The Academic Art of Riding

When in 2004 I found the book by Bent Branderup, it, or more it's subtitle "For the ambitious leisure rider", totally changed my approach to riding: suddenly it was thinkable even for me, an ordinary spare-time rider, to actually get near the lessons of the high school of riding!

Suddenly there was not solely the way over the traditional academies Bückeburg, Jerez, Vienna or Lisbon, but from now on I could hope to learn some pieces like the best did for centuries myself . Beside my work and all the other duties, in my own limited speed, with the simple means I only had at my disposal! Thus it became for me the most valuable book of my lifetime!


Sequence in the schooling according to La Broue, Cavendish/Solleysel and Gueriniere

After the schooling in the simple gaits on straight, later rounded tracks, then that by the shoulder-in loosen its shoulders; after that training the Croupe-in to put the horse onto its haunches: either train this on a circle,  or if  the use of a wall should be absolutely necessary, urgently heeding respect to Guérinière’s advice, to never drive a horse with his head or shoulder into the wall, but always keep a minimum distance of 1.5m to the wall, or, even better, to execute those lessons with the croupe to the wall (Croupe au mur)!

Then the rider starts with the lessons which require precision:

1. The sideways (Passege/Passager/passeging/passaging): going starkly sideways in walk at a nearly right angle of up to 85° to the line the horse is walking along. If the angle is strong enough and the horse sure-footed and balanced for the stepping over with its outer legs over the inner ones, a two-beated action occurs similar to the one in the trot; if the angle gets weaker, the horse will let its outer leg drag more and more behind. This dragging lasts the longer, the weaker the angle is, and the longer this dragging lasts, the less can the action be seen as two-beated.  ( Nicolas di Santa-Paulina described it as an not perceptible dragging behind of one of its legs). As  in modern times nobody still has studied and described the sideways, it is not clear, if and from which angle on the gymnastic, meditative and balance-promoting effect will be reduced too.
The sideways demands a very high concentration and balancing ability in the horse, and sometimes it will rise its forehand into a Terre-a-Terre jump, as this is easier for it, because it can support itself with both legs at the same time and herby gain a more stable base for its body: by this Terre-a-Terre beat it calms itself and after that is much better able to balance during the sideways. If a horse is trained sufficiently for a precise and even sideways, the rider has achieved, that “it is between hand and heels”, that means it will react promptly to these aids. Then it counts as being halfly educated already.
Noticeable is, that the many good effects of the sideways only occur, if it executed in walk, in trot but it produces more harm than gain!

2. The Terre-a-Terre: The Terre-a-Terre also is not used today, as up to now only a very small number of riders know, how it should look how and one can produce it.
Terre-a-Terre is French and means: „from the earth to the earth“ (contrary to: “from the earth to the air” in the so called “Airs” Levade, Courbette, or even to “in the air” for the school jumps). In  Italian it was called „Radoppio“: as a canter in two beats. This then became „Redop“ in the German language.
The use of the Terre-a-Terre was the execution of a save 180° turn, staying close to the ground, to minimize the danger for the horse to fall during a commotion with the enemy-horse. That was the reason for La Broue to write that the only sense for executing the Terre-a-Terre on a small half-circle; for him this has been a fighting-manège, which didn’t belong to the “high schools”  or “schools above the earth”.
For the training though sometimes this lesson is executed along a straight line or wall: that means, the horse moves in an angle of  85° to this line, or “with the half-shoulder ahead” (just as in the sideways-walk). This was called a straight Terre-a-Terre, which often is misunderstood as “straight-forward”  which naturally is impossible by its definition as sideways (riders captured in this error sometimes call the going forwards in Courbettes wrongly as Terre-a-Terre).
Is a horse capable to execute the Terre-a-Terre precisely and evenly, it counts as more than half educated.

The  Falcade  (from ital. "falce" = siccle) is a fast, short, minamal litzing of the forehand, wherein the forelegs are held in form of a siccle. 

