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 cheerfulness of the horse. 
Giovanni de Gamboa, a pupil of Pignatelli

Horse attributed to Francesco Allegrini - 1624-63 © Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York

Horse attributed to Francesco Allegrini, 1624-63
© Metropolitan Museum of Art – New York

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

“The cheerfulness of the horse is the most beautiful part of him, and the most valuable.” I think this sentence is enough to guess the great interest, but also the inherent difficulty of a book printed in Palermo in 1606, entitled La raggione [sic] dell’arte di cavalcare (The Reason of the Art of Riding, Palermo, Gio. Antonio de Franceschi). In fact, the sentence expresses a sensitivity towards the animal that many incorrectly consider typical only of modern times. However, it is written with a rough style, which makes the reading of the book quite difficult for the reader of today. But, for certain, it worth the effort because the author, Giovanni de Gamboa, was a pupil of Giovan Battista Pignatelli, the celebrated Neapolitan maestro, considered one of the most prominent figures of the Italian Renaissance equestrian tradition. The book is certainly a minor work compared to those of the better known foreign students of Pignatelli: Salomon de la Broue, who was the first to publish an equestrian treatise in French, and Antoine de Pluvinel, master of riding of the king of France, Louis XIII, and author of the splendid L’instruction du roi en l’exercice de monter à cheval (1625). Nevertheless, Gamboa’s book gives voice, albeit with a hardly intelligible language, to a refined conception of the equestrian art, which has significant similarities to that of his more titled and famous foreign colleagues and sinks its roots in the teachings of Pignatelli.

La Raggione dell'arte del caualcare, composta per lo sig. D. Giouanni de Gamboa, Cavaliero Napoltano - 1606 Frontispiece

La Raggione dell’arte del caualcare, composta per lo sig. D. Giouanni de Gamboa, Cavaliero Napoltano, 1606

Like his master, Giovanni de Gamboa was also from Naples. In the initial dedication of his book to the Sicilian Senate, Gamboa says he formed a company of light cavalry in the service of the city of Palermo and that he maintained it at his own expense for a year, until an officer appointed to its command, came from Spain. He then claims he was captain of another company of light horses in the service of the Prince of Butera, general vicarious of the Kingdom. From his book, we also know that he worked as a horseman in several Italian cities, including Naples, Milan, Turin and Genoa, where he was in the service of the Doria and of the Pallavicini families. In Reggio Emilia (at the time named Reggio of Lombardy), he was then in the service of the governor Count Fulvio Rangoni. Like other contemporary Neapolitan authors, Gamboa also says that Pignatelli devoted himself to the teaching of equitation when, because of his age, he was no longer able to ride.

I have already said many times that knowing this art without knowing how to put it into practice, would be like knowing only one part of it, by means of which one could be helpful to others rather than serve himself; as the old Riders of this profession did, like the happy memory of my Master, Sir Gio. Battista Pignatelli, and others of his age in the city of Naples, who with their very big experience could communicate this art to others, although they could no longer personally practice it because of their age (de Gamboa, 1606, p. 14).

The book is written as a dialogue between the author and Don Antonino Morso, Baron of Gibellina who was a depute of the Kingdom, Captain of Justice of Palermo in 1615-16 and became Marquis of Gibellina in 1619.

Giuseppe Cesari, named Cavalier d’Arpino, Battle between the Romans and the Veienti (detail), Roma, Palazzo dei Conservatori, 1597

Giuseppe Cesari, named Cavalier d’Arpino, Battle between the Romans and the Veienti (detail), Roma, Palazzo dei Conservatori, 1597

Gamboa distinguishes three different aspects of the art of riding: the training, the equestrian technique itself, and the art of bridling, which is to say the art of choosing the right bit for each horse. The first aspect requires a great deal of experience on the part of the rider, as he must be able to adapt the training to the different temperaments and the different inclinations of the various specimens. In any case, Gamboa stressed the need of a gentle and nonviolent approach. Therefore, he claims that the colt to be tamed must first of all be calmed down when he is in the stable.

When it’s time to tame the horse, you must first of all make him as pleasant and docile as possible in the stable, so that he does not disobey and act in a wicked manner due to his fright and fear of man, forcing for this reason his rider to use the lash from the beginning (de Gamboa, 1606, p. 56).

