Federico Caprilli (1868-1907), Captain in the Italian Cavalry, is credited with developing the system for forward seat riding. Today’s riders have had the benefits of his method for over 100 years but, before Captain Caprilli,most people who jumped their horses, rode like this:
It looks like they’re being left behind, doesn’t it? But they rode like this on purpose. They believed that putting their weight over the horse’s shoulders made it hard for him to jump. Plus, they believed it was necessary to “lift” the horse over the jump by pulling up on the reins.
After Caprilli’s system began to spread, horsemen started riding like this:
Rodzianko tells us in “Modern Horsemanship“, “Caprilli taught that the rider’s chief aim must be to respond to all changes of balance by following the movements of the horse.” Caprilli believed that less was best. He was not in favor of collection for natural riding and taught riders to utilize their horse’s natural balance. He believed it was the rider’s job to interfere with the horse as little as possible.
In many ways, Caprilli was a “natural horsemen”, perhaps even a “horse whisperer” of sorts. He developed trust between horse and rider and made training more comfortable for the horse. He believed in gentle persuasion as opposed to violent training and didn’t used the term “breaking” when referring to starting a young or green horse.
Although Caprilli competed in steeplechase and jumping competitions, his goal was to find the most comfortable and efficient way for the men and horses of the Italian Cavalry to travel cross country.
Caprilli was trained in the high school dressage methods that were popular at the close of the 19th century . Rodzianko states that “While studying, he came to the conclusion that most systems of riding were unharmonious and forced.” Caprilli’s new ideas were not immediately appreciated by the Italian Cavalry. In truth, some of his military seniors were strongly opposed to the revolutionary methods. In “Riding Reflections”, Santini states Caprilli was sent to the South of Italy “…to cool his heels and his juvenile exuberance….”. One can only imagine how much his excitement about the forward system went against the grain of the establishment. When his riding accomplishments drew the attention of a Superior Officer, Caprilli was summoned to return from the south of Italy. He was instructed to make a presentation of his system to a special committee, using a troop he’d trained. The demonstration convinced his superiors that his system had value and in 1904 Caprilli became Instructor to the Cavalry School.
We are fortunate that Federico Caprilli dictated some of his method to a student, Bianchetti. These notes were later translated into English by Piero Santini and were published as “The Caprilli Papers“. Two of Caprilli’s students, Piero Santini and Col Paul Rodzianko, had their own works published.
Federico Caprilli was not the only person of his day to have revolutionary ideas about riding forward. American Jockey, Todd Sloan, shortened his stirrups and changed his seat to a crouching position that was called “the Monkey Seat”. Russia claimed that Cossacks had been riding forward for years. But until Caprilli, no one had developed a system of forward riding and Caprilli’s method has influenced jumping riders throughout the world, including those of us who jump in America.
Thanks for reading,
Barbara Ellin Fox
Santini, Captain Piero, (1932) Riding Reflections, New York, Derrydale Press
Santini, (1936) The Forward Impulse, New York, Huntington Press
Santini, (1967) The Caprilli Papers, London, J.A.Allen
Rodzianko, Colonel Paul (1936), Modern Horsemanship, London, Seeley Service & Co. Ltd.
Hayes, Captain M. H., (1901), Riding and Hunting, London, Hurst and Blackett, Limited
Excellent article! It’s amazing, though, how few people today (especially in the US) have actually heard of Caprilli.
Along the same lines, I’ll have to dig it out and transcribe it, but I have a wonderful article written in the 1920’s by a Russian Army Officer (whose name eludes me at this time) from a book called “From the Double Eagle to the Red Flag” that describes in detail the type of riding being done at the Italian schools at Tor Di Quinto and Pinerolo.
Most riders today would be afraid to ride in that type of seat/system (mainly because it would require the rider to actually get out of the horse’s way and let the horse do its job!). And, oddly enough, the exact method/system (including the training of the horse and rider) that Caprilli rode in is a lot safer, more stable, more efficient, easier to master and, most importantly, less stressful on the horse.
Great article. I too believe that today’s horsemanship is lacking and we have forgotten the last one hundred years or so of experience in teaching today’s riders, children and adults.
