WSECS is always a welcoming conference, but being able to present with another equine historian this year was a joy. I presented on various re-imaginings of the baroque “tiger” horse, and Janice presented on the development of a divide in medical knowledge between riders and Albeytar in Castile. We had a small but astute audience, and a lively conversation after our papers that ranged seven centuries and four continents. Between the two of us, we could answer most questions, but it was especially wonderful to be able to suggest other equine history specialists. For this question, Kathryn Renton, for that one, Hylke Hettema, and for this read Sandra Swart’s latest. We are no longer silos!
“Before we start, I’d like to say a few things about our third presenter, who unfortunately could not be here today. I spoke with Dani about her project last year, when it was a mere glimmer of an idea. What I found exciting, and why I invited Dani to be a part of this panel, was that she is working on the transmission of equestrian culture between Italy and Germany (or rather, Italian and German) directly, rather than via France. French horsemanship has dominated our field. Much of medieval and early modern equestrian culture in Europe was centered on France. So much so that, even though modern Olympic dressage is very much based on the 19th c German model, the language remains French. We still speak of piaffe and passage, levade and capriole. Cavendish opened his 1667 treatise with a geaneology of horsemasters, and in it quips that “the French think, That all the Horse-manship in the World is in France.” Within equine history, it is all too easy to replicate this focus. However, while French riders, and French writers- Cavendish himself wrote his treatise originally in French- may have claimed primacy, they were not the only agents. Today we will try to tell some different stories.
Given the theme for this weekend, I will be covering a rather long period of time, from the Baroque to the modern. I will begin with the baroque “tiger horses,” and then show three ways in which they have been reimagined, and recreated. In modern parlance, baroque breeds are those that are heavier than the typical warmblood, but without being draft-like. The Iberian breeds and the Friesian are easily recognized as “baroque,” despite the former predating that period and the later being comparatively young in its current form. The Knabstrupper has a “baroque” registration category, despite having a well-documented 1812 foundation date. Tack and riding styles likewise have forms described as “baroque,” despite often being only tangentially related to that time period. They are based, not on the history of a single moment in time, but rather on the layers of memory that have accrued upon that moment. Each layer adds strength to the memory, even as it obscures the lives and events being recalled.”
a Good Horse-man may be Thrown Down sooner than Ill ones; because Good Horse-men little think of Sitting… their Thoughts being all how to make their Horses go Well… whereas an Ill Horse-man thinks of nothing but Sitting, for Fear he should be Thrown, and never thinks how to make his Horse go Well; for he Knows not how to Do it…
Well…he’s not wrong. Nine times of ten I find myself riding poorly it’s because I’ve become concerned about falling off. Though, I might add, there is also something to the choice in what horses we ride, though I believe Cavendish is here referring only to already broke manege horses.
…But Holds by the Main, and the Pomel, and his Head at the Horses Head, ready to Beat out his Teeth, and his Leggs holding by the Flank; and is so Deformed on Horse Back, as if he were a Strange African Monster; and the Horse so Disordered, that to see him Sit in that Manner, is the most Nauseous Sight that can be, and the most Displeasing to the Beholders; and were much Better for the Spectators to see him Fall, and for his Reputation, so he received no Hurt by the Fall.
I wouldn’t want to be his beginner student.
Of Grisone and Blundville, Cavendish says:
They Teach to Ride one Horse two or three Hours at a time, when one may well Ride half a Dozen at least in an Hour, and give them sufficiently Enough.
And this, of course, is an argument very much alive today. It is, at least publicly, considered to be a mark of great skill to be able to complete a “colt-breaking” challenge, and be able to canter or lope an untouched horse by the end of the weekend. There are still ‘cowboys’ that get paid by the head to travel to ranches and start a number of horses by just getting on and staying there until the horse tires. And yet, even within these, they say less is more. Both the public clinicians and the hired hands tend to say many small lessons work better than one long one. I am inclined to agree, as even my older horses rarely benefitted from more than about half an hours training, if one defines training as teaching or refining new information. The rest, if they got more, was conditioning. The younger or more inexperienced the horse, the shorter the effective “training” section. Of course, that said, I am fond of getting youngsters out more than once a day, given you have the time and staff. I’d far rather do two or three short works than one long one. They tend to learn faster, with less stress (and thus they stay safer as well), and retain their lessons better.