Then the rider can begin to ride him with a padded saddle, which is to say with a lighter and softer saddle than those that were employed at the time with trained horses. Gamboa underlines that it is important to proceed gradually, so that the horse understands what the rider asks him, without bothering him, but rather encouraging him and taking care not to tire him too much in order to preserve his good will to work:

you have to ride him [the young horse] very slowly, with many caresses, avoiding to beat him, so that he does not become discouraged or rebel, because he does not understand the will of the man, or because of the anger he conceived for the offense [he received from the rider], but you should ride him with skill and patience in order to reassure him and that he finally agrees to let you ride him (de Gamboa, 1606, p. 56).

Two horses - Attributed to Francesco Allegrini - 1624-1663 © Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York

Two horses, attributed to Francesco Allegrini, 1624-1663
© Metropolitan Museum of Art – New York

Like Marco de Pavari (see the article in this blog: Marco de Pavari and the dominion of pleasantness), Gamboa suggests to distract the horse, when the riders first mounts him, by giving him grass to eat. Then, he should be induced to move the first steps showing him the grass from a certain distance. An experienced horse can be placed near the colt to reassure him or, even better, he should be lead from the ground by the groom who takes care of him every day. Gamboa insists that the young, untrained horse should not be overtaxed, both to avoid damaging his health and to not dishearten him. He adds that, at the beginning, it is better to make the young horse trot on a straight path, and not on a circle, which is much more tiring for him. In fact, he explains that often the young horses that are trained too early on the circles, tend to adopt wrong attitudes (excessive inside bend of the neck, croup on the outside, exc.), which is difficult to correct, taking much time on the part of the trainer. In any case:

all the actions you want from him must be obtained without beatings, but with skill and art (de Gamboa, 1606, p. 58).

Anthony Vand Dyck, Study for an Equestrian Portrait, Possibly that of Albert de Ligne, Count of Arenberg, 1628-32 © Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York

Anthony Vand Dyck, Study for an Equestrian Portrait, Possibly that of Albert de Ligne, Count of Arenberg, 1628-32
© Metropolitan Museum of Art – New York

“Art” here means primarily the theoretical knowledge of horsemanship. According to Gamboa, in fact the theory provides general concepts that allow the rider to understand the causes of the defects of each specimen, so that he can then apply to them the appropriate practical remedies. The theoretical understanding of the principles of the equestrian art also facilitates learning how to ride. And it is because they ignore the theoretical basics of horsemanship that, according to Gamboa, many riders act blindly, using violent means, resulting in demoralizing and exhausting the poor animals.

I remember that I saw riders giving such lessons, straining and beating the poor horses, who could not understand what their horseman wanted from them. And when they were very anguished and tired and dejected, they were dismounted and sent back home so tired and sorrowful, that they inspired me great compassion (de Gamboa, 1606, p. 10).

A horse that is dejected and exhausted, because he is subdued with brutal means, will never be able to show the beauty of an animal that is calm and moves in unison with the will of his rider:

a melancholic horse will never make as much a fine showing as a horse who is lively and cheerful, so the discerning Rider must make him like that, with every care and art (de Gamboa, 1606, p. 10).

Peter Paul Rubens, St. George Fighting the Dragon, 1606-10 Museo del Prado, Madrid

Peter Paul Rubens, St. George Fighting the Dragon, 1606-10
Museo del Prado, Madrid

This results in common sense rules, which are still fully valid today. For example, the correct attitude of head and neck should be taught to the horse gradually. If you want to immediately induce the flexion with force you will get the opposite effect, causing the inevitable resistance and defense of the animal. Similarly, Gamboa argues that the horse that tends to bring the head down and to lean on the bit must be ridden with the cavesson only, making him trot uphill and downhill, in order to let him find his natural balance. Instead, the author warns,  those who believe to solve this problem by changing the bridle are wrong. Any horse, concludes Gamboa, can be trained to the chivalric exercises, which he will perform according to his natural abilities. So it is up to the rider to have the competence to evaluate the horse’s aptitudes, adjusting his training in order to highlight his best qualities:

as the art and skill of the rider can overcome everything, if he [the horse] has not enough strength to perform a certain exercise, it does not mean that he hasn’t also for an easier one. Because the defect comes from us, as we do not know how to apply to him those exercises that would conform to his nature and inclination, but we want that nature and him adapt to our follies and to our thoughtless rules. (de Gamboa, 1606, p. 74).

For this reason the training must be guided by two fundamental criteria:

above all keeping in mind to not excessively tire him, and the other: always begin teaching him the easier things, so that obeying and understanding is lighter to him (de Gamboa, 1606, p. 79).

