THIS HORSEMANSHIP


DIDEROT 1769

     THIS HORSEMANSHIP .....
(and we obviously mean here: this horse/wo/manship!)


...is the "descendant" of what was once considered the ultimate and purest form of all riding. "Manège riding" was seen as both the foundation, the proto-type of all riding, and as its pinnacle, its highest expression. All other riding was taken to be but a lower-level form, a but fragmentary representation of this "essence" and therefore reducible to it. This idea was the outcome of a complex historical process of trying to understand how to transform a horse into a riding horse. The horsemanship we speak about here carries on the tradition (long in developing!) for which education is the determining element in equestrian undertakings.


recognizes, on the basis of evidence, that for all minimally demanding forms of riding the horse must be taught, but that only by teaching him in a certain manner will he be, and remain, healthy in mind and body and therefore safe, useable, and comfortable. What one can make the horse do and satisfy these expectations is therefore  limited, and one must restrict oneself accordingly in what and how one teaches the horse. Proper education of the horse presupposes proper education of the rider, restraint with depth, i.e. knowledge and understanding.



     THIS HORSEMANSHIP .....
(and we obviously mean here: this horse/wo/manship!)


… makes it its objective, on the other hand, that that which is taught the horse be carried to the highest possible level of quality. This focus on the quality of the horse's behavior gives rise to a specific concept of Mastery, of competence which must be acquired through studious work and transcends skill and craft. This horsemanship thus aims for more than "useful" results achieved by routine know-how, it is successful not by the extravagance (exaggeratedness, complicatedness) but by the purity and solidity of the behaviour of the educated horse, i.e. by its perfection.


...is the application of these fundamental ideas, which are generalizable for all forms of riding, to a particular set of equestrian objectives and means for obtaining them. Only relatively recently (by the early 19th century, approximately) did it become obvious that different forms of riding demand different equilibria (of horse and rider) and that equestrian methods have to vary accordingly. In a modern perspective, "School riding" is not "general riding carried to its highest form" but one among several distinct versions of horsemanship, a particular focus demanding specific methods. It is a specialization. It must be understood in this its particularity because only then can it be practiced in the proper manner and only then does it become possible to attain the higher difficulties. Practiced as a Liberal Art, combining the demanding dexterity of the crafts/wo/man with the acuity of the informed intellectual and the sensitivity of emotional maturity, such riding merits to be called - in the most honourable traditional sense of "deep searching" - Academic Riding.




     THIS HORSEMANSHIP .....
(and we obviously mean here: this horse/wo/manship!)



...is the special undertaking to reconstitute the horse's pure natural gaits and, within these confines, to broaden the animal's movement capacities under the rider to the widest possible range. The ideal "palette" of behavior patterns this horsemanship searches to develop can be described as omni-directional mobility and the appropriate and necessary equilibrium for this purpose is collection.

...therefore concentrates on specific elements which are considered useful in, and are shared by, certain other equestrian specializations, for some forms of equestrianism they are of little value, and for others they are deemed counterproductive. But, as I shall try to elucidate, while as a specialization this riding has its own demands, its principles, if truly followed, are the generalizable canons of all work with the horse that is appropriate for the animal and dignified for the human being.

… therefore aims at making the horse capable of doing certain things in a certain manner. The insistence on purity and perfection of movement means that this horsemanship aspires to show the Horse's essence when presenting a horse, to cultivate the exemplary in the particular. To this purpose, this form of horsework is an undertaking of stylization. Properly undertaken, this civilizing work leads to a portrayal of the "heart" of the horse's nature, to his capacity to perform complexity as if it were simplicity, and to him being able to do the difficult with the appearance of utter naturalness.

     THIS HORSEMANSHIP .....
(and we obviously mean here: this horse/wo/manship!)

…confronts a very particular problematic: To make these specific objectives one's focus while respecting the above-mentioned fundamentals is complicated by the fact that supreme mobility in high collection is, in the "natural" horse, to a large extent associated with excitement, with a momentarily unsettled state induced by disturbance. To be able to elicit these behaviors from the horse by gentle, invisible indications, to make him exhibit such movements in calmness and comfortably and to carry out the rider's demands collaboratively, continuously, and joyfully, requires that the horse while finding back to his nature be transformed in his nature without being deformed


… is thus profoundly paradoxical and complex. The reformulation of nature it aims for must leave no traces of the "unnatural" process of achieving it. Only by slowly building physical strength combined with flexibility will it lead to gracefulness without vulgar obvious muscularity, to a show of airiness and lightness by a heavy animal carrying a load. Only by progressively refined collaboration and "dialogue" will it result in a performance according to the rider's demands, yet given as if by the horse's voluntary inclination, in habitual behavior yet without a hint of mindless mechanization. Compromises or mistakes in the educational process will always taint the outcome.

