In horseback riding “it always remains something to desire”

Édouard Boutibonne, Portrait of Napoleon III, 1856,  © The Royal Collection

Édouard Boutibonne, Portrait of Napoleon III, 1856
© The Royal Collection

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

“In the military art there is no discipline more beautiful of this of the Horses, which is not only adorned with beautiful effects; but it is necessary and of great value.” This is the beginning of the first printed book dedicated to horseback riding. Written in 1550, this model, established by Federico Grisone in his The Rules of Riding, was followed by many other authors and the initial apologia of the equestrian art became commonplace in equestrian treatises. Although in some instances, these panegyrics are tangled in a nearly incomprehensible and convoluted style, they however represent a source of very interesting ideas for the modern reader because they offer a perspective on how mankind narrated and motivated over the centuries his millennial passion for horses.

Even if all of the ancient works emphasize the importance of horsemanship for military purposes, there are also several authors who underline that learning how to ride a horse produces beneficial effects on body and spirit. We have, for example, already seen in another article (see Riding as a way to cultivate the soul. Dom Duarte and the remedies against fear) that in the fifteenth century, the King of Portugal, Dom Duarte, claimed that riding a horse formed a person’s character because it instills courage. However, it is probably Claudio Corte  the author who writes with more depth than others, his thoughts on this subject. First, extolling the benefits that riding brings to the health of the body:

the use of the horse is very helpful to the health of the body; since it is a very noble and moderate exercise of almost all limbs, as in mounting a horse each limb is used separately and the whole body all together, with an incredible proportion of motion that is impossible to put into words. […] Riding also generates cheerful humor and banishes melancholy, which is a very bad and very harsh humor in the human body. And this you can easily see, by considering that anyone who is oppressed by any great sorrow feels very much relieved when riding a horse who satisfies him (CORTE, 1562, p. 11v).

In the fifteenth century, Dom Duarte claimed that riding a horse formed a person’s character because it instills courage (The tournament of Camelot, miniature from Gautier Map, Le livre de messire Lancelot du Lac,  manuscript of the fifteenth century Source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliotèque nationale de France)

In the fifteenth century, Dom Duarte claimed that riding a horse
formed a person’s character because it instills courage
(The tournament of Camelot, miniature from Gautier Map, Le livre
de messire Lancelot du Lac, manuscript of the fifteenth century
Source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliotèque nationale de France)

According to Corte, from horses and equitation comes also social prestige. Every gentleman is, in fact, judged by others for the way he rides and maintains his mounts. In addition, the author adds a remark that is still fully valid today: the horse gives the pleasure to contemplate places that without him would be difficult to reach:

And that it is true you can see in considering that without the horse it would be difficult to enjoy that great pleasure and happiness, which the view of the countryside away from the tumult of the city and the goodness of the weather and the serenity of the sky give to men, being impossible to go there on foot without a lot of effort and discomfort, which would take away the pleasure, either in whole or in large part (CORTE, 1562, p. 13v).

The practice of equestrian sports imposes the contact with nature to man. For that alone, riding is an activity that makes us a better people. (Diego Velasquez, Don Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares, 1635, © Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

The practice of equestrian sports imposes the contact
with nature to man. For that alone, riding is an activity
that makes us a better people.
(Diego Velasquez, Don Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares, 1635, © Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

If this was true at a time when the horse was also used as a means of transport, it is perhaps even more so today. The practice of equestrian sports imposes on modern man, whose life is marked by the rhythms of technological society, the urge to carve out a moment in his day devoted to contact with nature. For that alone, riding is an activity that makes us a better people.

The spiritual dimension of horseback riding is further emphasized in the first treatise in French: Le Cavalerice François, by Salomon de La Broue. According to the author, the study of the nature of the horse and the practice of the means to tame and train him for war, or for the use in jousts and tournaments, changes the rider, enhancing his best qualities.

Because to fully master such a vigorous and proud animal, the horseman must be naturally ingenious, patient, brave and strong. In addition to this, it is necessary that the long experience of the best schools that teach this exercise has given him a knowledge such that he can judge well the mood and disposition of the horse to industriously profit of the good effects of the same horse’s nature (LA BROUE 1602, p. 3).

Author of the first equestrian treatise    ever published in French, Salomon de La Broue  emphasizes the spiritual dimension of horsemanship. (Salomon de LA BROUE, Le Cavalerice François, Paris, A. l’Angelier, 1602, frontispiece)

Author of the first equestrian treatise
ever published in French, Salomon de La Broue
emphasizes the spiritual dimension of horsemanship.
(Salomon de La Broue, Le Cavalerice François, Paris, A. l’Angelier, 1602, frontispiece)

To train the horse, the horseman must possess innate, and further refine, his own sense of proportion and rhythm, reaching an almost mathematical ability to perform with the due rigor, the complicated “manège airs”. La Broue adds that the gifts required are so sophisticated that, considering a horseman who is really competent in his art, it is easy to believe that he may well succeed in many other activities. Indeed, horsemanship is an art that requires very subtle qualities that, according to the author, cannot be learned by everyone. Especially by a rough and uncultured person:

I think it never happens that the perfection of such knowledge is communicated to certain weak and coarse spirits who profane it every day apparently attributing the honor of such competence to themselves and letting the ignorant admire them (LA BROUE 1602, p. 3).