Anthony Van Dyck (attributed), Man Mounting a Horse Attributed - Anthony van Dyck, around 1630 © Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York

Anthony Van Dyck (attributed), Man Mounting a Horse, around 1630
© Metropolitan Museum of Art – New York

At the beginning of the training, the rider should first aim toward obedience, without worrying about correctness and attitude, but being content that the animal shows his good will. Then he can gradually “adjust” him, that is to say, he can little by little accustom him to a correct posture. The rider must always avoid tiring him too much, making sure that the animal understands what is required, since strength is of no use,

to make him [the horse] do what his intelligence does not understand (de Gamboa, 1606, p. 80).

The resistances and the defenses of the horse, says Gamboa, can arise either from the excessive ardor, excessive fatigue, or weakness, of the animal. It is essential to understand the reasons why the horse rebels, or disobeys, in order to use the appropriate remedies. Which, however, must not be violent, but they must calm the horse that is too fiery, correct the one who simply does not understand the man’s request, or train the weak. This is just the reason why so many different exercises were invented: to offer to the experienced rider a range of instruments to be used according to requirements.

Aelbert Cuyp, Grey Horse in a Landscape, XVII sec Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Aelbert Cuyp, Grey Horse in a Landscape, Seventeenth century
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

The concept of training proposed by Gamboa is quite original and shows explicit affinity with the doctrine of Pluvinel, though not with the techniques. Also, the French master insists on the need to avoid all gratuitous forms of violence, because only the horse that is willing to work can show all his beauty:

(if it is possible to do without) you must not beat [the horse] at the beginning, in the middle, or in the end [of the training], being much more necessary to train him through sweetness (if possible) that through rigor, as the horse who works with pleasure, shows much greater grace than the one who is compelled by force (Pluvinel, 1625, p. 24).

A concept that Pluvinel repeats with the same insistence of Gamboa, so much so that he argues that if a horse could be trained and be ridden only by force, he would give up riding, as brutality will deny any grace to the rider and deprive the horse of every virtue:

if horses would not go by other aids than the kicks of the spurs, I frankly confess that I would give up the exercise of chivalry, as there is no delight riding a horse only by force: because man will never have good grace as long as he will be forced to beat him and a horse will never be nice to see while performing his exercise, if he does not take pleasure in all his acts (Pluvinel, 1625, pp. 35-36).

Antoine de Pluvinel, L'instruction du roy en l'exercice de monter à cheval, 1625 Plate 8, Part I

Antoine de Pluvinel, L’instruction du roy en l’exercice de monter à cheval, 1625
Plate 8, Part I

Although Gamboa’s book was published nineteen years before that of Pluvinel, it seems to me impossible to imagine a direct influence between them. It is much more reasonable to assume that the strong affinity of the respective conceptions of the training is due to the common root of Pignatelli’s teaching. And that the Neapolitan master was inclined to the gentlest possible approach to the horse, it is witnessed also by his other famous pupil, Salomon de la Broue, who recalls how his teacher used mainly the bit that, at the time, was considered the lighter, the so-called simple cannon:

Several envious or not very skillful often blamed that great and important character, Sir Giovan Battista Pignatelli, since he wasn’t very dedicated to the diversity of the bridles and cavessons and they nearly pretend that one could think that he ignored their effects. On the contrary, what once made me admire his knowledge and that moved me the most to seek and to serve him, is the thought that, as he made the horses so obedient and so easy to manage and showing so beautiful airs in his school without however commonly using any other bit than an ordinary cannon and a common cavesson, his rules and his experience should have much more effect than the ways of those that apply so much to the artifice of an infinity of bridles (LA BROUE, 1610, p. 18).

Even if it is penalized by a confused and sometimes almost incomprehensible style, Gamboa’s book proves to be extremely significant. Not only because it shows once again how inaccurate is the cliché that the Italian horsemanship during the Renaissance was indiscriminately characterized by particular brutality, but because, on the contrary, it documents the clear elements of continuity between the Italian and the French tradition, whereas many authors have seen a rather sharp break between the two schools.

 Stefano della Bella, Two horses, around 1649,  ©  The National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Stefano della Bella, Two horses, around 1649,
© The National Gallery of Art, Washington.


LA BROUE, Salomon de, Le Cavalerice François, 3° édition, reveue et augmentée de beaucoup de leçons et figures par l’autheur, Paris, A. l’Angelier, 1610.

DE GAMBOA, Don Giovanni, Raggione dell’arte di cavalcare, nella quale si insegna quanto conviene di sapere ad un cavaliero a cavallo, Per Gio. Antonio de Franceschi, 1606.

PLUVINEL, Antoine de, L’instruction du Roy en l ’exercice de monter à cheval, desseignées & gravées par Crispian de Pas le jeune, Paris, M. Nivelle, 1625.

