MASTER Écuyers

Anyone who endeavors to master a subject must learn about  all of those serious practitioners who came before them. It would be unheard of  to graduate with a degree in Psychology, having not studied Freud.  The learner’s practice is guided by the  principles set down by those who came before.   This occurs in all disciplines. If it were not for Socrates, Plato could  not have developed his theories and if it were not for Plato’s theories,  Aristotle would not have gone even further building upon them.  Without this cycle each practitioner  “reinvents the wheel” and progress across generations is not possible.

Riding and  horsemanship are certainly no exceptions. Any person who is serious about  learning to ride horses must do quite a bit of studying. Not only must she  learn all about the health, well-being, and maintenance of the horse, but she  must learn: how to understand horse behavior; how to work with and not against  the horse; how to move in unity with the horse so as not to annoy or confuse it;  and how to help the horse understand and comply with her wishes to ride it.

Traditionally this is gone about by hiring a riding  instructor with a lot of experience who can teach and mentor the fledgling  rider through this process. This is a very wise practice, but it is not  sufficient.  There is no way around it,  the rider must study riding as well as practice it. De la Gueriniere puts it thusly,  “Every science and every art has its own principles and rules that lead to new  discoveries and perfection. Why should horsemanship be the only art for which  practice alone is needed?”

With this in mind, you should become acquainted with  the great masters who have written their theories and experiences for our  benefit. Though there are many more than those listed below, we believe these  constitute a great start to one’s education.


Xenophon wrote  one of the earliest surviving horsemanship treatises “On Horsemanship” in 350  BC. Xenophon was a Greek soldier and contemporary of Socrates. His writings  emphasize the fair treatment of the horse and the psychological aspects of  training. Xenophon wrote, “Anything forced and misunderstood can never be  beautiful”. Sadly, Xenophon’s work would be abandoned during the dark ages and  horsemanship as an art would hibernate until the Renaissance would begin in  Italy when Federico Grisone would read Xenophon’s book.

Antoine de Pluvinel (1552  – 1620) was a tutor and principal écuyer to King Louis XIII. He revived  Xenophon’s emphasis on using sound judgment, patience, gentleness, and  appealing to the horses mind. He was a student of Pignatelli but he was  radically different in his horsemanship than Pignatelli and Pignatelli’s  teacher, Federico Grisone.  He advocated  against their brutal methods of “breaking” the horse and emphasized instead the  “gentling” of the horse. He founded “Academie de Equitation” in 1594 as a place  to train the young nobleman not only in horsemanship, but in the classical  humanist values he espoused.

William Cavendish,  Duke of Newcastle (1593 – 1676) wrote “A General System of Horsemanship”  after leaving England during the English civil war. He spent his time riding,  teaching riding and writing this very comprehensive book. Newcastle’s work  would have a great influence on de la Gueriniere and Baucher to name a few.

Francois Robichon de  la Gueriniere (1688-1751) was the equerry to Louis XIV. His book, “Ecole  de Cavalerie” is considered “the bible” of dressage. It is said to form the  basis for the everyday practice at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. DLG is  credited with inventing the shoulder-in, which he used to supple the horse in  all gaits. DLG also called the hand the first aid, placing great emphasis on  the importance of clarity and lightness in the bridle.

Francois Baucher (1796  – 1863) was a Frenchman who put forth many revolutionary ideas. He invented the  one-tempo flying change at the canter. He put forth the principle of utilizing  flexions first from the ground then under saddle to supple the horse.  He proposed the use of “hands without legs and  legs without hands” (not combining the driving and restraining aids  simultaneously). He routinely took horses considered only fit for the slaughter  house and in two months showed them in public in all the movements (lateral  movements, piaffer, passage, one-tempi flying changes). The most famous such  horse was Gericault. Due to his success using methods not in use by the cavalry,  his low station in French society, and various other political factors he was  the center of much controversy in his own time and remains so today. He worked  in the Franconi circus, the only venue in which a man of his birth could train  horses in his time. He had many enthusiastic supporters and detractors in his  time and still does today. One can obtain a copy of his first method fairly easily, but  it is more difficult to comprehend his second method which he developed after an accident in which a chandelier fell on him and he was rendered very weak.  The second method or “second manner” is referred to as”riding in bedroom  slippers”, as it advocates using almost no force. Unfortunately, Baucher never  published his second manner and it must be gleaned from his disciples, many of  which are listed below.