In Pluvinel's work horseback riding assumes the character of a true spiritual gymnasium (Antoine de Pluvinel (1552-1620), L’instruction du Roy en l’exercice de monter à cheval,  Paris, P. Rocolet, 1627, engraving watercolored in the seventeenth century, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Paris)

In Pluvinel’s work horseback riding assumes the character of a true spiritual gymnasium
(Antoine de Pluvinel, L’instruction du Roy en l’exercice de monter à cheval,
Paris, P. Rocolet, 1627, engraving watercolored in the seventeenth century,
Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Paris)

These arguments are further developed in the subsequent work by Antoine de Pluvinel, L’instruction du Roy en l’exercice de monter à cheval (1625). In this work, horseback riding is described as assuming the character of a true spiritual gymnasium. Indeed, while one can learn the sciences and other arts in a state of calm and with no other concern than to apply to the study, the equestrian art can be learned only by mounting a horse, which is to say, deciding to suffer all the extremes that can be expected from an irrational being. The rider must, in fact, face his mount’s fears, anger and laziness, while overcoming at the same time, his own concern about the dangers to which he is exposed. According to Pluvinel, the rider can overcome these difficulties only through knowledge and the firmness of his judgment, maintaining the same calmness and readiness with which the student tries to learn something from a book, but while in the midst of danger.

By this, your Majesty may know very clearly in which sense this beautiful exercise is useful to the spirit, because it educates it and accustoms it to execute with precision and order all of these functions between the hassles, the noise, the agitation and the continuous fear of danger, which are like an encouragement to make it capable of performing the same tasks between the arms and in the middle of the dangers that you meet in a battle (PLUVINEL, 1625, p. 3).

In short, by riding horses we become accustomed to facing difficulties and dangers, while maintaining self-control, thanks to the knowledge and serenity that comes from our experience. Pluvinel emphasizes the importance of this exercise in the military and political field, but the modern reader can easily grasp its existential value: while getting used to facing problems and risks, keeping our nerve and making quick decisions on the basis of our own experience, it is useful not only on a battlefield, but in everyday life.

Antoon Van Dyck, Portrait of Tommaso di Savoia Carignano, Torino,  Galleria Sabauda, 1634.

Antoon Van Dyck, Portrait of Tommaso di Savoia Carignano, 1634, Torino, Galleria Sabauda.

In the following centuries, the equestrian treatises seem to put more attention to the benefits that physical exercise brings to health, although there are authors, such as the Italian Federico Mazzucchelli, who identify further positive consequences of riding:

When sometimes our spirit is jammed by lazy cares and slow torpor, this obedient, fast, and elegant animal shakes our burdened senses, rekindles the languishing genius in us and awakens the activity, without which even the most useful, and bright works remain unattempted (MAZZUCCHELLI, 1805, pp. 7-8).

A century later, in the posthumous masterpiece of General L’Hotte, we find, again, an idea already mentioned by La Broue at the end of the sixteenth century: it is not so much horseback riding that has an effect on certain aspects of the personality of those who ride, but rather that in order to become a good rider, one must already have special “inborn” qualities, both physical and spiritual. According to L’Hotte, the one who aspires to become a true horseman must have a calm and, at the same time, energetic character, sweet but without weakness, firm without being rude. He must, especially, always maintain his self-control in order to act on the horse opposing his patience toward the animal’s impatience, calm to violence, energy to laziness, and obedience to rejection. He must be persevering and competent, but above all he must have an innate and essential quality:

a very special feeling called equestrian tact, which is the ability to recognize the nature of the good or bad contractions of the horse and that inspires the appropriateness and moderation of the horseman’s actions.
This feeling that the work develops, but cannot generate, it is so necessary to the horseman, that is to say the rider-artist, like the feeling of the color is essential to the painter and the feeling of the harmony of sounds to the musician
(L ‘HOTTE 1906, pp. 201-202).

According to General L'Hotte (1825-194), only those with innate qualities can really excel in horseback riding.

According to General L’Hotte (1825-194),
only those with innate qualities
can really excel in horseback riding.

Let us finally add a personal remark to this brief survey of the arguments used by the authors of equestrian treatises to describe the peculiarity of horseback riding. Being based on the confrontation between two living beings, riding is an experience that is perpetually renewed. Each horse, in fact, has his own temperament, his physical conformation and a particular sensitivity, a degree of training and therefore a different ability to interact with human beings. For this reason, on every occasion on which we ride a new horse, we live a profoundly different experience. On the other hand, simply because we confront ourselves with a living being, even riding the same animal, we live each time a different experience.

