Federico Caprilli (1868-1907) Thoughts on training a Cavalry Horse - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 54 Old 09-23-2017, 01:45 PM Thread Starter
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Federico Caprilli (1868-1907) Thoughts on training a Cavalry Horse

I came across the text of VS Littauer's "The Development of Modern Riding" online. In it, he quotes Capt Federico Caprilli's writings on training field horses for the Italian cavalry. This was written in 1901. The full text of what Caprilli wrote is available in a copyrighted website here:

Federico Caprilli, Per L'Equitazione Di Campagna - On Cross Country Riding

[ ] indicate VS Littauer is the author. The rest are quotes from Caprilli. I thought folks might enjoy this historical perspective:

-----------------------------------------------

The military horse must be essentially accustomed to the field, since it is here that the cavalry must perform in war, uneven and varying terrain should be as familiar to the rider as it is to the horse. . . .

I call a field horse a horse that is of good disposition, calm and confident in the rider, fast and strong, accustomed to galloping for long periods over any kind of terrain, calm and alert in difficulty. . . .

Long years of practice and of continual observation have convinced me that the horse acquires these qualities without effort provided that the rider subjects him to rational and uninterrupted training, throughout which he tries to make his own actions the least disturbing that he can to the horse, and tries not to impede him m the natural development of his aptitudes and energies. ... By this I do not mean to say that one should let the horse do as he pleases; one should, instead, if necessary persuade him with firmness and energy to do the rider's will, while leaving him full liberty to avail himself of and to use as best it suits him his balance and his strength. From this fundamental and unchanging principle stem all the practical rules of equitation with which I shall deal. . . .

. . . the first rule of good riding is that of reducing, simplifying and sometimes, if possible, even eliminating the action of the rider. If the hands are used to turn and check a horse, and the legs to make him move forward and to give him resolution and decisiveness this is enough . . .

If natural work is required of a horse [field work] and not artificial [manege work] he will be better able to make use of his impulses, instincts and his natural balance . . .

. . . the horse who has rational exercise, during which he is allowed to balance himself as he pleases, not being punished with needless suffering, develops in the most efficient fashion, with great advantage to his way of carrying himself, and becomes docile and submissive to the wishes of the rider.

... in order to accustom horses to the field without ruining them and making them bad-tempered, one must always profit by the natural instincts of the animal substantiating his movements and way of going, and one must give him the least possible discomfort in the mouth, loins and ribs. One must abolish the forced position of balance, and any action of the horse's legs beyond that which is essential to move him forward.

In consequence, we shall have no more riders who ruin horses by trying to undertake work that they are not fit to ask of a horse, and that, even if well done and properly asked, not only is of no advantage but is actually harmful to the true work the horse should perform.

[In his treatment of jumping Caprilli was the first to appreciate
the horse's natural physical efforts and the importance of
not interfering with them. He also realized that a horse who
is not apprehensive of his rider over the jump will be in a
much better frame of mind for doing the job. All in all, in the
following few paragraphs Caprilli said more pertinent things
about jumping than had all the horsemen of the past put
together.]

The jump ... is the one action of a horse in which he changes his balance and his attitude most markedly, and many times in the space of a few seconds. One should therefore require of the rider a certain tact and firmness in the saddle in order to second the horse and not disturb him with the hands and weight of the body.

It is necessary that a horse approaching the obstacle should learn not to fear the action of the rider and that he should be persuaded that the rider will always give him the freedom to jump and will not interfere or hurt him to no purpose. Under contrary circumstances the horse, instead of paying attention to doing his work well, will concentrate on avoiding pain.

In order that the horse may acquire a habit of confidence in his rider and not fear his actions, it is preferable to exercise the horse mounted rather than on a lunge, that is if one is sure of riding properly.

. . . the rider will try above all to develop the eye; by eye I mean the ability of the horse to choose with precision and assurance the moment of the take-off. This, to me, is the most important quality one can require of a jumper and a quality partly natural and partly acquired. The horse acquires it, indeed, with long practice over obstacles gradually raised, but never too high, in which the rider leaves him free and completely on his own, approaching the obstacle at a moderate pace...