4. The Levade (the rising up) until ar. 1800 was called “Pesade” (from the Iitalien „Posata“ = Setting) and is a simultaneous lifting of the horse’s forehand and a sinking of its Croupe, which “brings it onto its haunches” by  shortening the angles in its knee- and hip-joints. For the beginning of the teaching of the Levade it needs “to be between hand and heels”, so the Terre-a-Terre was seen as an important prerequisite.

5. The going in Courbettes: According to Solleysel/Cavendish a horse can never learn to go accurately in Courbettes, without having learned before to execute perfectly the Terre-a-Terre. La Broue though concedes an exception: if a horse is extremely incapable to learn the Terre-a-Terre, sometimes one can try to teach it Courbettes first, and the Terre-a-Terre after that (to be able to recognize this, the rider must be very well trained, of course!).

La Broue sees straight-forward Courbettes as senseless, and because it is difficult to switch a horse from straight-forward Courbettes to those on curved lines, gives the advice to do only some straight-forward Courbettes at the beginning, and when the horse has understod what is demanded, switch over soon to those on curved lines.

6. Jumping in Croupades or in Capriole
s suits same horses better than going in Courbettes: if the rider is capable, to asses which inclination his horse has got, he can save much labour and sweat by deciding, to educate it in “its” lesson only. For the beginning of this lesson, too, a perfect Terre-a-Terre is  a prerequisite.

7.  The Pirouette is the turning on the hind legs, wherein the hind legs stay in the centre of the circle.
One could see the simple turning on the hocks in standing as a kind of Pirouette, but the term rather means a turning around on the hind legs by lifting the forehand more or less up into the air in a number of beats: for example the “throwing around on the hind legs” close to the ground, which I call Terre-a-Terre-Pirouette, or the rotating on the hind legs in Courbettes, that means lifting the forelegs higher over the ground, or in Half-Courbettes (Mezair/ mezza aria) not so high over the ground.
There are Demi-Pirouettes, which are half-circles for the 180°-change of direction by two or three beats of the forehand, and full Pirouettes by four or five beats. (The nowadays term “Canter-Pirouette”  was not used in those times, as for the execution of a Pirouette the staying of the hind legs on one place is necessary and it is not possible to canter a horse on one place at all).
This lesson was sometimes titled “on a circle of the length of the horse” which is an abbreviation of the correct term: “on a circle with a radius of the length of the horse”.

Precondition for the high schools is a free horse

The high schools will be accomplished only, if the horse is not forced.
That means the rider can only beg of his horse to perform its lessons voluntarily. This in turn means, that the horse has to be sane and relaxed, trusting and charged with energy. A “riding-off” before starting to work is highly counterproductive, the art-rider calls this “riding-weary”.

Solleysel lets his horses walk only about 40 paces before beginning to work;  La Broue writes that for the higher lessons it is useful to perform them only ever second or third day and Cavendish even gives the advice, to make demands in a ready-trained horse only once a week!

Is the horse showing signs of tiredness or listlessness the art-rider immediately ceases the work, this means some riding-units will last only 8 minutes of work, highly concentrated, though.
Only because of this Cavendish can write: “A free horse doesn’t need spurs!”, because it has got out of itself enough vigour and fun to work. (Precondition for this is the art-rider seat,though, which doesn’t slowdown the horse, as the english-seat will, because in the latter the rider is put on the horse’s forehand.

La Broue admires horses, which are capable and willing, to complete a demi-volte in two betas, but warns that after one or two miles the horses  will not have enough vigour left and finds is smarter, to relinquish the two-beated ones for the more steadily achievable three-beated demi-voltes.

Cavendish disperses the reservations against teaching a war-horse the high schools, which might be dangerous and destabilizing during a fight: one has always at east three to five miles riding to the place of fighting, and after that the horse’s desire, to perform high lessons out of its own will have been much reduced. (But the gain for the combat by getting the horse between hand and heels would be immense!).

Cavendish writes also, his  riding units often were so short, that six of them fit into one hour.