     THIS HORSEMANSHIP .....
(and we obviously mean here: this horse/wo/manship!)

…obtains this specialized stylization neither by indoctrinating the horse nor by extracting behavior from him abusively. It shapes the horse so that he be capable of understanding the rider's request and of carrying it out. In the preparatory stages, this calls upon the skill to make the horse receptive and teachable, so that one can undertake exercises which one chooses and interweaves knowledgeably and thereby come to train the horse's body. When this introductory phase has progressed and matured sufficiently, it is time to widen the scope and variety of behaviors and movements and to increase the difficulty of fluid transitions between them. This requires increased complexity in the interaction between rider and horse. Finally, the task (a never-ending task) lies in giving the horse polished shape, to aim for refinement.


…proceeds toward the horse's transformation by exercising his mind and body. In all phases, the exercises are the means to obtaining this objective, never are they objectives themselves. Only a rider who understands this will have the necessary "detachment" from the exercises (while cultivating their perfection) and will therefore transcend making the horse do things, i.e s/he will attain a form of riding in which one lets the horse do that which is requested because the horse has been taught to understand (not simply to obey).

     THIS HORSEMANSHIP .....
(and we obviously mean here: this horse/wo/manship!)

...understands itself as an undertaking of deep-going and respectful modification of nature in which the aesthetic component is always present. Progress in schooling is always borne out in the horse's brilliance, brio, and beauty becoming heightened. Initially limited by the horse's natural gifts and strained by the unnatural imposition of the rider, the blooming of these qualities is the concrete testimony of correct work. Over time and with the increasing competence of horse and rider, the aesthetic element must become more and more central, both as a focus as well as a practical result. Attaining refined and beautiful stylized mobility in collection can be considered an artful result.


...derives its guiding values from the principles of the following traditions of horsemanship: from classical Greek horsemanship, the ideal of humane treatment and of aesthetic intention; from Berber/Moorish/Muslim Iberia (7th to 15th century), the ideal of the emotionality of the brilliance and lightness of the omnidirectionally mobile horse; from Celtic/Frankish mythology, the ideal of the learning horse as an image of growth (from untamed brutishness to trained airiness) and thus, for the human being doing horsework, the concept of its psychological rôle as part of the process of self-actualization and maturation; from Italian/French Renaissance (to 16th century), the ideals of grandeur, grace, and of the "theatrical" applied to riding as creativity, and from the Baroque, the idea of complexity as a mark of quality; from European Enlightenment (18th century), the ideals of logic and of rationally systematic method as the foundation for practical horsemanship; from the mechanistic and scientific frameworks of the 19th and 20th centuries, the model of biodynamics and of behaviour modification, and the consequent techniques; and from the ongoing sociocultural "discussion" of the last 150 years (i.e. from the differing perspectives on horsemanship in the cavalry, in the "entertainment industry", in professional vs. amateur sports, and in leisure), the various ideas on competing, on "showing", and on competence.

     THIS HORSEMANSHIP .....
(and we obviously mean here: this horse/wo/manship!)

...in its modern form is the confluence of all these ideals, incorporates the heritage of all these "ancestors". In this sense, this horsemanship is not merely one specific way of doing things practically or a particular manner of theoretical thinking concerning riding: Behind these "surface" appearances, this specialization is a full-fledged value system, a philosophy, an aesthetic, a logic, and an ethics of horsemanship. How these historically inherited elements are combined, how important any one of them is in practice, may vary. But any manner of riding which gives no consideration at all to one of these elements or which favours a practice contrary to any of these values, does not belong to the horsemanship we speak about here.