To assist the horse, as some riders would like to do, on the jump is a very difficult thing to do at the proper time, and even if it is properly timed, it still produces, to my way of thinking, a bad result. It may indeed happen that the horse, in fear of this help, will rush the last stride and seriously endanger the performance. The good jumper does not want help at the jump, because he already knows, looking at the obstacle, how much strength he will need to negotiate it without the exertion of any superfluous pressure: mediocre and inexperienced jumpers can be improved by means of rational and continued practice, and not by the use of help or other forcible methods. Sometimes, in exceptional cases, help may be useful during the last two or three seconds of the gallop and at the moment when the horse is about to take off, if he shows signs of holding back his strength by a moment of hesitation. However, one must always be very careful and use the aids only in an opportune manner."

[In order to clarify the order of historical events, I shall quote
a few paragraphs in which Caprilli criticizes the Italian army
method of the period preceding his reform...]

I readily admit that in recent times a strong current in a new direction is to be noticed in our army, but the means used to implement it remain insufficient and conflicting.

I marvel that with this goal understood and admitted, i.e., that field riding should be the ultimate aim of the cavalry, they continue to want to teach a soldier a type of equitation whose principles are diametrically opposed to those of that which must be called the school of field riding itself, and while they consider the latter a necessary corollary, they still consider it no more than a necessary corollary to manege equitation.

It seems to me that our rules do not present with sufficient clarity the ideas and principles that I have just pointed out; wishing to conserve too many precepts of a refined and by now antiquated equitation, they do not give enough of what, since it is more consistent with actual needs, I would call modern equitation. What follows is therefore an inevitable mixture of old and new, with a prevalence of the former over the latter.

Things cannot go on in this manner. In fact manege riding presents such difficulties and so many demands, such fine tact in practice that it is impossible that a soldier, considering the brevity of his enlistment and the variety of his other instruction, should succeed in learning its principles and applying them properly.

... a horse 'in hand' in the manege is not a horse 'in hand' in the field; instead he will often be out of hand precisely in those places where the soldier must be complete master of his horse.

[On the basis of the principles quoted above, Caprilli
constructed a complete method of riding that is, a method
consisting of three integral parts: schooling, controlling, and
sitting a horse...

The seat is really only a part of the method, which is dedicated
primarily to schooling and controlling the horse on the basis
of his natural balance and his natural way of going; the
Forward Seat merely unites the rider with a horse that moves
naturally. However, since the seat is a relatively mechanical
conception, it is easily understood in our mechanical age, while
the nature of the horse, both physical and psychological, is
much less obvious to anyone but a person who has lived with
horses.

Although Caprilli evidently taught the Forward Seat very
efficiently, he did not in 1901 describe it precisely. The fact
that he knew how to teach it is evident, for instance, from the
two following paragraphs that he wrote against the standard
exercise of manege teaching riding without stirrups.]

The field rider strengthens his position by practice in the open, because it is there that he learns how he can best regulate his balance for security during various movements and attitudes of the horse; he does not, as generally believed, strengthen it by long exercise without stirrups.

... Furthermore, the balance of a rider without stirrups is completely different from that which he must have with stirrups; in the end the rider must thoroughly learn the proper use of stirrups, so that he will not periodically bang the back of his horse and so that he can make himself light.

[Caprilli's notes touched upon all aspects of cross-country
riding and I say again that it is a pity that he never wrote later
in life, after he had had a chance to experiment with his
method on a large scale.]

From: Full text of "Horseman S Progress The Development Of Modern Riding"

https://archive.org/stream/horsemans...79mbp_djvu.txt

The entire book is also available from Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Development-M...+modern+riding

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post #2 of 54 Old 09-28-2017, 09:46 PM
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Fascinating. I love to read/hear of the old ways. The jumper part is interesting as well... I've taken an interest in show jumping before, but there are a couple of aspects I dislike. The 'counting strides' thing is very confusing. Seems to me I should be able to train my horse to think her way to a jump on her own rather than do it for her as if she was a motorized vehicle. I also do not like how high even the lowest level jumps are in show jumping. Hunter jumper is lower, but then you are subject to a judge's opinion to win the class, rather than a clock.
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post #3 of 54 Old 09-28-2017, 10:56 PM Thread Starter
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This quote isn't from Littauer, @horseluvr2524 . Some years ago, reading Common Sense Horsemanship, it occurred to me that Littauer taught jumping as a means of teaching riding, instead of teaching riding as a means of jumping. This quote from Caprilli sets it out:

Quote:
After a few days when the cavalryman has been riding the horse, you will make him work over a small, moveable barrier that is gradually increased up to fifty or sixty centimeters.

This exercise is the only one that made progress (without which no one else has remotely found a replacement), to produce deliberate riders and teach them instinctively to take natural balance even when the horse makes unexpected moves, and at the same time convincing them not to balance off the horse's mouth.
They didn't jump to show how high or how far they could jump. They taught jumping to teach a secure seat. Not a DEEP seat, but still a secure one.

