“Maneggi and jumps”. The basic exercises of Renaissance horsemanship (Part 3)

Biagio d’Antonio Tucci, The Triumph of Camillus (detail), 1470-1475,
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

In the late Middle Ages and during the Renaissance, horseback riding had a strong social importance. The horse held an essential symbolic function in defining the identity of the aristocratic classes and played a central role in most public events. With the horse’s strength and elegance and the splendor of his trappings, he contributed to make the nobility shine before common people during public cavalcades and feasts. Equitation was also an integral part of the rituals of the courts. It is no coincidence that some of the pages of the first equestrian treatise ever printed, Gli ordini di cavalcare (The Orders of riding 1550) by Federico Grisone, were devoted to how to present a horse in the presence of a prince or a king. On these occasions, as well as during the pageantry that preceded the fighting in jousts and tournaments, horses and riders performed exercises designed to show to the bystander the energy of the animal and the courage and skill of the rider. These exercises were primarily what today we call “school jumps” or “airs above the ground.”

In contrast to a fairly widespread belief, these exercises had an aesthetic, rather than military purpose. The authors of the sixteenth century, and later, are unanimous on this. According to Fiaschi, not only the “school jumps”, but even the “pesades” were dangerous for the combat horse because, when reared on his hind legs. the animal was in a vulnerable position with respect to the charge of any opponent.

… if you want to make some pesades, they should not be very high, because, besides that it would be ugly to see a horse who is accustomed  in this way, it would also be detrimental every time that he would behave like this while he’s given encounter, because he could be easily knocked to the ground. This is what I dislike of so many pesades, especially in a war-horse (Fiaschi, 1556, II, 5, p. 99).

In contrast to a fairly widespread belief, the school jumps  had an aesthetic, rather than military purpose. William Cavendish, duca di Newcastle, La methode et inuention nouvelle de dresser les cheuaux, 1658, tav. 30

In contrast to a fairly widespread belief, the school jumps
had an aesthetic, rather than military purpose.
William Cavendish, duke of Newcastle, La methode et invention
nouvelle de dresser les cheuaux, 1658, tav. 30

An opinion shared by Claudio Corte, author of Il cavallarizzo (The Horseman, 1562), according to whom the greatest risk was that, once trained to pesades and courbettes, the horse could perform them on it’s own initiative, to evade the control of the rider, leaving him exposed to the attacks of his opponents.

Young horses learn pesades easily, and once they have learned them they make them willingly, as they think that once they have done them they do not have to do anything else. For this reason if they are beaten with the spur they think they should not do anything else than stop and make a pesade. So they stop very often to rear against the will of the rider, and in a place where it is not required, and they do it even higher than what it is appropriate (CORTE, 1562, II, 15, p. 71r).

As many others Renaissance authors, Fiaschi and Corte
considered the pesades harmful to the war horse.
Antoine de Pluvinel, L’instruction du Roy en l’exercice de monter à cheval, 1625, figure 22

Even more explicit about the exclusively ludic purpose of the school jumps and about their harmfulness for war-horses is Pasquale Caracciolo, author of the monumental treatise La Gloria del cavallo (The glory of the horse, 1567). According to the Neapolitan writer and rider, training a horse to jumps, not only made ​​him beautiful to see, but at the same time it increased his agility and sensitivity to the aids. In any case, before the training he recommended to carefully assess the attitudes of the animal, which had to have specific qualities of strength and docility. However, Caracciolo considered it a serious mistake to train a war-horse to these exercises since, according to him, not only they did not produce any benefit in battle, but they could be rather harmful.

