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:

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

Marco de Pavari and the dominion of pleasantness

Anonimo italiano, Studio della testa di un cavallo, circa la metà del XVI sec.  © Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York

Italian Anonymous, Head of a Horse, mid 16th century
© Metropolitan Museum of Art – New York

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

[This is the text of my speech at the Resolution Day, organized by Francesco Vedani at the Spia d’Italia Riding Center in Lonato del Garda (Italy),on Sunday, December 3, 2014]  

This is the story of a mysterious horseman. We only know his name and a few pieces of information that we can deduce from a very rare book, which was published in Lyon (France) in 1581 and which bears his signature. Even though it is very interesting, this book it is still quite unknown. Our horseman was called Marco de Pavari and he was of Venetian origin. This does not necessarily mean that he was born and raised in the city of the gondolas. In fact, in the sixteenth century the Republic of Venice had a vast hinterland, which spread to the river Adda, not many miles from Milan.

We also know, because his publisher Jean de Tournes wrote it in the dedicatory letter of the book, that Marco lived in France and was the horseman of François de Mandelot, the governor of Lyon. At the time, Lyon was an even more important city than it is today. It was a flourishing center of trade. For this reason, many Italians lived there. Indeed, according to the Renaissance writer Matteo Bandello, between the European cities at that time, Lyon was the one in which there perhaps were more Italians that in any other place outside of Italy. And it is not surprising that an important person, such as the governor of such a rich city, had an Italian horseman in his service, because at that time, the majority of the horseman in the European courts were Italian. And even an Italian, Galeazzo Sanseverino, became Grand Squire of France, during the kingdom of Francis I (1494-1547).

Stefano Della Bella, Pesade, da Diverses exercices de cavalerie, circa 1642-1645 © Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York

Stefano Della Bella, Pesade, from Diverses exercices de cavalerie, ca 1642-1645
© Metropolitan Museum of Art – New York

The book, entitled Escuirie de M. de Pavari venitien, is a folio volume of about sixty pages in which the Italian and French texts are side by side in two columns. In addition to the text, the content of the book is enriched by fourteen full-page plates, which depict different models of bits. The fact that the dedicatory letter of the treatise is signed by the publisher, and not by the author, suggests that, most likely, the book was published after de Pavari had left Lyon, or perhaps even when he was already dead. The most interesting feature of the work is that it is largely dedicated to the rehabilitation of horses that became resistant or rebellious because of mistreatment. In fact, even if in those days the practice of horsemanship was much more widespread and important than today, the use of coercive and brutal methods was quite frequent. As just one example, consider that the first book dedicated to horse riding ever published in print, Ordini di cavalcare (Rules of riding, 1550) by Federico Grisone, ends with a gruesome collection of “secrets”, that is to say tricks of the trade, so brutal as to seem invented on purpose. It is then easy to imagine that many horses subjected to these abuses became very difficult to ride. What is most original in the book by De Pavari is that he suggests rehabilitating them with gentleness, shown in the following excerpt:

that gentleness earns more than desperation: which you too can learn to be true, that desperation leads them [the horses] to do all these bad wills and not gentleness, which does not do this, but mitigates them and draws them to itself [i.e. to gentleness] (DE PAVARI, 1581, [42] p. 31).

Il libro di de Pavari è ornato di tavole che rappresentano diversi modelli di imboccatura

de Pavari’s book is enriched by full-page plates, which depict different models of bits

De Pavari focuses on preventing traumas to the horse from the very early beginning, in order not to spoil his good disposition towards man. For this reason, for example, he recommends placing an experienced horse next to the colt in order to calm him in the first phase of the taming and to use only the cavesson at the beginning of the training, in order not to damage his mouth with the bit. (Actually, even the much-maligned Grisone recommended starting to use the bit only when the horse has already learned how to turn and stop). Along with these guidelines, he emphasizes the importance of caresses, to calm and to give a reward to the animal. He also points out, something that we all should keep in our minds, that we should not expect too much from a young and untrained horse, not to bother and ruin him by imposing on his generous nature.

Similarly, he then recommends to not attempt to cure a trauma with another trauma. For example, he says: when a horse has a tendency to escape and evade the action of the bit, usually this happens because it has suffered the abuse of an inexperienced and heavy hand. In that case then, instead of clinging to the reins, with strong, constant pressure:

you must give, that is to say to loosen the hand little by little and then to collect it in the same way, so that they [the horses] will lose that bad will and they will stop (DE PAVARI, 1581, [42] p. 31).

Anonimo, Uomo su un cavallo impennato, datazione incerta © The Trustees of the British Museum

Anonymous, Man on a rearing horse, uncertain date
© The Trustees of the British Museum

And if this expedient method does not work, rather than clinging to the reins, he says, it is enough to put the horse on a tight volte to stop his flight. He then suggests a funny trick: to distract the horse from his desire to escape, the rider can ride him carrying a branch of willow, full of leaves. While riding, he should offer the branch to the horse, letting him eat it, but without giving it completely, but holding it, in order to divert him from his intention.