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


The Spanish Walk: classic exercise or circus trick?

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
At the Circus: The Spanish Walk
Graphite, black and colored pastel, and charcoal
© The Metropolitan Museum – New York

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

There has been much discussion in the past, and horse lovers still are debating, if the so-called “Spanish walk” should be considered an exercise of the classical High School, or rather an air of fantasy, as defined by General Decarpentry (DECARPENTRY, 1949, p. 18). Those who argue that it should not be included as a High School exercise consider it an artificial movement and disdain it as a spectacular trick to snatch the applause of an audience easy to satisfy. In support of their point of view, they emphasize that the FEI (International Equestrian Federation) excludes it from the exercises of academic equitation and dressage competitions. In fact this argument is not very relevant when you consider that the same Federation does not accept in competitions the so called “airs above the ground”, such as levade, and school-jumps (courbette, cabriole), even if those exercises are undoubtedly “classical” as they are codified in all the equestrian treatises since the Renaissance and are still practiced by the European schools of Vienna, Saumur, Jerez de la Frontera and Lisbon, that keep alive the traditions of High School.

Given that I find this dispute quite tedious and irrelevant, I think that it could be of some use to report the fact which is also neglected by many experts, that the Spanish walk is mentioned in the first treatises about horsemanship and can therefore be considered a common practice of so-called classical riding. Few, indeed, have noticed that in the first printed treatise, Gli ordini di cavalcare by  Federico Grisone (1550), not only are described the exercises (“maneggi”) required for use in war, but also briefly discussed are some “airs” to be performed in the exhibition of a horse in the presence of the king or a prince. During this presentation, the horse had to demonstrate it’s strength and elegance, executing jumps as croupade (“tirar calci”, kicking), courbette and cabriole (“corvette e capriole”), but also his obedience and dexterity in doing the “ciambetta”.

Paulo Sergio Perdigão and his lusitano stallion Ulysses. Performing Spanish walk, Spanish trot, Piaffer and Jambette. Morgado Lusitano – Portugal – 2012

The description that Grisone gives of this exercise is rather obscure and ambiguous, to the point that it has put many modern interpreters on a false track. The author does not dwell on the subject, considering it well known to his readers, but stresses that this movement, «is of great use to give him [to the horse] ornament when he is ridden» (GRISONE, 1550, 108r). To teach it to the animal, he suggests to bring him in a ditch and to train him to execute tight vaults, using the same aids generally used to correct a horse that tends to turn with his haunches before his shoulders. Doing this it would be necessary to turn to the right and to the left several times, so that «at the end of the vault he would not be able to cross the arm [ie the foreleg] except  with great difficulty and he will fear to hit his arm with the arm opposite to the direction of the vault [ie outside forelg] so that to avoid it, with a hard arch and hard neck and with his head still, he will raise it high, performing the ciambetta». (GRISONE, 1550, p. 108r ).

The meaning of these words is rather doubtful, so much that some have interpreted this passage as a description of an exercise similar to the canter pirouette, ie. a movement in which «the horse rises upon his hindquarters with his forelegs elevated  and, leading with one foreleg, navigates around a tight circle, crossing one leg over the other» (TOBEY, 2011, p. 152). Others consider the word “ciambetta” a variant of “ciambella”, an Italia term which designated (to tell the truth in a following period) what we now call “piaffer” (BASCETTA, 1978, p. 384). In my opinion, the characteristic feature of Grisone’s description, however, is the emphasis on the elevation of the foreleg.

Paulo Sergio and Filipa Jacome performing the pas de deux
Lisbon – Lusitano Festival 2012
© Andrea Kjellberg

The quotation of that term by Claudio Corte, in his subsequent treatise entitled Il cavallarizzo (1562), does not clarify the meaning of  the “ciambetta”. Speaking of the so-called “raddoppio” (“doubling”, ie the vault on two tracks which we now call pirouette), Corte recommends to train the horse on a field with some reliefs, in order to make the horse lift the forelegs in the vaults. Equally, he adds: «the same mounds are needed to teach the so-called ciambetta, that is to say to bend and lift properly the arms [ie the forelegs] in the vaults» (Corte, 1562, p. 105r). Even in this case it is clear that the author does not dwell on the description of this movement, considering it well known to his readers.