… counts riders among its practitioners, on the other hand, whose style of riding may not, by common standards, appear to be close to "school/academic/dressage/classical riding" but whose horsework is in strict adherence to the values of these traditions. In  short: There are riders who (knowingly or not) make a sham of these traditions while presenting semblances of them, while there are others who (recognized or not) truly cultivate them and extend their essence to modern-day equestrian styles and disciplines. This is the reason why neither looking at the appearances and forms of somebody's manner of riding nor listening to the wordy self-justifications assures, unless one is a very astute critical observer, that one can "see" how close to this horsemanship's value system somebody's practice truly is.

     THIS HORSEMANSHIP .....
(and we obviously mean here: this horse/wo/manship!)

... takes its traditions not to be abstract desiderata to which one pays lip service but which one suspends in one's actual ways of doing, rather it holds them to be precepts for practice. This horsemanship therefore requires a harmonious balance between theoretical comprehension acquired through study and concrete practical know-how resulting from experience, on the one hand, and an unwavering adherence to practice (and to be able to practice) in concordance with theory, on the other. Because reliance on sheer hands-on competence or on highflying theoretical grasp alone, or an undue overestimation of the one over the other, is insufficient the fundamental methodology of this horsemanship is not to faithfully follow a "system" but to search critically.


...therefore considers it to be unnecessary, at best, and presumptious to "reinvent the wheel" or, worse, to ignore the experience, knowledge, and insights of our predecessors and to "innovate", both in the realms of practice and of theory. It humbly respects the authority of accumulated experience and insight which undergirds the teaching of the Masters. Central to their wisdom is the conviction that horsework which uses "any" means which justify the ends, simple empiricism, is most always, over the long or the short, just as disastrous for horse and rider as the application of a dogmatically set "system". Properly understood, the principles of this horsemanship are statements on what one must not do and the rider's practical application consists in discovering which of the things s/he "does" can be left undone.

     THIS HORSEMANSHIP .....
(and we obviously mean here: this horse/wo/manship!)

…adheres to these conceptual values and practical standards because this way it serves the horse and therefore the rider's purpose most effectively. Through the contribution by its predecessors, this horsemanship has perspective and depth in the attempt to avoid mistakes born of circumstantial utilitarianism or of narrow-minded scholasticism. Its motivations (why we do it) and its objectives (wherefore we do it) are therefore enriched through reference to, and reverence for, past riders' ways and experiences of attaining beauty, they transcend the narrow, limited perspective of our own momentary interests. Motivations and objectives are "first" and "ultimate" values, respectively, and therefore this horsemanship is principled.


…consequently defines the "correct ways of doing" as those practical means which connect these two sets of values, which effectively link motivations with objectives. Method and technique must bear out the value principles enshrined in motivations and objectives - this is what the myriad hours of practical horsework and critical assessement by past masters teach. Were we not to gratefully accept these lessons, we could hardly expect to discover this in our own limited riding life-time, our practical know-how would never measure up to the heartfelt goodness of our intentions. This horsemanship has a value perspective on the question of the acquisition of competence.

     THIS HORSEMANSHIP .....
(and we obviously mean here: this horse/wo/manship!)

…is principled in the abstract and in the practical. It is an ethics for the technique of successfully producing of an aesthetic. Correct technical doing will be right and good transformatory interaction with the horse because it will concretely lead to a result of beauty. This horsemanship is thus wise in its choice of means to attain an emotionally engaging objective and it is rational in a manner which has taken centuries to develop to its present modern form.


...is as paradoxical in what it attempts to achieve with the horse - to form and transform without deforming - as it is in what it demands of the rider: The "balancing act" of emotionality and rationality, the search for their integration, is a transformatory process for the rider. In our epoch of predominantly leisure, amateur, or sport riding, this exigency has come to be seen in a new light. The notorious call to be a "feeling and thinking" rider (i.e. to cultivate caring and carefulness, finesse of sensation, and methodical mindfulness) is undeniably a necessary precondition for refined horsework, but it is not a sufficient condition for the practice of the specific horsemanship we speak about here. This horsemanship requires adherence to fundamentals which must be respected and is, in this sense, a replicating practice; yet, by virtue of its self-critical methodology, it is also a fundamentally creative undertaking and therefore demands flexible inventiveness.

     THIS HORSEMANSHIP .....
(and we obviously mean here: this horse/wo/manship!)

…bears concrete fruit in the degree of successful transformation of the horse as a manifestation of the transformation of the rider. The extent to which the rider is rigorous without rigidity, inventive without taking license, emotional without false sentimentality, and detached without being indifferent, will determine how close to the ideal of perfection the work can be advanced. The competence and mastery of method must be carried to such a degree of "independent effectiveness" that the personal touch of the rider can become manifest in the refinement of the horse's behavior.