The same applies to the horses which refuse to turn to one side, or which recoil instead of going forward. Rather than beat them (as suggested by Grisone), de Pavari prescribes to use a milder bit and the cavesson and to ride them without spurs, ensuring that the girth is not too tight.

To conclude, de Pavari writes:

And if you love this virtue, I urge you to proceed with gentleness, which dominates everything, that if you will do the opposite you will not acquire anything but the blame of the people who are worthy and expert (DE PAVARI, 1581, [60] p. 38).

Stefano della Bella, Cavaliere conduce la sua cavalcatura ad abbeverarsi in un fiume, XVII sec. © Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York

Stefano della Bella, A horseman descends a riverbank, ca. 1644-1647
© Metropolitan Museum of Art – New York

In conclusion, I would like to add a final, personal observation to this story. The difficulty of rehabilitating a horse that has become rebellious because he suffered abuses by man, highlights the complexity of our relationship with these wonderful animals, which are extraordinarily compatible with us, but at the same time are very different. This diversity, which has some even enigmatic traits (if you only consider how difficult it is for us to understand the sudden terrors that sometimes trouble these behemoths weighing one thousand pounds), makes it extremely difficult to communicate with them and to turn them into our companions. This is especially true since each of them has completely different characteristics and sensitivity. Already in the sixteenth century, another author of a wonderful book, Claudio Corte who published his Il cavallarizzo (The Horseman) in 1562, emphasized how the art of training horses should be considered more difficult than others, because contrarily to what the teacher does with his students, the horseman cannot instruct his mount through spoken words.

Only a positive experience, together with a great love and a continuous reflection, allows us to improve the communication between man and animal. And this explains why any horse visibly changes if it is handled by an experienced rider, or by a less experienced, or even by a novice. After thirty five years of horseback riding, I am deeply convinced that you cannot gain competence only through an assiduous practice (which is also essential), but you must enrich your experience through study and theoretical reflection.

Disegno di Stefano Marchi

Design by Stefano Marchi

Studying the history of horsemanship is not just a pastime for intellectuals, but it is a way to share the knowledge of generations of riders who came before us. This heritage is there: in the books that form the tradition of the equestrian art. It is up to us to rediscover their inestimable value, in order to nourish our passion and enhance our experience of this wonderful way of life that is the practice of riding.


DE PAVARI, Marco, Escuirie de M. de Pavari venitien (en ital. Et en franç.) Jean de Tournes, Lyon, avec fig, 1581 [citiamo dall’edizione moderna Escuirie de M. de Pavari venitien, a cura di P. Arquint e M. Gennero, Collegno, Roberto Chiaramonte Editore, 2008].

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

Da sinistra: Giovanni Battista Tomassini, Francesco Vedani e Massimo Da Re al Resolution Day

From left: Giovanni Battista Tomassini, Francesco Vedani e Massimo Da Re
during the Resolution Day
© Massimo Mandato

Resolution Day: Chronicle of a successful experiment

Francesco Vedani portrayed by Stefano Marchi

Francesco Vedani portrayed by Stefano Marchi

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

I beg the readers of this blog to grant me an exception. I know that you are used to reading on these pages stories that took place in the past centuries and, most likely, you will feel disoriented to find, this time, the chronicle of an event that took place only a little over a week ago. But I believe it is worthwhile to tell you about the “Resolution Day”. It was, in fact, one of the most successful and innovative equestrian events in which I have ever participated. It was organized by Francesco Vedani and his Ars Equitandi Academy, in the Spia d’Italia Riding Center in Lonato del Garda (Italy) and took place on Sunday, December 3. And, as this blog is dedicated to the history, culture and traditions of classic horsemanship, I think this is the right place to give my report of the event. In my opinion, the Resolution Day was a new and significant event in Italian equestrian culture and deserves to be in the company of other noted historical events. It was innovative, featuring people of different personalities and backgrounds, who expressed in different ways their common love for the horse and for good horsemanship. And it was significant because it was marked by the participation of a large and highly motivated audience, who defied the bad weather following very carefully all the phases of this intense day. This event demonstrated that an enthusiasm, showing the growth, in my country, of a new sensitivity towards a more refined and respectful equitation, is now being combined with the growing desire of many riders to deepen their knowledge in the field of equestrian culture.

