XENOPHON: THE FATHER OF CLASSICAL EQUITATION
Xenophon (430-ca. 335 BCE), a Greek, wrote the first fully preserved manual on the riding horse, “The Art of Horsemanship.” Xenophon was a horseman for his entire life, first as a cavalryman and then as a country gentleman on an estate given to him by the King of Sparta. He differs from other ancient writers on the horse in that he urges his reader to know the horse’s “psyche,” its mentality. He knew that an animal which had confidence in the understanding and good will of its rider would more effectively respond to the commands of the rider. Xenophon encouraged a mutual respect between man and horse.
Excerpts From Xenophon’s “The Art of Horsemanship”
Care of the Horse
“When one has bought a horse that he really admires, and has taken him home, it is a good thing to have his stall in such a part of the establishment that his master shall very often have an eye on the animal…the man who neglects this matter is neglecting himself for it is plain that in moments of danger the master gives his own life into the keeping of his horse. A secure stable is a good thing, not only to prevent the stealing of grain, but also because you can easily tell when the horse refuses his feed. Observing this, you may know either that there is too much blood in him, or that he has been overworked and wants rest, or that barley surfeit or some other disease is coming on.
The same care which is given to the horse’s food and exercise, to make his body grow strong, should also be devoted to keeping his feet in condition.
Even naturally sound hoofs get spoiled in stalls with moist, smooth floors. The floors should be sloping to avoid moisture, and to prevent smoothness,
stones should be sunk close to one another, each about the size of the hoofs. The mere standing on such floors strengthens the feet."
Handling the Horse
“When a horse is to be led, I certainly do not approve of leading him behind you. Then again I object to teaching the horse to go on ahead with a long leading rein. But a horse that is accustomed to be led by the side can do the least mischief to other horses and to men, and would be most convenient and ready for the rider, especially if he would ever have to mount in a hurry. In order to put the bridle on properly, the groom should first come up on the near side of the horse; then, throwing the reins over the head and letting them drop on the withers, he should take the head piece in his right hand and offer the bit with his left.
Let your groom be well instructed in the following points: first, never lead the horse by one rein, for this makes one side of the mouth harder than the other; secondly, what is the proper distance of the bit from the corners of the mouth; if too close, it makes the mouth callous, so that is has no delicacy of feeling; but if the bit hangs too low down in the mouth, the horse can take it in his teeth and so refuse to mind it. ”
Understanding the Horse
“The one great precept and practice in using a horse is this – never deal with him when you are in a fit of passion. When your horse shies at an object and is unwilling to go up to it, he should be shown that there is nothing fearful in it, least of all to a courageous horse like him; but if this fails, touch the object yourself that seems so dreadful to him, and lead him up to it with gentleness. Compulsion and blows inspire only the more fear; and when horses are at all hurt at such times, they think what they shied at is the cause of the hurt.”
For further treatises on horses from Xenophon, visit MIT’s “Classics” site.