Each rider has experienced, at least once, the exciting feeling of a perfect reciprocity with his horse: the heady giddiness of an ineffable communication with the animal, which makes it possible to perform, without apparent effort, exercises that up to then seemed very difficult. Those are the moments when the horse responds promptly to the imperceptible aids of his rider, nearly foreseeing his intentions and happily complying with them. However, generally enthusiasm is soon replaced by disappointment. The next day, the rider comes back to the barn, being sure to live again the ecstasy of that miraculous ride, but he soon realizes that, even if the conditions are apparently the same, the magic does not repeat, the connection with the animal appears less immediate, the gestures are more mechanical and the man’s intentions cannot be so easily translated into the horse’s attitudes. The rider feels his body inexplicably heavy and clumsy. And the animal, that just the day before was full of energy and sensitivity, seems rather unwilling and insensitive to the aids. The result is not up to the previous one. There is no denying that to realize this, it is often very bitter. The failure, however, inevitably nourishes the desire to rediscover the joy of those moments of enthusiasm. The initial dejection is soon replaced by the desire to try again and to improve.

Charles Édouard Boutibonne, The Empress Eugénie on horseback, 1856 © The Royal Collection

Charles Édouard Boutibonne, The Empress Eugénie on horseback, 1856 © The Royal Collection

This seesaw of opposing emotions fuels our passion. Of course, between one ride and the other (except in cases of accident, or illness) nothing definitive happened. The rider has not forgotten how to ride, nor has the horse suddenly been deprived of his qualities. The fact is that every ride is the result of a complex relationship between living beings that influence each other. For this reason, the rider cannot help but wonder if the cause of his temporary failure is due to his own unaware fault, or to a change in the physical, or mental condition of the animal. It is most likely due to both and to a remarkable series of further concomitant factors, which make it impossible to reduce the issue to a mechanistic relation of cause and effect. On the other hand, it is precisely the variety of sensations that each ride gives us, pointing out new goals to achieve, which makes the equestrian practice an activity in which it is substantially impossible to become bored.

And this applies for all riders. Even for the best. Once General L’Hotte confessed to his master, François Baucher, that he was never completely satisfied with the training of his horses. Baucher looked at him with his piercing gaze and replied with a smile: “But it will always be like this; it always remains something to desire” (L’HOTTE 1906, p. 209).

Anche per i più grandi cavalieri, in equitazione

Even for the best riders,
in horseback riding “it always remains something to desire”
(François Baucher, Méthode d’équitation basée sur de nouveaux principes, Paris, 1842)

Bibliography

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

Dom DUARTE, The Royal Book of Jousting, Horsemanship and Knightly Combat. A transaltion into English of King’Dom Duarte’s 1438 Treatise Livro da Ensinança de Bem Cavalgar Toda Sela, by Antonio Franco Preto, ed. by S. Mulhberger, Higland Village, The Chivalry Bookshelf, 2005.

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

L’HOTTE, Alexis François Questions équestres, Paris, Librairie Plon, 1906

LA BROUE, Salomon de, Le Cavalerice François, Paris, A. l’Angelier, 1602.

MAZZUCCHELLI, Federico, Scuola equestre, Milano, presso Gio Pietro Giegler, Libraio sulla Corsia de’ Servi, 1805

PLUVINEL, Antoine de, L’instruction du Roy en l’exercice de monter à cheval, , Paris, M. Nivelle, 1610.

Riding as a way to cultivate the soul. Dom Duarte and the remedies against fear

Giorgio Vasari, Studies of horses heads, Sixteenth century, Parigi, Musée du Louvre

Giorgio Vasari, Studies of horse heads, Sixteenth century, Parigi, Musée du Louvre

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

In the nature of the horse there is a duplicity that, for better or worse, has a deep impact on the relationship of this animal with man. In the second half of the sixteenth century, Claudio Corte had already described exactly this ambivalence. The horse – Corte wrote in his book Il cavallarizzo (The Horseman) – incorporates both “the nature of a domestic and gentle animal and that of a wild beast” (CORTE, 1562, p. 11v). There is indeed something primordial and savage in the powerful instincts that dominate the emotional reactions of the horse and that clash with his docile and gregarious nature. His seemingly incomprehensible fears are bewildering, in contrast to deeds of unprecedented courage. The violence of his sexual instinct is surprising and make him – again in the words of Corte – an “animal very fit for coitus and very inclined to love” (CORTE, 1562, p. 18r). His size and strength inspire fear, though a competent and sensitive hand can direct his generous impulses.