Also belonging to freedom is riding the horse sometimes long-stretched, be it cross-country in a long-strided trot or a calm canter or even letting steam off by a full gallop. In the riding arena one normally starts, after having walked the 40 paces, by riding some small circles, then  progressing to the meditative sideways and then possibly to the Terre-a-Terre, collecting the horse more and more.
If the rider then signals the lessons end by letting the horse shoot forwards in wide-strided, fast gallop, possibly even with a start in the carriere, the horses often squeak or  grumble aloud with delight.

The art rider‘s seat

The rider shall plant his feet in the stirrups in a way which results in a firm support, so taht he feels like standing on the ground. If he does this in the appropriate way, the tension of his back-muscles flows uninterruptedly from the stirrups to his head; but if he he fails to uphold the extension in his knee-joints by taking backwards only minimally the lower legs, this line of tension breaks abruptly, and the lower legs become simple loose attachments of the knees, without any supporting role for the rider’s balance: two thirds of the basis are lost now and the rider’s seat becomes precarious and dangerous. An unerringly sign for the right seat is a never more occurring contusion of the rider’s underbelly by the front saddle-rim as happens in the English-seat.

The rider should always sit on his perineum, and as far forward in the saddle as possible: the contaht between perineum and saddle shall never be given up, if possible. This leads to his belly coming forward, and as a compensation he can take back his upper body a bit.

If the rider’s legs come forward somewhat, this is not detrimental and can even be proper in some situations.
(The feeling in the English-seat is a bit like pushing a wheel-barrow: the rider’s upper body tends to fall forward and his lower legs trail behind; in the art-rider’s seat though, he gets the feeling of his body as a straight, upright entity, which is shoved forward in the whole like a sail-boat by the wind).

The rider’s upper body shall be upright and straight, the shoulder-joints taken backwards to prevent a rolling-in of the shoulders and the then consecutively falling forwards, which would bring the horse on the forehand.

The rein-hand with the curb-reins shall be held in the middle over the withers, tilted a bit so the palm is pointing a bit upwards (a bit supinated); the upper arms shall be held a bit away from the rider’s upper body, to not prevent his upper body from moving freely, which is achieved by letting back of the hand and lower arm form a straight line, not over-extending nor bending the carpal joint. The finger middle-joints (PIPs) shall point to each other, that effects a  90° angle to the length of the horse. The fingernails shall point to the rider’s breast.
Being in the manege, while training the horse, the switch-hand is normally held beside the rein-hand in the same way. In the beginning “kissing PIPs” can be helpful here!
Each hand will be positioned correctly, if one imagines to put both of his arms around a dancing partner, laying ones hands on the back of the partner, without touching him elsewhere.
Allowing now the rider’s belly to come forwards, at some time a feel of floating with his horse will arrive, which will assure him: something is very right here!

The rider shall not look to the ground, only up to a minimum of three meters before the horse, and he should always be looking through in between the horse’s ears.

Promenading outside the manege the switch should normally be held downwards; for training his posture, the rider can put the switch hand into his hip, with the finger middle-joints (PIPs) pointing as always in a  90° angle away from the horse, too, which leads to a good retracting of the switch-side shoulder joint, creating the required upright posture of his upper body. Here one must take care, not to overdo this, or a disagreeable expression of arrogance and superiority will occur.


The Art-Rider's Switch


During the work within the riding arena the switch most often is held with its point upwards, as this way a far higher number of uses is achieved than in the holding downwards. This means, that the switch the fist at the thumb end and sits in the middle of the palm.

So the rider at more or less supination (=holding the palm upwards), more or less flexing in the switch-hand's carpal joint, higher or lower moving oft the switch-hand, lets the switch always point in just the direction, he needs at the moment.

In nearly every depiction of art-riders from ar. 1550 to 1789 the thick end of the switch vanishes into the hollow of the hand. (An exception is Cavendish, who wrote that one had a stronger grip on the switch, if its thick end protruded a bit on the other side. Probably this weakness of his fist was due to his already beginning Parkinson's disease.).

If the switch ends in the hollow-hand it will not block the freedom of movement in the rider's body and hand, and the rider is much better able to vary it: holding it upright, the thick end of the switch sits on the little finger's base phalanx; holding it downwards, the thumb of the switch hand lies over the thick end in just the same positon as the thumb of the rein-hand on the reins.