Francesco Vedani e il suo  Lipizzano Betalka

Francesco Vedani and his Lipizzaner, Betalka

“I wanted to put together in a single happening with most of the things I like,” said Francesco Vedani at the beginning. And, indeed, the eccentric formula of the event faithfully reflected the traits of his eclectic personality. The underlying theme was the rehabilitation and retraining of problematic horses. Some specimens, freely presented by their owners, were treated first from the ground and then from the saddle by Francesco, who explained his equestrian philosophy, inspired by a classical ideal of lightness. The same horses were then used by Massimo Da Re to demonstrate the use of the Tellington TTouch method. Da Re is a veterinarian and one of the most active and influential advisers in Italy of this new approach of communication with the horse. He has also translated and published in Italy the most exhaustive book by Linda Tellington-Jones. I was given the task to talk about the importance of equestrian culture and I chose to speak especially of Marco de Pavari, a mysterious Italian horseman who lived in the sixteenth century and left to us a very rare book, primarily devoted to the rehabilitation of problematic horses [the text of my speech will be published on these pages in the next days]. To further enrich the contest, the graphic and visual designer Stefano Marchi and the young illustrator Sofia Boccato reported live, through their designs and sketches, what was taking place during the event. Finally, there was the performance of the Court, a rock band which has already published four albums and has received several international awards and, in which, Francesco Vedani plays the drums.

Massimo Da Re. Design by Stefano Marchi

Massimo Da Re
Design by Stefano Marchi

Three horses with different problems were presented during the day: two mares, an Arab and a thoroughbred, and a Lusitano stallion. Although none of these horses showed “extreme” defenses, the resistances of each of them were clearly visible and were quickly “resolved” by Francesco, who showed an extraordinary equestrian “tact”, both by identifying the root of causes and then removing them by means of appropriate work (albeit in the short time of a public demonstration). It should be stressed that Francesco had not seen, nor ridden the horses prior to the day of the event. But what I really want to emphasize here is not so much his “performance” (even if, of course, it is relevant), but the aspect that I found most interesting, which was the practical demonstration of work based on non-coercive methods, inspired by the canons of classical horsemanship, and how it can be so effective in removing resistances from all types of horses, producing a harmonious understanding between man and animal. Francesco has also presented his 16 year old Lipizzaner, Betalca. A beautiful horse that he has been retraining for about nine months and was “performing” in front of a large audience and in a new a place for the first time. With Betalca, Francesco was able to show what the results are from the longer period of this type of training that he uses with his horses. The goal is to have a horse which is calm, willing to work and able to perform all the exercises of dressage, through the application of discrete aids, allowing him to freely and fully express the brilliance of his movements.

Stefano Marchi at work while Francesco is treating a Lusitano stallion

Stefano Marchi at work while Francesco is treating a Lusitano stallion

The approach of Massimo Da Re was as well very interesting. With his polite style, he offered a very inspiring demonstration of the Tellington TTouch method’s potential. I found, particularly significant, the idea that man can not only manipulate the body of the animal to change his posture and enhance his physical wellbeing, but that by doing this, he can also improve the horse’s emotional balance and performance. For example, working with the Arabian mare that had a tendency to raise her head and to quicken her gaits, Massimo highlighted that the high position of her neck and head was a clear symptom of the activation of her flight instinct. However, from this banal observation Da Re deduced a corollary which was not at all taken for granted: that training the horse to lower his head, he said, you get the effect of disabling his tendency to flee. It is therefore possible to induce calmness by acting on posture!

Sofia Boccato working during the Resolution Day

Sofia Boccato working during the Resolution Day

Finally, the unprecedented combination with graphic arts and music was very inspiring. Although these arts did not have any direct link with horseback riding, they instead gave a very interesting contribution of creativity to the event, because riding is not a mere practice, but is actually a world of it’s own, a way of life (as I took the liberty to point out in my speech). And, as shown with the accompanying art and music, there is nothing like fantasy and beauty to make life richer and more fruitful…. perhaps only irony. And it was with his captivating ability to not take himself too seriously, that Francesco involved all of us, demonstrating his charisma and his humanity – a style that I really appreciate, because irony is the most pleasant mask of intelligence.

The eccentric formula of the Resolution Day also included the beautiful exhibition of The Court

The eccentric formula of the Resolution Day also included the beautiful exhibition of The Court

In short, for me, with this initiative, Francesco Vedani (who was assisted with great professionalism in the organization by Giulia Barberis) has proven to be one of the most interesting personalities of our equestrian scene. The Resolution Day was a successful experiment. To be repeated.

December 3, 2014

December 3, 2014

I highly recommend to anyone who is interested in learning more about the protagonists of the Resolution Day to visit their websites (by clicking on the links below):

Francesco Vedani – Ars Equitandi

Tellington Ttouch Training Italia (Massimo Da Re)

Sofia Boccato

(Stefano Marchi hasn’t a personal website, but you can contact him on Facebook).

For those who know some Italian I also higly recommend reading Francesco Vedani’s book: Equitazione e leggerezza (The Search for Lightness)

Libro VedaniAbout the Tellington TTouch method you can read The Ultimate Horse Behavior And Training Book: Enlightened And Revolutionary Solutions for the 21st Century, by Linda Tellington Jones


“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.