Did you know that, a long, long time ago, in a land far far away, a wise man wrote the following words:
. . . A horse is a thing of such beauty . . .
None will tire of looking at him. As long as he displays himself in his splendor . . .
That man was Xenophon of Athens who lived in the 3rd century BC. Xenophon was a distinguished cavalryman and contemporary of Socrates. In addition to being a good horseman, he was an eloquent writer and his book on horsemanship is one of the oldest manuals on horsemanship, still in existence today. Xenophon is considered by some, as the great grandaddy of classical dressage.
In his treatise, “The Art of Horsemanship” he explores choosing, caring for, training and riding horses. Over the centuries our civilization has changed radically, but horses and the equestrian arts have remained much the same. So today, almost 2300 years after Xenophon’s treatise was written, much of the wisdom he shared remains true.
Most notably Xenophon encouraged praise, reward and training the horse with kindness. He showed remarkable concern for the animal’s well-being. Xenophon insisted that a rider gains his horse’s friendship and willing cooperation, else the training will have little value.
“For what the horse does under compulsion, is done without understanding; and there is no beauty in it either, any more than if one should whip and spur a dancer.”
Xenophon wrote, “Anything forced and misunderstood can never be beautiful.” So let us heed these words and seek to continually improve our knowledge of our equine friends by understanding how, what and why we do what we do.
Until next time, May the Horse Be With You!
“The Art of Horsemanship” makes for a fascinating read for any equestrian fan, history buff or student of ancient Greek culture.