In the first part of this article [to read it just click on the foregoing link], we saw that the Fund Osuna of the Biblioteca Nacional de España in Madrid holds the manuscript of an unpublished work by Federico Grisone, the famous author of the Orders of Riding (1550). This work, entitled Razze del Regno (Breeds of the Kingdom), lists those, who in the opinion of the author, were the best breeding farms in the south of Italy during the sixteenth century and offers some guidelines for choosing the foals, the management of the stables, and the feeding of horses.
Just as it still happens today, as even during the Renaissance, to contact the best breeding farms, and perhaps even spend a lot of money, did not guarantee the purchase of a good horse. After listing and showing the brands of the most renowned breeding farms of the Kingdom of Naples, Grisone states that, even if in those breeding farms one can “have horses of such a great a value, that they will surpass all the others that can be found in the world” (71r), one should, in addition, know how to chose the foals. Because even in the most perfect breeding farms, he says, there are “worthless” horses. Therefore, Grisone recommends to make sure that the selected foals have
the hair and the marks [such as stockings, whorls, blazes] and the placing and features of the limbs, in the way that I explained in the first book of the orders of riding. (71V)
But also to give preference to the one
who between the foals goes with more boldness and courage, and lightness, like a cat that going in and out of the midst of the herd makes his way with the power of his chest. (71v)
While even following this guideline, he then warns that this is not a set rule and that
some of those who move more slowly and look lazy might be the best. So great care is needed. You must inquire of the good quality of the father and of the other ancestors, and of his mother’s brother, and then having the good marks, with a perfect coat and the appropriate features, although he does not demonstrate that promptness, you could feel free to chose him because in many cases the foal is similar to some of his ancestors, or to the brother of his mother. (71V)
The blood relationships are seen as particularly important. Grisone says that it is important also to inquire about the docility and the good will of the father of the foal, because from an undisciplined stallion, even if he is beautiful and physically perfect, rarely come foals who will become a success. He also suggests to favor animals raised in rugged and mountainous country, with good pastures, but far from water sources, so that to nourish and drink the horses have to move over the distance and thus they become more robust and enduring. In the assessment of a foal one must also make sure that he has good eyesight and, to do this Grisone suggests, observe how he moves his ears while walking. If the foal moves them often, turning them over one at a time, it is generally a sign of poor eyesight, but in some cases, the author says, this attitude is only due to his inexperience and the fear of the environment that surrounds him. According to Grisone, poor sight is produced by some defect in the semen from which the animal was procreated, or by the fact that he ate some toxic weed in the pasture. He also suggests that it could be because he is the son of a stallion who is too old. According to the author, the reproductive age goes from five years up to twelve for the stallions and from three to twelve for the mares.
Grisone then evokes the splendor of the Aragonese cavalry:
It seems well to me to declare that in no age did cavalry have a greater value than in the time of the King Alfonso of Aragon and of the Kings Ferrante the elder and the younger, during which, for the care that they held in it, the horses were provided with a nice disposition and a wonderful attitude, but adorned with a beautiful name. (73v)
While speaking of the names of the horses, he explains that at that time although a name was given to each foal at the moment of his birth, when the foal began to be ridden usually this name was changed, according to his beauty, his value and his virtues, so that the name was a better match to his actual qualities. Grisone agrees with this habit and he then lists 283 horses’ names, so that the readers can chose between them those that fit their horses better. Otherwise, he suggests to give them the surnames of the owners of the breeding farms, or, if these latter are noble, the name of the city which they hold. The names listed range from the classic Bucephalus to the magniloquent Monarca (i.e. Monarch), Sangiorgio (San George) and Nobile (Noble), and to more common names like Gentile (Gentle), Thesoro (Treasure), Scacciapensiero (Worries dispeller) and Portabene (Lucky charmer), up to the sinister Scorpione (Scorpion) and Furiainfernale (Infernal fury).
Grisone then goes on describing how the stable should be maintained. It should be neither too hot in summer nor too cold in winter, but above all not moist and not exposed to wind. At that time, the horses were kept in “posts”, that is to say, in stalls where they were tied to the manger, separated by partitions. The stall could be paved with bricks or boards, but the pavement should not reach the distance along the floor to the front legs. In fact, it was believed that the front hooves should stand on the bare ground,
otherwise the hooves would dry, and for that reason they would have easily some sort of hoof crack, or quarter. (83r)
The author also prescribes building the manger quite low. Both, because in this way, the horse does not run the risk of knocking against it, injuring his chest, but also because it is typical of quadrupeds to eat with their head down. So much so, he adds, that in some cases, when the horse’s shoulders are soared, it is enough to let him graze a few days to heal. The horses were not only kept tied to the manger, but during the day their hind and one front leg were tethered. Grisone also recommends preventing all those who work and visit the barn from relieving themselves inside the stable, as the smell of human dejections would cause the horses to lose weight and to incur serious diseases.
