I have always been told that the capriole was a movement trained for war. You hear alot of people saying this, but already years ago, this seemed to me a bit odd. It started when I read Bent Branderups book “Academic riding” and he pointed to a painting showing the feet of a horse, behind antoher horse, if I recall correctly, that was in a terre a terre or a mezair (he had his front hoofs together in the ground and then the rear feet together but up in the air below the belly. It doesn’t really matter, the point is he pointed out a painting from medieval times showing movement we today could see in the schools. This was more than ten years ago, and after that I have taken a point in looking for movements in old paintings, and it has occurred to me that I have never seen a capriole in a battle painting. I have seen them done by fancy school horses, yes, but never in setting where they are used for war.
Also when getting into the rossfechten I have seen it popping in discussions that the high airs was not used for war. Which I found very interesting, since it tied into the fact that I had never seen it depicted.
What does the litterature say about it:
Gueriniere writes there are two excersises: one of war and that of the schools
“The excersise thought a horse for war is” to go freely to either hand, set off with speed, stop, turn freely on the hunches and be trained for noises, fire and so on.
And then says “the school excercise comprizes all the airs invented by the masters of the art, which ought to be practised in the school” (and then lists the airs).
The question is if he means that the schooling of the horse is diveded in these two or if its for different horses. One trained for war and the other for the art.
Also Pluvinel writes “Many airs were developed largely for the gratification of the individual rider and for their spectator appeal.” He writes it though that the war horses was trained in the high airs (but referreing to medieval times), cause could they perfom the airs they were also fit for battle, even though they couldnt perfom it in battle due to heavy armour.
Pasquale Caracciolo says:
“Maybe someone will consider useless and vain that a man toils to teach these jumps to his horse; but he is wrong, because in addition to the fact that a horse that goes swaying from jump to jump it is beautiful to see, certainly, by lightening his arms and legs through these exercises, he becomes more agile and more ready for all the other virtues that are required. Just as though the ball game is not in itself necessary to the Rider, it cannot, however, be denied that in addition to giving him some ornament, it is also very beneficial to train him to the use of weapons. One must first consider the size, ability, and the inclination of the animal, and when these things are adequate, it is out of doubt that teaching to their horses these exercises is useful and honorable to young people eager to stay well on saddle, and that by means of this discipline, the horses will become every day more agile and lighter, while maintaining temperance and the prescribed order. But the one who would train a very fast horse, or one particularly suited to war, to these jumps and exercises, would be a fool, because in military operations they would rather produce hindrance and damage instead of any benefit to the Rider, as we have already said before”
I think it is pretty clear that even the contemporary masters agrees the high airs are for show, and not for war. Also talking to people doing rossfechten, who have had horses done the capriole for real says it is of little use. If you have done even a little mounted horse back, you will understand why. The tempo is all wrong. In mounted combat speed, balance and turning is everything. In a capriole you loose everything of that. Both the rider and the horse will be thrown off balance when landing, and even if it is just for a small amount of time, that is still time you dont have. The standing capriole is a little different, both the horse and the rider can still be in balance, and the horse can then put his hind leg under him and go.
This is not to say caprioles never happened, just that it wasn’t a movement trained for war. I can see a capriole happen when a horse is corned or the excited and the rider gives the “wrong” aids, and it has, but that is not the same as being a deliberated used movement.
The high airs could have been developed as a way to train the agility of the horses, and then it took higher form when jousting turned into more show pieces in the 16th century and they started to have carousels. Which was more like a beauty and art show, than the previous more sport event.
But I am still curious if war horses actually where trained in them, or they only trained school horses for the high airs. I am sure it probably differed. But like in Gueriniere book when he divides the training in two. Will the school horse not be trained for the war part, but the war horse in both, or do they have completely separate trainings?
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