Caprilli vs. Classical Riding!


In the early 20th century, a revolution took place that would change the way we rode forever.

Captain Federico Caprilli, an Italian cavalry officer, earned the hostility of the Italian army by challenging the conventions of classical riding and was transfered to a different regiment. It was this “rebellion” that initiated the invention of a new style of riding.

Whenever you use a jump position, light seat, or two-point position you have Caprilli to thank.

Classical riding was based around different aims to Caprilli, and had a very different seat. Classical riders told the horse what to do and how to do it; Caprilli believed the rider should just tell the horse what to do and then allow the horse’s way of doing it. Unlike classical riders, Caprilli thought horses were able to balance themselves with a rider rather than needing to told how to do it.

There is a natural difference between the horse’s and rider’s centres of gravity. The rider’s centre of gravity is further back than the horse’s, and this difference needed to be reduced to keep balance.

For most of history, classical riders had taught collection.They tried to narrow the gap between the horse’s and rider’s centres of gravity by moving the horse’s centre of gravity backwards. Collection engages the horse’s hindquarters, causing the horse’s centre of gravity to move backwards, and it was around this concept that classical riding was based.


The old jumping seat – uncomfortable for horse and rider!

The problem was that as the horse’s pace increases, their centre of gravity moves forward. The classical riding seat wasn’t as effective riding at speed, across country, or when jumping. When jumping, instead of leaning forwards as we do now, classical riders leant backwards and stuck their lower leg forwards. This position came from the knights of ye olde days, and is not suited for jumping. Classical riders claimed that by leaning back they spared their horse’s forelegs, but Caprilli disagreed.

The old jumping seat was uncomfortable for the horse, and as classical riders tried to  make the horse land hindlegs first (thinking this would further spare the forelegs) went completely against the horse’s natural way of jumping. By leaning backwards, the rider got left behind the movement and unbalanced. They also pulled on the reins, which was painful for the horse. As a result, horses found jumping difficult and many disliked it.

After watching horses free jump without a rider or tack, Caprilli discovered something that was fundamentally wrong about the old jumping seat – horses always landed on their forelegs. He photographed their shape over jumps and began to develop what we now take for granted as our jump position.


The forward seat meant Caprilli could (and did) jump anything!!

Caprilli’s theory was that the rider’s position over the fence should not interfere the horse’s natural jumping movement. He realised that the rider should shorten their stirrups and lean forwards to move their centre of gravity forwards to meet the horse’s. By taking their weight out the saddle they allowed the horse freedom to use their back, as well as helping the rider keep a secure position. Most importantly, the contact should be light and the rider should give with their hands.

Our modern jumping position was created.

As with all new ideas, not everyone was happy with Caprilli’s “forward seat”. It angered many people and caused him trouble in the army. However, it was so effective that the benefits could not be denied. Before long he was made chief instructor at the Italian army’s cavalry school, where all new students learned Caprilli’s technique. The Italian cavalry began to dominate international competition, and riders came from all over the world to learn from him.

Caprilli died in 1907, aged 39, during a riding accident. The year before he’d had this opportunity to demonstrate his technique to the world in the 1906 Olympic Games. Interest increased throughout the 20th century, and now Caprilli’s forward seat is widely accepted as the correct jump position.


The forward seat revolutionised jumping, although shorter stirrups were already being used for racing.

Classical riding hasn’t been entirely replaced by Caprilli’s techniques. Horse riding as it is now taught uses the best of each method, while ignoring other aspects. A forward seat is used when jumping or galloping, but not when riding on the flat as Caprilli did. Collection is still used, and dressage in particular uses a classical riding position, but jumping has changed drastically.

Caprilli’s position has improved the level of show jumping. At the beginning of the 20th century international show jumps were about 4’6″. Now they are over 6′ and in much trickier courses. While a forward jumping position is still used, experienced riders no longer leave everything to the horse, instead altering the horse’s stride to meet these more difficult fences in the right place.

Caprilli’s legacy is simple but innovative. He’s responsible for radically improving jumping standards for both horses and riders.

Next time you jump, just remember it’s thanks to Caprilli!

Horse Daydreamer xxx


You may also be interested in:

What’s Prix Caprilli?

Top 10 Inspirational Horse People!!!


Eriskay Ponies Aren’t Icelandic!!

eriskay ponyHiya!

One time when I was little we learnt about the native pony breeds of Britain at Pony Club. The trainee instructors who were running the session asked us what native ponies we had heard of before. Most people gave the expected answers: Shetland, Connemara, Welsh Mountain Pony…

Trying to come up with an answer nobody else would have, when it was my turn I said “Eriskay!”

