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

As soon as the horse faces the straight after turning, push him along at once. For of course, in war too, turns are made with a view to pursuit or retreat. It is well, therefore, to practise increasing the pace after turning.

So soon as the horse appears to have been exercised enough, it is well to let him rest a certain time, and then suddenly to put him to his top speed again, of course away from, not towards, other horses, and to pull him up again in the midst of his career as short as possible, and then to turn and start him again from the stand. For it is obvious that a time will come when it will be necessary to do one or the other.

When the time has come to dismount, the rider must never dismount among other horses or near a group of people or outside the riding-ground; but let the place where the horse is forced to work be the place where he also receives his reward of ease.

As the horse will frequently have to gallop down hill and up hill and along a slope, and as he will have to leap over, and to leap out, and to jump down at various times, the rider must teach and practise both himself and his horse in all these things. For thus they will be able to help each other, and will be thought altogether more efficient.

If anyone thinks that we are repeating ourselves, because we are referring to matters already dealt with, this is not repetition. For we recommended the purchaser to try whether the horse could do these things at the time of buying: but now we say that a man should teach his own horse; and we will show how to teach him.

When a man has a raw horse quite ignorant of leaping, he must get over the ditch himself first, holding him loosely by the leading-rein, and then give him a pull with the rein to make him leap over.

If he refuses, let someone strike him as hard as he can with a whip or a stick: whereupon he will leap, and not only the necessary distance, but much further than was required. In future there will be no need to beat him, for if he merely sees a man approaching behind him, he will leap.

As soon as he has grown accustomed to leap in this way, let him be mounted and tried first at narrow, and then at wider ditches. Just as he is on the point of springing touch him with the spur. Similarly he should be taught to leap up and to leap down by a touch of the spur. For if he does all these things with his body compactly gathered, it will be safer for the horse as well as the rider than if his hind-quarters lag in taking a leap over, or in springing upwards or jumping downwards.

Going down hill should first be taught on soft ground; and in the end, when the horse gets used to this, he will canter down more readily than up hill. If some fear that horses may put out their shoulders by being ridden down hill, they may take comfort when they understand that the Persians and Odrysians all ride races down hill, and yet keep their horses just as sound as the Greeks.

Nor will we omit to state how the rider is to assist in all these movements. If the horse springs suddenly, he should lean forward; for so the horse is less likely to slip away and throw the rider off. But in pulling him up short he should lean back; for so he himself will be less jolted.

When jumping a ditch or riding up hill it is well[*](Of course no modern rider would approve of this.) to take hold of the mane, that the horse may not be burdened by his bridle and the difficulty of the ground at the same time. When going down a steep incline, he should throw his body back and support the horse with the bridle, that neither rider nor horse may be tossed headlong down hill.

It is correct also to exercise the horse sometimes in one place, sometimes in another, and to make the exercises sometimes long and sometimes short; for this is less irksome to the horse than being exercised always in the same place and for the same length of time.

Since it is necessary that the rider should have a firm seat when riding at top speed over all sorts of country, and should be able to use his weapons properly on horseback, the practice of horsemanship by hunting is to be recommended where the country is suitable and big game is to be found. Where these conditions are lacking, it is a good method of training for two riders to work together thus: one flies on his horse over all kinds of ground and retreats, reversing his spear so that it points backwards, while the other pursues, having buttons on his javelins and holding his spear in the same position, and when he gets within javelin shot, tries to hit the fugitive with the blunted weapons, and if he gets near enough to use his spear, strikes his captive with it.

It is also a good plan, in case of a collision between them, for one to pull his adversary towards him and suddenly push him back again, since that is the way to dismount him. The right thing for the man who is being pulled is to urge his horse forward; by doing this the pulled is more likely to unhorse the puller than to be unhorsed himself.

If at any time when an enemy’s camp lies in front there is a cavalry skirmish, and one side presses the pursuit right up to the enemy’s line of battle, but then retreats hastily to its own main body, it is well to know in that case that so long as you are by your friends, it is proper and safe to be among the first to wheel and make for the enemy at full speed; but when you come near the enemy to keep your horse well in hand. For in this way you have the best chance of injuring the enemy without coming to harm yourself.

Now, whereas the gods have given to men the power of instructing one another in their duty by word of mouth, it is obvious that you can teach a horse nothing by word of mouth. If, however, you reward him when he behaves as you wish, and punish him when he is disobedient, he will best learn to do his duty.