Roman Cavalry



A Short Canter Through Early Historical Riding Styles Part 6

Classical riding
The horse was a status symbol, a weapon and a friend. The knights of the Middle Ages extended the practice and principals of riding and during the Renaissance it was raised to an art form. The horse masters of Naples followed by Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere, the "Father of Classical Equitation", established the precepts to follow as the rise of gunpowder made the knight redundant on the battle field.

The knights' war horses were led on the right hand side, in Latin dextrarius. The destrier was used as a weapon in hand to hand combat, learning to rein back, to kick out to the front and the rear, to turn on the haunches and leap forward. And these movements may have been the basis of the "airs" or "schools above the ground" taught at the various riding schools even today. Although the High School "airs" may have been developed from the parade paces of the Greeks, Romans and Byzantines, and perhaps their circuses based on advance horsemanship. Today trick horses need calm temperaments, broad backs and the ability to work at a rhythmic steady canter, something Xenophon would have appreciated.


A disguised Portuguese saddle wearing a simple leather cover.

Re-enactors use modern Portuguese and Spanish saddles to recreate this period, often disguised to make them look more "period". The saddles hold the rider on the horse and give a security which is important for some occasional performers. Few riders actually demonstrate the "airs" and instead general weapons are demonstrated along with jousting.

A few armoured jousting saddles have been made or constructed around 19th military designs such as the British Universal Pattern (UP) and American McClellan. The same modern Iberian saddles can be used to ride in 17th century battles; they are relatively cheap and readily available. Those riders who do recreate Classical Equitation perhaps display the historical riding in its highest form.


Bjorn Kiefer demonstrating the springing "ansprengen" from the "terre-a-terre",
with the rear hooves side by side giving an opponent no indication of the direction of attack.



< Back