George Morris told the The Horse Magazine that “Today is the time of the cheap read, read the old books. In the next generation that knowledge will be extinct.” I can honestly say I had never heard of Gueriniere, Steinbrecht, or Duke of Newcastle before my arrival. My only knowledge on the difference between schools of Dressage was knowing that there was one; I had little information on the history of them, and I definitely did not know who the main players were . While there are modern authors who have contributed much to the horse world, there is a unique perspective gained by reading Pluvinel’s love letter manual on dressage written to his King {aka his source of income}.

This post is a list of all the books I have read during my time here. It is not even close to exhaustive, but it is a good start. I have included pertinent information about the author where necessary, and a quotation that stuck with me from each book. Not all books are in print anymore, but you can still buy many of them.

{Workbooks from the Spanish School by Charles Harris} This book is written in list format, and includes over 600 points of importance Harris learned during his time in Vienna. // “Fundamentals of all nature are based on simple foundations.”

{Le Maneige Royal by Antoine de Pluvinel} Remember when you learned about how everyone had to be in love with their king in order to keep their heads? This book epitomized that. Pluvinel was working to have a Riding Academy commissioned by King Louis XIII, so the brown-nosing was pretty incredible. My favorite was when Pluvinel would gush to King Louis about how he is the greatest in the land and no one stood up to King Louis in any regard, but especially in the art of horses. Ignore the fact Pluvinel was his Ecuyer, or riding master; Louis was better than him. // “And with this knowledge, one sets out, continues and brings to completion the schooling of a horse with patience, resolution, gentleness, and the necessary force, in order to arrive at the goal to which a sound horseman must aspire, qualities to be found in the man whom one can truly esteem as being a judicious horseman.”

{The Spanish Riding School by Hans Handler with photos by Erich Lessing} This is one of my favorite books because the history of the Spanish Riding School is incredible, and this book does a beautiful job of mixing the history and horsemanship of the last 400 years of the school. // “The widespread opinion that the art of riding has no need of theory does not inhibit me, in my conviction that without theory such an art cannot be carried to perfection at all. Without theory all practice is aimless. […] We must never allow theory and practice to drift apart.”

{A General System of Horsemanship by William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle} This was a doozy of a book to read. With each new exercise he introduced, he would say “And this is the greatest exercise there ever was.” I learned every exercise he came up with was the greatest exercise ever. At the time, Cavendish was renowned for his gentle training methods. He did claim that he could dress a horse, or teach it all the airs above the ground, in three months. He mostly did this by tying the horse to the pillars and using a switch in a variety of ways. Not necessarily what we would call gentle, now…. // “So that it is not the bridle, but the art of the rider, that renders the horse tractable.” And in response to criticism, which perfectly describes the Duke: “Since I have done it more for your sakes than my own, for I myself knew all this before; don’t therefore find fault with what I write for your service.”

{A Dressage Judge’s Handbook by Brigadier General Kurt Albrecht} Albrecht uses this book as a commentary on how competitive dressage should fit with classical dressage, and that we must not let the first deteriorate the latter. // “[The rider must have] powers of empathy It is this last tribute in particular that enables the gifted rider to breathe a stirring artistic quality into a merely technically correct presentation.”

{School of Horsemanship by Francois de la Gueriniere} Fun Fact: Gueri said, as a I call him for short, The Duke of Newcastle was one of two horseman in high esteem. The other was M de la Brou. The Spanish Riding School claims it does not follow Duke of Newcastle, but follows Gueri’s book to the letter. This is a point of contention, because by following Gueri, they follow The Duke simply by extension. Gueriniere was the inventor of the shoulder-in, and emphasized training horses with gentleness. The version that I read also included common maladies and treatments of horses. They pretty much all included cutting a body part off or bleeding the horse. Thank god for modern science. // “Practice without true principles is nothing other than routine.”

{The Way to Perfect Horsemanship by Udo Bürger} The title leaves no room for error; if you read and follow this book, you will be on your way to perfect horsemanship! What a promise. In all seriousness, this book was a quick read (at least compared to The Duke…) but covered many simple, but not easy, concepts.// “The art of riding is Black Magic, is what my riding master [Felix Buerkner] used to say. However, if one wants to discover the secret of the magic, one must start by learning one’s A-B-C’s.”

{Dressage Riding:A guide for the training of horse and rider by Richard L. Watjen}               // “Never deceive yourselves when working. It is not he who is always finding excuses for his own faults but he who unmistakably accepts real work and with a genuine love of horses sticks to it, so that after long and devoted work he gets near to his desired goal. Every genuine rider knows that learning is not the end and it is just this recognition which binds him for his entire life to the art of riding. You should love horses without spoiling them. Take the trouble to find your way into your horse’s mind without trying to make it human. Only those can become experts who are in tune and as one with their horses both physically and mentally.” Enough said.

This internship has instilled in me the importance of studying the theory [no matter how boring it might be] in addition to living it. By being an academic as well as a rider, you have a larger base to draw experience from. Dressage has never been, and never will be, a black and white journey. What art ever is? It has been practiced, experimented with and perfected over hundreds of years. It has not been immune to the changing political, social or cultural environments of the years, and many of the pivotal points arose from the shifting tides of the world that surrounded Dressage. By reading the old masters, I have gained a deeper appreciation for the art form I practice, and have a peek into where the journey can lead.

Off to go read and ride some more,

Erin and The WP


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