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SADDLING: a VERY brief illustrated history

This page is dedicated to Dr. Henri L. M. van Schaik, mentor and teacher, showing the classical seat.
OLYMPIC SHOW JUMPING: Team Medal Winners
Berlin 1936
Gold
Germany
Kurt Hasse - Martin von Branekow - Heinz Brandt
Silver
Netherlands
Johan J. Greter - Jan a de Bruine - Henri L. M. van Schaik
Bronze
Portugal
Jose Beltrao - Luiz Marques do Funchal - Luis Mena e Silva

The images on this page reflect my selections from a rich history of horses in art. I have selected these images for the clarity they exhibit on how humans sat on the equine back. A wider selection of images may be inspected by using the art history link at the bottom of the table of contents page.

There is a trend from sitting on the hindquarters (the "donkey seat") to moving toward the withers, which gives elaborate control, if a rider is relaxed. By the Thirteenth century, the European seat actively interfered with the forelegs by saddling the horse so that the shoulders were in contact with the underside of the saddle and its pad. Many seventeenth century saddle trees had "points" that interfered with the shoulder blade.

Some 20th and 21st century saddles have tree construction that can interfere with the action of the shoulder. You should check the construction of your saddle with an expert, keep it clean and properly stuffed. Your horse's back is dynamic and a correctly ridden horse will show muscular development that may require annual refitting of its saddle.

Even though these images are in chronological order, there is no intention to portray the history of riding or of dressage as linear. You are encouraged to visit linked classical dressage sites to see photos of famous riders and how they saddled their horses.

The "donkey seat". Drawing of a terracotta plaque. Juliet Clutton-Brock (1992), Horse Power: A history of the horse and the donkey in human societies, Figure 4.13, page 66.

My Note: Nose-ring and surcingle (hand grip?) The rider sits in a position where there is articulated limb support for his weight. The modern seat behind the withers affords finer control of the horse's gaits but requires that the horse carry a rider where there is no articular support (the forelegs are "strapped on" by powerful muscles --- unlike humans, horses do not have clavicles.

Protocorinthian aryballos. Name-vase of the Evelyn Painter, c. 700 BC. Rasmussen, Tom and Nigel Spivey. 1991. Looking at Greek vases. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. Figure 25, page 64.

My Note: Rider is near the junction of lumbar and thoracic spine and has no saddle or pad. In this position, the horse is starting to carry the rider ahead of the fulcrum of the hip and toward the forehand, where the front legs are strapped to the thorax rather than having an articulated (jointed) connection.

Chalcidian krater by the Inscription Painter. Horsemen. Circa 540 BC. P.E. Arias, 1962, History of 1000 Years of Greek Vase Painting, Figure XXVI, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York.

My Note: Riders still in the middle region of the back and drawn reacting to the actions of their mounts.

Caroligian, about 860-870 AD, Equestrian statuette of a Caroligian Emperor (traditionally identified as Charlemagne). The portrait type corresponds to manuscript and ivory images of Charles the Bold, not his grandfather Charlemagne. Medieval artists were usually not particular about which legs of the horse advanced together, but here the horse and rider's proud bearing, and the high foreleg especially, are significant reflections of imperial Roman forms. Walter Liedtke (1989), The Royal Horse and Rider: Painting, Sculpture, and Horsemanship 1500-1800, Black and White Plate 13, page 151.

My Note: Saddle and pad interfering with withers, as is rider's leg in the "chair seat." Europeans knew about stirrups by this time. Horse is shown at the walk or perhaps a slight amble. Ambling horses were valued at this time for the smooth ride it gave this awkward seat. Knee of rider is bent.

Simone Martini, Guidoriccio da Fogliano, inscribed 1328. Siena, Palazzo Pubblico, Council Chamber. Walter Liedtke (1989), The Royal Horse and Rider: Painting, Sculpture, and Horsemanship 1500-1800, Color Plate 2, page 110. In the background (not visible in this detail) are the castles of Montimassi and Sassoforte, taken by Guidoriccio after his victory over the Pisans at Siena, and his camp, indicated by palisades and battlements. One of the earliest portraits in medieval painting. Over his armour he wears a "cappuccio" with an heraldic pattern showing the emblems of his coat of arms. The horse trappings are of the same cloth. Geoffrey Grigson, 1950, Horse and Rider: Eight Centuries of Equestrian Paintings, Thames and Hudson, New York. (Rider very far forward onto shoulders.)
Anthony van Dyck, Charles I, (King of England) on Horseback, 1635, oil on canvas.

My Note: Stiff leg of rider (in contrast, Iberian horsemen generally rode with a bent knee.) Saddle and pad too far forward for completley free foreleg.

Aelbert Cuyp, Grey Horse in a Landscape (while the rider fixes his boots). Date unknown.

My Note: Very clear representation of saddle and bridle. Horse is turned out in about 17th century style. May be a hunting rig, as there are three + girths a gun and a dog...

Shoulder-in: École de Cavalerie: contenant la connaissance, l'instruction et la conservaiton DU CHEVAL by Francois Robichon de la Guérinière (Écuyer du Roi) Early edition 1729

My Note: This is the early illustration of the movement, with La Guérinière standing by his student. In the later editions of this illustration, the Master is considerably more portly and the horse and background are much fancier...

The rider's knee is slightly bent and his upper body position is slightly behind the vertical. Saddle and pad too far forward, although the engraver Parrocel seems to have indicated that the pad is flexible.

