To The New Edition
By Captain James A. Ottevaere
Ask many of today’s riding instructors and trainers to explain the elements of seat and
balance and how to achieve them and you are likely to get fanciful descriptions of
everything from pop culture yoga to methods for suspending the body from the naval
while riding without stirrups. Ask them to compare Baucher with Caprilli and they may
tell you about the differences between French and Italian wines. It is a sad state of
affairs in the modern equestrian world. The need to publish and to “make a video” has
driven many journeymen instructors and trainers to use what little knowledge and formal
training that they possess to author books, write articles and produce videos that are
patched together from the previously published works of other not so well informed
trainers and instructors. The results are often atrocious. Not only do they perpetuate the
ignorance of others, they also feel compelled to add their own twist to the material and
claim it to be a revolutionary breakthrough in the equitation arts.
None of this would matter much if it weren’t for the spreading of this pap to a wide
market of eager beginning and intermediate riders who are hungry to learn, but unable to
sort out the real from the fanciful. They very often absorb these “new” ideas like sponges
and by the time they have gained enough experience to know better it is often too late.
They have developed fundamental bad habits and an intellectual mind set that will take
the best efforts of the best instructors hundreds of hours to set right.
We live in a world that thrives on the quest for the new, the revolutionary, and the
innovative. That is a very good thing. It is the way we advance, succeed and survive, but
we also live in a society that craves instant gratification, but where horses are concerned,
that is a bad thing. In equestrian art and science, as in physics and mathematics, there
are certain theories and proofs that should not be tampered with, not if we expect to
achieve the desired result. Yet this is exactly what happens nearly every day in the
equestrian world. The theories and proofs set down and tested since the time before
the Greeks and Romans are simply ignored, misunderstood or worse, reinvented
without foundation for the sake of creating something “new”, or to justify shortcuts that
avoid what would otherwise take long hours of training and tedious hard work.
In the first forty years of the 20th century the highest levels of horsemanship was found in
the cavalries of the world. The Italians, the French, and the Germans led the way and the
Americans followed. This was natural and expected for the period since it was the
military that most needed to spend its time studying all that could be learned of the art
and science of horsemanship. After all, victory or defeat in battle and the very lives of the
mounted soldier depended on the riding skill of the horseman and the training and
fitness of the horse. The Italian Cavalry School at Tor di Quinto, the French Cavalry
School at Saumur and the U. S. Cavalry School at Fort Riley were the very epicenters of
horsemanship and horsemastership.
The need for, and dependence upon the horse as an integral part of military mobility and
maneuver began to wane in WWI. By the opening days of WWII the fate of the horse had
been sealed as it was rapidly replaced by tracked armor, aircraft and wheeled vehicles.
After WWII, in most armies, the horse was little more than a novelty. Cavalry schools
were slowly phased out and closed. Here in the United States horsemanship became a
social event and a leisure past time activity, for the civilian and the military rider as well.
This gave rise to the transition from the skilled and disciplined horsemanship practiced
by the cavalry to the more casual unschooled style of civilian society. Formal
horsemanship training became the exception, while at the same time several new
generations of American riders received their first lessons on horsemanship from the
matinee westerns of the decades after WWII. It has been said often, and not too kindly,
that Americans all believe that they are riders from birth. An impression likely formed
from these movie generations. I see this influence nearly every day. The idea that the
horse is a passive unfeeling creature, capable of great feats of skill and daring made
possible simply by a hard yank, a punishing kick and a hearty “heyaa!” is all too common.
It is one of the basic truths of horsemanship that there are only two things that must be
learned in order to ride well. First, one must learn to stay on the horse and second, one
must learn to control the horse. Most riders can accomplish the first in some fashion by
sheer strength and will, but few are able to even marginally accomplish the second. I
have instructed my students over and over again that there is a world of difference
between “going for a ride” and “riding”. After all these years it still amazes me that so few
come to fully understand the difference.
The passing of the horse cavalry was inevitable. But, what should not have been
inevitable is the loss to obscurity of the massive and profound body of research and
published material that was generated by the United States Army Cavalry School at Fort
Riley, Kansas during its glory days between the World Wars. Hundreds of books,
training manuals, pamphlets and articles were written, presented and published by
some of the greatest military horsemen in the world, many of whom served at one time
or another as officer instructors and staff at the School. Fortunately some of these
officers privately published their own work while on active duty and others did so after
retirement. So some of this material can still be found n private collections, research
libraries and occasionally in book stores, but they are still all to rare. Even more so are
the materials produced at the school for use in the training of our cavalry officers. It has
been said that when the Cavalry School finally closed for good much of this original
material was disposed of as scrap paper to make way for the new era of mechanized
What this body of lost material, published and unpublished, represents is the sum total
of the most detailed and scientific equestrian literature ever produced in the United
States and possibly in the world. What little that has been found and republished from
time to time is a valuable resource, but it only scratches the surface of what was our
collective knowledge of equestrian art and science. More importantly, in my opinion, it
was the intellectual foundation of what could, or would, have been a truly American style
that would have made our riders unparalleled in the equestrian world. Instead American
riders have struggled to find success, always following the methods of the Europeans,
who at least made some effort, even with the devastation of WWII, to preserve their
individual style and heritage of military horsemanship. As proof of this, where do our
best riders go to finish and polish their skills? Europe, of course.
When I began searching for and collecting the literature of the Cavalry School many
years ago I thought that it was going to be a difficult task. I had no idea how difficult. To
date I have accumulated nearly two hundred of those yellow bound works, but sadly, I
believe that I am far short of the total and it is unlikely that I will find many more in my life
time. So I suppose that it is time to begin sharing some of them with other interested
instructors and riders in hopes that it will provide a factual and insightful look at our
equestrian heritage and will help steer those eager to learn away from the fads, quick
fixes and misdirection represented in so much of our modern equestrian literature.
Although this small volume is not an “official” publication of the Cavalry School, I chose it
as the starting place for this project because it was written by a cavalry officer who made
it his career to study and refine the art of military riding. More importantly it is written in a
simple and straightforward style intended to inform, not to lecture. “An Analysis of
Horsemanship” by Lt. Colonel Henry R. Smalley is just as the title implies. It is a
detailed analysis of military equitation and the horsemanship necessary to achieve it.
There is no pretension nor is the author’s ego involved. I believe that after reading this
little gem of a volume every serious rider from beginner to expert will be enriched and
enlightened with a foundation of knowledge that may have previously escaped them and
will be provided with the under pinning for developing the essential skills of the
horsemen they intend someday to be.
Captain James A. Ottevaere, (ret)
The Cavalry Conclave 2002
Fort Riley, Kansas
Lt. Colonel Henry R. Smalley, An Analysis of Horsemanship Baltimore,
MD UP, 1932 Published by American Remount Association
and The Monumental Printing Co.
Used by special permission from Captain Ottevaere for M-Bar-K Farms