Not surprisingly, Caprilli and Littauer both taught jumping as something the horse did while the rider stayed out of the way. Littauer admitted counting strides, etc helps in competitive showjumping, but that was because he felt competitive showjumping had turned to artificial means to solve artificial problems.

I really wish I had been wearing my movie camera today when Trooper & Cowboy, our Steady Eddies, took off. Neither my wife nor my DIL felt they were in any way close to falling off. It could be the climbing up and down, or the twisting between cactus, but they both felt fine. To the point of looking back and thinking it was "fun"!

Neither uses a Forward Seat. I was, because that is what I learned and really what I love. Trotting in the wash today, stirrups just short enough that my rump didn't touch the saddle, feeling Bandit rolling along beneath me freely, back engaged but not restricted - that felt heavenly to me. And when I needed to engage Bandit strongly to keep him from following the others in a gallop away from the broken trampoline, I felt solid. He was shifting around, turning, moving sideways, twisting, trying to figure out a way past the trampoline to join his buddies without actually going PAST the trampoline. The ground beneath us was uneven, with cactus at one side and rocks behind us. The last thing I needed was to interfere with his balance as we 'discussed' options.

I guess I view the Forward Seat in the old school way, as the cavalry approach to teaching a rider how to stay on while allowing his horse the maximum FREEDOM of movement. Not a "Jump Seat", but a "Field Seat" - and system for training and riding a horse. I also think that approach is one easy for a horse to understand, and respond to:

Quote:
...the horse who has rational exercise, during which he is allowed to balance himself as he pleases, not being punished with needless suffering, develops in the most efficient fashion, with great advantage to his way of carrying himself, and becomes docile and submissive to the wishes of the rider.
When I look at some of the western 'sports' such as reining and WP, I conclude Caprilli is a radical and as needed today as he was over 100 years ago. Including for those of us riding in tack like this:




Not sure what Littauer or Caprilli would say, but I sure wish I could discuss it with them over dinner!

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post #4 of 54 Old 09-29-2017, 01:54 AM
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I thought I had very good balance on a horse (able to ride out near anything) until I took up jumping. It showed me my seat still needs work! My last jump was this past summer, over a log in a field. It was my best jump ever, as both me and horse were super in tune and it felt so fluid and natural.

I'm looking forward to getting a few cavaletti X things built (not sure what they are called, but the cavaletti poles set on Xs so you can raise them a teeny bit) and getting back to riding. This nice weather is taunting me so much, since life has kinda come in and stopped me from riding the second it cooled down!

P.S. As much as I was looking forward to it, I will have to rescind my offer on meeting up sometime to ride this winter. Had some unexpected changes and I no longer have access to a trailer for grand adventures.
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post #5 of 54 Old 09-29-2017, 09:59 AM Thread Starter
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I'd like to start Bandit on "a few cavaletti X things". I doubt jumping anything significant is in our future, but I'd like to have some things I can work with him on in our little arena. He seems like the sort of horse who might enjoy jumping small jumps, although I don't think he is built for anything over 18-24 inches. He would need to learn it, though. Right now, he carefully STEPS over anything that height.

If I did, my goal would be like Caprilli's - using jumping to improve my balance and seat for field riding. And maybe see if Bandit liked it as a form of play.
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post #6 of 54 Old 09-29-2017, 10:24 AM
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Not sure exactly where you are going with this,in reference to reining, as one rides in a position where one stays balanced with a horse.
Where do you think you would be, sitting way forward, when a horse stops suddenly to turn a cow on the fence?
Try taking a cow down the fence, and that also creates a secure seat!
You ride a horse according to the job he is doing, staying in balance with that horse, staying out of his way, so he can do his job

my son, working cowhorse

Myself many moons ago, running pole bending

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post #7 of 54 Old 09-29-2017, 10:29 AM
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Yes, if I am out on a trail, and wish to give my horse and myself a break from long trotting and posting, making time, where there is no place to gallop, I will have a foreward position , standing in my stirrups. I will also adopt a forward position when my horse is climbing a steep hill
I am certainly not going to do so, riding a horse in a run down to a sliding stop!
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post #8 of 54 Old 09-29-2017, 10:36 AM
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you can see in this fence work , how the rider does at times adjust his upper body foreward,slightly, to help his horse, but at the same time, as we are talking of quick moves and change of direction, keeps a deep seat in the saddle

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post #9 of 54 Old 09-29-2017, 11:09 AM Thread Starter
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My point about reining was the idea that horses should be allowed to follow their own balance. When I see videos of reining now, I see horses who are over-controlled, using a false frame because that is what judges expect to see. When I look at WP, I see horses cantering like crippled crabs.