And the Rider beware of allowing that in the stable, or private barn, there are human excrements, because there is nothing that keep horses more thin and consumes their lives, causing large and deadly diseases, such as the smell of human dung (83r-83v).
According to Grisone the stable must be illuminated at night and should have skilled and solicitous grooms, each of who must care for no more than four or five horses, given the fact that every animal should be curried for at least half an hour a day. The cleaning of the stables must begin at sunrise in summer and at least one hour before sunrise in winter. The horse should receive first of all the fodder, then the water, and then the grain. The ration of oats, or barley, was given in the morning and in the evening, but the author praises that in the summer, it was also given a supplementary ration at noon. According to Grisone, the fodder must be given at least three or four times throughout the day: straw in the summer and hay in winter. Even if, in his opinion, after the fifth year of age, the best thing is to feed the horses always with straw:
That is reasonably said: horse of barley and straw horse for war. (84r unfortunately in the translation we lose the rhyme of this proverb)
The diet of adult horses was mostly based on dry forage. While Grisone recommends giving grass to the foals up to five years, particularly during the months of April and May. In June, instead the diet may be supplemented by stubble, accompanied by the ordinary oats. Grisone advises against giving grass to the horses in March and recommends to gradually accustom the animals to fresh forage and to bleed them when they enter in the new diet regimen, after about ten days, and again before moving on to eat stubble. However, in the case of young foals or of particularly thin horses, the blood-lettings can be reduced to only two. To accustom the horses to dry forage again during the summer, Grisone suggests mixing a few bunches of chicory into the straw, or mauve, or vine-shoots, or willow buds. In December, he recommends instead to mix lupines into the straw, or hay, while having the foresight to dry them first for a few days and gradually accustom the animals to avoid the risk of colic.
The text ends rather abruptly with the promise to expand the discussion afterwards to cover the criteria of proper breeding and of the care of diseases:
Now keeping silence I should not say more, putting off, with the will and help of the eternal God, to talk about it in more detail later, and not just about few details of what I discussed here, but also of the order of how to keep the breeding farms. And finally about how to cure horses of their infirmities, as well as it should be of use to every rider (87R).
The presence of this and of other manuscripts about equestrian topics in the Osuna Fund of the Biblioteca Nacional de España in Madrid (which we will further cover in future articles) shows that, contrary to what has so far been considered, the printing of the first equestrian treatises in the mid-Sixteenth century, was not a radical innovation. Between the Fifteenth and Sixteenth centuries the circulation of texts devoted to horseback riding, as well as to the care and breeding of the horse, was certainly not limited to the most famous works, which have easily reached us, because they were spread into a greater number of specimens through printing. It is evident that several other works devoted to horseback riding circulated in manuscript form and this limited their reproduction and dissemination. Many of these are likely to be lost, and many, such as the Razze del Regno by Federico Grisone, must be rediscovered and deserve the attention of scholars and enthusiasts because they enrich our knowledge of the equestrian tradition.
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HUTT, Frederick Henry, Works on horses and equitation. A bibliographical record of hippology, London, Bernard Quaritch, 1887.
MENNESSIER DE LA LANCE, Gabriel-René, Essai de Bibliographie Hippique donnant la description détaillée des ouvrages publiés ou traduits en latin et en français sur le Cheval et la Cavalerie avec de nombreuses biographies d’auteurs hippiques, Paris, Lucien Dorbon, 1915-21.
PODHAJASKY, Alois, The complete training of Horse and Rider. In the principles of classical Horsemanship, Chatsworth, Wilshire books Company, 1967.
TOBAR, María Luisa, Fondo Osuna en la Biblioteca nacional de Madrid, in AA.VV., Cultura della guerra e arti della pace: il 3° Duca di Osuna in Sicilia e a Napoli, (1611-1620), diretto da Encarnacion Sanchez Garcia; a cura di Encarnacion Sanchez Garcia e Caterina Ruta, Napoli, Pironti, 2012, pp. 97-122.