November 19


Harry Chamberlin – Teacher & Horseman

By barbaraellinfox

November 19, 2013

Balanced Seat, Cavalry School, Fort Riley, forward seat, Harry Chamberlin, Olympics

Harry_D._ChamberlinBorn in Illinois in 1887, Harry Dwight Chamberlin graduated from West Point in 1910. Upon graduation he was assigned to Fort Riley, Kansas, 7th Cavalry. He later returned to West Point where he trained under the  Guy. Henry. (read about Guy Henry)

Chamberlin served in WW1 and after the armistice in 1919 he had his first opportunity to compete for the U.S. in international competition, after which he was reassigned to Fort Riley in the horsemanship department. At Fort Riley he trained for the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium competing in show jumping and 3 day event.

The horsemanship manual that was used at Fort Riley when Harry Chamberlin was instructor is the same 1912 French Cavalry Manual that I send as a gift to readers who sign up for the U.S. Horsemanship Newsletter. If you’d like to receive a copy for your horsemanship library, just fill out the subscription form on the upper right corner of this page.

Harry Chamberlin, rather than just a rider and competitor, was a student of horsemanship. He requested, and was selected to attend the French Cavalry School at Saumur, France in 1922. He had a desire to add more knowledge about Caprilli’s forward method to the sound foundation he’d received at Saumur and was selected to train at Tor Di Quinto, Italy once his time at Saumur was completed. Harry Chamberlin excelled in the forward system at Tor Di Quinto. When his time was finished at Tor Di Quinto, Harry Chamberlin visited the German school at Hanover and also the British Cavalry School at Weedon.

From 1925-1927 Harry Chamberlin was stationed at Fort Bliss,Texas where he  taught horsemanship and played polo. Under his leadership, the 8th Cavalry Polo team won championships in 1925 and 1926. He played polo in addition to his regular duties which included responsibility for his squadron of more than 300 troopers and 500 horses. His squadron patrolled the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

Chamberlin returned to Fort Riley in 1927 and incorporated the ideas and skills he’d developed while studying in France and Italy. This was an important time for U.S. riders because Harry Chamberlin’s method established the foundation of the balanced seat for future generations of Americans.

n1410168169_30222315_6718Harry ChamberlinWhile at Fort Riley Harry Chamberlin was a member of the Army Equestrian Team which competed at Madison Square Garden in New York, as well as shows in Europe. He was selected for the 1928 Army Equestrian team for the Olympics in Amsterdam.

1928 was the fourth time the U.S. sent a riding team to the Olympic Games. The team was selected from Field Artillery, Cavalry, and civilian ranks through tests held at both Fort Riley, Kansas and Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  15 horses were chosen from a combination of all the Government owned horses and a handful that were privately owned. Interestingly, the final selection resulted in 4 TBs, 1 French coach horse, 1 half Hackney, an American saddle horse and the remaining of unknown breeding. Several of the horses had competed in past Olympics. The selected team and horses trained at Fort Riley from May 1, 1928- June 2, 1928 at which time they traveled by rail to New York  where they trained for another short time period before boarding the SS. President Roosevelt for a 10 day ocean voyage to Amsterdam and then another train trip to the show grounds. The competition started 18 days after the horses landed in Amsterdam. This training was an improvement compared to the three previous Army Teams that competed in the Olympics  but still proved not to be enough to adequately prepare a team for international competition. The lessons learned from the 1928 Olympics, combined with the driving force of Harry Chamberlin, turned the Army team into a serious force in future international competition.

Harry Chamberlin was captain of the record making Army Olympic team in 1932 . Once again he competed in 3 Day Event, winning team gold, and also in Show Jumping where he won the individual  silver medal.

In 1944, while commanding in the Pacific, Lieutenant Colonel Harry D. Chamberlin became ill. The illness was fatal.

Harry Chamberlin is credited with the development of the Cavalry’s multi volume manual, Horsemanship and Horsemastership. The instructions and principles laid out in these volumes trained the military and when cavalrymen began instructing outside of the military, they changed the face of horsemanship for the civilian population.

Harry Chamberlin wrote two books on horsemanship that, IMHO, should be in the libraries of every serious horseman. Training Hunters, Jumpers and Hacks was published in 1937. Riding and Schooling Horses (my favorite) was published in 1934. Chamberlin’s writing style is very easy to understand. He’d studied all of the major works on horsemanship, such as: Baucher, La Guerinere, and D’ Aure and many others that were available in his day.  He felt that, for the most part, the works on horsemanship were difficult for the average person to understand and too many of them were incomplete.  He made certain that his writing was clear and understandable by having it read by a woman who was not a horsewoman, prior to publication. Only a teacher would have been so concerned about the clarity of his explanations.

