“Maneggi and jumps”. The basic exercises of Renaissance horsemanship (Part 2)

Benozzo Gozzoli, Chapel of the Magi, detail of the est wall, Palazzo Medici- Ricciardi, Florence, 1459

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

At the beginning of the second part of his Trattato dell’imbrigliare, atteggiare e ferrare cavalli (Treatise on bridling, training and shoeing horses, 1556), Cesare Fiaschi explicitly states his intention of codifying the equestrian art of his time, setting the rule for the proper execution of the different “maneggi”. A rule which, in the author’s intention, served also to safeguard those who applied it from the criticisms of the many riders who at that time, rode without due accuracy.

In this second part of the treatise I intend with my speech not only to set the standard for the handling of horses, but also to expose by means of designs some acts of riders on horseback and their horse tracks [indicating the position of the hooves of the horse on the ground] and the time in Music of some exercises so that no one can be blamed every time that he performs them if following these instructions. Since I have seen many [riders], both in the past and now that do not aspire to do what they entirely ought to do with the horse, I feel pressed to undertake this effort, and also because I know that currently some, for the reason of not being made aware, incur in many errors […] but no one should disdain to accept my opinion, given that if he shall proceed as indicated in this treatise, and by means of drawings and Music, he will be honored, without fear of being considered ignorant, because with the living reasons in the hands he will shut the mouth of those who dare to contradict him. (FIASCHI, 1556, II, 1, pp. 87-88)

The part of  Fiaschi’s treatise specifically dedicated to horse riding can, in fact, be considered as a canon of the different exercises performed with a horse which has already been perfectly trained. However, the author says very little on how the animals were prepared to perform these refined movements.

The works by Grisone and Corte were reprinted many times during the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries
Frontispieces of the 1551 edition of the “Ordini” and of the 1573 Lyon edition of “Il cavallarizzo”

From the point of view of horse training techniques during the Renaissance, two other fundamental texts of the sixteenth century are more interesting. Namely, Gli ordini di cavalcare (The orders of riding, 1550) by Federico Grisone, a kind of real manual for the training of the horse “to the use of war,” and Il cavallarizzo (The Horseman, 1562) by Claudio Corte, one of the most refined and innovative works among those devoted to the equestrian art in the sixteenth century.

According to Grisone, the horse had to be tamed when he was at least three years old. The training was rather quick and lasted an average of four to six months. Grisone suggested that the horse be ridden initially on a plowed field, where other horses have made a track. In this way, the author argued,  the horse was induced to follow a correct path, avoiding the trouble of walking on loose soil. With the progress of the training, a shallow ditch could be used in order to force him to follow an even more rigorous path.

Grisone suggests using a shallow ditch to induce the horse
to follow a more rigorous path while performing the passade.
Pierre de la Noue, La Cavalerie françoise et italienne, 1620

According to the Neapolitan author, the so-called “torni” were essential to prepare the horse to perform the “maneggi”. They consisted in making two circles (“volte”) to the right and then, two circles to the left, followed by going along a straight line (“repolone”) after which the horse had to be stopped performing some pesades (“posate). Then, when the horse was “quiet and proper”, he had to make two narrow voltes to the right, then two to the left. With the progress of the training, the rider had to have the horse perform one or two pirouettes (which Fiaschi and Grisone call “doubling”- raddoppio – or “doubled voltes” – volte raddoppiate). Finally, the animal was led back on the straight line and “went out” of the “torni”. The exercise was performed initially at the trot and then, in a more advanced stage of the training, at the canter.

This is the form of the “torni” offered by me, with some written words, by which, and also for what I said before, will be easily understood. By the way in which they are illustrated, you can see how different they are from the ancient turns, which, a few years ago, were done between the trees and in the countryside, and were done wider and with no measure of number or width, changing place and not as methodically as today. (GRISONE, 1550, II, p. 54r-54v)

Diagram of the so-called

Diagram of the so-called “torni”, the basic exercise to prepare the horse to the “maneggi,” according to Grisone

The “torni” were used to train the horse to find his balance under the weight of the rider, in order to teach him how to run the repolone (or passade), stopping after the charge and turning on his haunches, and cantering again in the opposite direction.

To help the horse to become accustomed to facing battle on any kind of soil, Grisone also suggested placeing stones on the path. The author insisted on the importance of training the horse to stop straight, perhaps even with the help of a man on the ground who put him into frame with a stick. For the same purpose, he considered it useful to rein back. At the first stage of the training, the horse was mounted with a cavesson and a curb bit. Then, when he was already trained at a trot, Grisone suggested to take away the cavesson and to use the so-called false-reins, namely additional reins which were secured to special rings on the bit’s shanks, at the ends of the mouthpiece. The bridle then functioned like a pelham bit (1). This use was harshly criticized by Fiaschi, who considered it harmful to the horse.