Alexis-Francois  L’Hotte (1825-1904) was a French general. He attended the Ecole de  Cavalerie at Saumur and was a pupil of both Francois Baucher and Comte d’Aure. He  later served as ecuyer en chef of Ecole de Cavalerie. He published two books  “Un Officer de Cavalerie- Souvenirs” and “Questions Equestres”.  L’Hotte was able to reconcile the differences  of his two teachers.

James Fillis  (1834-1913) was a student of Francois  Baucher. He was ecuyer en chief of the St. Petersburg cavalry riding school and  went on to train in the German circus. In the preface to”Breaking and Riding” he describes his riding, “ My method of equitation consists in distribution of  weight by the height of the neck bent at the poll and not at the withers;  propulsion by means of the hocks being brought under the body; and lightness by  the loosening of the lower jaw. ” Fillis’ teachings are clearly influenced by  Baucher, though he advocates practicing the flexions in forward motion as  opposed to at a standstill.

Faverot de Kerbrecht (1837-)  graduated from Saint-Cry and became a student of Baucher’s second manner. He  was appointed écuyer to Napoleon III. It is in Kerbrecht’s books that the  second manner of Baucher is first revealed,  since Baucher did not convey it in writing  before his death.

Etienne Beudant (1863-1949)  was an écuyer at Saumur and studied Kerbrecht’s work. He wrote many books and  one can appreciate that he was not only an excellent horse master but an  excellent writer. He precisely and completely conveys a comprehensive  understanding of his training methods. Beudant’s work is true to the principle  of hands without legs, legs without hands. His work was considered remarkable by his contemporaries and his horses were known to be equally adept in outdoor riding as well as dressage and all the way through fantasy equitation. Beudant believed that even ordinary horses and untalented riders could be taught to  perform and could improve and advance to the highest levels.

General Decarpentry (1878-1956)  was born into a family of riders. His father and grandfather were students of  Baucher and his uncle was claimed by Fillis to be one of his models.  He studied and based his work upon the  masters that came before him, especially L’Hotte, D’Aure and Baucher. Author of  several excellent books and of the original FEI rules, Decarpentry is also a  gifted writer.

Jean Licart (-1965)  graduated from Saumur and later was an écuyer of the Cadre Noir. Competed in  dressage, jumping and combined training. He wrote several excellent books on  equitation. “Start Riding Right” is an excellent book for understanding the  importance and mechanics of the rider’s seat.

Nuno Oliveira (1925-1989) began  learning his chosen profession under Master
Joaquin Gonzales de Miranda. He  learned the principles of de la Gueriniere and Marialva and never deviated from  these principles in training horses throughout his life. He taught and trained  in Lisbon and later Avessada, Portugal. He traveled and gave clinics and  demonstrations all over the world until his death in 1989. Some books by Nuno  include, “Reflections on Equestrian Art”, “Horses and Their Riders”, “Horse and  Rider: Annotated Sketches”, “From an Old Master Trainer to Young Trainers”, and  “Liberetto for the Horseman”. Eleanor Russell published a book about Nuno’s  work titled, “The Truth in the Teaching of Nuno Oliveira” and two DVD’s of him  training his horses.

“Western” Masters

Bill Dorrance

Bill Dorrance (1906-1996)  and Tom Dorrance (1910-2003) are considered  the founders of “natural horsemanship” and most current practitioners claim  some influence from one of these two men.

They are brothers who grew up on a  New Mexico horse ranch. They favored gentle methods that appeal to the horse’s intellect  and teach the horseman “feel”. They spent their entire lives training horses and teaching horsemen.

These brothers were knowledgeable of the French riding masters and their work reflects that knowledge. Bill Dorrance specifically talks about reading  Beudant’s book

Tom Dorrance

and the insight he gained from it in his book with Leslie Desmond, “True Horsemanship Through Feel”.