An Excerpt From Riding and Schooling by Harry Chamberlin

“The correct principles of equitation and horse training are in themselves simple and well defined, and easily within the comprehension of any intelligent mind. Unfortunately, these principles are so difficult to find in the mass of literature on equestrian subjects, and often so intermingled with inaccurate and abstruse statements, that the most earnest student in his search for them is frequently discouraged.

Moreover, the precepts set forth by some of the most able authors of former times, are so tersely expressed, and presuppose so much equestrian knowledge, that their full meaning and importance are difficult to grasp unless the reader has had much practical experience. Oftentimes instructors, through limited knowledge or inability to make their instruction understood, teach their students little. Though the instructors are painstaking, and the written word is available, students, despite their zeal, finish their courses with many misconceptions, and only a vague knowledge concerning the horse and riding.

Equitation is not mysterious, either in theory or in practice. A good horseman requires a normally alert mind, with an analytical turn, which always asks “why” and “how” about the horse and his training. He needs only an average physique, which can soon be coordinated by his alert mind and regular practice at riding. No great strength or other remarkable physical attributes are necessary.

In addition, he should possess a theoretical knowledge of training and the use of the aids, along with a correct conception of the seat, and how to ride it.”

According to Chamberlin

These are the first 4 paragraphs in the preface of  “Riding and Schooling Horses” printed in 1935. According to the author, Lt. Col. Harry D. Chamberlin, the qualities that a person needs in order to become a good horseman are:

  • a normally alert mind
  • a mind with an analytical turn asking “how” and “why”
  • average physique
  • regular practice
  • theoretical knowledge

Who was he?

Harry Chamberlin obviously had these characteristics and more.  A West Point graduate, he also graduated from the cavalry School at Fort Riley, Ks., as well as Saumur, France and Tor di Quinto, Italy. He was an instructor at Fort Riley and West point and a member of the Army Olympic teams in 1920, ’28, and ‘32.  

As an instructor at Fort Riley, Chamberlin would have run across many differing types of physique and minds.  He’d have seen the results of lots of practice. Consequently, I think we can believe him when he implies that the average person with a questioning mind who is willing to apply themselves, can become a good horseman.

Harry Chamberlin points out the importance of developing a theoretical understanding of horsemanship. He studied and trained the principals of Caprilli’s forward system, as well as the classic works of Baucher, La Guerinere, and D’ Aure.  Many of the more current books of his day contained error that stems from misunderstanding horsemanship.  And I would add that the classics on horsemanship which have been translated are more difficult for the average American to read, than a work that is originally written in English.

His Books

This lack of basic, clear cut writing, combined with less than satisfactory results between instructors and students, and a healthy dose of Chamberlin’s passion for the sport were the catalyst for writing “Riding and Schooling Horses”.  He wanted the instructions easily understood and points out, later in the preface,  that “ every page of the manuscript was submitted to an inexperienced horsewoman, in order to ascertain whether she could understand every point in the book, and could put each step into practice. In any case where she was unable to follow the book in theory or in practice, that part was rewritten until it was entirely clear.”

What Do You Need?

The next time someone wants you to think that you have to be a certain shape or size to ride well, or that you must have tremendous technical skill to train, or great intellect to understand the deep truths of equitation or dressage, remember Harry Chamberlin.  He was the best and he said the average intelligent person could become a good horseman.  

Enjoy your riding journey!

Barbara Ellin Fox

Copyright February 2021

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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
  • I appreciate you creating this article, it’s always a delight to delve into the horsemanship world, through your writing.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Stacy. I love to share about the history of riding in America. Foundations are so important. Barbara

  • I think the why and the how are needed in American riding! It seems to be lacking and that is coming from the bottom through the top! Thanks for the great article!

    • Thanks Alisha, I agree. If we understand our roots and teach them, the great American riding style will last. Passing the basics to the next set of riders is critical to preserving the quality of our horsemanship. Thanks for you comment. Barbara

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