The pesade was considered essential to accustom the horse to stop carrying his weight on the hind legs.
Giovanni Battista Galiberto, Il cavallo da maneggio, 1650

Soon the horse was taught the “pesade” (posata), that is to say to bring his hind legs under his body, lowering his hips and lightening the front legs so as to lift them from the ground. This technique made ​​it possible to collect the horse to the extreme, making him capable of a rapid change of direction at the end of the “repolone”. It was also a spectacular exercise which was used as a presentation air.

Compared to Grisone’s book, the work of Claudio Corte introduces various other training exercises, the most part of which are still used today, even if with slight differences. Clearly, these were not invented by Corte, but he had the merit to explain them in his treatise, consolidating their use.

Corte proposed an updated scheme
of Girsone’s “torni,”
which he called “rote”
Claudio Corte, Il Cavallarizzo, 1562

According to Corte, the starting point of the training is the work on the circles. Therefore, he proposed an updated scheme of Grisone’s “torni”, which he calls “rote” (“wheels”). The difference between the two exercises is that, after covering the straight line, the horse had to turn on three contiguous circles with a diameter of 8-12 meters(26-39 feet), then he had to come back on the same straight path, after which he had to turn on three smaller circles (of about 6-9 feet in diameter).

Claudio Corte, Il cavallarizzo, 1562

According to Corte, the exercise of the “caragolo” was the most effective
to make the horse supple and obedient.
Claudio Corte, Il cavallarizzo, 1562

After confirming the horse in this exercise, Corte suggested to start him to another one: the so-called “caragolo” (from the Spanish “caracol”, i.e. snail). It was about performing a spiral then, after covering a repolone, performing another one in the opposite direction. Corte considered this the most important and effective exercise, capable of producing the same benefits of the work on the “rote” (circles), but allowing the horse to become more agile in a shorter time. After a certain amount of training, the horse had to perform it also at the canter. According to Corte, at that point, the exercise also assumed a significant aesthetic value, demonstrating the docility and the smoothness acquired by the horse and the skill of the rider.

Training the horse to the so-called “esse serrato” (tight S)
served to prepare him for the “repolone.”
Claudio Corte, Il cavallarizzo,1562

Another innovative exercise is what Corte called “esse serrato” (tight S). It was a path in the form of a figure eight, from which the rider comes up with a repolone, stopping the horse on the straight line. The author recommended performing it initially on a wider path, which was gradually reduced as the horse became accustomed and more dexterous in turning. Among other things, it was considered a prerequisite to the repolone (i.e. to the passade).

Curiously, Corte argued that the most generous and noble horses were pleased to perform the serpentine.
Claudio Corte, Il Cavallarizzo, 1562

Finally, the last exercise introduced by Corte was what he called “to snake” (“serpeggiare”), i.e. the serpentine. It was, he said, a kind of training suited to promote the balance of the horse and his obedience to the bit and to the legs. The author considered it also useful to avoid firearms shots in battles and, argued that horses, especially the most generous and noble, were pleased to do it. He added that, unfortunately this exercise was generally neglected in the riding schools, where courbettes and pesades were mainly taught.

The “Passade” remains the fundamental exercise for mounted combat
until the eighteenth century.
WIlliam Cavendish, duca di Newcastle, La methode et invention nouvelle de dresser les chevaux, 1658, Tav. 21

Corte was also the first author to mention the use of the work in-hand, with the rider on the ground who guides the horse with the reins. Over time, this way of training the horse would subsequently have a remarkable development, being used to teach the horse the different exercises of dressage without the hindrance of the weight of the rider. Corte recommended it for training the horse to rein-back. If the animal resisted the aids of the rider, he had to dismount and, taking in each hand the reins of the cavesson, he had to push the horse “pleasantly” back until he understood what he had to do. As soon as the horse took a few steps back, the rider had to get back in saddle and ask the horse to rein-back. If again he resisted, the rider had to repeat the exercise from the ground: “that you have to be very sure that doing so in two or three mornings, and even in less than an hour, you will have him at this” (CORTE, 1562, II, 8, p. 66v).

to be continued

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

(1) Grisone and the other Renaissance authors do not describe the false-reins, but we find their description in later editions of the treatise by the Duke of Newcastle: “To work Horses with false Reins, is very false working, for, being tied to the Arches of the Bitt, and pulling it, that flacks the Curb: and so no Horse shall be firm and settled with it, for, that Horse that doth not suffer the Curb, shall never be a ready-horse; so it makes the Bitt like a Snaffle” (I quote from the English edition: William Cavendish (Duke of Newcastle), A New Method and Extraordinary Invention to Dress Horses, etc, Dublin, James Kelburn, 1740, p. 277). I owe this information to Michael Stevens, who has friendlily pointed out an inaccuracy in the first version of my article. Having such attentive and competent readers is a privilege and an honor to me.


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

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

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

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

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

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

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The so-called

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Fiaschi called

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued

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


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

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

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

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