There is something primordial and savage in the powerful instincts that dominate the horse. Antonio Tempesta, Stallion who attacks a mare, 1590

There is something primordial and savage in the powerful instincts that dominate the horse. Antonio Tempesta, Stallion who attacks a mare, 1590

As far as we might be passionate and experienced, due to this ambivalence, the horse attracts and, at the same time, frightens us. Recalling the original emotion that unconsciously legitimized his choice of a life dedicated to horses and to equestrian spectacle, the great French horseman-artist, Bartabas, recently wrote:

For my part, it all started with a fascination. That is to say, from an admiration and at the same time from a fear. From my fear as a child in front of these “monsters” of 1500 pounds called horses, a fear which, vaguely and for reasons unknown to me, I told myself that I had to overcome. (BARTABAS, 2012, p. 10)

Even the genial French horseman-artist Bartabas recognizes that the origin of his equestrian vocation is a primitive instinct of fear of the horse.  Bartabas and Jean Claude Drouet in the show

Even the genial French horseman-artist Bartabas recognizes that the source of his equestrian vocation is a primitive instinct of fear of the horse.
Bartabas and Jean Claude Drouet in the show “Chimere” in 1994

The relationship between man and horse is modeled by this complexity. The conflict between fascination and fear lurks in the unconscious of every rider: it feeds his passion, points him toward new goals to reach, but it also multiplies his inhibitions and it is the cause of the most common technical and management mistakes. “Fear – writes Michel Henriquet, after a life dedicated to the practice and the teaching the equestrian art – is the most common problem of those who practice horse riding” (HENRIQUET, 2006, p. 46). According to the French master, this paralyzing feeling grips the vast majority of practitioners (six or seven out of ten, in his own experience as a instructor). And we might add, that it does not matter if they are beginners or experienced riders. Of course, the familiarity with the animals attenuates the fright, but very often it is easy to guess the influence of an unconscious fear even in the attitudes of many professionals. Given these considerations it is therefore not surprising that a large part of the Livro da Ensinança de Bem Cavalgar Toda Sela (The Book of Riding with Every Kind of Saddle) – one of the first equestrian treatises, written in the mid-fifteenth century by King Edward I of Portugal, known as Dom Duarte – is dedicated just to the management of the fear that the horse inspires in his rider. A special feature that makes this book – in the beautiful definition given by the Portuguese scholar Carlos Henriques Pereira – “the first page in history of psychology applied to equestrian sports and probably of sport’s pedagogy in general” (PEREIRA, 2009, p. 141 ).

Théodore Gericault, Riderless Horse Races, 1817, Paris Musée du Louvre

Théodore Gericault, Riderless horse race, 1817, Paris Musée du Louvre

The premise is: fear of the animal, of his strength and of his temperament, but above all fear of the dangers of riding. Beginning with the fear of being unseated. If, in fact, according to Dom Duarte, the first and most important quality of a good horseman is the ability to remain firmly in the saddle in all circumstances – namely its seat – the second is to not be afraid of falling:

Not to fear falling off the beast or with her, keeping the appropriate confidence in yourself, the beast and the terrain where you are riding, to do whatever would be necessary (DOM DUARTE, 2005, p. 18).

Fundamental virtue, because the first quality specified by Dom Duarte is inextricably linked to the second. Regardless of  physically strong, in fact, one can never be really solid on the saddle if he is afraid. Conversely, those who are free of the tension caused by apprehension, will be more at ease and therefore in a better balance and in the condition of using their strengths at their best:

A man who is not afraid of riding has the capability to stay strongly mounted, maintaining a posture that reflects his strong will and simultaneously shows off how safe he feels (DOM DUARTE, 2005, p. 55)

Duarte then lists the means by which fear can be overcome. From the most noble, such as reason, knowledge, will and training, to the less elevated and more ephemeral: ignorance, anger, conceit, or the feeling of being in a special position of advantage. It is certain, adds Dom Duarte, that everyone can improve and must commit to this if he wants to excel in the equestrian art:

Although is commonly said that we cannot change our nature, I believe that men can reform themselves immensely, under God, correcting their shortcomings and increasing their virtues. And everyone should work hard to know himself better, maintaining and increasing the good virtues received and reducing his failures and correcting his shortcomings (DOM DUARTE, 2005, p. 45)

Giovanni Fattori - Lo staffato

According to Dom Duarte to not be afraid of falling is a fundamental virtue of a good rider.
Giovanni Fattori, Man caught in a stirrup, 1880, Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Palazzo Pitti, Firenze.

Two in particular are the faculties that, according to Dom Duarte, the rider must cultivate in order to overcome the instinctive fear that the horse inspires him: knowledge and will. The first is the most effective antidote, but cannot be achieved without the latter. In fact, by understanding deeply the animal and the techniques to influence and steer his behaviors, you can overcome the fear of his reactions and prevent the potential risks which may arise from those same reactions.

In riding, like in all the things we want to do, if fear makes us unable to do it well we should, first of all, learn how to do it better; and if we know how to do it well, we will have the aforementioned presumption which in itself normally causes most or all the fear to vanish (DOM DUARTE, 2005, p. 45).