He saves his most pointed criticism of Blundville-from-Grisone for last:
For a Resty Horse they Raise a whole Town with Staves to Beat him, with many Curious Inventions, with Squirts, Fire, Whelps, Hedg-hoggs, Nailes, and I know not What.
Yes, hedgehogs. Or, lacking a hedgehog, a cat on a stick. Yes, really.
Also the shirle crye of a hedgehog beyng strayt teyed by the foote under the horses tayle, is a remedye of like force, which was proved by Master Vincentio Respino, a Napolitan, who corrected by this meanes an olde restive horse of the kinges in suche sort as he had muche a do afterward to kepe him from the contrarye vice of runninge awaye.
y’don’t say. Imagine that. More from Blundeville:
Let a footeman stande behinde you with a shrewed cat teyed at the one ende of a long pole with her belly upward, so as she may have her mouth and clawes at libertye. And when your horse doth stay or go backward, let him thrust the Catte betwixt his thyes so as she may scratch and bite him, somtime by the thighes, somtime by the rompe, and often times by the stones.
by the stones.
It is the single strangest training recommendation I have even read. Cavendish rants on about other ridiculous techniques, and then insults their understanding of terms. He also scoffs at their use of “the Chambetta, which signifies nothing.”
Yes, chambetta does seem to be jambette. Which, yes, is not a particularly useful manuever in any sense of the word (to be fair, Blundeville does suggest it is best to look flashy when riding before one’s King). To be more specific, Blundeville describes the jambette in turns in his chapter on the chambette. Like this:
It’s fancy, it takes time to train, it impresses the crowd. But…ok, I’m with Cavendish again. It doesn’t translate to the development of the horse as a whole.
I’d been debating livetweeting my reread of Cavendish’s snarky training treatise. I did this instead. This series was begun in January, but never finished. I have revisited it here and updated my commentary. 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.”
On this I will part ways with his Grace. Though I do tend to finish my horses in some sort of shanked bit, it is not always beneficial and certainly not always needed. I did once start a horse in a neck rope and a halter, alternatingly, because he’d had a terrible ear infection. He wasn’t the most “useful,” but a curb certainly wouldn’t have helped him.
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.
There is a great deal of discussion among western riders & judges about what a lope should look (and sound) like. The primary split is between those who favor the four beat lope, which became common in the last half century, and those that consider it an abomination. I’m going to complicate that by looking at cases where the canter also becomes four beats, most commonly in dressage and in saddleseat. In all disciplines, the number of beats can be the easiest criteria to look at, but it does not denote quality or lack thereof on its own. A more detailed understanding of the mechanics can benefit both riders and judges, and help us articulate and achieve a variety of goals.
First, let’s take a look at some official definitions:
SHW330.3 The lope is an easy, rhythmical three-beat gait. Horses moving to the left should lope on the left lead. Horses moving to the right should lope on the right lead. Horses traveling at a four-beat gait are not considered to be performing at a proper lope. The horse should lope with a natural stride and appear relaxed and smooth. It should be ridden at a speed that is a natural way of going. The head should be carried at an angle which is natural and suitable to the horse’s conformation at all gaits. (pg. 114)
Canter: Smooth, collected and straight on both leads.
Lope: Smooth, slow, straight and a three beat cadence.
Extended Lope: A lengthening of stride while maintaining a smooth, straight, three beat cadence.
Extended Canter: The extended canter should be ground covering, free moving and smooth. The extended canter should show a definite lengthening of stride, while still being controlled and mannerly. Extreme speed SHALL be penalized.
Hand Gallop: Long, free ground covering stride under control. Not a fast collected canter, but a true lengthening of stride, correct and straight on both leads. Extreme speed penalized. (pg. 943)
Note: number of beats is only specified for lope. Within the chart for “major and minor” faults in the Morgan Western Pleasure division (pg. 951), number of beats is not listed. Thus, it is up to the discretion of the judge whether it should be considered a major or minor fault. The Arabian Western Pleasure division does specify “not performing a three beat lope” as a major fault (pg. 345). The Arabian division, in general, has stricter and more cut & dry rules. The Morgan Park Saddle section uses “proper cadence” as one of its criteria, but never mentions number of beats (pg. 944).