Maybe someone will consider useless and vain that a man toils to teach these jumps to his horse; but he is wrong, because in addition to the fact that a horse that goes swaying from jump to jump it is beautiful to see, certainly, by lightening his arms and legs through these exercises, he becomes more agile and more ready for all the other virtues that are required. Just as though the ball game is not in itself necessary to the Rider, it cannot, however, be denied that in addition to giving him some ornament, it is also very beneficial to train him to the use of weapons. One must first consider the size, ability, and the inclination of the animal, and when these things are adequate, it is out of doubt that teaching to their horses these exercises is useful and honorable to young people eager to stay well on saddle, and that by means of this discipline, the horses will become every day more agile and lighter, while maintaining temperance and the prescribed order. But the one who would train a very fast horse, or one particularly suited to war, to these jumps and exercises, would be a fool, because in military operations they would rather produce hindrance and damage instead of any benefit to the Rider, as we have already said before (CARACCIOLO, 1567, p. 426)

On the other hand, as Jean-Claude Barry, who for seventeen years was Ecuyer of the Cadre Noir and a leading expert in the work of the “jumpers”, explains well: “knowing the preparation and accuracy they require, it is difficult to imagine performing the airs above the ground during a clash in which rapidity and responsiveness are vital and in which any inaccurate or involuntary action of the rider may be misunderstood by the horse. Moreover the weight of the harness and of the knight in armor was a handicap for the steed restricting his agility “(Barry, 2005, p.26).

The cabriole is one of the most spectacular school jumps still practiced . Giovanni Battista Galiberto, Il cavallo da maneggio, 1650

The cabriole is one of the most spectacular school jumps still practiced .
Giovanni Battista Galiberto, Il cavallo da maneggio, 1650

The airs above the ground practiced at that time were slightly different from those still performed today in the great academies of classical equestrian art, like those of Vienna, Saumur, Jerez de la Frontera and Lisbon, which mainly refer to the codification of these exercises that took place in the eighteenth century. Unfortunately, the authors of the Renaissance treatises took it for granted that their readers knew the exercises they spoke about in their books and for this reason they did not dwell on in-depth and clear descriptions. Similarly, with the only exception of the treatise by Cesare Fiaschi, the works of the sixteenth century do not show significant illustrations that can clarify how the various exercises were performed. This makes it now more difficult to pinpoint the specific features of the different types of jumps that are mentioned in the works of the Renaissance masters. Therefore, in order to make the following description more explicit and precise we will refer to the plates from Fiaschi’s book, as well as to those published in later works, such as the one by the Duke of Newcastle, and as Il cavallo da maneggio (The manège horse), by the Neapolitan count Giovanni Battista Galiberto, colonel and master of riding in the service of King Ferdinand IV of Hungary and Bohemia.  Although the work was published in Vienna in 1650, exactly a century after that of Grisone, it clearly refers to the terminology and techniques of Renaissance Italian horsemanship.

Nuova immagine

The jumps practiced during the Renaissance differed slightly from those executed today
in the four major academies of Saumur, Lisbon, Jerez and Vienna

The first “air” mentioned in Fiaschi’s book is the so-called “galoppo raccolto” (collected canter). The author does not provide any description of this air, but noting the difficulty of explaining his execution, in words or with a design, he adds the score, specifying that “this measure and time should be respected if you want that the rider makes a group which is beautiful to see” (FIASCHI, 1556, II, 11, p. 114). With the verb “aggruppare” (to group) I think that the author means “perform jumps”, which in other texts are also called “groppi” (probably from “groppa” i.e. croup). Fiaschi says that to perform this exercise the rider must keep the horse collected, stimulating him with his calves and holding him rhythmically with the bridle, so that “he moves as much as he sways a little bit” (FIASCHI, 1556, II, 11, p. 114). Judging from this information and also from the accompanying illustration, it seems possible to identify the “galoppo raccolto” with what we now call terre à terre, a kind of two beat canter, in which the horse passes alternately from the front to the hind feet and that, since the eighteenth century, became the preparation air of all school jumps.