However, the equestrian universe is complicated and somewhat mysterious. Complicated primarily because each horse, while sharing some basic features with his fellows, is distinguished by its peculiar feeling, attitude and physical conformation. Mysterious, because the animal communicates with us only through his body and we can interpret his signs only through our experience and intuition. In horseback riding, our own body is an instrument of communication with the horse, and the rider must therefore enforce to himself a thorough physical discipline to control his attitudes and thus make his signals (i.e. the aids by mean of which he directs his mount) clear and unique. To achieve true expertise in the equestrian field is, therefore, a long and constantly perfectible process that can be undertaken only if motivated by a inexhaustible desire to improve. According to Dom Duarte, the will is therefore the essential virtue to overcome fear and achieve true competence.

Nobody should doubt that if someone desires to become a good horseman, his will would be sufficient to enable him to overcome the fear of falling from the horse – or with it – and therefore he will end up being a good horseman (DOM DUARTE, 2005, p. 46).

Pieter Paul Rubens, Equestrian portrait of Giancarlo Doria, 1606, Galleria Nazionale Palazzo Spinola, Genova.

In horseback riding, our own body is an instrument
of communication with the horse.
Pieter Paul Rubens, Equestrian portrait of Giancarlo Doria, 1606, Galleria Nazionale Palazzo Spinola, Genova.

Duarte says that the rider must always work to hide his insecurity. Not only because in this way he will show himself at ease to others even when he is in trouble, but because, by dint of dissimulating, he will get used to being heedless of the danger and he will convince himself of his own courage and finally feel at ease:

It is possible to show off our safety when we are doing specific things, faking it through the use of specific attitudes that normally reflect safety. That ability is not only useful to deceive others; if we do it frequently, these activities might become a habit and eventually convince our heart; we could end up really feeling safe. (DOM DUARTE, 2005, p. 59).

This is one of the most curious and interesting aspects of the inner discipline that the rider must impose to himself to overcome his fears. Dissimulation thus becomes a tool for self-persuasion. And in this regard, Duarte lists some “tricks” that the shrewd rider can use to hide his embarrassment when he is in danger. For example, when riding an unruly horse, he must show a quiet and pleasant attitude (but always, not exaggerating, in order to avoid affectation) and if the horse rears, bucks or kicks, he must tidy his dress and mantle, with a slow and calm movement, as would a horseman that is not at all worried about what is happening. Similarly, if he needs to correct the horse with the bit or with a more energetic use of his legs and spurs, he must do it by continuing to talk about this and that with other people, as if nothing disturbs the conversation.

Peter Paul Rubens, Publius Decius Mure’s death (detail), 1617, Fürstlich Lichtensteinische Gemäldegalerie.

Peter Paul Rubens, Publius Decius Mure’s death (detail), 1617, Fürstlich Lichtensteinische Gemäldegalerie.

But there is one aspect that the discourse of Dom Duarte does not touch, but which, in my opinion, is particularly relevant in reflecting on the fear that horses inspire in men. That secret fear, which often unwittingly undermines even the most genuine horse lover and many equestrian professionals, pushes many of those who deal with horses to an excessive use of force. The violence towards horses is, in fact, always the expression of the fear of not being able to control them by other means, and of the ignorance of more effective and appropriate ways to do it. And for violence here, I mean, not only the use of beatings and other abuses, but also an inappropriate overuse of the aids.  Cesare Fiaschi, at the half point of the sixteenth century, and many other Renaissance authors had already understood that the horse is an extraordinarily sensitive animal with which the rider often tends to communicate by too strong means, which then turns into useless and counterproductive violence. Fear leads inevitably to a lack of observation of the behavior of the animal and is generally exorcised by brutality, or at least by far more aggressive manners than necessary, which then establish a vicious cycle of human actions and reactions of the animal that are the source of endless misunderstandings and repeated failures.

In order to reach excellence the rider must overcome his fears and learn to trust himself and his horse. Carles Parrocel, Cavalry officer, in F. R. de La Guérinière, Ecole de cavalerie, Paris, 1736, p. 271.

In order to reach excellence the rider must overcome his fears
and learn to trust himself and his horse.
Carles Parrocel, Cavalry officer, in F. R. de La Guérinière, Ecole de cavalerie, Paris, 1736, p. 271.

