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

To sum up: the horse that is sound in his feet, gentle and fairly speedy, has the will and the strength to stand work, and, above all, is obedient, is the horse that will, as a matter of course, give least trouble and the greatest measure of safety to his rider in warfare. But those that want a lot of driving on account of their laziness, or a lot of coaxing and attention on account of their high spirit, make constant demands on the rider’s hands and rob him of confidence in moments of danger.

When a man has found a horse to his mind, bought him and taken him home, it is well to have the stable so situated with respect to the house that his master can see him very often; and it is a good plan to have the stall so contrived that it will be as difficult to steal the horse’s fodderout of the manger as the master’s victuals from the larder. He who neglects this seems to me to neglect himself; for it is plain that in danger the master entrusts his life to his horse.

But a well-secured stall is not only good for preventing theft of the fodder but also because one can see when the horse does not spill his food.[*](In healthy excitement. See J. K. Anderson, in J.H.S. 80.1-2.) And on noticing this one may be sure that either his body is overfull of blood and needs treatment or the horse is overworked and wants rest, or that laminitis[*](So J. K. Anderson, Ancient Greek Horsemanship, pp. 162, 207, not, as was once believed, colic.) or some other ailment is coming on. It is the same with horses as with men: all distempers in the early stage are more easily cured than when they have become chronic and have been wrongly treated.

Just as the food and exercise of the horse must be attended to in order that he may keep sound, so his feet must be cared for. Now damp and slippery floors ruin even well-formed hoofs. In order that they may not be damp, the floors should have a slope to carry off the wet, and, that they may not be slippery, they should be paved all over with stones, each one about the size of the hoof. Such floors, indeed, have another advantage because they harden the feet of the horses standing on them.

To take the next point: the groom must lead out the horse to clean him, and must loose him from the stall after the morning feed, that he may return to his evening feed with more appetite. Now the stableyard will be of the best form and will strengthen the feet if he throws down and spreads over it four or five loads of round stones, the size of a fist, about a pound in weight, and surrounds them with a border of iron so that they may not be scattered. Standing on these will have the same effect as if the horse walked on a stone road for some time every day.

When he is being rubbed down and teased with flies he is bound to use his hoofs in the same way as when he walks. The frogs also are hardened by stones scattered in this way.

The same care must be taken to make his mouth tender as to harden his hoofs. This is done by the same methods as are employed to soften human flesh.

It is a mark of a good horseman, in our opinion, to see that his groom, like himself, is instructed in the way in which he should treat the horse.

First then the man ought to know that he should never make the knot in the halter at the point where the headstall is put on. For if the halter is not easy about the ears, the horse will often rub his head against the manger and may often get sores in consequence. Now if there are sore places thereabouts the horse is bound to be restive both when he is bridled and when he is rubbed down.

It is well also for the groom to have orders to remove the dung and litter daily to one and the same place. For by doing this he will get rid of it most easily and at the same time relieve the horse.

The groom must also know about putting the muzzle on the horse when he takes him out to be groomed or to the rolling-place. In fact he must always put the muzzle on when he leads him anywhere without a bridle.[*](The muzzle appears on several Greek vases. The Greek horse was given to biting.) For the muzzle prevents him from biting without hampering his breathing; and moreover, when it is put on, it goes far towards preventing any propensity to mischief.

He should tie up the horse at a place above the head, because when anything irritates his face, the horse instinctively tries to get rid of it by tossing his head upwards; and if he is tied thus he loosens the halter instead of breaking it by tossing up his head.

In rubbing the horse down, the man should start at the head and mane; for if the upper parts are not clean, it is idle to clean his lower parts. Next, going over the rest of his body, he should make the hair stand up with all the dressing instruments,[*](The instructions are rather vague.) and get the dust out by rubbing him the way the hair lies. But he should not touch the hair on the backbone with any instrument; he should rub and smooth it down with the hands the way it naturally grows; for so he will be least likely to injure the rider’s seat.

He must wash the head well with water, for, as it is bony, to clean it with iron or wood would hurt the horse. He must also wet the forelock, for this tuft of hair, even if pretty long, does not obstruct his sight, but drives from his eyes anything that worries them; and we must presume that the gods have given the horse this hair in lieu of the long ears that they have given to asses and mules as a protection to their eyes.

He should also wash the tail and mane, for growth of the tail is to be encouraged in order that the horse may be able to reach as far as possible and drive away anything that worries him, and growth of the mane in order to give the rider as good a hold as possible.

Besides, the mane, forelock and tail have been given to the horse by the gods as an ornament. A proof of this is that brood mares herding together, so long as they have fine manes,[*](Several allusions to this erroneous belief of the Greeks are collected by the commentators.) are reluctant to be covered by asses; for which reason all breeders of mules cut off the manes of the mares for covering.

Washing down of the legs we disapprove of; it does no good, and the hoofs are injured by being wetted every day. Excessive cleaning under the belly also should be diminished; for this worries the horse very much, and the cleaner these parts are, the more they collect under the belly things offensive to it;[*](The text shows that the parts washed were not thoroughly dried: indeed, efficient drying cloths were not used. See Pollux 1.185.)

and notwithstanding all the pains that may be taken with these parts, the horse is no sooner led out than he looks much the same as an unwashed animal. So these operations should be omitted; and as for the rubbing of the legs, it is enough to do it with the bare hands.