My post for U.S. Horsemanship is taken from the Oct.-Dec. 1911 Field Artillery Journal. In his article “The International Competition for Officer’s Chargers; Rome, May, 1911” author Lieutenant Colonel T. Bentley Mott, discusses not only the competition but the differences between the French and Italian Seats. It’s interesting to hear from someone living when Caprilli’s ideas were still warily watched and the French School was also determining if it had a place in their teaching. The U.S. Military having sent officers to both schools was also still in the decision phase although leaning more toward the French school. Interesting also is the reference made to the American seat invented by our jockeys. Also visible is the beginning of conflict between “indoors”, “shows” and “cross country”.
Mott also compares the mindset of horsemanship in the U.S. Military to that of England, France, Italy and Germany. The competition, which had no American riders participating, serves as Mott’s platform for the comparison. One can sense that he hopes the comparison will ignite enthusiasm for riding in the U.S. Military. However, it’s only fair to remind readers that at the time that Mott wrote this article the U.S. Cavalry School didn’t exist; instead we had a Mounted Service School at Ft. Riley. Also remember that this was right before the full blown inclusion of horses in the Olympic games.
The Competition for Officers’ Chargers was a grueling test of horse and rider in which we can see glimpses of other competitions. The test on day one was over 31 miles of road and fields with 5 jumps. It wasn’t a race but had to be finished in 3 1/2 hours. On the 2nd day riders competed over 22 obstacles spread out over just under 2 miles. Again not a race but had to be done in 6 minutes. I especially like the description of jump # 7 “…the horse had to clear a little ditch and land on an earth bank five feet wide, then clear six and a half feet, landing on a higher bank seven feet wide and jump off this over a small ditch to the level, a drop of a little over five feet.”
On the third day the 30 top riders and their horses competed cross country over 15 1/2 miles of rough going that included tall grass, mud, ditches, creeks rough ground, and 15 jumps. This time it was a race. The allotted time was 2 1/2 hours but the winner finished in 49 minutes. Nothing mattered but time and the second place horse came in covered with mud after it had fallen 3 times.
Even though this is a long article, I chose to include the whole thing in one post because the continuity is valuable. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did
THE INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION FOR OFFICERS’ CHARGERS: ROME, MAY, 1911.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL T. BENTLEY MOTT, 2D F. A.
This friendly riding contest, open to officers of all nations, was by far the most interesting, the most instructive and the most difficult that I have ever witnessed. It was a genuine military event, stripped of every feature that was not practical and soldierly, and it may be said that any man who completed the tests of the three successive days, no matter how low may have been his final classification, showed himself a capital horseman. As will be evident when we come to describing each day’s features, a man had to have not only courage and a firm seat, but good hands and excellent judgment, to complete the course at all. It goes without saying that he had to have a first-class horse, a frank and willing jumper over all sorts of obstacles, clever as well as powerful, always under control and with good staying powers.
I have frequently seen the horse shows of Paris, New York and London, and I believe that no lover of cross-country riding, especially no military man, could fail to agree that the Italian idea of a mounted competition is in every way superior to the French, American or English. The latter are all indoor affairs, frequently under electric light, the former is held by daylight in a 60-acre field and its surrounding territory; the sole object of the Italian competition is to compare practically the skill and endurance of rider and horse, while the others are “shows” in the real sense of that word, depending for existence upon a large attendance and heavy gate receipts; the one puts rider and horse face to face with fairly natural situations, the others in the presence of utterly artificial ones; it would be quite possible for a horse useless for any practical purpose to triumph at the London horse show, but the winner of the Italian contest must be a grand animal, fit for any work.
If we ever institute a contest for military chargers in our country, we could hardly do better than follow the lines laid down in Italy, and this reason alone would justify the description which will be given with some detail in the pages which are to follow.
