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