Passage: École de Cavalerie by Francois Robichon de la Guérinière 1729

My Note: The rider's knee is slightly bent. Note the slightly open jaw of the horse and the salivation. The position of the whip in this illustration and in the one above would be ready to influence the muscles of the poll. The right hand is turned up, which prevents pulling on the bit (You try this, as it relaxes the muscles of your upper arm and shoulder blade to some degree.)

Saddle and pad too far forward.


From de Clam's treatise, a completely naked rider allows the reader to see his position with respect to horse and saddle pad. Note that the girth is wide and well placed so as not to constrict the pectoral muscles.

Rider position was of fundamental importance to de Clam.

An interesting feature of the de Clam engravings is that the horses go with polls up, faces in front of the vertical in level balance. Girths are wide and placed away from the elbows.
The following fragment is edited from a web site about the Dreyfus Spy Affair.

Andre Monteilhet has a short biography on Dupaty de Clam in his book Les Maitres de l'OEuvre Equestre (1979, 106ff.) 

"Charles Mercier Dupaty, Marquis de Clam, was born on December 4, 1744, in La Rochelle, where his father was the president of the Tresoriers de France in the department of Finance, ... He received his first education as a young aristocrat at the academy in Caen, whose director was M. de la Pleignière, royal ecuyer [at Versailles], who was known for his talents in all areas, and who was married to de la Guérinière's niece. Dupaty de Clam wrote an homage to his teacher, 'the zealous citizen who has worked unselfishly and with an integrity that always followed in the footsteps of truth.'

La Pleignière possessed an anatomical collection with which he demonstrated to his students some relationships between skeleton and muscles of the horse and of humans, as they related to principles and practical execution of horsemanship. (emphasis mine)

Dupaty de Clam also seems to have appreciated Lafosse's Traite d'hippiatrique who, in his words, 'made this science certain, clear, and very easy to understand.'

Dupaty de Clam's works, his academic discourses, and his translation of Xenophon's On Horsemanship show that M. de la Pleignière gave his students at Caen a comprehensive education, since it is unlikely that a young nobleman would have learned Ancient Greek once he joined the musketeers. In May 1762, Dupaty de Clam joined the1st Company of the Musketeers (the 'greys'), at the recommendation of his 'patron', where he served until his discharge (1 December 1769). ... At that point he dedicated his first book, Pratique de l'equitation to his captain, M. de la Cheze. He returned to La Rochelle, and became a member of the Academie des sciences et belles-lettres of that city, later of that of Bordeaux, where he published his main work: La Science et l'art de l'equitation, demontres d'apres la nature (1776), preceded by the Discours sur les rapports de l'equitation avec la physique, la geometrie, la mecanique et l'anatomie

Dupaty de Clam died in Paris on November 12, 1782, at the age of 38. He shared with many of his contemporaries an interest in the sciences and traditional classical culture. He knew Ancient Greek and said that Xenophon's Horsemanship was 'one of the most beautiful monuments on horsemanship that the Ancients have left us.' He used the exact sciences and the natural sciences to demonstrate how well founded his equestrian theories were: 'Geometry, anatomy and mechanics give us the first rules of horsemanship. Nobody in his right mind can doubt their validity. It is much wiser to take the known sciences as a guide, rather than merely following one's whims.'" [ Pratique de l'équitation ou l'art de l'équitation réduit en principes]

Dupaty de Clam is one of the great French authorities on classical dressage. Unfortunately, his name and his books are almost forgotten since he stands in the shadow of de la Guérinière. In the19th century, Baucher's new training method drew everybody's attention to him and his students, away from most older authors. 

La Science et l'art de l'equitation, demontres d'apres la nature ou théorie et pratique de l'équitation, was published in Paris in 1777 (1776?). 

My Note: My copy of Dupaty de Clam contains (1769) Pratique de l'équitation ou l'art de l'équitation réduit en principes and (1772) Traités sur l'équitation.

My Note: In the treatise, De Clam argues that the shoulder-in of de la Guérinière does not supple the shoulders. He gives reasons and warns about too much work on two tracks on small circles.

Baucher and some of his horses.

Baucher on Capitaine, Piaffe
Baucher on Buridan, Piaffe

Partisan and Baucher: Piaffe

Partisan and Baucher: Flying Change of Leg

Partisan and Baucher: Passage
My Note: Images from a Finnish web site of Alain Fabre with lots of information about books in classical equitation. If you wish to join the commentaries on this controversial horseman (Baucher), visit the site (but you should be able to read French).

I am only interested in the saddling. Baucher and his horses are illustrated by artists of varying degrees of skill. However, it is clear that there was a variation in saddles, bits and bridles. Much of the riding of this time was performed in the circus. Dressage competition would come later.

Souvenirs équestres, 1842

One of Dr. Henri van Schaik's best friends, Riding Master Egon von Neindorff riding Jaguar. A gallery of photos is at Dressage.com.

Von Neindorff on training --- "Where we lose sight of classical dressage:  Some modern competitive horses can mechanically do the movements; but if the movements are not from a supple, carefully gymnasticized horse, the movements are not correct.  This way is very time - expensive."

Herr Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg (passage) 1984
Spanish Riding School Exhibition at Madison Square Garden, New York. (NLN photo)
Herr Kottas is now First Chief Rider of the Spanish Riding School (Vienna) with nearly 430 years of riding tradition to transmit. A modern Master of Equitation, he is author of an excellent set of videotapes. United States riders should be sure to ask for the correct VHS format (PAL is European format) if you order the tapes.

At the School, saddles are made especially for the conformation of the Lipizzaner stallions. A gallery of photos is at Dressage.com (maybe someone will fix the contrast on the photos). Web site for his competition dressage saddle is HERE. No recommendation for or against any saddle by any maker is given on my site.

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