The first test consisted in a march of thirty-one miles, partly on roads and partly across country. The course was not made known until the evening before the start. This was not a race; but each competitor was expected to ride the distance inside of three and one-half hours, or be penalized one point for each minute in excess. The cross country part of the course was five miles in length and comprised only six obstacles.
There were 126 entries, two of them Chinese officers who did not start. Of the rest, there were one colonel, twelve captains and 111 lieutenants. Spain sent five competitors, Roumania two, France sixteen; the rest were Italians.
Ninety-two competitors finished the first day’s ride inside the time limit, the others falling out or being penalized for one reason or another. The best time made was by an Italian riding an Irish horse—three hours and five minutes. All merely tried to get in on time, the desire naturally being to save the horses as much as possible for the work of the two succeeding days.
The day following the thirty-one mile ride, the competitors had to go over an outdoor course on the cavalry training ground of 3,280 yards, say one mile and seven furlongs, jumping twenty-two obstacles. A good idea of the character of the jumps can be had from the photographs. The competitors started singly, the start of each being given as his predecessor finished.
This also was not a race against time, the only condition being that the fifteen furlongs must be covered in six minutes. For every two seconds over this limit a penalty of one point was marked up. Knocking down part of an obstacle entailed a loss of two points, as did a refusal; fall of horse or rider, or both, entailed a loss of three points. The top rails of most, but not all, the fences were tied with cord, and a considerable blow was required to cause their fall and the resulting penalty. The stone walls were topped with rows of loose but heavy brick, which were often hit without being displaced. Merely hitting rail or bricks was not penalized.
Each competitor was assigned 100 points, and from this was deducted the total of his penalties.
The ninety-two officers who had successfully finished the thirty-one mile ride of the day before started in this race; and he would have to be a cold-blooded man indeed who did not grow enthusiastic in watching their performance. First came a straight gallop over an easy hedge, then a simple double, the fences only three feet high and twenty feet apart. After a sharp turn to the right about, an easy three-foot gate was met, and then a three-foot bank, with a tricky little ditch on each side, surmounted by a very thin hedge five feet high, which, of course, was dashed through, the bank alone being cleared. A sharp turn to the right was immediately followed by a stout three-foot fence with a very small ditch on the far side, after which the severe business began.
Nos. 6, 7 and 8 are in or on the crest of a hollow with irregular slopes of about two on three. An idea of the look of the ground at
these jumps can be had in the photograph marked Jump No. 8. The approach to No. 6 is level, the fence is two feet nine inches, and the horse lands on a sharp downward slope. I could get no photographs of No. 7; but the horse had to clear a little ditch and land on an earth bank five feet wide, then clear six and a half feet, landing on a higher bank seven feet wide and jump off this over a small ditch to the level, a drop of a little over five feet. The French horses jumped this obstacle without difficulty, but it was evident that they did not take to it with the easy confidence of the Italian mounts, which, though seeming heavier and less agile than the French, were perfectly accustomed to this kind of an
obstacle. Jumps not unlike this are met with in the Pau fox-hunting country in the south of France, where I have hunted a great deal.
Jump No. 8 looked very trying, but few horses made faults at it. The wall was of solid masonry two feet two inches high, topped with loosely laid tiles.
Nos. 9 and 10 were simple water jumps, one eleven and a half feet wide, the other a double water jump, eight and a half feet for each ditch; they were in no sense difficult, but as they were placed side by side, and the course to be followed between formed a complete circle, they were a test of the horse’s suppleness and of the fact that he was wholly in hand. No. 11 was a three-foot wall with a small ditch on each side, followed thirty feet away by a water jump six and a half feet wide. No. 12, a ditch with a hedge on the far side, offers nothing unusual.
The next obstacle, No. 13 (see photographs) was a steep hill in the base of each slope. Obstacles of this nature are met with in
going across country, and in the last day’s test some of them had to be taken, and they looked more difficult than this one artificially erected on the training ground. I did not see or hear of a single horse making a fault at this obstacle.