I would like to have seen more credit given to people like Col Harry Chamberlin, with his training at the French and British military equestrian academies, for bring the Caprilli style of riding to the US Army in the early 20th century.
You are quite right; we owe a great deal to Col Harry Chamberlin. Thank you for pointing out his absence 🙂
Did you ever look at—-
This video is like feeling a breath of fresh air. I remember the D’Inzeos riding like this. Thanks for posting it. Anyone who wants to see the forward seat should take a look.
The best to you,
And this is relatively recent — the Italians are still riding like that !
Barbara — just for you — D’Inzeo —
and another d’inzeo for you — what are your thoughts about this?
and another —
This particular video was a classic performance!
As far as I know, both D’Inzio brothers are still alive. I remember seeing Raimondo and Piero D’Inzeo riding sometime in the 70’s.
The D’Inzio brothers applied a very refined version of Carpilli’s Sytema Naturale to the show ring, something you don’t see very often today. That is, unless the rider is from Italy.
Notice the longer stirrups used in the video Roger posted. Also, notice the relatively static leg position and unilateral use of the spurs for acceleration when approaching jumps on a turn.
The D’Inzio’s were masters of all five forms of rein, when and how to use them, rating a horse by lateral flexions and/or by seat and leg alone. But, for the most part, watch how the horse is largely left alone on the approach to and over obstacles. A perfect application of the principle, “get out of the horse’s way and let the horse do its job”.
“Notice the longer stirrups used in the video Roger posted. Also, notice the relatively static leg position and unilateral use of the spurs for acceleration when approaching jumps on a turn.”
Now which video is this? For myself I cannot see these points and I would be disappointed about the use of spurs if I could.
Yes. I see what you mean in the last clip.
I love these videos. d’Inzeos are such a part of history and they are probably the closest thing to Caprilli that we could view. Thank you for putting them in the comments for everyone to see. I used to love the grey horse, I Think his name was The Rock.
Barbara — An interesting view, but to me not as close a thing to Caprilli as the Italian rider which I posted first in —
The D’Inzeos do seem to stand in the stirrups and the last one was quite free with his heels — but who am I to judge — perhaps the horse needed that sort of treatment. When I am as good as the man in Sistema Naturale I will be qualified to comment !
On reviewing those clips perhaps Piero is more to my taste than Raimondo.
I don’t Believe this is a picture of Caprilli. It certaintly is not the position he developed nor the contact. He put emphasise on non-abuse of the horse (mouth open). It is a huge misrepresentation of Caprilli’s system. Thank you for letting me comment.
Thank you Paul,
I will look into the picture.
The top picture is Caprilli taken about 1901. The last two at the bottom (illustration the forward seat over obstacles) are hard to identify, but the uniforms are from the same Savoy Cavalry regiment that trained at the Italian Cavalry School at Pinerolo (Turin).
As an interesting note, Caprilli never proposed the total elimination of certain aspects of Classical Equitation (meaning Haute Ecole principles) like collection and certain elements of weight distribution peculiar to the High School of riding. One of Caprilli’s famous quotes roughly translates to, “a horse doesn’t always have to be ridden with its weight evenly distributed between the front and hind feet”.
An interesting note about the picture of Caprilli sitting a fairly classical seat in the top picture: Caprilli’s system was largely designed to get more horses and riders into the lines of cavalry units as efficiently as possible in a way that was better suited towards mounted combat and covering long distances and rough terrain in the most efficient way possible. Collected riding is antithetical to cross country riding because too much energy is expended in vertical motion rather than forward motion. Also, in a combat melee situation, anything even remotely resembling ‘refined’ riding goes right out the window.
Collection and frame of a horse to Caprilli was something that horses should do on their own (by being asked largely by seat and leg and never being imposed upon upon the horse except in an emergency). However, there are certain times in which control needs to be exerted which can result in situations where certain elements of High School riding may be required. Even High School Riding executed at the Spanish Riding School operates under the dictum that one never imposes artificial balance or frame on the horse, but asks the horse by seat and coordination of the aids to do so on its own. Caprilli, despite being revolutionary in his methods and certain theories, always recognize that the most efficient way to ride was to not interfere with the horse and let the horse learn to carry itself and to accommodate the horse as much as practicable.