Caprilli's thought was NOT focused on 'leaning forward'. It was not focused either on ANY kind of arena work. It had no interest in showing - any kind of showing. His thought was focused on a good field horse, and how an inexperienced rider could quickly learn to ride a good field horse almost anywhere.
Quote:

Long years of practice and of continual observation have convinced me that the horse acquires these qualities without effort provided that the rider subjects him to rational and uninterrupted training, throughout which he tries to make his own actions the least disturbing that he can to the horse, and tries not to impede him in the natural development of his aptitudes and energies....while leaving him full liberty to avail himself of and to use as best it suits him his balance and his strength. From this fundamental and unchanging principle stem all the practical rules of equitation with which I shall deal. . . .

...the first rule of good riding is that of reducing, simplifying and sometimes, if possible, even eliminating the action of the rider. If the hands are used to turn and check a horse, and the legs to make him move forward and to give him resolution and decisiveness this is enough...

If natural work is required of a horse [field work] and not artificial [manege work] he will be better able to make use of his impulses, instincts and his natural balance.
Caprilli was interested in field horses. Not sure I see much point in a sliding stop with a field horse. So much of riding today seems focused on artificial ideas of balance and movement. "Good riding" has become defined as "controlling the horse" instead of training the horse how to handle things, then staying out of his way. As Littauer put it:

Quote:
The seat is really only a part of the method, which is dedicated primarily to schooling and controlling the horse on the basis of his natural balance and his natural way of going; the Forward Seat merely unites the rider with a horse that moves naturally.
I don't see much "natural movement" in arena sports any more. After all, if it is natural, then how can one stand out? To stand out, one needs movement that is either "supernatural" or "unnatural", depending on one's perspective. I fall in the second camp. When I watched the video's of Clinton Anderson training Titan, I kept thinking, "Is THIS what western riding has become?" The show world with horses strikes me as being as artificial as dog shows have become!

If someone WANTS an arena horse, then they obviously will need a different approach than Caprilli's. For me, I find Caprilli's approach both beautiful and attainable, and a much better approach for the average recreational rider than trying to imitate the professionals. And that is why I think Caprilli is both relevant to today, and why his thought is still radical.

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post #10 of 54 Old 09-29-2017, 01:21 PM
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You need to ride different from Caprilli, working cattle out in the open, doing any fast quick maneuver changes,esp a sudden stop and change of direction
You don't need to like either reining or western pl or any other discipline, but funny, those horses that are well broke, can ride out as well as any other horse.

I'm neither riding off to war, no doing cross country at speed. When I trail ride, even horses that know how to move collected, just move out naturally like any other horse, on a loose rein, and I know of no one that rides a performance horse out, and asks that horse to move collected, in frame.
I do know, if we come to a gate, it is my horse that gets to work it
No even going to comment on your western pleasure remark You don't like show horse competitions, I get that, but that does not give you the right to criticize anyone that wishes to do something with a hrose besides ride them out
It is also the show horse industry that fuels horse research, treatment advances, etc
I'm all for riding in balance with a horse, whether that be in an arena, or outside of it, I probably ride out with a way looser rein then you do, and I sure know how to stay in balance with a horse, riding on all kinds of terrain. No a recreational rider does not need to know how to get instance correct lead transitions from a standstill, flying changes, do not need to have a horse collected, so he can nail markers precisely, and I never suggested recreational riders need to take clinics from anyone that is geared towards any discipline
Nor is C. saying anything new, far as just riding out, not known by those that show and also ride out I dare say I ride with way less contact riding out, then Caprilli ever did , riding two handed
If you wish to limit yourself to old army masters, that is fine, but I like to think as riding changed, when horses became more of a recreational animal, versus one you rode into war, or just used to get from point a to point b, riding also evolved, in specific recreational pursuits with horses, and like it or not, competition with horses became a major field
There is nothing wrong with just riding out, using his techniques, but there is also nothing wrong with anyone being involved with any discipline, that requires equitation adjustment accordingly, or for anyone wanting some of both Worlds with horses, as long as that horse is happy in his job
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Last edited by Smilie; 09-29-2017 at 01:34 PM.
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