The knowledge accumulated over thousands of years of co-existence between man and horse, which is handed down to us by the equestrian literature, teaches us that in order to reach excellence the rider must overcome his fears and learn to trust himself and his horse. The essence of the more sophisticated art of riding is in this inner confidence and in this trust, which lead man to reward the availability of the animal to cooperate by leaving him as free as possible to express his physical potential, without unnecessary constraints. This is the lesson of the “descent de main” mentioned by La Guérinière: the reward given by one of “the most subtle and most useful aids of Chivalry” (LA GUÉRINIÈRE, 1733, II, 7, p.89). As soon as the horse gives up resisting to the will of the rider, the latter leaves him “in freedom on one’s word”: that is to say, that he ceases the aids by means of which he controls the horse and permits him to carry himself. It is in that moment that the animal is able to express his elegance, his strength and agility at best. It is basically the same confidence that leads the rider to advance his hands to give “freedom to the horse’s neck” over the obstacle in the “natural system of equitation” by Federico Caprilli. This lead a revolution that, in the short span of two decades, between the nineteenth and the twentieth century, allowed the horse to pass over obstacles of more or less 4 feet to barriers of more than 8.  Even in this case, the rider must overcome his fear and the obsession of control and rely on the generous vitality of the animal, to become one with him and thus acquire the same power and grace of his mount.

The rider must overcome his fear and the obsession of control and rely on the generous vitality of the animal. Federico Caprilli, jumping a chair in an open field.

The rider must overcome the obsession of control
and rely on the generous vitality of the animal.
Federico Caprilli, jumping a chair in an open field.

Therefore, there is no high equitation without reflection and study, that is to say without working on ourselves to supplement and perfect the physical training and the technical learning. To overcome his fears and learn by observing his partner, in order to comply with his good inclinations and correct his shortcomings, the rider must undergo an endless initiation. “The act of riding – writes Michel Henriquet – is a sport with regard to the methodical practice of exercises that increase the strength, dexterity and beauty of the gestures; but it also tends toward a moral end that combines the perfection of the body with the education of the spirit”(Henriquet, 2006, p. 55). The daily interaction with another being, with whom we cannot communicate through language, but with whom we have to establish an understanding based on mutual comprehension, becomes then much more than a competitive sport or a recreational activity. It is a way of cultivating our soul and an opportunity to grow as women and men, and not only as riders.

Bibliography

BARTABAS, Manifeste per la vie d’artiste, Paris, Éditions Autrement, 2012. CORTE, Claudio, Il Cavallarizzo, Venezia, Giordano Zilletti, 1562.

Dom DUARTE, The Royal Book of Jousting, Horsemanship and Knightly Combat. A transaltion into English of King’Dom Duarte’s 1438 Treatise Livro da Ensinança de Bem Cavalgar Toda Sela, by Antonio Franco Preto, ed. by S. Mulhberger, Higland Village, The  Chivalry Bookshelf,  2005.

GIUBBILEI, Carlo, Federico Caprilli, vita e scritti, Roma, Casa Editrice Italiana, 1911.

HENRIQUET, Michel, La sagesse de l’ecuyer, Paris, L’oeil neuf Éditions, 2006.

LA GUÉRINIÈRE, François Robichon de, Ecole de Cavalerie,contenant la connoissance, l’instruction et la conservation du cheval, Paris, Jacques Collombat, 1733

PEREIRA, Carlos Henriques, Etude du premier traité d’équitation portugais. Livro da ensinança de bem cavalgar toda sela, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2001.

PEREIRA, Carlos Henriques, Le traité du roi D. Duarte: l’équitation portugaise a l’aube de la Reinassance, 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. 140 -150.

PEREIRA, Carlos Henriques, Naissance et renaissance de l’equitation portugaise, Paris, l’Harmattan, 2010.

“A la brida” and “a la gineta.” Different riding techniques in the late Middle Ages 
and the Renaissance

Rider in the

Rider in the “a la gineta” style
(in Pirro Antonio Ferraro, Cavallo frenato, Napoli, 1602)

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

Defining, in his Book of the Courtier (1528), the ideal features of the Renaissance gentleman, Baldassare Castiglione wrote: “I would hope that our Courtier is a perfect horseman in every kind of saddle” (1, 21). That a gentleman had to be able to perfectly ride a horse is quite obvious. Since the Middle Ages, and for many centuries thereafter, the practice of knightly exercises represented one of the characteristic features of the identity of aristocracy. So much so that the term “knight” came to be identified with that of “noble” as a synonym. What is instead striking is the reference to the different types of saddles. This was a suggestion that the author did not explain, considering it clear to his contemporary readers, but which now seems far less apparent, giving us the opportunity for a quick overview of the main equestrian techniques practiced at the time.

Baldassare Castiglione portrayed by Raffaello (1514-15) Louvre Museum - Paris

Baldassare Castiglione portrayed by Raffaello (1514-15)
Louvre Museum – Paris

It is evident that, if it was only a matter of harness, Castiglione’s specification would have been superfluous. In fact, as we will see in more detail, the author of the Book of the Courtier refers to different riding techniques which characterized equitation in late medieval times and during the Renaissance. We find a clear testimony of these different techniques in the most ancient equestrian treatise of the post-classic age: the Livro da ensinança de bem cavalgar toda sela. This is the work which Edward (Duarte), King of Portugal (1391-1438), wrote around 1434 and which was handed down to us in a manuscript, first published in Paris, dating back to 1842. The title can be translated into the Book of the art of riding with any type of saddle. We then find the same premise discussed in Castiglione, but in this work, the author gives us many more details.