A rider who doesn't use spurs, sometimes has to use the switch for driving the horse should he want to do this in the show-rider's way, he would have to change from holding it upwards to holding it downwards, which would consume far to much time for a sufficiently prompt reaction to correct the horse. So the rider has to use the the switch on the rein-hand side, which means he has to lead the switch hand in front of his belly around to the other side, to reach its flank of the rein-hand side.

If the switch on the contrary leaves the switch-fist on its little-finger end, the rider can hold it either downwards or a little sloping upwards over the croupe of the horse.

For training the correct art-rider's seat it is valuable, while holding the switch downwards, to turn the switch-fist so, that the finger middle-joints point in a 90° angle to the horse's longitudinal axis: this way the switch-arm's shoulder goes back far enough, and the applying the same stance to the other shoulder will produce a perfect holding of the upper body.(The term “hip-prop”) is not exactly correct, as the rider should not/not much support himself on the hip.) This stance was used by Frederic the Great (The old Fritz) to compensate for the negative effect of his fixated rounded back.

Riding outside the arena one better should let the switch point downwards, as not seldom passers-by intuitively feel a bit threatened by an upright switch. When training a lesson in the fields of course one can hold it upwards again.

To be able to work likely, the switch should have very light weight, a not to thick end or even a button at its end, and be long enough to reach the horse's thigh on the rein-hand side.

Best are dried apple-tree switches, which can be curved just a bit.


The most important lessons I learned during the last years:

Horses don't show any pain if it is not sheer overwhelming! It would mean sure death for a flight animal to openly show the predators any vulnerabilities!

So we must search consciously everyday for the slightest signs of discomfort, as every time we notice, there will be considerable pain already!

If a horse doesn't understand a softly given aid, it absolutely won't help to give it harder!

The lessons are there for the horse and not the horse for the lessons! They shall make the horse fit in every aspect (psychic and bodily) and so enable it's use in the highest degree.

A very nice saying: Until the age of 6 he is the friend of your foe, after that he is your friend and from the age of 12 he will a horse for kings!”


Rationalizing in Riding

Rationalizing means to endow an action with a seemingly reasonable explanation.

Also in the art of riding with its multiple and varying challenges a rationalizing often appears, and because the explanation seems to him sufficient enough, the rider perhaps gets so used to this mistake, that he performs it for decades, without any arising of doubt, not to speak of correcting it. And if every rider around him acts in the same wrong way, he will even get encouraged, and change for the better will become virtually impossible for him.

To the question, why he is nearly permanently looking downward, the rider will answer astonished, how someone might pose such a dumb question: “ I must look down to watch how my horse is moving!”

But the subsequent question invariably will produce anger: “What exactly can you see when looking downwards? You cannot see how the horse’s legs are moving, or how the hooves are setting, because the horse’s shoulders block your view completely. Watching the movements of the shoulders brings only very seldom a useful information (sole exemption: when a beginner wants to test, if the shoulders are getting more free, he might give a touchée, to produce a pronounced twitch of the horse's shoulder, which would be nearly impossible, if it is “lying on the shoulders”; whereas a more experienced rider naturally can sense this twitching without having to look down).

Also the bending of the horse’s neck the rider can judge sufficiently without lowering head and gaze and even control its path better, which the horse shall go, when he orientates himself at markers farther away, for example circle markers, and checks posture or straightness of the horse at horizontal lines like riding arenas walls. Has the rider but succeeded in permanently holding his head upright, he will notice astonishedly after some time, that in reality he had already always felt every movement of his horse rather than seen it (and that the only occasion, in which looking down had been delivering a useful information, had been when as a beginner he hadn’t been able to feel if the horse was in right- or lefthand canter).

The true reason however, why riders are always looking down, is the forward inwards rotation of their shoulders due to a wrong holding of their hands (pronated instead of correctly slightly supinated hands).

Due to insecurity or little confidence in their horse many riders can find it hard to correct this stance: as rolled-in shoulders lead to a sitting on the horse's forehand, they feel this impedes the horse's abilty to race forward suddenly (which some horses with a high percentage of hot-blood might be prone to). But this permanent "brake" also prevents the horse's shoulder to become free!