The canter is a three-beat gait where, in canter to the right, for example, the footfall is as follows: left hind, left diagonal (simultaneously left fore and right hind), right fore, followed by a moment of suspension with all four feet in the air before the next stride begins.
The following canters are recognized: Working canter, lengthening of strides, Collected canter, Medium canter and Extended canter.
Working canter. This is a pace between the collected and the medium canter, in which a horse’s training is not yet developed enough and ready for collected movements. The horse shows natural balance while remaining “on the bit”, and goes forward with even, light and active strides and good hock action. The expression “good hock action” underlines the importance of an impulsion originating from the activity of the hindquarters.
Lengthening of strides. In some tests, “lengthening of strides” is required. This is a variation between the working and medium canter in which a horse’s training is not developed enough for medium canter.
Collected canter. The horse, remaining “on the bit”, moves forward with the neck raised and arched. The hocks, being well-engaged, maintain an energetic impulsion, enabling the shoulders to move with greater mobility thus demonstrating self carriage and an uphill tendency. The horse’s strides are shorter than in the other canters, without losing elasticity and cadence.
Medium canter. This is a pace between the working and the extended canter. Without hurrying, the horse goes forward with clearly lengthened strides and impulsion from the hindquarters. The rider allows the horse to carry the head a little more in front of the vertical than in the collected and working canter, and at the same time allows the horse, to lower the head and neck slightly. The strides should be balanced and unconstrained.
Extended canter. The horse covers as much ground as possible. Without hurrying, the strides are lengthened to the utmost. The horse remains calm, light and straight as a result of great impulsion from the hindquarters. The rider allows the horse to lengthen the frame with a controlled poll and to gain ground. The whole movement should be well-balanced and the transition to collected canter should be smoothly executed by taking more weight on the hindquarters.
In all of these very different competitions, a four-beat canter or lope is considered a flaw. So what is the difference between them? Are good canters and lopes always three-beat? Problematically, no.
The most visible, and visibly problematic, of the four-beat canters and lopes are in Western divisions, especially among stock horse breeds. AQHA specified four-beat lopes as a flaw after USEF did, and there is still some disagreement among judges in all breeds about if it is a flaw and how severe a flaw it is. There are related discussions on headcarriage, as often an extreme four-beat lope also has a very down hill appearance, with the horse leaning on the forehand and the head carried below the chest. This sort of movement that is very recognizable, and while it does cause the horse to cover a minimum of ground (i.e., go slow), it is clearly detrimental to the horse. I won’t show examples here, but if you search youtube for “western pleasure” you will find a range of examples. While seeing the break of the footfalls can sometimes be difficult without slow-motion, horses that move in this way have a noticeable hitch in their stride as they move forward using their backs and forelegs rather than their hips and hindlegs.
The second place where this type of gait is very noticeable and not uncommon is in saddleseat. It is not, however, talked about as a number of beats issue. It is most often talked about as a shoeing issue, as the heavy shoes and action devices can often cause the same hitching four-beat gait as western pleasure riders can achieve by backing the horse out of the bridle. In saddleseat, this gait is hugely animated, and when achieved more by equipment than by training and conditioning it can appear very strange and un-horselike. This is, of course, exemplified most by the “big lick” walking horses, but can be seen in varying degrees anywhere a collected, animated canter is desire: park classes, most other saddleseat classes, and yes, even in dressage.
But wait, didn’t I say that a four-beat canter or lope isn’t always bad? I did. The reason lopes often devolve into four-beat eyesores is because we humans, as rider, trainers, and judges, get stuck on the idea of “slow.” We forget that the lope is actually a type of collection, and requires building up the horse’s strength, stamina, and coordination. The reason saddleseat and even dressage fall prone to a similar four-beat gait, with the horse laboring more from its front end than its hind, is the same. It is a lack of conditioning. That lack can be temporary, a moment in the horse’s progression, or it can become chronic if we are not aware of the issue. The problem, however, is not actually in the number of beats.