In the

Tthe “a la brida” style consisted of riding deeply seated, keeping the leg outstretched
and the feet forward
(in Pierre de la Noue, La Cavalerie Française et Italienne, Paris, 1620)

In his book, Dom Duarte distinguishes five different ways to ride a horse: 1) the one with the Bravante saddle, 2) the one in which the rider does not take support on the stirrups, 3) the one in which the rider stands firm on the stirrups, 4) the one in which the rider rides with short stirrups, 5) and finally, riding bareback, or with a pack-saddle without stirrups. The distinction, according to the type of the saddle and to the length of the stirrups, clearly refers to different ways in which the rider is seated and then to different riding techniques. Dom Duarte says that the habit of riding nearly without resting the rider’s feet on the stirrups was widespread in England and in some Italian regions, while riding without stirrups and no spurs was typical of Ireland. According to Carlos Henriques Pereira, who devoted detailed studies to Dom Duarte’s book, the first and the third way mentioned by Dom Duarte substantially coincide and correspond to the so-called “a la brida” style, which was frequently mentioned in later treatises. In fact, as we will see, these two ways of riding were very different and can be compared only by the fact that the rider rode keeping his legs straight. These ways of riding were opposed to the so-called “a la gineta” style, characterized by the fact that the rider rode with shorter stirrups and bent legs. Even though Dom Duarte’s classification demonstrates the coexistence of many different riding techniques in the late medieval period, equitation at the time and during the Renaissance was mainly characterized by the contrast between the a la brida and the a la gineta styles.

Paolo Uccello, detail of Niccolò Mauruzi da Tolentino unseating Bernardino della Ciarda at the Battle of San Romano (1435-1440) Florence, Uffizi Musuem

Paolo Uccello, detail of Niccolò Mauruzi da Tolentino unseating Bernardino della Ciarda at the Battle of San Romano (1435-1440), Florence, Uffizi Musuem

The “a la brida” style was the typical technique of heavy cavalry and was characterized by the use of long stirrups. As we have already seen, Dom Duarte distinguished two different methods:  the first one was done with a particular kind of saddle, called “Bravante saddle”, and consisted of riding deeply seated, keeping the feet forward (III, 2); the second, in contrast, consisted of riding standing up in the stirrups, never sitting on the saddle (III, 4). To facilitate this second method, the stirrups were fastened to each other with a strap under the horse’s belly in order to prevent them from separating. According to Dom Duarte, the method of standing while riding was older and required the rider to keep his legs perfectly straight under him. Both of these techniques were used to facilitate the knight in handling the lance. Between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the length and the weight of this weapon increased progressively. This required the rider, who was already awkward in his movements from heavy armor, to stand firm in the saddle in order to face the moment of collision with his opponent. For this purpose, special saddles with very high pommels and cantles were used in order to support the rider. According to Carlos Henriques Pereira, and to other historians, the “a la brida” style was typical of Northern Europe. But it is well documented that this way of riding was also widespread in southern countries such as Italy and also in Portugal. Indeed, according to Baldassare Castiglione, Italian knights stood out because of their ability in this technique and for their ability to master difficult horses.

it is the special pride of the Italians to ride well a la brida, to school wild horses with consummate skill, and to play at tilting and jousting.” (Book of the Courtier, I, 21)

The “a la brida” style was the typical technique of heavy cavalry (in Johann Jacobi von Wallhausen, Ritterkunst, Franckfurt, 1616)

The “a la brida” style was the typical technique of heavy cavalry
(in Johann Jacobi von Wallhausen, Ritterkunst, Franckfurt, 1616)

In addition, this was the typical riding technique used in jousting, the knightly games in which two armed knights on horseback faced off at “the barrier,” if between the two contenders, there was a “tilt,” made of wood, or of canvas, or in the “open field.” These chivalrous events were widespread throughout Europe up until the seventeenth century and this explains also why “a la brida” was a common style.

The

The “a la brida” style was used in jousting, a type of chivalrous events
which were widespread throughout Europe
(in Anthoine de Pluvinel, L’instruction du roy en l’exercice de monter à cheval, Paris, 1625)
© The Trustees of the British Museum

In contrast, the “a la gineta” style of riding with shorter stirrups, allowed the rider a more direct and precise contact of the “lower aids” with the horse’s sides. According to Dom Duarte, this style required the rider to sit “in the middle of the saddle”, not using the support of the pommel and the cantle, keeping the feet firmly resting on the stirrups, with the heels slightly down (III, 5). It was a technique typical of the Iberian Peninsula, clearly originating in North Africa. The term “gineta” or “ginetta” comes from the Spanish word “jinete” which, in turn, most likely derived from the Berber tribe of Zeneti, famous for it’s light cavalry. They would have been the ones to introduce this style of riding to the Iberian Peninsula. This origin is also clearly identified by the fact that in the “a la gineta” style,  a kind of bit was used which was identical to those still in use in North Africa. It was formed by two short shanks connected by a cannon, with a central shovel that rested flat on the horse’s tongue and on top of which a large metal ring was attached. This ring passed under the lower jaw of the animal and acted as a curb chain. Also, the saddle was clearly of Arabic origin and was quite similar to the “silla vaquera” still used in Spain.