The “galoppo raccolto” (collected canter) mentioned by Fiaschi
corresponds to what nowadays we call “terre à terre”.
Cesare Fiaschi, Trattato dell’imbrigliare, atteggiare e ferrare cavalli, 1556

Another exercise mentioned by Fiaschi is the so-called “air with jumps and bounds” (“maneggio con salti a balzi”). It is difficult to understand how this exercise was performed. Pasquale Caracciolo talks about a jump called “balzotto” (little bound), but he does not explain what it was. According to Barry, this would be the one that was later called ballotade, a jump in which the horse jumps in a horizontal position and extends the hind legs, as if to kick, but not extending them completely. Indeed, the picture in Fiaschi’s book shows the horse with all four feet off the ground, but with the hind feet under his body.


Today it’s hard to say what was the “air with jumps and bounds” mentioned by Fiaschi.
Cesare Fiaschi, Trattato dell’imbrigliare, atteggiare e ferrare cavalli, 1556

Several authors mentioned the so-called “a step and a jump” (“un passo e un salto”), which was also practiced in the version of  “two steps and a jump.” Claudio Corte (II, 19) says that was taught to horses by training them to jump pieces of cloth held, stretched by aides, on the ground, placed two or three steps away from each other. Practically, the horse had to jump every one or two canter strides. This exercise was also called “galoppo gagliardo” (vigorous canter).  From the description given by Claudio Corte, it seems that it was a sequence of jumps similar to the cabriole, interspersed with two or three strides of canter:

Do not think, for what I have said, that the cabriole and the step and a jump, or vigorous canter, are the same thing, because in the cabriole, as I already said, the jumps are made at every step, and a jump immediately follows the other, while in the vigorous canter it is not like this, but it goes two by two, or three by three, as the rider prefers: and the jumps are also always with kicks, while in that one [i.e. in the cabriole] the horse does not always kick, but he just can do it. It is more correct to say vigorous canter, rather than a step and a jump, because the jump is at the second and third step. (CORTE, 1562, II, 19, p. 74v)

The exercise of “a step and a jump”
was also called “vigorous canter”.
G. B. Galiberto, Il Cavallo da maneggio, 1650

A type of jump mentioned by all the books of that time is the “jump of the ram” (“salto a montone”), so called, says Pasquale Caracciolo, “because the horse jump in the same way in which the Rams jump” (CARACCIOLO 1567, p. 425 ). It is an exercise in which the horse jumps on the spot, kicking while he is off the ground and then comes back into the same position. According to Fiaschi, it was precisely this characteristic that distinguishes it from the “jumps and bounds”:

because when the horse makes the jump and bound, he pushes his waist forward, while doing the ram jump as it should, it is necessary that he falls straight in the place from where he lifts, going even higher (FIASCHI, 1556, II, 15, p. 122).

In the “ram jump” the horse kicked and fell back on the spot.
G.B. Galiberto, Il cavallo da maneggio, 1650

Finally, the most common jump is the so-called “capriola” (cabriole), the most spectacular of the airs above the ground still practiced. It consists of a jump in which the horse violently kicks when he is off the ground. According to Fiaschi, the cabriole differs from the ram jump because, in this case, when the horse jumps, he moves forward and does not fall in the same place. At that time, the horse kicked in the descending phase of the parable and landed on the front feet, while today generally he kicks at the height of the jump:

When you want to make the horse perform a cabriole jump or some jumps, which are so called because the goats [“capre” in Italian] jump in this way, you have to make him do as they do when they jump, that when they fall to the ground they raise their haunches (FIASCHI, 1556, II; 16, p. 124).

In the Sixteent century, in the cabriole, the horse kicked in the descending phase of the jump.
C. Fiaschi, Trattato dell’imbrigliare, atteggiare e ferrare cavalli, 1556

The “corvetta” (courbette) was also very popular. This is a school jump in which the horse raises the forelegs and then proceeds bounding on his hind legs. According to Corte, this characteristic movement would be at the origin of the name, since “we say corvetta from the raven [“corvo” in Italian], that when he is on the ground he goes forward with small bounds” (CORTE, 1562, II , 15, p . 72r ). It was considered a presentation air par excellence and was often performed during public cavalcades as an act of gallantry in the presence of ladies.


