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!


The stages of horse-education according to La Broue, Cavendish/Solleysel, Winter and Gueriniére

Following the initial training in the simple basic gaits on straight, and later curved lines, and later the shoulder-in for suppling the shoulders of the horse, one starts with the croupe-in to put the horse on its hips (haunches): herein one should urgently heed the advice of Gueriniére, to work the horse either on a circle, or, if it seems a wall is needed, to never drive the horse  with its head or shoulders into the wall, but to keep always at least 1.5m distance from the wall! Or, even better, to work with the horse’s croup to the wall (croupe au mur) .

After that, even before the training in canter follows

1.The Sideways (Passege/Passager/passeger/passager): the sideways in walk win an angle of up to 85°, which produces a stepping of the outer legs over the inner legs.
If the angle is severe enough, and the horse well balanced, often a exact two-beat occurs, just as in the trot. But often the horse steps the outer hind-leg over a bit later.
This lagging of he outer hind-leg gets more pronounced, the smaller the angle is, and the longer it lasts, the less one can call it a two-beated gait.  (Nicolas di Santa Paulina for example describes such an imperceptibly  lagging of one leg).
As in our times nobody has researched this sideways yet, it is still not clear, from which grade of lagging on the sideways will loose its gymnastic and balancing benefit on the horse.
The sideways demands a highly concentrated and well balanced horse, and sometimes within this lesson it will switch into one Terre-a-Terre beat, because it seems to be easier for horse as in the Terre-a-Terre it supports its weight by two hind-legs simultaneously as a more stable basis for the equilibrium: by this one beat it calms itself and after this it can balance its weight anew. If the horse is bale to perform the sideways correctly and evenly, the rider has achieved, that it is “between   hand and hells”, which means that it reacts finely on these aids. From now on it counts as “half educated”.

Be aware that the sideways can produce its beneficial effects only, if it is used only in walk: in trot it will produce more bad than good.
Training of the sideways can begin at the age of four and a half years, whereas the work in canter should not start before the fifth birthday of the horse. (S. G. Winter)

The riding-pupil learns the aids and gets the feeling for the sideways on a well-trained horse

"Wolberrittener Cavallier", Simon Georg Winter

2. The Terre-a-Terre , too, is not in use nowadays, and today only very few riders know how it looks and how to 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 those „in the air“ in the school-jumps). In Italian it was called „Radoppio“: as a canter in two beats. This term is found in German as  „Redop“.
The reason for the Terre-a-Terre was to execute a safe 180° turn, while staying close to the ground, which in a collision reduced the horse’s danger of falling. Because of this La Broue writes, that a Terre-a-Terre rather is making sense only when it is performed on a a small half-circle: for him it is only a combat-manege, which doesn’t belong to the artful Airs (the “high schools”, or the “schools over the ground“). If this turn is executed pirouette-like in the Terre-a-Terre, it must not be used near the wall, as the horse’s hind then would crash into the wall!
Sometimes the rider  trains it along a straight line or a wall, which means the horse goes/jumps in a 85° degree along this line/wall (or, expressed in another way: “goes with half a shoulder  forwards), in the same angle as for the sideways in walk.  This Terre-a-Terre then is called a straight one, which often is misinterpreted as if there could be a Terre-a-Terre, which were not a sideways movement, but this is per definitionem impossible (those erring in this way often call Courbettes straight forwards a Terre-a-Terre).
If a horse is able to execute the Terre-a-Terre correctly and evenly, it counts as “more than half educated”.

3. The Falcade (from ital. "falce" = siccle) is an elevating of the forehand wherein the forelegs are held forwards in form of a siccle, not as high as in the Mezair (which itself is only half as high as a Courbette), and the horse is quasi in a frozen motion of a starting Carriere. The Falcade is used to initiate the Carriére, which then will be started from within the second or third Falcade. Also it can be used as a preparation for a calm turn in the Terre-a-Terre. In Falkade and Terre-a-Terre the horse does not put its hips under its rump: its rein stays straight and longer as in the levade.

