The history-of-dressage seems to have a logical start from the time of the ancient Greeks (360 B.C.) This is because the oldest recorded treatise that we have on dressage dates back to this time. But long before that, rock paintings and other archeological findings clearly can date man’s association and training of the horse to 9000 years ago as in the rock painting found in “the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka"(India).
What had been learned and handed down through the centuries concerning the “training" of the horse will remain a mystery to us until the works of an Athenian cavalryman named Xenophon. Xenophon wrote the only remaining, fully preserved, treatise “On the Art of Horsemanship” in the year 360 BC.
The writings of Xenophon examine the training of the horse in terms of understanding the horse psyche and the use of kindness and reward. The principals of classical dressage have been based on his work although expanded on through the centuries.
The Greek's contribution to the History-of-Dressage
Greek mythology and artifacts give us a sense of the importance of the horse in Greek society as far back as 800 BC. The horse in sports can be traced back to their use in chariot races as far back as the 14th Ancient Greek Olympics in 680 BC.
The writings of Xenophon,.... and later classical dressage masters, are based on their observations of the horse’s natural ability and natural movements in the herd and at leisure. They observed the horses natural ability to move sideways , turn quickly , leap, pirouette, and keep moving in place ( the piaffe.) When taught to do these movements on command from a rider the horse became invaluable in battle. The movements and training in general were used to strengthen the war horse's body and mind and make him a supreme athlete.
Xenophone was a Greek cavalryman..... and also wrote a treatise: “On the Cavalry Commander” which dealt also with his training system of the horse. Xenophon, having been exposed to many civilizations during his battles, shunned certain types of riding styles and was the first to advocate the importance of the position of the rider.
The Roman's contribution to the History-of-Dressage
Although we have no records of the horse in Roman times, we do know that they also adapted the cavalry method of battle after being defeated by the Carthaginian horsemen. They assimilated much of Greek culture including the Greek's approach to horsemanship.
With the fall of the Roman.... empire in 400 AD classical dressage seems to disappear, at least from recorded history. The Dark Ages was not a time for expanding knowledge of any type. What we do know is that many of the teachings of the Greek and Roman horsemen were lost to the Middle Ages. Heavy armor and weapons necessitated the use of big heavy horses who were not so easy to manuever and train and thus the use of brutal, methods and harsh equipment became prevalent.
The Renaissance and it's contribution to the History-of-Dressage
The Renaissance brought about a change in every facet of life ..including war. Battles were now fought on smaller quicker horses and their maneuverability was again key to the success of the cavalryman. The horses were trained for certain movements (airs or schools) such as the levade, capriole, courbette, balloted, piaffe, pasage and half-pass.
In the 15th century.... with the resurgence of the teachings of Xenophon also came the development of indoor riding. Along with a cultivation of the arts and sciences, the approach to horsemanship and riding grew in importance in the Renaissance and Victorian ages. Training of the horse and rider was an art that was practiced and perfected over many years. Most of the
great masters of classical dressage wrote their treatises during this age. These important works of literature, which all have a bases on the works of Xenophon, are still revered in today’s teachings of classical dressage. The great masters who helped propogate the teachings of classical dressage left their heritage, through their works of literature and the famous riding instructors and trainers that they taught and that carried on their legacy.
Famous Riding Schools that Influenced the History-of-Dressage
Several riding schools developed during the renaissance as well. These riding schools of Classical Dressage became so popular that some of the largest buildings in the capitals of Europe were built to accommodate them. Some of these riding schools still exist today and their teaching is based on classical dressage. The most renown are
The Spanish Riding School established during the Austrian Empire in 1572.
The Cadre Noir founded in 1828 and is the base of the National School of Equitation.
The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art
The Portuguese School of Equestrian art.
Today thousands of people compete in the sport of competitive dressage. Modern dressage that is practiced as a competitive sport evolved from classical dressage. At the lower levels of modern dressage all horses and riders can benefit from its principals and goals which are: ..... to develop the horse’s natural athletic ability and willingness to work making him calm, supple and attentive to his rider." "USDF"
The history-of-dressage is almost as ancient as the history of the horse. Just as so much of our culture, art and learning date back to the times of the Greeks 2000 years ago, so does this science, this art....classical dressage.....the training of the horse.
Quote for a a Classical day
"If a horse becomes more beautiful in the course of his work, it is a sign that the training principles are correct."~Colonel Podhajsky
Return Home from History-of-Dressage
Go to Horse Masters