The “courbettes” were a very popular exercise which was often performed in public
as an act of gallantry in the presence of ladies.
William Cavendish, duca di Newcastle, La methode et invention
nouvelle de dresser les cheuaux, 1658, tav. 26

The horses were also trained at “kicking”, as a preparation for school jumps. It should be considered that this kind of training was also shared by war horses, which were induced to kick on command in the melee, as shown in a detail of the famous painting by Paolo Uccello, Bernardino della Ciarda unhorsed (1438-1440), in which a chestnut horse is portrayed in the act of kicking with his hind legs.

In the famous painting by Paolo Uccello, Bernardino della Ciarda unhorsed (1438-1440),
a chestnut horse is portrayed in the act of kicking.
Paolo Uccello, Battle of San Romano (1438-1440), Firenze, Museo degli Uffizi

Finally, as we already saw in another article (The Spanish walk; classic exercise or circus trick?), that between the presentation airs there was also what we now call “Spanish walk” and at that time was called “far ciambetta.”

This concise discussion of the presentation airs concludes our survey of the main exercises described, or mentioned, in the Italian equestrian treaties of the Renaissance (see the previous articles: Part 1 and Part 2). Obviously, this concise description does not purport to exhaustively represent the vast field of the equestrian practices of the time, but primarily aims to highlight some aspects that have remained unchanged over the centuries, as well as to point out some significant differences.


BARRY, Jean-Claude, Traité des Airs relevés, Paris, Belin, 2005.

BARRY, Jean-Claude, Les airs relevés et leur histoire, in AA.VV., Les Arts de l’équitation dans l’Europe de la Reinassance. VIIe colloque de l’Ecole nationale d’équitation au Chateau d’Oiron (4 et 5 octobre 2002), Arles, Actes Sud, 2009, pp. 183-196.

CARACCIOLO, Pasquale, Gloria del cavallo, Venezia, Gabriel Giolito de’ Ferrari, (in 4°), 1566.

CORTE, Claudio, Il Cavallarizzo, Venezia, Giordano Zilletti, 1562.

FIASCHI, Cesare, Trattato dell’imbrigliare, atteggiare e ferrare cavalli, Bologna, Anselmo Giaccarelli, 1556.

GALIBERTO, Giovanni Battista, Il cavallo da maneggio, ove si tratta della nobilissima virtù del..,Vienna, Giacomo Kyrneri, 1650.

“Maneggi and jumps”. The basic exercises of Renaissance horsemanship (Part 1)

The pesade was typical of Renaissance an Baroque horsemanship. It was used to stop the horse, shifting his weight on the hind legs, but also as a

The pesade was typical of Renaissance an Baroque horsemanship. It was used to stop the horse,
shifting his weight on the hind legs,
but also as a “presentation air”.
Jacob Jordaens, Cavalier executing a pesade, 1643,
Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, MA, USA.

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

There has never been just one horsemanship. The use of the horse for different needs, and by peoples who lived in different latitudes, led to the development of different techniques, which co-existed in the same era, sometimes influencing each other. Therefore, trying to identify the features of the equestrian art in a given time is always somewhat arbitrary. But it is also true that the widespread circulation of the first printed equestrian treatises in Europe in the mid-sixteenth century, significantly contributed to standardize the equestrian practices and to establish a “canon” of exercises which remained in force for more than a century, identifying the “good standard” of Renaissance equitation. It was especially Cesare Fiaschi, from Ferrara, author in 1556 of the Trattato dell’imbrigliare, atteggiare, e ferrare cavalli (Treatise on bridling, training and shoeing horses) to systematize the different practices in use at the time, establishing rules that can be found to be substantially identical in the treatises which followed in the second half of the sixteenth century. Fiaschi not only listed and described in words the different exercises, but tried to make his explanation clearer through drawings that showed the attitude of horse and rider, in addition to the outline of the path they followed. Unique to Fiaschi’s treatise is that the explanation of some exercises is not only accompanied by the plan showing the layout of the exercise and the image of the horse and rider who perform it, but also a musical score that indicates the rhythm of the exercise. The rider had to sing while performing the exercise, or at least he had to keep the musical measure of the melody in his mind.