While Caprilli might have frowned upon any real need for a horse to stop and stand square at the halt, horses trained or retrained using Caprilli’s methods and theories tend to stop very square provided the rider places his weight properly and evenly when asking for the halt. If a horse becomes accustomed to carrying itself, and the rider avoids imposing artificial frame or collection upon the horse, all that is needed for a horse to stop and stand square is for the rider to evenly distribute his and the horse’s weight 50/50 between fore and hind ends – and this is very classical in principle and practice. If a horse is not standing square, all you have to do is adjust your seat and move the horse into your hands ever so slightly.
The point being is that the higher levels of Caprilli’s “Natural System” require the judicious application of certain elements of High School riding, especially in things like rating a horse by lateral flexions, etc., which at times can look very ‘classical’ but in reality are not (because minimal imposition of artificial balance and frame is a cardinal theory).
I’ve got some really good photographs of Carpilli lurking on my computer in which his seat looks very classical at times, but never classical looking when moving forward in the field.
Thank you for answering my question about whether or not the top picture is Federico Caprilli. I never tire of you very informative posts. I learn something every time you write. As I mentioned on TheRidingInstructor.net, I could be jealous of you for having a grandfather who graduated from both the Pinerolo and Tor Di Quinto Cavalry schools, except that you are so generous in sharing information.:-) I applaud you for freely sharing, on your web site http://www.gilmorehorsemanship.com/caprillinaturalsystem.html, your translation of the 1901 article, Per L=Equitazione Di Campagna@ (For Riding in the field), written by Federico Caprilli . I recommend that anyone who reads this comment go to your site and read it for themselves, as I believe it is more accurate than the book The Caprilli Papers, written by Caprilli’s own student, Piero Santini. I have just a small understanding of then amount of work you put into your translation to make it accurate and understandable.
Thank you again for your help. As I mentioned, I have moved to the MidWest and all of my research books are still in storage in Arizona and I could not remember where I had first found the picture.
I asked my friend and authority on Caprilli, Dan Gilmore, to verify whether or not the picture in question is Federico Caprilli. Dan verified that it is Caprilli taken around 1901. In his comment on this blog post he explains why Caprilli is in this position. If you go to Dan’s web site http://www.gilmorehorsemanship.com/caprillinaturalsystem.html you will find Dan’s translation from Italian to English of the article “APer L=Equitazione Di Campagna@ (For Riding in the field)” that was written by Caprilli in 1901. It is most interesting. Dan has a heritage of Caprilli’s method, having a grandfather that graduated from both Pinerolo and Tor Di Quinto. I think you would find his work very informative.
Thank you for commenting and for bringing up the question of the picture, as not only does it put your question to rest, it drew a very educational comment from Dan.
Thank you again for your thought provoking comment.
What an excellent, informed and informative response from Dan ! Particularly I appreciated his drawing the distinction between riding across country and other work. As you Barbara and Dan know I have worked at the Caprilli method and know only too well that if you try to maintain that seat at a walk over steep hilly country be it uphill or downhill one soon develops a backache ! One has to adapt the style of riding to suit the country and the application. Nevertheless Viva Caprilli and well said Dan.
On a different tack it is interesting to note that Santini advocates the use of only a snaffle or a Pelham whereas the current view of those who purport to know is that a Pelham is to be eschewed as being an intidy compromise. For myself (and I do know some Physics) it is a logical and more efficient development from the double bridle. Even the use of roundings may have some application — I think — maybe.
It’s so good to hear from you Roger! Dan was very helpful with his answer and cleared up some confusion for me about Santini’s statement that Fort Riley (Harry Chamberlin) kept closest to the true Caprilli style. (Those aren’t his exact words). I couldn’t quite justify it when I compared Santini’s translation of the Caprilli Papers to the work of Harry Chamberlin. So Dan’s explanation was very helpful to me. I was also having difficulty accepting the running martingale’s as Caprilli but now the light has come on!
