On Cavendish’s “New Method”
Part I: In which Cavendish is snarky, and disparages all riders he has not trained.
Cavendish opens with a “genealogy” of equestrian art, and this comment:
“And though the French think, That all the Horse-manship in the World is in France.”
I laughed unreasonably. To be fair, for a hand of centuries prior to Cavendish, much of Europe was stealing France’s equestrian vocabulary.
“This Noble Art was first begun and Invented in Italy, and all the French and other Nations went thither to learn; the seate of Horse-manship being at Naples: The first that ever Writ of it was Frederick Grison.”
Duarte predates Grisone by a century and change, but Duarte was not in the “genealogy” of trainers Cavendish described. Duarte was virtually unknown (possibly due to only being available in an incomplete manuscript, cut short by his death). Because Duarte’s manuscript spent some time in Naples, it is entirely plausible that Duarte’s thoughts or even writing does belong in this family tree. For more on the life of this manuscript, I recommend this translation of Duarte.
More curiously, Cavendish makes no mention on Xenophon, which was available at least in Italy by Grisone’s time. Unsurprisingly, Kikkuli is left out as well, along with innumerable other folks who undoubtedly wrote about horsemanship through the ages and remain as lost to us as they were to Cavendish. As to development of the French school itself, Cavendish remarks:
“As for Pluvinel, no doubt but he was a Good Horse-man; but his Invention of the Three Pillars, of which his Book Pretends to be an absolute Method, is no more than an absolute Routine; and hath spoyl’d more Horses, than ever any Thing did; for Horses are not Made to the Hand and the Heel at all with them; nor will they go from the usual place where they are Ridden, nor well there neither.”
I’ll drink to that.
And then about the Italian school (by which he mostly means Grisone, despite his hat-tip at the beginning, and it seems also includes Blundeville’s English gloss of Grisone):
“I must tell you that the Italian Writers are Tedious, and write more of Marks, Colours, Temperatures, Elements, Moon, Stars, Winds, and Bleedings, than of the Art of Rideing;…
…only to make up a Book, though they wanted Horse-manship.”
He doesn’t stop there. The introduction turns into quite the rant. Next he turns his attention to riders outside the burgeoning academies:
“Many say, that all things in the Mannage is nothing but Tricks, and Dancing, and Gamballs, and of no Use”
Some things haven’t changed. Cavendish’s answer, being in effect that these are the foundation skills for all pursuits, will also sound familiar to modern horsefolks.
“But, What makes these Men speak against it?…the Main Reason is this; They find they cannot Ride well”
He goes on to explain that this is because the manage horse cannot be ridden by “inspiration,” but only though the long work of training rider as well as horse. And on, and on, and just a bit more. He takes aim again at riders who think the manage to be useless tricks:
“They cannot do it, and therefore it is Naught: A very good and sensless Reason! He that will take Pains for Nothing, shall never do any thing Well; for Arts, Sciences, and good Qualities, come not by Instinct, but are got by great Labour, Study, and Practice.”
It seems he had some feelings on the subject. After what seems like eons, he returns to the horse!
“I would have every Horse (that wears a Bitt) Gelding, or Nagg, wrought in the Mannage, to be firm on the Hand, both for Readiness, and Safety.”
I do quite agree with him regarding the foundational nature of what we now call dressage, having turned out even some nice western and saddleseat horses from a dressage start. To clarify, however, by “bitt” he means curb. He continues:
“But, sayes a Gallant, when I should have Use of him in the Field, then he will be playing Tricks: That Gallant is Deceived; for, the Helps to make Horses go in Ayres, and to make them go upon the Ground, are Several; and Good Horse-men have much ado to make them go in Ayres, with their best Helps; so that, if you let them alone, they will not trouble you; besides, two or three dayes March will make them, that they will not go in Ayres, if you would have them; and they are much the Readier to go on the Ground.”
This neatly undermines the received wisdom that dressage (and it’s predecessor the manage) was merely off season practice of military maneuvers. They are related traditions, but a simple glance at a calendar shows a marked disparity.
“There can be no Horse else Safe and Useful; nor can any Horse go well in a Snaffle, except he be formerly Ridd with a Bitt.”
To be fair, Cavendish advocates the use of a riding cavesson for starting horses. I’m honestly a fan of this myself (though I’ll just clip reins to a regular noseband or a well fitted halter), but despite the various traditions that go from bit-less to curb (like, say, bosal to spade), I don’t think a curb should ever be the first bit a horse carries.
Cavendish concludes his argument:
“Thus it is Proved, That there is nothing of more Use than A Horse of Mannage; nor any thing of more State, Manliness, or Pleasure, than Rideing.”
I’ve been called manly before, but oddly not for riding.