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

But if you teach the horse to go with a slack bridle, to hold his neck up and to arch it towards the head, you will cause the horse to do the very things in which he himself delights and takes the greatest pleasure.

A proof that he delights in them is that whenever he himself chooses to show off before horses, and especially before mares, he raises his neck highest and arches his head most, looking fierce; he lifts his legs freely off the ground and tosses his tail up.

Whenever, therefore, you induce him to carry himself in the attitudes he naturally assumes when he is most anxious to display his beauty, you make him look as though he took pleasure in being ridden, and give him a noble, fierce, and attractive appearance. How we think that these effects may be produced we will now try to explain.

To begin with, you should possess two bits at least.[*](See Introduction.) One of these should be smooth and have the discs of a good size; the other should have the discs heavy and low, and the teeth sharp, so that when the horse seizes it he may drop it because he objects to its roughness, and when he is bitted with the smooth one instead, may welcome its smoothness and may do on the smooth bit what he has been trained to do with the aid of the rough one.

In case, however, he takes no account of it because of its smoothness, and keeps bearing against it, we put large discs on the smooth bit to stop this, so that they may force him to open his mouth and drop the bit. It is possible also to make the rough bit adaptable by wrapping[*](So as to mitigate the roughness of the teeth. This was sometimes done by covering the teeth with wax (Pollux. 1.207).) it up and tightening the reins.[*](See c. ix, § 9.)

But whatever be the pattern of the bits, they must all be flexible. For wherever a horse seizes a stiff one, he holds the whole of it against his jaws, just as you lift the whole of a spit wherever you take hold of it.

But the other kind of bit acts like a chain: for only the part that you hold remains unbent, while the rest of it hangs loose. As the horse continually tries to seize the part that eludes him in his mouth, he lets the bit drop from his jaws. This is why little rings[*](Two sets, one hanging to each of the two links that form the centre joint of the two axles of which the flexible bit consisted. They are found in both the Berlin bits.) are hung in the middle on the axles, in order that the horse may feel after them with his tongue and teeth and not think of taking the bit up against the jaws.

In case the meaning of the terms flexible and stiff as applied to a bit is not known, we will explain this too. Flexible means that the axles have broad and smooth links so that they bend easily; and if everything that goes round the axles[*](Meaning (1) the toothed cylinders, (2) the pendants to which the reins were attached, (3) the curved or S-shaped branches with eyes to which the bridle was fastened. It is curious that we do not know the Greek terms for (2) and (3). Let all the parts be loose is what X. means.) has large openings, and does not fit tight, it is more flexible.

Stiff, on the other hand, means that the pieces of the bit do not run over the axles and work in combination easily.

Whatever the pattern may be, the same method of using it must be carried out in all the points that follow, assuming that you want your horse to have just the appearance I have described.

The mouth must neither be pulled so hard that he holds his nose in the air, nor so gently that he takes no notice. As soon as he raises his neck when you pull, give him the bit at once. Invariably, in fact, as we cannot too often repeat, you must humour you horse whenever he responds to your wishes.

And when you notice that high carriage of his neck and lightness of hand give him pleasure, you should not deal hardly with him as though you were forcing him to work, but coax him as when you want to stop[*](A has ἱππάσασφαι to ride, for παύσασφαι.); for thus he will break into a fast pace with most confidence.

There is plain proof that a horse takes pleasure in going fast: for when he breaks loose a horse never goes at a walking pace, but always runs. He instinctively takes pleasure in this, provided he is not compelled to run too far for his strength. Nothing in excess is ever pleasing either to horse or man.

When your horse has progressed so far as to bear himself proudly when ridden, he has, of course, already been accustomed in the early exercises to break into a quicker pace after turning.[*](7.17.) Now if after he has learnt this you pull him up with the bit and at the same time give him one of the signs to go forward, then being held back by the bit and yet roused by the signal to go forward, he throws his chest out and lifts his legs from the ground impatiently, but not with a supple motion; for when horses feel uncomfortable, the action of their legs is not at all supple.

But if, when he is thus excited, you give him the bit, then, mistaking the looseness of the bit for a deliverance from restraint, he bounds forward for very joy with a proud bearing and supple legs, exultant, imitating exactly in every way the graces that he displays before horses.