These are all cases of four-beat canters that are ‘correct;’ meaning, they maintain the soundness of the horse and its balance to be able to move into a different gait or maneuver. They tend to go to four beats due the the degree of collection, with the hind of the diagonal pair landing before the fore, but the pair leaving the ground together. Now go back and look at those youtube videos. Look closely at the ones you didn’t like. Play with the pause button. Are any of those broken looking lopes three-beat? I’d bet a few of them are. Because of the focus on the number of beats, that issue is often fixed without addressing the underlying cause. Just as shoes aren’t necessarily the issue in saddleseat (plenty of keg-shod horses also move in a disunited fashion), not all three-beat lopes are good and not all four-beat lopes are bad: it is a question of carriage, not beats. The canter, or even the lope, moves fast. So we have to learn to see fast, or take advantage of the technology we have that lets us see it more slowly, in more detail, and play it over and over again. We need to look at the quality of the movement, rather than the quantifiable numbers of how they move. No matter the discipline, we need to look at the whole picture.
I should also footnote this post with two other cases of (non-gaiting) fourbeat, being the true gallop (which is by definition four beats) and the break or jump, the little-discussed transition ‘gait’ see in racehorses, barrelhorses, ropers, and others who accelerate suddenly.
Many horsefolk have expressed confusion or outright disbelief at the extreme angle (or rather, lack thereof) of the hindlegs in paintings of horses in capriole. The works of Johann Georg de Hamilton (d. 1737), in particular, receive a ton of comments about how ‘unrealistic’ or ‘impossible’ the position is. While his work may be idealized, it’s not unusual for the period, and he may receive the bulk of the commentary only because his works are in full vibrant color, and widely accessible.
I think this position looks strange only because it’s unfamiliar. We’re used to seeing horses buck or jump with their legs folded, like these:
We don’t often see a spectacular buck like this, especially outside the rodeo ring:
And although it’s becoming more common again, we also don’t often see a horse that has actually been trained to capriole. And as difficult a maneuver as it is (and some may argue that ethical training makes it more difficult to achieve consistent results, although it makes it much easier on the horse!), even if we do have the opportunity to see a horse in capriole, it may not be as precise or extreme as those painted by Hamilton. The hind legs may hang slightly loose and low, like this (though in some cases, this is actually due to the difficulty of timing the photograph):
There are, however, now plenty of photographs of horses in the extreme version of capriole painted by Hamilton.
Art is often discarded as “unrealistic,” but is well worth examination as a source.
The piaffe is part gait, part maneuver. I generally classify it as a gait, because it is possible (with great difficulty and endless training) to perform other maneuvers in piaffe, as you would in any other gait. The piaffe, however, stands alone as being the foundation for most of the “airs above ground.” Although the airs are not called for in tests today, I still consider the piaffe’s function as a foundation for further maneuvers when evaluating it. Piaffes tend to fall into four basic shapes:
First Shape: all four legs landing roughly perpendicular to the ground, which is usually the first steps a horse attempts. It can be useful for working transitions within gait, but keeping the horse from hollowing in a “square” piaffe is difficult, as is attaining animation.
Second Shape: all four legs towards the center of the body, sometimes called “pedestaling.” This tends to be the second shape a horse takes in learning the piaffe. It varies considerably in quality, depending on where the horse’s weight is balanced and whether or not it occurs due to an overuse of rein.
Third Shape: on the forehand, generally with the front legs coming slightly behind the vertical but the hind legs landing under the hip. This can be a result of over-reliance on the whip and/or use of pillars, though it can also be a just a rough stage in the horse’s development. Often very flashy movement behind, very little in front. Often disunited and/or laterally uneven. This photo isn’t the best example, but people seem hesitant to post photos where the horse’s balance is more obviously shifted forward. However, note that the haunches are not significantly lowered when compared to how far under the body they are; action is much more exaggerated behind; and the horse is leaning slightly forward over the standing front leg.
