March 30


What Do George Morris and Federico Caprilli Have in Common?

By barbaraellinfox

March 30, 2010

Federico Caprilli’s Forward System had an impact on jumping worldwide. (check out my article “Backwards and Forwards: The Evolution of Jumping“)  His methods were adapted in different ways  to suit the riding needs in various countries.  Caprilli’s student, Piero Santini, indicated that  the Cavalry School at Fort Riley had made the fewest changes and was closest to the Italian system.  (In reality the system used at Fort Riley was a combination of the Italian and French methods. )  Caprilli believed that the horse should be allowed to travel and jump as naturally as possible and that it was the rider’s responsibility to impede the horse as little as possible.

Federico Caprilli

Today we see riders sitting behind the motion, driving the horse toward the fence with an aggressive seat, as if they could cause a reluctant horse to become brilliant.  We see riders in various contortions over the fence. And we see every sort of bit and device used because riders go from much contact to no contact and back to contact, during their ride over a course, losing steady communication with the horse.  Where has Caprilli gone?

It was refreshing to read “Master the Principles of Jumping” by Sandra Oliynk in the April ’10 issue of Practical Horseman magazine, that George Morris is teaching some of Caprilli’s principles.

The article is written from the 2010 Horsemanship Training Session. It starts with cavaletti work.

Quote, page 35:  “He wanted the riders in galloping positions with their upper bodies 30 degrees in front of the vertical to help them stay with their horses’ motion. “Rodrigo Pessoa and Eric Lamaze are very light in their seats, very forward, very accommodating to the horse, so the horses can use their backs,” he explained of the two Olympic show-jumping gold medalists. Other than that, he wanted the riders to do very little: “Don’t push, don’t pull. Sit still,” he said, adding, “When riding cavaletti, you need to have a very oscillating arm. I see a lot of tight reins and tight necks. Your horse needs a long neck. His neck is his balancing agent.”

Caprilli would have been pleased that riders were instructed to ride in a forward position to accommodate the horse.  He also would have applauded to Morris for telling riders to sit still and do very little.  Even more important to Caprilli was the use of the riders hand, as you can see from this quote (pg. 36) from the Caprilli Papers:

“If we jump without yielding the hand and without accompanying with the body the forward thrust of the centre of gravity, the horse, in his discomfort, retaliates by ‘bucking’ over the obstacle, which causes violent and painful strain and requires an effort much superior to the normal.”

“In conclusion, I wish to express my firm belief in the fact that yielding the hand when in the air is the most important of all movements, and that therefore an instructor should insist on its correct accomplishment more than on any other detail.”

The Practical Horseman article progressed from cavaletti to bending lines.  Quote, page 37, “Once the riders saw their distances to the jumps, George told them to focus on turning using inside opening reins to lead their horses. “This is supple, this is soft. You can see suppling the horse has nothing to do with gadgets. It has to do with aids. It doesn’t have anything to do with tying the poor horse’s head down.””

From “Caprilli Papers, page 20 “…the first rule of good horsemanship should be that of reducing, simplifying and even, when possible, altogether eliminating any action on the rider’s part.

And “The simple use of the hands in turning a horse, and of the legs to make him advance with the required determination and purpose, are sufficient aids. If we moreover bring them into play at the right moment and without unnecessary vigour, we shall be superlatively successful.”

“In riding, to intervene by pulling is easy but very often harmful; it is, on the other hand, very difficult, but always right, not to interfere with the horse and to know how to yield to him under all conditions and in every circumstance. This is what we must both learn and teach. If we are capable of yielding the hand, we shall know when, and in what measure, to pull.”

Practical Horseman, page 37 “Though turning, the horses still had to be forward, and the riders still had to be in galloping positions. George didn’t want the riders to slow down and sit. “To make a short turn, let the horse gallop under your seat. The horse is free,” he said. “This excessive sitting down doesn’t soften the horse.”

And page 40 of Practical Horseman Magazine:
“As the riders galloped the two jumps on a figure-eight pattern, George stressed rider position. “Most people who jump ahead of their horses are doing the work of their hands with their upper bodies,” he said. “Don’t jump up your horse’s neck. Keep a soft arm. Let the horse take care of your upper body. Do nothing, nothing, NOTHING with your seat.”

Caprilli advocated for the horse and for less force from the rider. He was a natural horsemanship advocate.  He believed that left to its natural state the horse was relaxed and  capable of making decisions about jumping and that it was the rider’s job to interfere with the horse as little as possible. He believed that trouble began when the rider introduced school movements, deep seats, and collection. Caprilli believed that the rider caused the tension which resulted in pain for the horse and that these things caused fear and opposition.

Kudos to George Morris for teaching these principles in the 2010 Horsemanship Training Session.   It’s too bad that his examples for a rider with a light seat did not include an American.   For my example of an America rider with a light seat I’ve included a video of  Kathy Kusner on Aberali and Untouchable .  It’s old an not very clear, but for those of us who love to watch riders from that period of history, it’s worth the effort. Thanks to Ron Kobrine for putting this footage on Youtube. Click the link to view the video of Kathy Kusner:    [youtube][/youtube]

Thanks for reading U.S. Horsemanship,

Barbara Ellin Fox

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