No. 14 was an Irish bank six feet high, to be taken on and over; No. 15, a simple fence; No. 16, a jump from the level over a stone wall two feet nine inches, landing on a sharp downward slope similar to No. 6, of which there is a photograph. A sharp turn brings up at No. 17, which is No. 6 reversed; the horse had to take off on a steep slope of two on three and clear a fence two feet nine inches high.
No. 18, a mound with a fence and ditch on each side, appeared to be the most artificial and unnecessary jump on the course. It looks very tricky, but it was cleared nearly every time without error. The mound was six and a half feet wide on top, and each fence three feet two inches high. The photograph shows this obstacle perfectly.
No. 19 was a simple hedge, followed immediately by a turn at right anywhere else, especially by the French officers in the team competition, when the process was reversed—the gate being jumped, the sharp turn following, and then the hedge. For fear of overriding the hedge, several officers slowed up too much at the gate, with the result that the horse had not enough speed and knocked down the top rail. On the other hand, one Italian officer went at the gate too fast, and could not turn in time to take the hedge. It was an interesting obstacle and a useful one.
No. 20, a hedge and ditch followed by a ditch and hedge, was a Italian specialty, taken, I am told, from a jump sometimes met with in the Campagna. It is taken in both directions, as the photographs marked No. 21 show. The wall is not quite three feet high; but in clearing it going in the direction shown in 21 A, if going too fast there is
danger of tripping at the ditch on the far side, and if too slowly, that the wall may not be cleanly cleared. If going in the direction shown in 21 B, corresponding difficulties are met.
No. 22 required a sharp turn to the left, followed by a jump over a fence two feet nine inches high. Many took it diagonally, as the fence was so low.
As can be seen, Nos. 9 and 10, 19 and 20, were devised especially as tests of judgment in speed and of handiness.
In looking over these obstacles on the ground before the contest began, they appeared difficult rather than formidable, though I anticipated many more faults and falls than occurred. After seeing horse after horse go over the course, this impression, due to unfamiliarity, wore off, and I realized that any good rider on a horse previously trained to these jumps should be able to get across, even if not brilliantly. Most horsemen hate to take off on a sharp rise
or land on a slope, yet it seems quite practicable to do both with entire safety to man and horse, and the ability to do so seems useful.
At the conclusion of this two-mile jumping contest the thirty officers having the highest rating were selected for the final cross-country contest the next day, this being a veritable point-to-point race against time. The course was fifteen and a half miles, partly on roads and partly across country, and it was not disclosed to the participants until the moment of starting. The maximum time allowed was two and a half hours. There were fifteen natural obstacles to be jumped, and the cross-country part was over rough ground, comprising steep ascents and descents, ditches, brooks, post-and-rail fences, crossings of roads with fences on each side, etc. The grass on most of the course was very high, and there was much mud. No account was taken of anything except elapsed time; the horse could refuse or fall any number of times, provided he went over the obstacles and the course inside of
two and a half hours.
The thirty horses having the fewest faults, which alone could compete in the final tests, were ridden nineteen by Italians and eleven by Frenchmen. It is very much to the credit of the French that, having sixteen horses in a total of 126 entered, eleven of these were classed in the first thirty at the end of the scond day, and in the final classification nine of these were classed in the first twenty-five. The French horses had made the long and rough journey from Paris to Rome, having certainly been more than forty-eight hours on the cars; they were comparatively new to these obstacles, having merely been trained over similar ones only a short time before leaving France, and in the final test neither they nor their riders were familiar with the nature of the country and the obstacles, as the Italians naturally were.
No Spanish or Roumanian officer was classed in the first thirty at the close the close of the second day, and so none rode in the final test. It may be remarked that the Spanish officers competing were all graduates of the Italian or French cavalry schools, and used the methods of their respective instructors. The Roumanians follow the French methods, and their riding instructors are all graduates of Saumur. The performance of these officers was extremely gallant, and while they seemed less experienced than their French and Italian competitors, they also, especially the Spaniards, had hard luck, and deserved more success than fell to them.