In the

In the “a la gineta” style the use of short stirrups
allowed the rider a more direct and precise contact
of the “lower aids”
(in Galvão de Andrade, Arte da cavalaria de Gineta, Lisboa, 1678)

The “a la gineta” style was typical of the Iberian Peninsula, but rapidly spread into the domains of the Spanish Empire and particularly into southern Italy, where the horses of Spanish  origin were called “Ginnetti”. We find testimony of the widespread breeding of this kind of horse in the southern regions of Italy, in the frescoes of Palazzo Pandone in Venafro. Among these frescos is the portrait of the bay “ginecto” called Stella, portrayed at the age of four on the 23rd of May 1523, which was subsequently donated to the Neapolitan nobleman Annibale Caracciolo. Dom Duarte underlines that riding “a la gineta” was not practiced in Northern Europe and that the British and the French had little experience with this way of riding (III, 7).

The bay Stella, life-size portrayed in Castello Pandone in Venafro (XV century). The breeding of

The bay Stella, life-size portrayed in Castello Pandone in Venafro (XV century). The breeding of “Ginnetti” (jennets, i.e. horses of Iberian origin) was widespread in southern Italy

Riding “a la gineta” is also the basic technique of bullfighting on horseback. The short stirrups allowed the rider to make fast stops and departures, as well as sudden changes of direction, which are essential in the fight with the bull. It is well known that this kind of fighting took place not only on the Iberian peninsula, but during the Renaissance, was used as well in Italy. Benedetto Croce recalls events in Siena and Florence, where, in 1584, in Piazza Santa Croce, there was a magnificent bullfight on the occasion of the visit of Prince Vincenzo Gonzaga, heir to the throne of Mantua. Maria Bellonci chronicles the passion of the Borgias for bulls and mentions the bullfight with which the Duke Valentino, Cesare Borgia (the son of Pope Alexander VI), celebrated the New Year’s Eve 1502, no less than in Saint Peter’s square in Rome. The features of the “a la gineta” style were also further used in some types of chivalrous trials, such as the “game of the reeds” (juego de canhas) and the “carousel joust.” They both were equestrian games of Arabic origin, imported by the Spaniards in Italy, in which two teams of riders faced each other in a bloodless battle armed with reeds and Moorish shields, or hurling projectiles made of clay.

Riding “a la gineta” was the basic technique of bullfighting on horseback. During the Reinassance, this kind of fighting were widespread  also outside the Iberian peninsula (Antonio Tempesta, Caccia al toro, 1598)

Riding “a la gineta” was the basic technique of bullfighting on horseback. During the Reinassance, this kind of fighting were widespread also outside the Iberian peninsula
(Antonio Tempesta, Caccia al toro, 1598)

However, both Dom Duarte and, about a century after him, Baldassare Castiglione were convinced of one thing: the perfect knight must master each of these techniques and be able to adapt to any type of saddle, since each one is useful for specific needs. “A man will never be a good rider if he is not able to choose the most appropriate way to ride on each type of saddle” (Livro da Ensinança de Bem Cavalgar Toda Sela, III, 14).

The “a la gineta” bit was of a clear Arabic origin and was identical to those still in use in North Africa (in Pirro Antonio Ferraro, Cavallo frenato, Napoli, 1602)

The “a la gineta” bit was of a clear Arabic origin and was identical to those still in use in North Africa
(in Pirro Antonio Ferraro, Cavallo frenato, Napoli, 1602)

Bibliography

BELLONCI, Maria, Lucrezia Borgia, Milano, Mondadori 1939.

CASTIGLIONE, Baldassare, Il Cortigiano, a cura di A. Quondam, Milano, Mondadori, 2002.

CROCE, Benedetto, La Spagna nella vita italiana durante la Rinascenza, 2a ed. riveduta, Bari, Laterza, 1922.

D’ANDRADE, Fernando Sommer,  La tauromachie équestre au Portugal, Paris, Michel Chandeigne, 1991.

Dom DUARTE, The Royal Book of Horsemanship, Jousting and Knightly Combat, translatetd by A. F. and L. Preto, edited by Steven Muhlberger, Highland Viallge, The Chivalry Bookshelf, 2005.

PEREIRA, Carlos Henriques, Etude du premier traité d’équitation portugais. Livro da ensinança de bem cavalgar toda sela, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2001.

PEREIRA, Carlos Henriques, Naissance et renaissance de l’equitation portugaise, Paris, l’Harmattan, 2010.