My latest reading venture is Gustav Steinbrecht’s The Gymnasium of the Horse. It is often cited by those who follow classical training methods, but this is my first dive into it. Written before the turn of the twentieth century, it is both dated (the section on spur use is frightening) and “current”. This particular passage exhibits the latter, as well as being a rather poetic tribute to the animals we have shared a history with.
The noble horse is not only the animal most suited for riding, it is also the creature with the most versatile talents in the entire animal kingdom. From time immemorial, the horse has been, and still is, the animal for which the young boy feels the greatest love and which the man holds in the highest esteem. Poets and songsters have always sung the praises of the horse, and not without reason: it has faithfully share humanity’s fate, has participate in all great events recounted in history with active and courageous spirit, has followed man to the remotest corners of the earth, and has shared with him all hardships and privations. In peacetime and prosperity, it is the most precious luxury item; on the hunt, it is a cheerful companion to man, carrying its rider over hill and dale, across hedges and ditches, dependably catching up with any prey, even the fleetest, with the speed of the wind; in combat, it is the faithful friend and servant of the warrior with whom it willingly shares danger and toil.
Is there any way that man can show sufficient gratitude for such excellent service? Is it not in his own interest to take the greatest care and conduct the most serious research about the breeding, raising, and training of this creature? And yet, in these three areas which should provide us with a reliable and plentiful supply of good and useful horses, we see the worst errors made as a result of the wrong attitude, petty adherence to narrow-minded aims, and prejudices of all kinds. All arts and sciences of our time have made such rapid advances from the study of nature that the successes attained often approach the miraculous. It is time to follow this example, to eliminate all old-fashioned prejudices, and to listen only to nature in order to learn the basic principles of producing a good horse. Nature works according to strict, immutable laws, which can be discovered only by observing nature’s unadulterated creations.
Sadly, in more than 130 years since the writer of these words died, science is not much further along in their understanding of the horse. Horsemen, such as Steinbrecht, who spend their lives in study of the horse have much more knowledge than science. In recent years, science has finally taken an interest in the horse, and is finding ways to uncover the truths that are specific to it (you cannot measure a dog and horse on the same tests, as they have little in common with regard to motivation, perception of the world, and general life experience). At the same time, “the wrong attitude, petty adherence to narrow-minded aims, and prejudices of all kinds” still clearly exists everywhere in the horse world.
Yet, realization that all animals have more emotions and cognition than once thought is gaining in acceptance. We can only hope this leads to a better life for the noble horse who has been so instrumental in our journey from prehistory to modernity.
Be good to your horses!
4 thoughts on “The noble horse …”
Interesting information. And the horse has indeed been alongside us since prehistory. We have been evolving together and I hope that acceptance of the horse’s intelligence will continue to grow.
I do too, Anne. It’s been enjoyable to see science finally confirm things we’ve known for a long time.
I’m not sure it’s of interest to you and I do hope I’m not imposing here. However, reading your blog, I find many parallels and shared interests between us such as biomechanics, balance in training and a distaste for “rollkur” and “natural forcemanship” alike.
My own ventures into Classical Dressage began just before I started my studies of equine physiotherapy, and the first book was, of course, also “The Gymnasium of the Horse”. So after reading the German bible of riding, I went on to read as much of the old masters as possible…
To the point: one of the books that impressed me the most is from a “new master”, Karl Philippe (formely Cadre Noir of Saumur, France) called “Twisted Truths of Modern Dressage” – a real eye-opener for me and instant improvement to my riding.
I’m sure you would thoroughly enjoy it. Not sure if it’s very popular in the States?
With love from the Alps,
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Thank you, Jenny. I do have the “Twisted Truths …” book in my library. To be honest, I have known few riders in the U.S. who spend much time reading about riding, especially the old masters. There are a few – and I was lucky enough to learn from someone who not only read the likes of Podhajsky and Seunig, but who also was privileged to ride with them. This, along with being a lifelong avid reader, has led me to build a pretty good library of old masters – but I’m always happy to take recommendations!