On the Art of Horsemanship


Xenophon, creator; Scripta Minora; Marchant, E. C. (Edgar Cardew), 1864-1960, editor, translator; Bowersock, G. W, (Glen Warren), 1936-, editor, translator

A fairly large crest and fairly small ears give the more characteristic shape to a horse’s head.

High withers offer the rider a safer seat and a stronger grip on the shoulders.

The double back[*](That was before the days of saddles, and horsemen had a tender interest in the double back—the characteristic back of dappled horses.—Pocock, Horses, p. 118. Duplex agitur per lumbos spina, says Virgil Georg. 3.87.) is both softer to sit on than the single and more pleasing to the eye.

The deeper the flanks and the more swelling toward the belly, the firmer is the seat and the stronger, and as a rule, the better feeder is the horse.

The broader and shorter the loins, the more easily the horse lifts his fore quarters and the more easily he brings up his hind quarters. And, apart from that, the belly looks smallest so, and if it is big it disfigures the horse to some extent, and also makes him to some extent both weaker and clumsier.

The haunches must be broad and fleshy, that they may be in right proportion to the flanks and chest, and if they are firm all over, they will be lighter for running and will make the horse speedier.

If the gap that separates the hams under the tail is broad,[*](He must not be cat-hammed (Berenger), which means that the hocks will be turned inwards. Such horses are often good trotters (Blane), but the Greek cavalry rider did not require that.) he will also extend his hind legs well apart under his belly; and by doing that he will be more fiery and stronger when he throws himself on his haunches and when he is ridden, and will make the best of himself in all ways. One can infer this from the action of a man: for when he wants to lift anything from the ground, a man invariably tries to lift it with his legs apart rather than close together.

A horse’s stones should not be big: but it is impossible to observe this in a colt.

As for the parts below, the hocks, shin bones, fetlocks and hoofs, what we have said about the corresponding parts in the forelegs applies to these also.

I want also to explain how one is least likely to be disappointed in the matter of size. The colt that is longest in the shanks at the time he is foaled makes the biggest horse.[*](For his stature this is an infallible rule that the shinne bone...never increaseth, no not from the first foaling...insomuch that if those bones be long and large, we are ever assured that the Foale will prove a tall and large Horse. G. Markham, Cavalerice, 1617.) For in all quadrupeds the shanks increase but little in size as time goes on, whereas the rest of the body grows to them, so as to be in the right proportion.

He who applies these tests to a colt’s shape is sure, in my opinion, to get a beast with good feet, strong, muscular, of the right look and the right size. If some change as they grow, still we may confidently rely on these tests, for it is far commoner for an ugly colt to make a useful horse than for a colt like this to turn out ugly.

We do not think it necessary to give directions[*](Or, perhaps, to give many directions. Something is lost in the MSS., in which the μὴ (added by Courier) does not appear.) for breaking a colt. For in our states the cavalry are recruited from those who have ample means and take a considerable part in the government. And it is far better for a young man to get himself into condition and when he understands the art of horsemanship to practise riding than to be a horse-breaker; and an older man had far better devote himself to his estate and his friends and affairs of state and of war than spend his time in horse-breaking.

So he who shares my opinion about horse-breaking will, of course, send his colt out. Still he should put in writing what the horse is to know when he is returned, just as when he apprentices his son to a profession. For these articles will serve as notes to remind the horse-breaker of what he must attend to if he is to get his money.

Still, care must be taken that the colt is gentle, tractable, and fond of man when he is sent to the horse-breaker. That sort of business is generally done at home through the groom, if he knows how to contrive that hunger and thirst and horseflies are associated by the colt with solitude, while eating and drinking and delivery from irritation come through man’s agency. For in these circumstances a foal is bound not only to like men, but to hanker after them.

One should also handle those parts in which the horse likes most to be cherished, that is to say the hairiest parts and those where the horse has least power of helping himself, if anything worries him.

Let the groom be under orders also to lead him through crowds, and accustom him to all sorts of sights and all sorts of noises. If the colt shies at any of them, he must teach him, by quieting him and without impatience, that there is nothing to be afraid of.

I think that the directions I have given on the subject of horse-breaking are sufficient for the private person.