Before the contest a general impression prevailed among the Italians that the best time in the point-to-point would not be less than seventy minutes. The best time was actually forty-four minutes, made by Lieutenant d’Orgeix, 2d Hussars (French), on his little Anglo-Arab “Romeo.” The next best time was made by Lieutenant Gonnet-Thomas (French), on “Eclair,” Anglo-Arab, in forty-nine minutes, in spite of three falls; he and his horse were literally covered with mud when they arrived. The next best time was by an Italian, Lieutenant Ubertalli, on “Camerata,” Irish half-bred, in fifty-one minutes. The rest of the thirty one hour and seven minutes.
The final classification for the three successive days’ test was as follows:
1. Lieutenant Ubertalli (Italian), riding an Irish half-bred.
2. Lieutenant Gonnet-Thomas (French), riding an Anglo-Arab.
3. Lieutenant Cappi (Italian), riding an Irish half-bred.
4. Lieutenant d’Orgeix (French), riding an Anglo-Arab.
5. Lieutenant Caretti (Italian), riding an Irish half-bred.
The Giornale d’Italia, a much-read newspaper in Rome, makes these remarks on the classification: “It is to be noted that the winner, Lieutenant Ubertalli, owes his victory to the points made by him in the obstacle jumping contest on the hippodrome (perfect performance, 100). The superiority of the French officers in the last day’s cross-country race did not count enough to overcome their slight inferiority in the second day’s jumping, ‘precision jumping.’ Our officers are too generous and capable not to disapprove of conditions which place visiting foreigners at a disadvantage.”
Of course, no contest of this kind ever takes place without something being criticised, but in spite of the extraordinarily good management and generous intention which characterized the Italians’ arrangements, it is not unfair to say that the above remarks seem well founded. Lieutenant d’Orgeix went across a most difficult fifteen and a half miles of perfectly unknown country in the wonderful time of forty-four minutes. Lieutenant Ubertalli took fifty-one minutes, or sixteen per cent longer, to do the same thing. D’Orgeix had lost four points in the hippodrome jumping, that is, his horse had knocked down a top rail twice; Ubertalli had no faults against him. But the system of marking penalties was such that this loss of four points in precise jumping outweighed to such an extent the seven minutes by which d’Orgeix beat Ubertalli in doing fifteen and a half miles across country, that the former officer was placed fourth and the latter first in the final classification.
Likewise as between the two Frenchmen classed second and fourth, Gonnet-Thomas took five minutes longer to go the fifteen and a half miles than d’Orgeix, but he had only one fault marked against him over the hippodrome jumps, while d’Orgeix had two. This placed Gonnet-Thomas number two in the final classification, and d’Orgeix four. I notice that French officers in general give more credit to d’Orgeix than to Gonnet-Thomas, and consider his performance superior.
Having watched this outdoor riding and jumping during ten days (for there were many other events in which Italian and French officers were the chief participants), two questions inevitably arose in the mind:—first, which seat is the superior for military purposes, the Italian or the French; and second, what is the value of such contests in general, and to our army in particular?
The Italians ride with quite short stirrups, both officers and enlisted men, whether in the military or English saddle, having approximately the same position. When riding over jumps or in general across country, they lean far forward like jockeys, the leg from the knee down sloping back toward the horse’s flank. The photographs of Italian and French officers taking the same jump will best indicate the Italian seat as compared with the French.
In Jump No. 8, the full exaggeration of the Italian position is indicated. It is quite evident that for this jump, a most unusual obstacle, the position is intelligent, for the horse must be given every chance to get his hind legs over and the man has to look out for himself; but at jump No. 6, where the approach was level ground and the landing a sharp slope, the same position of the body was observed, only not so extreme. The photograph marked Jump No. 21-A illustrates the French seat in its classic purity; No. 18, the same seat slightly modified to meet special contest conditions, but still vastly far from the Italian position as seen at No. 22.
