Classical Horse Training

Head of a horse from Selene's chariot. Parthenon east pediment, ca. 447–433 BC.

This type of horse training is not limited to dressage, it encompasses all Western and English riding disciplines. Classical actually refers to the Greek and Roman era, not the Baroque period.  The seeds of classical horse training can be traced back to the writings of Xenophon, a Greek nobleman, whose techniques, ideas and methods developed around what was beneficial for training and keeping a good war horse. Xenophon was one of the first great horsemen to write about working with the horse’s nature and psychology, using consistency rather than harsh methods to train. Xenophon’s agenda was to develop a sound, functional horse for work and war. The concepts outlined in his writings are still just as important, just as practical for modern riders – mostly because the anatomy and psychology of horses and rider has not changed much since 400 B.C.

If you desire to handle a good war-horse so as to make his action the more magnificent and striking, you must refrain from pulling at his mouth with the bit as well as from spurring and whipping him. Most people think that this is the way to make him look fine; but they only produce an effect exactly contrary to what they desire, – they positively blind their horses by jerking the mouth up instead of letting them look forward, and by spurring and striking scare them into disorder and danger. This is the way horses behave that are fretted by their riders into ugly and ungraceful action; but if you teach your horse to go with a light hand on the bit, and yet to hold his head well up and to arch his neck, you will be making him do just what the animal himself glories and delights in. …the result is a horse that likes to be ridden, that presents a magnificent sight, that looks alert, that is the observed of all observers.

Xenophon, 400 BC

The ideal of a supple and willing, yet strong, powerful proud horse is as important now as it ever was. With training that is supported by science, this ideal is not so very difficult to achieve. As they say, “Many roads lead to Rome.” Training methodology for horses will always be reflected in the body and mind of the horse and there are many ideas out there that support healthy, sound development. There are also many ideas out there that do not support the well-being of the horse. Knowing what results to look for from your training program is what will ultimately guide you on your personal journey towards “Rome”.  Knowing the desired result of training is more important than the technique you use to achieve it.

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2 Responses to “Classical Horse Training”
  1. sandy says:

    i was wondering if you can send me a copy of this article so i can finish my report on classical training. the article is the first thing that comes up when you go on your website. i am looking up information on classical hore training for my report however i don’t have internet access at my place of residence. so i have to print off everything so i can complete at home.

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