Levade 150x150 What is academic art of riding?
Horseback riding according to the academic art of riding is something that, because of the name, seems only for elite dressage riders.

But nothing is further from the truth, since all horses and ponies, untrained, experienced or even with a problematic background, can be schooled following the method of the academic art of riding.

So the academic art of riding isn’t just for those who aspire to dressage – it’s for anyone who wants to know the whys of the hows and to keep their horse strong and healthy into old age!

But maybe you’re wondering: what exactly is academic art of riding…



gueriniere What is academic art of riding?The academic art of riding is based on the knowledge of great riding masters such as:

  • Xenophon (430 – 354 BC)
  • Antoine de Pluvinel (1552 – 1620)
  • François Robichon de La Guérinière (1688-1751)
  • Gustav Steinbrecht (1808 – 1885)


Understanding of a horse’s nature was one of the first basics of these old masters and all of them made this their principal consideration. They always put the needs of the horse first in favor of the physical and mental welfare of the horse.

Originally there were two kinds of schools:

  • schooling for war or cavalry training
  • schooling in the academy or ‘manège’

swordfight 166x300 What is academic art of riding?In training for war, a horse is taught to be obedient and calm, quick on both hands, to make fast departs, to stop suddenly and turn easily on its haunches, to be accustomed to fire, to the noise of drums, trumpets and cannon, to the flapping and waving of banners and flags, and not to be afraid of anything.

By schooling in the academy the old masters see riding as a form of art, an art that offers horse and man a task in their life that can be performed with dignity until a great age and that is giving quality in life to both man and horse. By schooling in the academy is meant performing all of the artificial gaits, airs and figures invented by the masters who excel in this art. They wanted to reach the highest possible level, without neglecting the rules of nature.

What the gymnasium was for the young Greek, at the time of Xenophon, was the riding arena for the horse:

  • The gymnasium was the institution in which the young greek developed the gifts of his body to the fullest and the greatest harmony through daily exercises.
  • In the arena the horse developed his muscle structure through a system of stages of ever-increasing exercises. These exercises followed one another in a logical sequence to enable the muscle to easily put the skeleton into the carriage it required for service under saddle and to move with strength and agility.

That’s why Gustav Steinbrechts his book is called ‘The gymnasium of the horse’.

The mindset of the old grandmasters is carried on by the academic riders of today and these riders aim to bring the historical art of riding from the past back to life again.

Think first, act later


boek 209x300 What is academic art of riding?

Theory is one of the most important necessities for the attainment of perfection in the academic art of riding.

“Without the theory, the practice will always be uncertain” according to Guérinière. “In order to attain excellence in this art, it is necessary to be prepared for the difficulties encountered in the practice by a clear and firm theory.”

Thought must precede action in academic art of riding: think first, act later.

Theory teaches the academic riders to base the work with horses on sound principle, that serve perfect nature with the aid of art. Practice gives them the ability to easily apply what they have learned in theory.  The theory sets the academic rider up for more chance of success in practice.



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To school a horse well and to ride well, an understanding of gaits, figures and airs is essential to the academic rider. Horses have two kinds of gaits known as the natural and the artificial gaits:

  • The academic rider knows how a horse moves his legs at the different natural gaits as walk, trot and canter. He also is aware of defective gaits such as a disunited canter (cross canter).
  • Artificial gaits are derived from the natural gaits and they take their names from the various cadences and postures which are taught to a horse in a school. Artificial gaits are those given by a skillful academic rider to the horse he educates.
Among the artificial gaits are the low and high airs. The low airs are those movements of the horse executed on the ground. The high airs are those above the ground.
Low airs:

High airs:

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The schooling starts with the in-hand work and longeing with the cavesson on a circle. To teach the horse to carry his weight on the hind legs and use its back muscles, the academic art of riding uses first the side movements. When both hind legs are equally strong the horse is asked to carry on both hind legs resulting in the piaffe and pirouette. The levade represents the maximum development of the carrying capacity of the hind legs and forms a bridge between the low and high airs.

Kandare 150x150 What is academic art of riding?academicartofriding 265x300 What is academic art of riding?Eventually the rider will ride all airs only with a curb and the reins in one hand.

The rider is leading the horse’s shoulders between the reins and the horse’s hips between the riders legs with a minimum of aids.

The main aids are the inner vision of the rider, his/her energy and center of gravity .



Levade2 204x300 What is academic art of riding?In the academic art of riding the horse is trained according to his possibilities and talents, concerning both body and mind. For each training applies: The horse should return to the stable or the pasture with the same good spirit he had when he left it.

Because of the logically structured exercises, the academic rider trains him/herself and his horse towards a level that is comfortable and suitable for both horse and rider.

Thoughtful gymnastic exercises will keep your horse healthy and long living and make the horse able to perform as a riding horse until a very high age.

Because of the thorough gymnastic training, the rider and horse become partners that work together in harmony. The ultimate goal is to reach a perfect harmony resulting in a kind of fusion between horse and rider.

Eventually it seems like rider and horse become one!

eBook academic art of riding 300x225 What is academic art of riding?.

Do you want to know more?


Then start reading the free ebook about academic art of riding in which the steps of the academic art of riding will be revealed and explained to you.

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  1.   David Bowleron 02 Jul 2012 at 09:54

    Sometimes people wonder why I never separate, riding from saddle design. You would know better than most that understanding function and the art of riding are the same and it is always “work in progress”. The attraction for me is the learning and the learned! I loved your site and your book. Congratulations! I wish i had the time and the knowledge to do the same! Interesting that you talk of the horses working into old age. I had some lessons from an old chief rider of the SRS who was at the school before and during the WW2 years. He had 2 horses, both looked young. One was 29 the other 34 and both still working. I have sometime to go as my 2 horses are only 20 and 28 years.
    my very best wishes to you
    PS would you like me to put a link from oursite to yours?

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