It would be unintelligent to dismiss the Italian seat because it offends ideas of cross-country horsemanship long accepted in both England and France, and believed in and practiced by our Mounted Service School. The Italian officers ride boldly and well, both over prepared obstacles and in the hunting field. The timber jumps in the Campagna, where much fox-hunting goes on, are second in stiffness only to those met with on Long Island and in Virginia. Nothing that I have seen in England—and I have hunted there with six excellent packs—was as stiff, for most English obstacles are hedges, and if you don’t go over you go through, or else have your fall considerably broken. But Italian “stationata” resemble post-and-rail fences; you go over, or you get a very nasty spill.
The Italian seat is probably a superior seat for races and exhibition jumping. It is more dangerous to the man, but it takes weight off the horse’s hind quarters and reduces by that much his chance of tipping with the hind legs. But is it a good seat to teach officers? I believe not, and this opinion is supported by the best authorities in France.
At Tor di Quinto this year were Colonel Blacque-Belair, the head riding instructor of Saumur, Major Détroyat, instructor at the same school, Major de Colbert, formerly of the cadre noir, and other eminent masters. We talked of this point in all its aspects, and while admiring what was accomplished by the Italians and confessing that results alone count, these officers believed that their seat was not the proper one to reach military men.
The reasons may be briefly alluded to. An officer, on service at least, should use the seat most suitable for all-round military work, the seat he teaches his men and expects them to copy from him. If he is a man of rank or eminence in horsemanship, his example is a matter of great importance to those about him. In going across country in campaign, whether on reconnaissance or carrying a message, an officer’s first thought is to arrive surely at the place he starts for. Speed is important, but not all-important. The Italian seat does not appear to be as safe for either man or horse as the French. In going across country, even at top speed, an officer must see—must observe the ground, the enemy if there be one, the military features of the terrain, the landmarks. If a man habitually gallops with his body inclined far forward, his head is inevitably down, and he sees about him only with an effort.
While these considerations apply to almost all fast work across country, when we come to the every-day work of the mounted soldier there is still less reason for adopting the cramped far-forward position preferred by the Italians. In mounted combat a man in that position is far less free to use his weapons and less secure on his horse than when by long habit he sits well down in the saddle, his body inclined only slightly forward and the stirrups long enough to enable the calves of the legs to grip the horse.
This much is insisted upon for the reason that many young French officers, enthusiastic riders in horse shows and cross-country races, have become seduced by the “American” seat, as it is called, from our jockeys who invented it. These young men, admirable and daring horsemen, lose sight to a certain extent of the special nature of the work in which this seat is an advantage, and are tempted to practice and teach it for other work for which it not so well adapted. The best authorities in military horsemanship in France are inclined to react against this sporting tendency. With that great liberty which is characteristic of French army methods, where results only are asked for and the means never rigidly prescribed, the colonels of cavalry regiments are inclined to let skillful and enthusiastic young horsemen ride any way they like, but they do not permit them to teach the men a system believed faulty for military work. These matters have been considered at Saumur, and the instructors there are careful to indicate the narrow limits within which they believe the Italian seat finds a useful application.
As our ideas in military horsemanship now closely follow the French, it seems well to have enlarged upon this point. I can only add as a personal conviction that nothing which was to be seen at Rome last May or in London last June, where French officers made so brilliant an impression, is calculated to make us feel anything but satisfaction in having chosen the French as our models. The French officers who took part in these events, and in others hardly less important, were in no case the same. A few specialists are not chosen to represent France at these various contests, but great numbers of youngsters from many different regiments, stirred by a fine desire to distinguish themselves, work hard to train a good charger and ask to be allowed to compete for the French uniform. The War Department—it is, I confess, surprising to see—does not give very great encouragement to these efforts either in the way of leave or financial aid. I believe this is simply because it does not have to.
What, now, is the military use of these contests? Very much the same, I should say, that a first-rate base ball nine is to a battalion of infantry, with this advantage added, that proficiency in mounted sports has a more direct application to cavalry training than has foot ball or base ball to infantry excellence.