The word “actually” indicates a rationalization fairly precisely, as it means, that one had acted against better knowledge, unreasonably:

"Actually" the rider knows, that he should hold his head upright and his gaze straight forwards in the direction he goes, but….


See also "Research" here


Art of Riding for Cross-Country

A special bonus for the recreational rider is the substantial rise of quality while riding cross-country in form of security-gain, comfort and calmness. A horse which doesn't react on the rider only from fear but is begged softly by his rider to cooperate as the academic art of riding teaches us, will in a case of emergency turn to it's rider trustfully for help and guidance and not give in to the possibly greater fear of other things than the the rider's violence and run away.

A turnable, schooled horse allows the closing of gates from the saddle, is very comfortable to sit, and its “durability” is far higher due to the enormous safety in footing as result of putting more and more weight on the hind legs.

Should in an emergency the necessity arise to overcome a barrier, a high schooled horse has got much more power and precision in the hind legs to perform a jump providedit is not to high or wide for its shape and educational stage.

Development of thr Art of riding

Important books:


380 v.Chr. "Über die Reitkunst", Xenophon (*430 v. Chr. - †355 v. Chr.) (griech.)

1550 "Ordini di cavalcare", Grisone (*1507-†1570) (ital.)

1556 "Trattato dell’imbrigliare, atteggiare e ferrare cavalli", Cesare Fiaschi ( † 1571)

1562 "Il Cavallerizzo", Claudio Corte (ital.)

1567 "La Gloria del cavallo", Pasquale Caraciollo (ital.)

1584 "The Art of Riding According to Claudio Corte", Thomas Beddingfield, London, (engl.)

1584 "The Art of Riding: A Discourse of Horssemanship", John Astley, London

1595 "Le cavalerice francois", La Broue (*1530- †1610?) , La Rochelle, (frz.)

1609 "Della Cavalleria", Löhneysen (*1552-†1622) , Remlingen,(dt.)

1623 "La Maneige Royale", Pluvinel (posthum) (frz.)

1625 "L'instruction du Roy....", Pluvinel (posthum) (frz.)

1650 "Il cavallo del maneggio",Giovan Battista di Galiberto (ital.)

1658 "La Methode General...", William Cavendish/Newcastle (*1593 - †1676) (frz.)

1667 "A New Method...", William Cavebdish/Newcastle (engl.) : stark abgeänderte Übersetzung ins Franz. 1677 von Solleysel;

1677 "Methode nouvelle ", Jaques Solleysel, stark veränderte Überstzg des engl. Newcastle von1657; Paris, (frz.)

1696 "L'Arte del Cavallo", Nicola und Luiggi di Santapaulina; Padua (ital.)

1700 "Neu eröffnete Reitbahn", Übersetzung des Solleysels von 1677, Nürnberg (dt.)

1722 "Neue Reit-Kunst", Johann Elias Ridinger (dt.)

1727 "Manege moderne..", Friedrich Wilhelm von Eisenberg (London) (frz.)

1733 "Ecole de Cavallerie", Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere, (*1666-†1751) (frz.)

1747 "Dictionnaire des Termes du manége Moderne", Eisenberg

1748 "Wohleingerichtete Reitschule...", Eisenberg, Übersetzung der Manege Moderne, Zürich (dt.)

1756 "L'Art de Cavalerie", Gaspard de Saunier (posthum) (*1663 -†1748), Paris, (frz.)

1760 "Vorstellung und Beschreibung...", Ridinger (*1698 -†1767) , Augsburg, (dt.)

1774 "Der Bereiter", Johann Gottfried Prizelius, Braunschweig, (dt.)

1777 "Vollständige Pferdewissenschaft", Johann Gottfried Prizelius, Leipzig,(dt.),

1790 "Arte da Cavalleria", Andrade (*1755-†1817) (port,)

1791 "Die Reitkunst", Daniel Knölls Gueriniere Übersetzung , Marburg, (dt.)