It is, instead, Pasquale Caracciolo that clarifies the actual meaning of the term, in his book La gloria del Cavallo (1566). It is worth quoting at length his description of the gesture and of the method to teach it:

«You can then teach to the horse the Ciambetta, which is very nice and useful to the courbette and to other exercises, especially the Repolone, to which is very much necessary and it is beautiful to see, because with the arm raised, the horse proves to be very attentive to the slightest hint of the rider. If you want to teach the horse this other doctrine, you can go in the barn on the right side of the Manger to which the horse is tied up and then beat him with a stick in his right arm, first in one place then in another, now slightly and now strongly, and so beating him this way you will incite him with the sound of  the tongue to lift that arm. When he does raise it, you will stay quiet and, without beating him, keeping the stick on the arm, often threatening him not to lower it; but every time he will put it down on the ground, with your voice and with blows, you will return to make him lift that arm up and keeping him like that for a quarter of an hour, or a little less, you will scratch his withers, to make him more willing to keep it up. In another moment, with equal orders, you will make him do the Ciambetta with his left arm: then when he will be able to raise well each arm to your liking, you will beat his right arm with the stick, while another person will sting him with a small stick in the place of the girth, making the ordinary sound of the tongue, so that he will lift his right arm: afterwards to make him raise also the other, beating his left arm, you will sting him on the right side, sometimes pleasantly and sometimes (depending on the need) strongly. So that, trained in this way, every time he will feel to be stung with the spur on one side by the rider mounted in the saddle, hearing at the same time the usual signal of the tongue, he will get used to lifting the opposite arm, without a stick, which you cannot always have, nor it is always convenient to carry. Indeed in this way he will become so trained that when you draw near to him on one side he shall raise his arm on the other and he will keep it lifted as long as you continue to urge him». (CARACCIOLO, 1566, pp. 427-428).

© Andrea Kjellberg

The passage goes on with an explanation of how to continue from the saddle the training started in the barn. The horse should be solicited by an aide which will stimulate him with the stick from the ground, touching now one, now the other frontleg, while the rider touches him with his spurs, using diagonal aids (ie touching the side opposite to that of the frontleg he has to lift). And so, alternating rewards and punishments, according to Caracciolo he will be reduced «to the comprehension of your will» (CARACCIOLO, 1566, p. 428). Caracciolo then suggests to train the horse to perform the “ciambetta” in the vaults using a ditch, as told by Grisone, to induce him to lift the frontlegs.

The progression of  the training illustrated by Caracciolo, the first lessons from the ground in the barn, up to those in the saddle, in my opinion, clarify unequivocally that the exercise called “ciambetta” is the same as what we now call “Spanish walk”. It was performed in the vaults as a “presentation air” after a straight canter (the so-called “repolone”).

With regards to the “classicism” of this movement, we can then conclude that there are no doubts that it was already practiced hundreds of years ago and it was considered an exercise with highly aesthetic purposes. So that it rightfully belongs to that nucleus of artistic equitation that develops from the sixteenth century and is refined in the following centuries up to finding its canonical systematization in the École de cavalerie by François Robichon de la Guérinière (1733). Perhaps the fact that the great French master excluded it from the school exercises listed in his treatise, has contributed to the oblivion of its original diffusion in the Renaissance equitation. Given the deep influence of the Italian Renaissance technical terminology on the equestrian vocabulary still in use, it is then possible that the French term “jambette”, with which we refer to the elevation and extension of the foreleg of the horse in the first phase of the execution of the Spanish walk, may come from the Italian “ciambetta”.

Rodrigo Matos teaching Spanish walk
Morgado Lusitano – Alverça do Ribatejo – Portugal

It is clear that this simple historical clarification does not pretend to exhaust the dispute between supporters and detractors of this particular movement. But it will reach it’s goal if it will at least show how often history is manipulated in order to support someone’s personal preferences. T o determine whether an exercise is, or is not classical, is rather arbitrary and, in the end, not very relevant. It is much more relevant if a given gesture is performed without violence, or damage to the horse, and if it adds aesthetically to the brillance of the performance of the horse and rider. Personally, when it is carried out correctly and in the appropriate context, the Spanish walk seems to me to be a demonstration of elegance and of the perfect understanding between horse and rider. To me, this seems to be more than enough.


BASCETTA, Carlo, Sport e giuochi: trattati e scritti dal XV al XVIII secolo, Volume 2, Milano, Il Polifilo, 1978.

CARACCIOLO, Pasquale, Gloria del cavallo, Venezia, Gabriel Giolito de’ Ferrari, 1566.

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

DECARPENTRY, Albert, Equitation académique, Paris, Editions Henri Neveu, 1949 (n.e. Paris, Lavauzelle, 1991)

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

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