Santini sort of reminds me of some of the followers of today’s round pen/horse whisperer/natural horsemanship trainers. The followers seem to take the original one step to the extreme and muddy the waters. Perhaps that’s because the thoughts didn’t originate with the follower.
I deal with the imperfect (speaking only of myself now- smiling) but I’m usually thinking in the realm of the perfect (a very frustrating dichotomy) so I’ve also had the occasion to use a lot of different bits. I (this is Me not Caprilli!!) have never minded a pelham when it was necessary because it still allowed the ability to separate the snaffle action from the curb action. A modern bit that I dislike (not counting all of the barbaric devices that I automatically discard from the equation) is the kimberwicke. It destroys any feeling, lightness, response or life. But that is only my personal opinion.
Of course some of the photographs of Mr C might have been taken before he had actually evolved his system.
You might be aware, and if not you might find interesting, Elwyn Hartley Edwards’s book ‘Complete Book of Bits and Bitting’ ISBN 0 7153 1163 8
which also covers the use and effects of reins. It is amazing the variety of ironmongery that some people put into a horse’s mouth. He can have an amusing turn of phrase.
I found interesting the so-called Newmarket bridle with 4-ringed bit — but have never actually seen one. Page 70. (Army invention of course !) (How I deplore this almost universal fashion for a Flash noseband! So unecessary in most cases.
Personally I have used a full cheek jointed snaffle and a mullen mouth snaffle and find little to choose between them except that the mullen mouth is possibly kinder to the horse (providing the rider knows how to stop a horse!) I have ridden with a double bridle and find it to be a difficult thing to manage in the field with any degree delicacy . (All those reins! if one is in the habit of slipping the reins as I am, and then having to harvest them again). An arch-mouth Pelham is more useful. I have used an Army Universal (Page 90) to some effect — it has a slight gag action when used as a snaffle but otherwise is a variation on an arch-mouth Pelham. However I now stick to my mullen mouth snaffle for all work and have used it successfully on unschooled and recalcitrant horses; one just has to learn one’s horse.
I have not ridden any of my horses in anything but a smooth snaffle bit in many, many years. Sometimes I use loose ring snaffles, sometimes a dee or an egg butt. I used to favor a thicker mouth piece until I discovered that many horses can not make their teeth meet in them and those are more comfortable in a thin mouth piece. All goes without saying that any bit can cause misery in the wrong hands.
My ponies wear full check snaffles with keepers in place, except that more often than not my ponies teach in Dr. Cook’s bitless bridles. They are very happy ponies since moving into those.
I don’t much care for flash nosebands either and although I “grew up ” using dropped nosebands, I don’t use them much any more. I will not work with a student that uses a crank until they agree to remove it. How is the horse supposed to relax the jaw when his mouth is confined so tightly that he can’t even swallow his own saliva?
At one time I had a conversation with someone from one of the well known companies that makes expensive bits. The woman told me that an elite German trainer/competitor complained about this company’s curb bit and returned it because the shanks bent while he was using it. I cringe when ever I think of that.
I like E. Hartley Edwards book on bitting, as well as his others.
You might have come across an author named Richard Bach. (He wrote Jonathan Livingstone Seagull). Now this comment is not about horses or riding but I recently started to read again one of his earlier books — Nothing By Chance. It is about aeroplanes and flying. For some reason as I read it it caused me to think of you. Perhaps it parallels the effort to bring to awareness, to open the eyes of those who do not (or will not) know. He, Bach, is of a philosophical bent and his last chapters in particular reminded me of your trials and tribulations when moving. (He certainly struck a chord with me, but then I also flew an open cockpit biplane which was dear to me). I commend the book to you.
Good to see you back in the arena!
I’m embarrassed to admit that I have been neglecting U.S. Horsemanship in favor of other activities and missed your lovely comment. Jonathan Livingstone Seagull and I have been good friends for many years. I will most definitely look for – Nothing By Chance. Thank you, my friend.
An open cockpit biplane…it must have given you an amazing feeling of freedom.