…is thus an endeavor which has dimensions comparable to those of the challenge of the plastic arts and crafts. Ideally, shaping the horse aesthetically  leads to expressiveness and to an interpretation of the horse's true nature, to an "artifice" which produces an impression and experience of "noble simplicity" and "serene grandeur". These words of Winckelmann's seminal 1755 definition (originally applied to Greek sculpture) point to the real meaning of the notion of classical horsemanship. Expressionless or stereotypically "regulated" riding, however "complicated", is as un-classical as that which is "impressive" by its vulgarity and exaggeratedness.

     THIS HORSEMANSHIP .....
(and we obviously mean here: this horse/wo/manship!)

...is the application of those principles and methods which have stood up to the test of time and of varying circumstance (i.e. to the competition of dogmas, of schools of thought, of changing fashions, predilections, and needs). They are the embodiment of the confirmation that the classical objectives can only ever be met when work with the horse is formative, educational, body-and-mind horse-appropriate. This horsemanship requires flexibility, but permits no infringement on these canons.

... gauges horse-appropriateness by the exacting standards of whether the work makes the horse healthier, longer living, brighter and more beautiful despite his "unnatural" conditions of life and however "unnatural" the presence of the rider or the demands of the work may be. This standard applies at every moment and over any time span, i.e. it must never be eschewed. The rider's immediate, short-sighted utilitarian interests are therefore, in this horsemanship, not valid criteria and promises of false, facile gratification are but distractions, at best, if not guarantees of failure. Only when the work with the horse is horse-appropriate can it embellish the horse in its natural characteristics, i.e. only then can this horsemanship's objective be reached.

     THIS HORSEMANSHIP .....
(and we obviously mean here: this horse/wo/manship!)

...has existed for millennia as an ideal, but as a practical form much time was necessary to realize that whenever any transgression of the horse's nature finds its way into horsework, ultimately such practices (whatever the momentary "truths", successes, and adulation) always show themselves to be counterproductive. In epochs or cultures or circumstances marked by coarseness, brutality, false morality, or unbridled utilitarianism, the crude, the frivolous, the charlatans, the unprincipled, the haphazard speak loudly about what constitutes correct practice. This horsemanship therefore often has found itself, and finds itself again these days, relegated to marginality. Where horse-appropriateness is not respected, the horse's "voice" is drowned.

…is therefore, if present, publicly visible, accepted, and a factor of cultural import, a symptomatic indicator of the degree of civilizedness, individually and collectively. As horses deformed by denaturing horsework bespeak barbarity, so also the degree of pervasiveness of examples of horses and riding in the vein of the horsemanship we speak about here, of truly classical horsemanship, gives proof of the refinement of a time and culture. Our "version" of this horsemanship today can only hope to act as yet another link in the historical chain, provided we learn to the fullest the principles it has taken so long to generalize and abstract, provided we practice according to these canons, and provided we further the understanding of horse-appropriateness in the light of our epoch's novel insights yet always in respectful acceptance of the time-honored methods.

     THIS HORSEMANSHIP .....
(and we obviously mean here: this horse/wo/manship!)


...is calm, because before the backdrop of history it is unhurried; is silently humble, because it seeks but to make the horse "speak"; is patient, because progress in refinement presupposes a painstaking acquisition of the mastery of method and the penetration of principles and values; is self-critically aware because all "feeling" (both sensation and emotion) as a basis for interacting with the horse can be mistaken or illusional and must therefore be taken with a grain of salt; is realistic and rational, because only the actual condition of the horse (and not the laudable good intentions of the rider) tells the truth; and all horsemanship in this vein is proud (not vain!), because whatever point of progress it reaches through proper practice, it always achieves a (though maybe modest) exemplary reconstitution of the horse's nature. And that makes this horsemanship, despite it often being a "rocky road", joyful


This horsemanship - classical because "simple, noble, serene, and of grandeur"- is rare in our days and time. The "vanity fair" of modern equestrianism offers surrogate alternatives, elevates sham imitations to the status of supposed ideals and models. The practitioners of this horsemanship, its students and teachers, are few. Yet, many more riders would give their horsework meaning by practicing it. And all horses would be better off.


DIDEROT 1769


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