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
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
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