The riding-pupil learns the rhythm in and the aids for the Terre-a-Terre on a very well trained horse

"Wolberrittener Cavallier", Simon Georg Winter

4. The Levade (the elevating) has been called “Pesade” (from ital. „Posata“ = seating) and is an elevating of the forehand and simultaneous sinking of the horse’s hind, whereby the the horse is put “on the haunches”  with shoving its hips under the rump. For the Levade,too, it is very important, that the horse is perfectly “between Hand and heels”, that’s why the Terre-a-Terre is the precondition for starting the work at the Levade.

5. Going in Courbettes: According to Solleysel/Cavendish a horse  cannot learn to go well in Courbettes, if it hadn’t been able before to go perfectly in the Terre-a-Terre. La Broue though states one exception: some horses find it very hard to learn the Terre-a-Terre, for these it might be better to learn Courbettes before (to be able for recognizing these cases naturally the rider must have got very much experience.)

For La Broue Courbettes straight forwards are senseless, and because it would be very hard to tech the horse Courbetten on curved lines after it had  been accustomed to those on straight lines, his advice is to only do very few Courbettes on straight lines, and as soon as the horse understands what it is to do, execute them only on curved lines thereafter.

6. Jumping in Croupades or Caprioles for some horses is more suitable than going in Courbettes: if the rider is able to discern for which type his horse is more sited, he can save much energy and  stress by promoting only the execution of “its air”, according the its natural preference. For these Airs also a precondition is the capability for a perfectly executed  Terre-a-Terre.

7. The Pirouette is a turn above the hind-legs, wherein the hind-feet do not leave their place in the centre of the very small circle. As the most simple Pirouette could be viewed the turning on the hind-legs while standing, but the real meaning is a swift turning in few jumps/beats of the forehand, for example as throwing around above its hind-feet: close to the ground  on a circle from the diameter (not radius!) of the horse’s length (which I call a “Terre-a-Terre-Pirouette”), or as the real Pirouette, far more elevated, where the outer hind-foot steps over and around the inner one. Both types can be executed as “Demi-Pirouettes” on a half circle with two or three beats, or the “full Pirouette” in four or five beats.

The modern term “Canter-Pirouette” was not used before Gueriniére, as for a Pirouette the hind feet would have to stay on one spot, and a canter on a spot is impossible.

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.

The rider's hands do not form rigid, tight fists: rather these are somewhat opened and completely relaxed, the rein-fist even more open than the switch-fist, as by the curb only a tiny force is needed. Furthermore with this bridling the velocity of he horse wiill be reduced by collecting it through elevating the rein-hand, which leads to a tightening of the curb-chain and thus to the lifting of the horse's head, and not by pulling the reins backwards as with Cavecon or snaffle-bit.

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 hand, which is not holding the reins into his hip, 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 variations is achieved than in the holding downwards. This means that the switch then leaves the fist at the thumb end and sits in the middle of the palm or on the base phalanx of the little finger.

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 to 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 of the 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. 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 easyily, the switch should have very little 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.) (greek)

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

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

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 (engl.)

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

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

1623 "La Maneige Royale", Pluvinel (posthumously) (fr.)

1625 "L'instruction du Roy....", Pluvinel (posthumously) (fr.)

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

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

1667 "A New Method...", William Cavendish/Newcastle (engl.) 

1675 "Wolberrittener Cavallier", Simon Georg Winter / Adlersflügel (ger.)

1677 "Methode nouvelle ", Jaques Solleysel, heavily redacted translation of the engl. Newcastle from1657; Paris, (fr.)

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

1700 "Neu eröffnete Reitbahn", german translation of Solleysel's,  1677, Nürnberg (ger.)

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

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

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

1747 "Dictionnaire des Termes du manége Moderne", Eisenberg (fr.)

1748 "Wohleingerichtete Reitschule...", Eisenberg, german translation of the manège moderne; Zürich (ger.)

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

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

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

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

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

1791 "Die Reitkunst", Daniel Knöll's Gueriniere translation , Marburg, (ger.)