to the desire to keep the pleasure of competing without the urgency to grasp results at any costs. It created a way for him to maintain his own freedom. An aristocratic bearing which is well explained by the words of one of his students, Stefano Brecciaroli: “according to Capuzzo, sport was a school of life, but also a very big, very serious, game, to be faced with loyalty and smiling passion. It is for this reason that when you were about to start the cross-country, he could say to you “don’t forget to enjoy!” Obviously this did not mean for him to abdicate his competitive commitment. On the contrary, Brecciaroli explains, for him, “there were no shortcuts. The results came only through a correct method of work, which included tenacity, discipline, respect for the horse, and understanding of his limits.” But to be a real rider for him meant above all, his own words, learning to “understand what, how and when ask to a horse, considering his temperament, his abilities and his potential. Sensing the threshold of his availability and approaching it as possible, but without ever overcoming it.” Keeping his job independent from his equestrian activity has surely helped him to comply with this respect for the animal and to avoid the compromises that, at times, professionals must accept for obvious reasons of necessity.

Riding Oracle. 1st place in the National Breeding Award of 1967, in Rome, Villa Borghese.
Riding Oracle, 1st place in the National Breeding Award of 1967,
in Rome, Villa Borghese.

The other aspect that I want to emphasize is his commitment to teach horseback riding to young people. To form riders able to grasp good results on the race fields, but especially to teach them to respect and love these magnificent animals. Because “horses – he wrote – are generous beings, available, silent and men have the duty not to deceive them and not to abuse their qualities.” For this reason, in one of his last letters to Piero D’Inzeo, he regretted the “terrible lack of elementary equestrian culture” which affected, and unfortunately still characterizes, the Italian equestrian scene and felt the responsibility to renew his efforts “to revive certain values and dutiful skills.”

1959. European Championships at the Parc des Princes, riding Ballynool.
1959. European Championships at the Parc des Princes,
riding Ballynool.

His students were too many, as too many are the anecdotes about his teaching to be referred here. I just recall the aforementioned Brecciaroli, three-time Olympian in Athens, Beijing and London; Francesco Girardi, who took part in the Olympics in Seoul and Barcelona; Marco Cappai, who participated in the Olympic Games in Atlanta. Capuzzo’s rigorous nature and refined manners were famous, like his deep voice, which earned him, for so many years, the position of official speaker of the most prestigious Italian Horse Show: that of Piazza di Siena. He was a teacher who left a significant stamp on all his students, who respectfully called him “the doctor”. Many of them have even more appreciated the richness of his teaching when they in turn became instructors. “I realize I pass on to my students a lot of the things he taught me,” says Francesco Girardi. “Not only from the technical point of view, but also from the human side: the need of commitment, respect, attention in the stables and the ability to be a team.” And even when he did not personally follow his students at the competition, he never failed to make them feel his support. “At the end of the competition, says again Girardi, wherever we were, we always received one of his beautiful telegrams, always different and always touching.”

1981. Piazza di Siena, Starter commissioner
1981. Piazza di Siena. Starting steward

Adriano Capuzzo died in December 2011. Two years later, after a few months of each other, also Raimondo and Piero D’Inzeo left us. They were undisputed protagonists of an unforgettable season of our equitation, of which Capuzzo was one of the most eminent figures. Now the book, edited by Patrizia Carrano, who collects Capuzzo’s writings and the testimonies of his students, which was already sold out in two printed editions, can be free downloaded from the website of the FISE Regional Committee of Lazio, by following this link:

The work is very interesting and it is very pleasant to read. This work enables horse lovers to learn more about a person who, as Marco Cappai wrote about him, was “a man who every horseman would like to resemble.”


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

14/01/2015 at 19:30

Ho avuto l’onore di conoscerlo. . . semplicemente delizioso . . .

Bethe Mouncereply
19/08/2017 at 01:25

I met Adriano a time or two; competed at Pratoni del Vivaro (Saggio delle Scuole) often. We have a rider in America, John French, who has Adriano’s hands. Those beautiful educated hands one sees once or twice in a lifetime if one is lucky. I am grateful for my years in Italy riding; I still ride/coach/train the way I was taught all those years ago.

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