Throughout the younger grades of the British, French and Italian cavalry there exists a veritable passion for riding over obstacles. In England, Ireland and a few parts of Italy this passion is largely gratified by riding to hounds, and the value of daring cross-country riders in campaign is too evident to make it necessary to quote the experiences related by Marbot when describing the Peninsular campaign. But in France, with little exception, all stag and boar hunting is in forests and other country devoid of obstacles. There are only two packs of fox-hounds in the country. Therefore, in most of France and Italy this passion of young to middle-aged officers for riding over obstacles is gratified in an artificial way. Leaving out steeplechases, there are obstacle courses built on every garrison drill ground, and there are any number of military cross-countries where the hot blood of young soldiers can meet and test its merits in the excitement of physical struggle. These contests are encouraged on every hand by horse raisers, by societies for improving horse breeding, by the military authorities, by sweethearts and wives. All the forces, and others besides, which go to encourage athletic sports in our army, lend their influence to horsemanship contests in France and Italy. The result is that those countries have a body of mounted officers who are well mounted, who ride constantly, who are ready every day in the year to take the field, who have a most amusing and exciting form of physical exercise, and who grow into middle age, and even old age, still interested in the horse, keeping up their riding through mere force of habit or force of pride, refusing as long as possible to grow old or give up. This is a distinct advantage to any service.
War is movement, and movement intelligently directed means victory. No amount of passive courage or mental activity can replace it. The habit of movement, of physical exertion, must be acquired in youth and preserved through middle age. It can no more easily be acquired in the course of a campaign by oldish men than can a foreign language. To be really useful it must have become instinctive. That, as I take it, is what we mean by “training.”
How does this apply to us?
Few will contend that physical activity has been or is even now a characteristic of our officers. Each one of us will readily recall the men who were our field officers six or eight years ago. How many of them ever spent five hours at a stretch in the saddle except for a practice march? How many ever amused themselves with out-door games of any sort? What sort of reception was given Mr. Roosevelt’s order requiring a pitiful little test of ninety miles in three days? Was there an explosion of anger that such a puerility should be exacted of healthy men?
When we turn to the younger mounted officers, men from thirty to forty years old, the difference is not enormous. I can remember very few at my stations, even in the last six years, for whom an hour or two of dull mounted drill did not fully satisfy the craving for the pleasures that come through the horse. Nor are the reasons hard to find. Going for a ride day after day out along a road, especially on an indifferent horse, is dull business when a man has had an hour or two of about the same thing during drill. Excitement and difficulty are lacking to the sport. Few do it; no example is set by the field officers, and the newcomers fall into the habits of the large majority. Riding for pleasure at our mounted garrisons is confined mostly to officers’ daughters and young men who find an interest in accompanying them.
Polo is gradually changing this mental attitude of the younger element in some regiments, but many reasons prevent polo from becoming the sport of the majority in any garrison, and it can not be played during much of the year. The same remark applies with added force to racing. This brings us back to horse shows and jumping competitions such as the one at Rome which we began by describing.
Every officer of our service can afford to own a first-class charger. Every subaltern could fairly be required to spend from $400 to $600 for a horse, since in three or four years this amount is returned to him by the government, and for the succeeding years be gets $150 a year as a simple bonus. I believe that the government should mount officers and withdraw the $150 allowance, but that is another story.
Now, as soon as every mounted subaltern—to go no higher—owns a first-class horse that can jump or can be taught to jump, and there is an obstacle course laid out on the reservation, if the man has any blood in him at all he is going to amuse himself by riding out to school his horse over these obstacles. Jumping is very exciting sport and most men will ride a long way to enjoy it, and even those who do not love it think they ought to, and that leads to the same end. This is the whole secret of the passion so prevalent in England for fox-hunting. That country, more than any other, is full of obstacles that can be jumped, and has very few that can not. The whole country seems organized for the sport; it has become a tradition, and a useful one for health and pleasure, at the same time leading to the production of great numbers of splendid horses, ideal for military purposes. I have ridden across country with many Englishwomen between fifty and sixty years old, and men of that age going hard excite no comment whatever.
