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 describe what the rider should do when he has received his horse and is going to mount, if he is to make the best of himself and his horse in riding.

First, then, he must hold the lead-rope fastened to the chin-strap or the nose-band[*](cavesson. See Anderson in J.H.S. 80.3-6.) ready in the left hand, and so loose as not to jerk the horse whether he means to mount by holding on to the mane near the ears or to spring up with the help of the spear. With his right hand let him take hold of the reins by the withers along with the mane, so that he may not jerk the horse’s mouth with the bit in any way as he mounts.

When he has made his spring in order to mount, he should raise his body with his left hand, while at the same time he helps himself up by stretching out his right; for by mounting in this way he will not present an awkward appearance even from behind by bending his leg. Neither must he touch the horse’s back with his knee, but throw the leg right over the off side. Having brought the foot over, he must then let his buttocks down on the horse’s back.

In case the horseman happens to be leading the horse with the left hand and holding his spear in the right, it is well, we think, to practise mounting on the off side also. For this purpose all that he needs to learn is to do with the left parts of the body what in the other case he did with the right, and vice versa.

The reason why we recommend this method of mounting also is, that no sooner is the rider mounted than he is quite ready to fight with the enemy on a sudden, if occasion requires.

When he is seated, whether on the bare back or on the cloth, we would not have him sit as if he were on his chair,[*](In the jockey mode. I think that those critics are in error who understand that X. meant that the rider should take the extreme fork seat; for not only would such a position be very insecure upon the simple saddles of the Greeks, but it is inconsistent with the graceful and firm position exhibited by the marbles. E. L. Anderson inRiding (Badminton series).) but as though he were standing upright with his legs astride. For thus he will get a better grip of his horse with his thighs, and the erect position will enable him, if need be, to throw his spear and deliver a blow on horseback with more force.

The lower leg including the foot must hang lax and easy from the knee down. For if he keeps his leg stiff and should strike it against anything, he may break it, whereas a loose leg will recoil, whatever it encounters, without disturbing the position of the thigh at all.

The rider must also accustom himself to keeping his body above the hips as loose as possible, for thus he will be able to stand more fatigue and will be less liable to come off when he is pulled or pushed.

As soon as he is seated, he must teach his horse to stand quiet at first, until he has shifted anything that wants arranging underneath him, gathered the reins even in his hand and grasped his spear in the most convenient manner. Then let him keep his left arm close to his side, for thus the horseman’s figure will look best, and his hand will have most power.

As for reins, we recommend that they be of equal strength, not weak nor slippery nor thick, in order that the spear may be held in the same hand when necessary.

When he directs his horse to go forward, let him begin at a walk, for this prevents any flurry. If the horse carries his head too low, let the rider hold the hands higher; if too high, lower; for in this way he will give him the most graceful carriage.

After this, if he breaks into his natural trot, he will relax his body in the easiest fashion and come to the gallop most readily. Since, too, the more approved method is to begin with the left,[*](The left lead comes natural to the horse. The Parthenon figures show the right lead; but the Greeks approved of many things in art that they did not practise.) one will best begin on this side, by giving the horse the signal to gallop while trotting, at the instant when he is treading with the right (fore) foot.

As he is then on the point of raising the left, he will begin with it, and, as soon as the rider turns him to the left, will immediately begin the stride. For it is natural for the horse to lead with the right when turned to the right and with the left when turned to the left.[*](A remarkable proof of X’s. power of observation. When the trotting horse treads with the right fore-leg, the hind-legs are in the position that the horse assumes when galloping on the left lead, and the horse will strike off with the left fore-leg.)

The exercise that we recommend is the one called the ring,[*](Literally fetter. The old English term is ring, now volte. Of course the horse was exercised first in one direction, then in the other.) since it accustoms the horse to turn on both jaws. It is also well to change the exercise,[*](i.e., ride on the other hand; this is not part of the volte.) in order that both jaws may be equally practised on each side of the exercise.[*](i.e., may have both jaws equally sensitive on whichever hand he is ridden.)

We recommend the manage[*](I have ventured to use this term since X. means precisely what Gervase Markham calls the manage in the strict sense, i.e., two straight treads with a semicircle at either end.) rather than the complete ring, for thus the horse will turn more willingly when he has gone some distance in a straight course, and one can practise the career and the turn at the same time.

It is necessary to collect him at the turns; for it is neither easy for the horse nor safe to turn short when going fast, especially if the ground is uneven or slippery.

In collecting him the rider must slant the horse as little as possible with the bit, and slant his own body as little as possible; else he may be sure that a trifling cause will be enough to bring him and his horse down.