In his treatise Trattato dell’imbrigliare, atteggiare, e ferrare cavalli (1556), Cesare Fiaschi established a kind of a

In his treatise Trattato dell’imbrigliare, atteggiare, e ferrare cavalli (1556), Cesare Fiaschi established the “canon”
of Renaissance equitation.
Fiaschi, 1556, Plate introducing the Second part of the book.

The exercises indicated by Fiaschi can be divided into two main categories: those related primarily to a military purpose, the so-called “maneggi”, and those with a more aesthetic and virtuosic trait, which we might call “presentation airs” which consisted, for the most part, in what we now call “school jumps”, or “airs above the ground.” In this article we will deal with the first, i.e. the “maneggi,” deferring further description and explanation of the “jumps” to a subsequent article. With the term “maneggi”, Fiaschi and other Renaissance authors intended to include different variations of what, in more recent times, was called in the French style, passade. It was a fundamental exercise in the art of fighting on horseback which consisted of cantering on a straight line (which the Italian authors called “repolone”), after which the animal had to stop and turn in the shortest possible space, in order to immediately run another charge in the opposite direction. It served the purpose to go against the enemy – armed with a lance, a sword, or a pistol – and to attack him again after the first ecounter. In order to turn the horse in the shortest space and as quickly as possible, he was stopped at the end of the charge ​​with the so-called “posate”. The horse was induced to collect the canter more and more, bringing the weight on the haunches, relieving the front legs until he lifted up from the ground, at which point he was turned, pivoting on the hind legs. Even in this case, the French terminology has prevailed over the centuries and, what the Italian masters called “posata”, is now more familiar to us with the name of pesade.

The “maneggio di contra tempo” (air of counter-time). Fiaschi, 1556, II, 2.

The “maneggio di contra tempo” (air of counter-time).
Fiaschi, 1556, II, 2.

According to a classification already present in the previous treatise by Federico Grisone, Ordini di cavalcare (Orders of riding, 1550), Fiaschi distinguished the different maneggi depending on the way the horse was stopped and of the way the half-volte, at the end of the repolone. was performed.  He then listed the “maneggio di contra tempo” (air of counter-time), in which the horse was first held in the direction opposite from that in which he had ultimately to do the volte, and was then turned on the straight line with a half pirouette.

…at the end [of the repolone] you held him [the horse] a lot (which is not done in the other exercises) in the opposite direction to that in which you want to turn him, as the drawing shows, then you turn him without making him move his feet from the place where they are until he is back on the straight path (Fiaschi, 1556, II, 2, pp. 88-89.)

The “maneggio di mezzo tempo” (of half time).
Fiaschi, 1556, II, 3.

Then followed the maneggidi mezzo tempo” (of half time) and “di tutto tempo” (of full time), in which the horse performed one or more pesade at the end of the straight line and then turned on his hind legs performing, also in this case, a half pirouette.

And the measure and the way, as I intend it, of these times, both of the half and of the full time, is when riding the horse you hold him on the straight line and you turn him, without giving him time to make a pesade […];I call this measure of half time. But when you give him the time to make the pesade, I call it full time… (Fiaschi, 1556, II, 3, pp. 91-92.)

The so-called

The so-called “volte ingannate” (misleading voltes)
Fiaschi, 1556, II, 4.

The “maneggio detto volte ingannate” (the so-called misleading voltes) was then particularly curious. It consisted of pretending to turn at the end of the straight line to one side and then performing the half pirouette to the other side, creating a quick change of direction.


The “maneggio di una volta e mezza” (air of one volte and a half).
Fiaschi, 1556, II, 5.

