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

We will now show how one may rub down a horse with least danger to oneself and most advantage to the horse. If in cleaning him[*](What follows refers to cleaning the fore-legs, to which a reference has doubtless dropped out of the text.) the man faces in the same direction as the horse, he runs the risk of getting a blow in the face from his knee and his hoof.

But if he faces in the opposite direction to the horse and sits by the shoulder out of reach of his leg when he cleans him, and rubs him down so, then he will come to no harm, and can also attend to the horse’s frog by lifting up the hoof.[*](On the vase referred to in the Introduction (p. 34) the groom examining his frog is crouching under the horse and facing the same way.) Let him do exactly the same in cleaning the hind-legs.

The man employed about the horse is to know that in these operations and in all that he has to do he must be very chary of approaching from the head or tail to do his work. For if the horse attempts to show mischief he has the man in his power in both these directions; but if he approaches from the side he can manage the horse with least danger to himself and in the best manner.

When it is necessary to lead the horse, we do not approve of leading him behind one for this reason, that the man leading him is then least able to take care of himself while the horse has the utmost freedom to do whatever he chooses.

On the other hand we also disapprove of training the horse to go in front on a long lead for the following reasons: the horse has the power of misbehaving on either side as he chooses, and has also the power of turning round and facing his driver.

And if several horses together are driven in this fashion, how can they possibly be kept from interfering with one another? But a horse that is accustomed to being led from the side will have least power of doing harm either to horses or to men, and will be in the handiest position for the rider should he want to mount quickly.

In order to put the bit in properly, first let the groom approach on the near side of the horse. Then let him throw the reins over the head and drop them on the withers, and next lift the headstall with the right hand and offer the bit with the left.

If he takes the bit, of course the bridle should be put on. But if he refuses to open his mouth, the man must hold the bit to his teeth and put the thumb of the left hand in the horse’s jaw. Most horses open the mouth when this is done. If he still resists, the man should squeeze his lip against the tusk; and very few resist when they are treated in this way.

The groom should also be instructed in the following points: first, never to lead the horse on the rein—that gives the horse a hard mouth on one side—and secondly, what is the correct distance from the bit to the jaws. For if it is too high up, it hardens the mouth so that it loses its sensitiveness; and if it lies too low in the mouth, it gives the horse power to take it between his teeth and refuse to obey.

The groom must also pay some attention to such points as the following: whether the horse will not easily take the bit when he knows that he has work to do. Willingness to receive the bit is, in fact, so important that a horse that refuses it is quite useless.

But if he is bridled not only when he is going to be ridden, but also when he is taken to his food and when he is led home from exercise, it would not be at all surprising if he seized the bit of his own accord when offered to him.

It is well for the groom to know how to give a legup in the Persian fashion,[*](See Cavalry Commander, 1.17.) so that his master himself, in case he is indisposed or is getting old may have someone to put him up conveniently, and may, if he wishes, oblige his friend with a man to give him a lift-up.

The one best rule and practice in dealing with a horse is never to approach him in anger; for anger is a reckless thing, so that it often makes a man do what he must regret.[*](Hellenica, 5.3.7.)

Moreover, when the horse is shy of anything and will not come near it, you should teach him that there is nothing to be afraid of, either with the help of a plucky horse—which is the surest way—or else by touching the object that looks alarming yourself, and gently leading the horse up to it.

To force him with blows only increases his terror; for when horses feel pain in such a predicament, they think that this too is caused by the thing at which they shy.

When the groom presents the horse to his rider, we take no exception to his understanding how to cause the horse to crouch, for convenience in mounting. We think, however, that the rider should get used to mounting even without his horse’s help. For a rider gets a different sort of horse at different times, and the same one does not always serve him in the same way.