According to Harry Chamberlin a person needs 5 qualities in order to become a good horseman. (read my blog post )They are:

  1. a normally alert mind
  2. a mind with an analytical turn asking “how” and “why”
  3. average physique
  4. regular practice
  5. theoretical knowledge

Harry Chamberlin was responsible for the riding instruction of thousands of men during his career and he he oversaw the training of more men than horses. His training and teaching produced the generation of American Cavalry officers, including Gordon Wright, who taught the civilian riders in the decades after the Cavalry was dismounted in 1946-47. Chamberlin was able to thoroughly understand and meld the theories and methods of both the French and the Italian cavalry schools, leaving us with clear explanations for future generations of riders. Piero Santini, student of Federico Caprilli, said that the teaching at Fort Riley came the closest of any nation to those of Caprilli himself, yet Chamberlin believed that Caprilli’s forward method was somewhat limited to a selected venue.

Chamberlin’s method not only became models for the balanced seat/eventing riders and the forward seat/hunter riders, he effected stock seat/western riders through men like Monte Forman (learn more about Monte Foreman) and John Richard Young (The Schooling of the Western Horse 1961).

Because of his ability to lead men, understand horses, fathom the deep theories of horsemanship and translate them into language that could be understood by the average mind, Harry Chamberlin was probably the finest horseman ever produced by the U.S. Cavalry. He was a soldier, a horseman, a sportsman, and a teacher, providing an important foundation for riding in the U.S.

Thank you for reading!

Barbara Ellin Fox


  1. He later returned to West Point where he trained under the infamous Guy. Henry.

    Not sure why you used the word “infamous”?

    adjective \ˈin-fə-məs\

    : well-known for being bad : known for evil acts or crimes

    : causing people to think you are bad or evil

  2. Good work Barbara (as usual)
    If you will excuse the correction — purely in the interests of accuracy — for Wheaton read Weedon.


  3. I’m finishing up a book, “Belgian Decorations to Americans for World War One Service,” and have done a little bit of research on Chamberlin. A few corrections: his first competition was in July 1919 at the Inter-Allied Games outside of Paris. He was a member of the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team (composed of all U.S. Army officers) that competed in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium, not London. Chamberlin was awarded a Belgian decoration for competing in a Belgian military horse competition in September 1920 following the Olympics.

  4. Great summary on Chamberlain
    I am tired of Fordon Wright and George Morris being called the founders of American jumping style
    Jim Wofford does the best job of passing on Chamberlain’s teachings
    It was Chamberlain who brought us Caprilli’s technique and put it all in clear writing
    Santinu’s books are good but not as complete as Chamberlain’s
    My mother ordered a Pariani jumping saddle in 1937
    I still have it
    Chamberlain is a man from the past I wish I could have met
    Thank you for this site

  5. Oops sorry about spelling errors in my comment praising your analysis of Chamberlain’s contribution
    Gordon Wright
    Pierro Santini

    Kris Matlack DVM
    I have a huge library and an ing books if anyone is looking for special titles
    I don’t have a website yet
    715 815 0852

  6. Hi Kris
    I agree regarding who the father of the American jumping style is. I think we must read a lot of the same books. Santini makes me smile because I picture him as very passionate about his beliefs and connection with Caprilli. I can visualize his heated arguments with other horsemen. Another interesting book and horseman is Modern Horsemanship by Colonel Paul Rodzianko. He was a student of both Fillis and Caprilli. Have you ever catalogued your library?

    The Pariani I rode in as a kid was meant for someone with long thighs! That you still have one is a testament to the quality workmanship of old saddle makers, and of course to good care.

    Thanks so much for commenting on my post.

  7. Yours is a fine expose` on Chamberlin. You did however leave out some key information – those things being that Chamberlin rode 1,000+ miles in pursuit of Poncho Villa during the Mexican Puntive Expedition 1916 – 1917 [I refer you to to “Chasing Villa: The Last Campaign of the US Cavalry" by Col Frank Tompkins, a great but intense read]. Chamberlin also rode in the 1919 Inter Allied games which replaced the cancelled 1916 Olympics. He came in 2nd in this his first international competion.

    Chamberlin was also the honor graduate at both of the cavalry courses the Cavalry School at Fort Riley Kansas as well as the honor graduate at both Samur and Tor de Quinto – where at the later, the senior instructor said to him at the graduation “The student has surpassed the master."

    He rode in the ’20, ’28 and ’32 Olympics. His Silver Medal in the ’32 Los Angeles Olympics was in the. Pre de Nations course which the Olympic Committee later declared to have been too difficult. His mount "Tanbark" came up lame The Day Before The Event and he rode the US team's back up horse “Show Girl”. Chamberlin has ridden her exactly once before – ever – and that for about 5 minutes, in an arena, and not over any jumps or obstales. Obviously his performance is all the more impressive as a horseman because of that…

    Finally Chamberlin headed the 5 member committee of Cavalry officers who developed the American Military Seat, which was adopted by the Cavalry in 1929. This seat was used by our Olympic team in both the ’32 and ’36 Olympics where we won more equestrian medals than we ever had before or, as of today, ever have since. The American Military Seat aka The Chamberlin Seat is judged as the most balanced and versatile seat ever for the greatest number of equestrian activities.

    It is no exageration to say that Harry Chamberlin was our greatest horseman ever. Jimmy Wofford certainly thought so as did William Steinkrausalso an Olympian and graduate of the Fort Riley Cavalry School.

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