Monday, July 22, 2013

Cavalry horse - notes from Saumur circa 1919

 from an instructor at the French Cavalry School at Saumur (now home of Cadre Noir), in the tradition of French XVIII century riding schools, including François Robichon de La Guérinière ), comes this depiction of a cavalry horse, translated into English and published in London in 1919.
Interestingly enough, the publication of this book on cavalry horsemanship coincided with the events of the last true cavalry war (eg Battle of Komarów  between Polish 1st Cavalry Division and Bolsheviks' Budyonny 1st Cavalry Army) that raged between newly restored Republic of Poland and Red Russia, and some fine Frenchmen took part in it on our Polish side, including general Charles de Gaulle:

 Cavalry Horsemanship and Horse Training by Lieut.-Col. Blacque Belair
chief instructor at the Cavalry School, Saumur France, London 1919

The many demands made on an army horse require in him a great 
many different qualities. He has to carry a considerable 
weight,* travel long distances, and often at a fast 
pace ; he has therefore to possess endurance, hardiness, 
and handiness. These qualities are nearly always 
found in a horse which has a naturally good balance, 
good paces, breeding, and conformation. The naturally 
good balance, which is the first quality to look for in 
a riding horse, enables him to have constant control 
of himself, even with the weight of a rider on his 
back, to easily change from a slow pace to a fast one 
and vice versa; to be, in fact, supple in his movements, 
and easy to ride from the first. The theory of balance 
has not up to now been scientifically considered ; 
owing to the rapidity and frequency of a horse's 
movements, the study of balance or of conformation 
is practically limited to the study of the animal at 
rest. Anatomy is nothing but the study of organs 
from which life has been withdrawn. It is therefore 
only by riding a horse, that one can with any certainty 
decide on his merits. Experience, nevertheless, enables 
one to establish certain general rules, which fix the 
good points to be looked for in a young horse, and 
to form an opinion as to what he will grow into. 

If the horse has a wither running well into the back 
and rather higher than the quarters, the chest deep, 
and the girth groove well behind the elbows, the 
saddle will rest in a good position. The rider and his 
equipment being placed between the two ends of 
the balance, near the centre of gravity, will not disturb 
the equilibrium by overweighting the shoulders. This 
conformation, combined with well- shaped hocks, 
causes the horse to be easy to handle and control 
in a fight, and in the daily work the effort is distributed 
over the body, which consequently does not prematurely 
wear out. The paces ought to be such as will enable 
the horse to cover the greatest distance with the 
minimum of effort. This condition excludes high 
action, and places value on the level extended paces, 
which are the least fatiguing for both horse and rider. 

If the trot is more especially the pace for the road, 
the pace for fighting is the gallop. More than ever 
the actual necessities of war require the fast paces 
maintained for long distances. The army horse ought 
therefore to be above everything a galloper, and the 
relative length of the ischium is a characteristic of 
this aptitude. 

Handiness is indispensable in going through 
evolutions in open country, and it is acquired all the 
more promptly and completely in proportion as the 
horse has the necessary conformation, an open angle 
at the junction of the shoulder and arm, and powerful 
hindquarters. If the length and obliquity of the 
shoulder, combined with high withers, assists the 
balance, by enabling the rider's weight to be evenly 
distributed, it is the relative length and vertical 
position of the arm, still more than the direction of 
the shoulder, which gives freedom in the paces and 
handiness. The power of the hindquarters, which 
drive the horse forwards or backwards, gives the horse 
control of himself and of his balance ; it gives him 
the free use of his hocks and enables him to bring 
them more or less under his body ; it enables him to 
pull himself together, or to extend his i^aces according 
to circumstances ; in fact it puts it in his power to 
take any direction or speed he wishes. 

Moreover, if his confidence in his long and oblique 
shoulders enables the horse to land lightly over a 
fence without any apparent effort, it is the contraction 
and thrust from the hindquarters which gives the 
spring that carries him over. The riding horse should 
therefore have a large hip bone, projecting well at the 
side, and extending slightly above the spine, producing 
what is called the jumping bump. 

The perfect shape. — If one adds to the requirements just mentioned,
a forehand formed less by a useless length of neck than by the
addition of cervical vertebrae, and a wither running well into the back, 
one will have the frame of a riding horse in all its 
useful beauty, and in consequence, the type to look 
 One of the first qualities of a riding horse is, that 
he should carry his saddle in the proper place, that 
is to say, the girths should naturally pass well behind 
the elbows. 

The other points to look for are — 

A broad forehead and a well- set- on head. 

An open, intelligent eye. 

A well-proportioned and well- set -on neck. 

A high wither, running well into the back, and 
slightly higher than the quarters. 

An oblique shoulder. 

A long and straight arm. 

A forearm with large powerful muscles. 

A deep chest. 

A strong back. 

A wide loin with strong muscles behind the saddle. 

Well-shaped long quarters, slightly sloping and 

Large prominent hips. 

The muscles of the thighs and second thighs well 
developed and extending well down towards the 

Short, compact body with well- sprung ribs. 

Knees low down, large, wide, and flat. 

Cannon bones short and strong. 

The hocks large, straight, and low. 

The legs hard and clean, ending in four good 
symmetrical feet. 

A fine skin. 

A horse with these characteristics will not only be 
well balanced, but will move well and possess a free 
striding walk ; a trot starting from the shoulder, 
which is long, easy, and regular ; a gallop which is 
smooth, powerful, and extended. 

Quality. — This results from the constitution or 
power of endurance of the organs with regard to their 
work ; blood, which by the energy it gives enables the 
organism to resist the ordinary causes of collapse ; 
stamina or endurance in any kind of work. 

Courage, however, alone secures the maximum 
advantage of this quality. The horse's quality arises 
from various causes ; it depends upon good food from 
the earliest age, from the soil on which he has been 
reared containing lime, and so developing bone and 
strength of muscle ; but it depends chiefly on the 
breeding of the horse. It is indispensable therefore 
to secure the proper mating of the thoroughbred horse 
with the half-bred mare to transmit the blood, and to 
maintain the size.''
* the British Cavalry a man, weighing 10 stone 7 lbs, 
stripped, rides no less than 21 stone, in full marching order.* 
Polish cavalry of that war is beautifully described in a book by a Polish scholar and novelist Bohdan Królikowski title  '' Ułańskie lato (Uhlan Summer)'' (needs to be translated into English)

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