Fourth Shape: Front legs land roughly perpendicular to the ground, hind legs somewhat under. This is the shape that can be developed into the levade or pesade, and from there into other airs. The pelvis is tipped, haunches lowered, and weight clearly on the haunches. Often the hind of each diagonal will land a hair before the fore, but they should pick up together. A cowhocked, wide behind way of sitting is a common flaw; this is not immediately problematic, but something to be wary of. If it is extreme in an otherwise straight horse, it may indicate a lack of strength or conditioning.
Neck-reining sounds simple: the horse moves away from the pressure of the rein on the neck. Anyone who has tried to teach a horse to neck rein knows that this pressure doesn’t make sense to a green horse, and often results in some odd contortions of the neck and a complete loss of finesse. Like in any part of a horse’s education, a slow and systematic approach creates relaxed and clear communication. I prefer to have my horses well started in dressage (or purposeful flatwork if you prefer), with a fairly nuanced understanding of seat and leg and a clear idea of outside rein before I introduce neck-reining. For this stage, I prefer a snaffle or a simple cavesson (reins attached at the bridge of the nose or at the side, but not under the jaw and no moving parts). Then, I begin “neck reining” by exaggerating hand position, with the outside rein still engaged but touching the horse’s crest, and the inside rein opening as needing. All cues begin from the seat and leg. There are a number of reasons that the snaffle is not ideal for neck reining, including that the hand position must be higher with one hand than with two, but a few sessions (or a few weeks, or months) of working in the familiar snaffle or cavesson while refining seat and leg cues and introducing neck cues prevents confusion or panic later on.
Once the horse is going well this way in a snaffle, I introduce the first (and, for many, last) “curb,” which is generally one of the following:
This is my favorite summer camp “bit,” as it provides clear communication (once introduced) and ‘control’, while having the least possibility for injury or fear, even in the most unsteady or unkind hands. Pressure is mild to the bridge of the nose and the poll, mild to moderate on the chin. It is important to make sure they are adjusted properly, being not so loose that they twist, and not so tight that there isn’t a clear release. A more advance rider can also ride at two hands with a light contact and be able to engage each side separately, with some amount of lateral pressure on the side of the muzzle. I see no reason for a more severe nose band, as it is a sensitive area that is easily damaged, or for longer shanks, as they make the pressure too rapid and jerky. Especially for camp, I may swap out the standard curb chain for a leather strap.
Most barns have a ton of these laying around, and they’re great. Again, I prefer a double jointed bit, but unfortunately most of the “western” double jointed bits are dog-bones, like the lower bit. I thought I, and my horses, would love this bit. And we did, at first. It has an extra long purchase (distance from mouthpiece to cheekpiece ring) which means more poll pressure, but that can be mitigated by adjusting the bit a little low in the horse’s mouth, as long as the
cheekpiece is adjusted far enough back so as to not be pushed into the horse’s eye. With all curbs, the shape and length of both the purchase and the shanks need to be considered, especially if the reins might be in unsteady hands. Unfortunately, the open space in the dog-bone can pinch, especially if your horse has a thicker tongue. So, I prefer the single joint over the dog-bone, even though I generally prefer a double jointed mouthpiece
I also love these. Often people point out it isn’t really a snaffle because of the leverage, but what makes an argentine snaffle different from a tom thumb is the additional rein ring at the mouth piece. This gives you the option of using snaffle pressure or tom thumb pressure, working like a pelham bit but without the funny looks you get for riding a young stock horse in an “English” bit. These are especially good for introducing or tuning up neck-reining and curb response in a horse that is well started and confident in a snaffle. The one above also has small rings for a lip strap, which can help prevent the bit from flipping forward. And, a copper mouth piece which many horses love; I don’t have a preferred metal, because while many horses like copper or sweet iron, many also hate them. The pelham itself, of course, is the “English” option for this. I usually don’t use kimberwicks, since they lack the finesse of a pelham or argentine snaffle, and tend to actually dull the horse to curb pressure since there is not as much clarity in either engagement or release of the curb.
Most horses go well in any of the above bits if they are well fitted and introduced slowly and systematically. When I can follow my preference, most of my horses will eventually go in a fleece hack and a french link pelham (or Argentine), as well as a snaffle and in just a halter; some may also go bridle-less or in a solid curb, though both of these take considerably more training.