If you jump horses then you have a connection to Federico Caprilli.  If you learned the American method of jumping, you probably have a connection to Col. Harry Chamberlin.

Prior to Italian Cavalry officer, Federico Caprilli introducing his forward system to the horse world, riders Hayes Take off pg 302087leaned backwards when they jumped horses. In 1904 Capt. Caprilli became the instructor for the Italian Cavalry School. He died in 1907 having just a few short years to implement his new forward principles. From his time through the early 1930s select horseman from the cavalries of most countries worldwide had the opportunity to study the forward method at the Italian Cavalry School taking Caprilli’s ideas to their own cavalry schools.

In 1923 Harry D. Chamberlin, then a Major in the U.S. Army studied at Tor Di Quinto, Italy. Chamberlin was not the first of the U.S. Cavalry to study at the Italian Schools but he was to become the most influential horseman for the American Military seat, having a major part in writing the Cavalry Manuals of Horsemanship, influencing riding instruction at Ft. Riley and Ft. Bliss, and riding on the Army Show team multiple times. He was captain of the record making Army Olympic team in 1932 where he competed in 3 Day Event, winning team gold, and also in Show Jumping where he won the individual  silver medal. Even though Col. Chamberlin died in the military his influence spread to the civilian horsemen through the men he educated.  Gordon Wright, James Wofford, George Morris are all horsemen who can trace their riding roots back  to Chamberlin.

While Caprilli turned the world of jumping around, he did not author books.  “The Caprilli Papers” is a collection of short articles and notes that were translated by one of his students, Piero Santini.  Just recently Dan Gilmore has done his own translation of Caprilli’s writing. Dan has made his translation available for horsemen to read on line. You’ll find it and other interesting articles at http://www.gilmorehorsemanship.com/articles.html .

Col. Harry D. Chamberlin wrote 2 books on riding and jumping. He wrote Riding and Schooling good form073 copyHorses” in 1934 and Training Hunters Jumpers and Hacks” in 1938. Although they can be hard to find, both books are on my list of top recommendations for anyone who is serious about jumping and training. Roger Hannington has provided U.S. Horsemanship an extract on Harry Chamberlin’s jumping instruction from Riding and Schooling”You can read Col. Chamberlin on Jumping- Guest Post by Roger Hannington

U.S. Horsemanship has other interesting articles about Caprilli and Chamberlin. You can read “What Does Federico Caprilli Have to do with Jumping in America? “Or read about “Caprilli – in the Words of His Students 

Learn more about Harry Chamberlin by reading  “Harry Chamberlin- Teacher & Horseman.” Read how he judged a good horseman in Good Horsemen According to Harry Chamberlin

Horsemen have debated over horsemanship, probably since the first time 2 people swung their legs over a horse’s back. Debate and passion over methods of horsemanship are important because they keep horsemanship changing and developing.  There was much hot debate during Caprilli’s time.  You can read about some of it in the blog post Piero Santini & Other Authorities on Caprilli’s Forward System.” 


I hope this little bit of history helps you in your riding and teaching efforts.

Barbara E Fox
The Riding Instructor
U.S. Horsemanship

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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
  • As in many, if not all aspects of life, knowing history allows us to see “why” something changed and if that change was an improvement or a setback. Caprilli, Chamberlin and the other masters who have seen a better way have brought us here to how we ride today. There are also those who have innovated, found an audience and set riding and horsemanship back. In order to sort out the better from the lesser, we must have judgment and this is where teachers become invaluable.

    If we take responsibility as teachers, we are, I feel, obligated to study and understand what we teach so that we can explain in greater depth what and why we offer in the way of riding instruction. It’s not enough to say, “I teach English riding”. By now that term has become so muddied and twisted as to be meaningless. We owe it to our students to explain from what part of equestrian history and thus method we can teach them how to ride well. Do we teach the George Morris method? The Military/Balanced Seat method? Dressage? Saddle Seat? Combinations? Interpretations? What? All of these could be called “English”, and they are by some.

    If an instructor wants to improve their teaching, then reading original books by historical masters is one way to gain greater insight into one’s work as a teacher. For example, if you find yourself in an arena yelling “heels down”, ask yourself why and maybe who initiated that saying. Chamberlin rode with his stirrup irons “home” with the front of his boot heels pressed against the irons. His feet were parallel to the ground… most of the time. He mentions “heels down” in downward transitions and includes bracing the back (read Wilhelm Museler on the braced back). In other words, Chamberlin writes about riding as a constantly changing process and with combinations of positions, forms, and balances. He describes the combinations of aids as infinitely variable. He gets us to the dynamic nature of riding with his books. It’s exciting, and then sometimes we find ourselves leaning on a fence watching a lesson, hearing little more than “Heels down” for 45 minutes. Where are we in that incredible range of teaching?

    Every student can understand to a large or small degree “why” we do something. If we study, we can explain why.

    • Bob,
      Oh my that was well said. Littauer used to love to stay up late and “debate” the principles of the forward seat. Discussion, debate and just plain hashing out our understanding is so important to horsemanship. Some change as you mentioned, sets us back – other changes move us forward adding refinement. With so many types of horses, human bodies, and situations – it seems horsemanship/horseman must need to be adaptable with many tools and a genuine working understanding of how and when to use them.Searching and researching need to be encouraged and taught. Thanks! Barbara

    • Kelly Littauer has some very interesting books. Thanks for reading The Riding Instructor and for your kind comment. Barbara

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