In almost all parts of America this sport is quite out of the question, owing to the nature of our fences; but being the greatest incentive to riding yet devised for people of all ages, some form of obstacle jumping can be artificially arranged. This is what has been done in France, Italy and Germany, where hunting across an obstacle-strewn country can not exist. In these countries the military authorities some years ago deliberately set to work to stimulate the interest of its officers in riding for riding’s sake and not as a mere military drill. They recognized that to be successful something more exciting than mere walk, trot and gallop on the flat had to be provided—something, indeed, approaching English fox-hunting. What has been offered is the pleasure and stimulation of jumping obstacles, and how successful the effort has been can be estimated by any one who compares the amount of riding that is now done by officers of every age in France, Germany or Italy, with what prevailed thirty or even twenty years ago in the same countries when the present movement started, or with what prevails now in countries like the United States, where military men still ride almost exclusively as a military duty.
This stimulus to physical exertion along lines useful in military life has been just as artificial as that furnished by staff academies and war colleges to increased mental exertion; in the one case professional advancement has been the incentive, in the other pleasurable excitement. Each has been effective in vastly raising the standard of efficiency.
The time seems now to have come when we ought to bend our efforts in the same direction. Our service seems at last awake to the fact that it is very badly mounted, but the prospects of a steady improvement are so bright as to seem a certainty. We have a school of equitation that has about passed through the diseases of infancy and will soon become an acknowledged source of authority; we have a number of officers who already own and ride good horses; above all, we have a Chief of Staff who, more perhaps than any of us, appreciates the value of physical fitness and of hard riding as a means to that end. In a few years, then, we may expect our army to be largely provided with good horses; but I can not help urging that all our energies at this time should be concentrated upon mounting the officers well—when this is accomplished the men’s mounts will improve as an inevitable consequence. But it is almost idle to mount the men on superior horses unless the officers have even better ones. Excellence almost always flows down hill.
When it is urged that officers be mounted “well,” it is not meant that they should have merely better horses than at present, but better than those of any other service. We spend the money, and horseflesh is purchasable; why, therefore, should we not get the results?
Supposing, then, our officers distinctly well mounted (and that insures that the men will be), what are we going to do to keep up that condition and make them use the superior horses provided them? The answer, I think, is found in Rome. Provide an incentive. Lay out on every reservation a course over obstacles where the qualities of these horses may be exploited in the most delightful sport imaginable. Have contests, paper chases, races, and competitions in training, in the garrison and between regiments, for teams and for individuals. The younger men will take to it with enthusiasm, we may be sure, and it must not be forgotten that these subalterns will soon be field officers. Once we have a body of colonels who, in their younger days, have known the joys and excitement of riding straight over stiff country, we need harbor no further fears for the horsemanship of our mounted service or of our general officers.
Garrison life in America does not abound with pleasures. Certainly the variety is limited. We are far from towns and the usual excitements and interests craved by educated men. For the young officer life is often dull, but for those who have horses the outdoor amusements need not be confined to watching eight men play polo or eighteen play base ball. However, these horses must be good, or there is no interest in riding them, and some difficulty or danger must be offered to overcome, or no enjoyment ensues. A man generally does well what he enjoys doing, and others who have not the taste or the ability rarely know it—they follow the fashion. It is important, then, that the fashion established be a useful one.
It was very instructive to me to note that the eleven-day horse show at Rome was almost wholly a military affair, held on government land under War Department auspices and largely paid for out of military funds. There were gate receipts, it is true, but they could not have begun to pay the expenses. There were events for hunters and for gentlemen, but most of the entries even here were by officers, and the public interest centered chiefly upon them. The competition amongst regimental patrols of six men, representing thirty-one regiments, was one of the features of the show. We can well imagine the stimulus the prospect of going to Rome to represent the regiment must have been to all the enlisted men in every squadron throughout Italy.