Then followed the “maneggio con una volta e mezza” (with one and a half volte) – in which the horse performed a full pirouette and half before heading in the opposite direction from which he came – and the maneggio called “volta d’anche” (volte of haunches), in which the horse performed a reverse pirouette on the front legs. This last type of exercise was considered particularly useful for “tilts” (jousts that were held with a wooden barrier that separated the contestants) and duels, because it allowed the rider to overtake the opponent from behind, while he was still turning his mount.


The “volta d’anche” (volte of haunches) was considered particularly useful in jousts and duels.
Fiaschi, 1556, II, VI.

It is clear that the distinction of these different ways of performing the same exercise of the repolone, or passade, did not have an immediate utility on the battlefield, or in the course of a joust (maybe just with the exception of the “volte of haunches”), but rather represented a stylization to bring out the degree of obedience of the horse and the skill and expertise of the rider. It is in fact hard to imagine that during a confrontation in which a knight in armor risked his life, he could take care of performing a “half-time” or a “misleading volte”,  while it is likely that these different exercises were used ​​in the training phase, to refine the docility and readiness of the animal, and on public occasions, to make the skill of the rider shine. Fiaschi also indicated some exercises still in use in modern dressage. The first is that of the “volte raddoppiate” (doubled voltes). It was what today we call pirouette. From the description of the author, we can recognize the characteristic aid of the outside leg, which contains the haunches, in order to make the horse pivot on the inside hind leg.

Likewise, you have to put the spur to his belly from the side where he is not turned, holding it in that place as long as you do not stop to turn to that way. […] But I say that the hind feet of the horse should not move from the middle of the circle until he has finished the voltes that you want  him to do (Fiaschi, 1556, II, 7, p. 104.)

Fiaschi called

Fiaschi called “volte raddoppiate” (doubled voltes)
what we now call pirouette.
Fiaschi, 1556, II, 7.

Another exercise which is still in use today is what we now call piaffe. Fiaschi recommended to finish the repolone with it instead of the pesade, taking care that the horse relaxed the jaw, chewing the bit:

Instead of which [i.e. the pesade], not so much in this as in every other exercise, it is good to hold him [the horse], which is done on the straight [line], and make him do as most of the horses from Spain do, as one begins to hold them, go with their haunches to the ground. And while he is held, he should remain in motion, that is to say now with one, now with the other arm raised; also taking care that he chews the bridle so that it makes sound, because in doing so in addition to being beautiful to watch it will be safer, and no one will find fault with this (Fiaschi, 1556, II, 7, p. 106.)

Fiaschi recommended the use of counter-canter on the voltes to train both young and old horses. Fiaschi, II, 9.

Fiaschi recommended the use of counter-canter on the voltes
to train both young and old horses.
Fiaschi, 1556, II, 9.

Finally the counter-canter on the voltes, which the author suggested as an exercise useful to make the horse stronger and more resistant and which is still in use today to improve collection and straightness:

And when in this way whether they trot or canter, if it will be done on the right hand, the left shoulder and arm will have to go forward [lead], and if on the left the right shoulder and arm similarly. And this exercise is extremely profitable, not only for young horses, but also for those who are not [young], because it is of use in a lot of effects to the younger to teach them and to help them improve their endurance, while to the older to keep in their memory what they have learned and maintain their strength (Fiaschi, 1556, II, 7, p. 108.)

To be continued

to read  the continuation of this article, please click here -> part two


BARRY, Jean-Claude, Traité des Airs relevés, Paris, Belin, 2005.

FIASCHI, Cesare, Trattato dell’imbrigliare, atteggiare e ferrare cavalli, Bologna, Anselmo Giaccarelli, 1556

GRISONE, Federico, Gli ordini del cavalcare, Napoli, stampato da Giovan Paolo Suganappo, 1550.

TOBEY, Elizabeth, The Legacy of Federico Grisone, in AA. VV., The Horse as Cultural Icon: The Real and the Symbolic Horse in the Early Modern World, Leiden, Koninklijke Brill, 2011, pp. 143-171.