The horse show in London is a very different affair. Here the civilian element is all-important, the military features, in comparison, insignificant. Italy has an elaborate military competition every year for the purpose of encouraging riding in the army; England does not need this, since her mounted officers have every inducement to ride, and they live in a community of hard-riding and horse-loving civilians.
The Paris horse show was at one time far more of a military event than it is now, when riding has spread into civil life. Moreover, horsemanship in the French army is now established on such a firm basis that the horse show stimulus is lost sight of. Nevertheless the military features are still a most important factor in the popular and financial success of the show, and much of the best riding is done by officers or ex-officers. Unfortunately, our service is in the same situation as the Italian as regards the need of an external incentive to riding, and this stimulus will have to be provided, as in Italy, by and within the army itself, until we become able to do without it as has happened in France.
It may seem that this discussion has gone far afield, but an examination of conditions in other countries is the best way to comprehend our own, and see in what manner improvement may be accomplished most quickly. I also feel like offering an excuse for insisting upon points that to many are self-evident. But I fear there are still numerous officers of our mounted service who believe that this riding is a fad and this jumping all fol-de-rol. What practical good will it do in war? they very properly ask, and if there were no ready answer they would be right in sitting down in placid satisfaction with the situation as it has existed since the Civil War. For that reason I have endeavored to furnish historical arguments for those who are not content with present conditions and are trying to improve them.
There is little doubt that habit is a factor of first importance in determining the output of all human endeavor. The habit of riding has not existed in the American army since the opening of the West and the close of our Indian campaigns. Even in those days it existed only in the cavalry, leaving the artillery, the general officers and the mounted staffs wholly unaffected. How, then, can this habit be revived, intensified, and spread to all who need it?
First, it is submitted, by taking measures to insure that every officer shall have one really first-class horse. This must be an act of authority, and not left to the individual to decide.
Second, by providing a stimulus which will insure that these horses will be ridden by their owners outside of the short hours of drill which prevail during most of the year. This stimulus is most readily furnished by the pleasure which all young men find in jumping good horses over difficult obstacles. Experience in other countries proves, if proof be needed, that this instinct can be relied upon as surely as that of the dog to chase a rabbit.
These ideas found a place in the scheme of rehabilitation imposed upon the French cavalry by its lack of success in the Franco-German war, and they have been amply justified. Much later the same process is to be traced in the progress made by the Italian cavalry, progress which in eight years has brought it to a place of formidable rivalry with its French competitor. The watchword has been, provide really superior horses, teach young officers to ride them over stiff obstacles, and no orders will ever have to be issued requiring officers to ride; they will do it joyfully and hence well. Italy is notoriously poor; she maintains an active army of 290,000 men and 54,000 horses for just half what our army costs us; yet she finds it wise to pay for officers’ mounts sums far superior to what we consider necessary. Officers themselves spend freely to insure having for their pleasure really first-class horses, but there must be no mistaken notion that these officers are wealthy. Many a man pays out of his own pocket $500 toward getting a good horse, who has not the income of our lieutenants. It is merely that prevailing sentiment in the service leads him to prefer this pleasure to another.
Returning to our own case, it may be said that once first-class horses and cross-country courses are provided, instruction in the use of both can be given by officers who have become proficient in the sport at Fort Riley or elsewhere. Contests can then be instituted, and there seems little reason to suppose that American youth will greatly differ from that of other nations in its enthusiasm for this form of exercise and progress toward excellence in it.
It is not my belief that being able to jump fences, hedges and stone walls will have any extended application in war, whether in our own country or any other; but peace practice in this amusement, interest and rivalry in it, has so far proved the greatest inducement yet discovered to make mounted officers serving at distant, dull garrisons, spend their leisure hours in the saddle rather than at the club.