There was a moment of silence before the trainee instructor replied. “Aren’t they from Iceland?”

I remember my surprise, because when I was little I thought the yard staff knew everything there was to know about horses! Even though I was certain Eriskay ponies were from Britain, I didn’t say anything. Eriskay ponies didn’t get added to our list.

It’s only since then that I’ve realised how few people have actually heard of Eriskay ponies!! They’re a very rare breed – the only reason I know of them is probably because the Eriskay Pony Society brought some to a country show near me every year.

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Eriskay ponies before, but I thought I’d tell you a bit about them!!

Without the people of Eriskay there would be no pony but without the pony there would be no people on Eriskay.

– Father Calum MacLellan, island priest of Eriskay

Eriskay ponies come from Eriskay Island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Most definitely not Iceland!!! (Iceland’s only horse or pony breed is the Icelandic.)

They’re about 12hh-13.2hh and usually grey, although black and bay Eriskays are found. Like all the native ponies, they have a thick waterproof coat and can live out all year round.

Traditionally crofters’ ponies, Eriskays are friendly and have a reputation as “back door” ponies! The nature of their work meant they were mostly handled by women and children, so only ponies with the best temperaments were bred from. Their work included carrying peat and seaweed, pulling carts, working in the fields, and taking children to school!

Although they’re very fond of human company, quick to learn, and versatile, Eriskays are listed as “Critical” by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. This means there are less than 300 breeding mares in the world, and they are at risk of extinction. In the early 1970s there were only 20 purebred Eriskays left!!!

Since then Eriskay pony enthusiasts have brought them back from the brink, promoting the breed, but they still remain at risk. Apparently Eriskays are the rarest horse or pony breed in Europe, and even closer to extinction than the giant panda! (If you don’t believe me read this.)

The Eriskay Pony is the last survivor of the native ponies of the Western Isles of Scotland. It’s origins are ancient, certainly with Celtic and Norse connections. Carvings of ponies of similar proportions are depicted on Pictish stones throughout the north and west of Scotland.

– extract from a leaflet by the Eriskay Pony Society

These friendly, fun, and quite frankly adorable ponies are now very successful in all sorts of roles! Family ponies, children’s ponies, riding, driving, show jumping, dressage, Pony Club activities, showing, endurance, with disabled riders/drivers… even western!!! You name it; Eriskays can do it!

I hope you’re enjoying my blog!! Thank you for reading!!!

Horse Daydreamer xxx

Top 10 Inspirational Horse People!!!

princess hayaHello again!

Some people are just amazing!! Look at that photo, the girl in it is 12 years old! Yes, 12!!! (But more on that later.) The things that some people have achieved and the difficulties they’ve overcome are just incredible. I wanted to share with you a few of the people I think are truly inspirational and deserve to be known about.

I’m aware that most of the people on this list are either English or American. It’s not intentional, those are just the people I happen to know about. If you know any other people you think deserve to be on this list, write about them in the comments!

10) Beezie Madden

The American show jumper Beezie Madden won two team gold Olympic medals and an individual bronze, among many other competitions. If you look up a photo of her you’ll see that her jump position is to be strove after! It’s practically perfect which, considering the height of the fences she jumps, is pretty impressive!! And that’s an understatement!

9) The Pullein-Thompson Sisters

Josephine, Diana, and Christine Pullein-Thompson are household names among anyone who’s ever read a pony book (in the UK anyway). Between them they wrote over a hundred books, but that’s not why I’ve included them on this list. They spread a love of horses and the message that with a bit of skill, courage, and determination, anything is possible! You have to admit, that’s a pretty inspirational message!!

8) Wild Horse Annie

Wild Horse Annie’s real name was Velma Bronn Johnston. After discovering the cruelty towards the mustangs and burros (donkeys) of the American West, she lead a relentless outraged campaign to gain them legal protection. Her campaign started at grassroots level but lead to the passing of the “Wild Horse Annie Act”. Her goal was achieved!

7) My Riding Instructor

Ok, don’t we all have to agree on this one? Our riding instructors are everything we secretly (or not so secretly!) want to be. We want to ride like them!! Our riding instructors are perhaps the most influential people in our horsey lives and a true inspiration!!

6) Pippa Funnell

Anything is possible in life, if only you can somehow hold on to your dream. – Pippa Funnell

Reread that quote. It’s one of my absolute favourites! Pippa Funnell is the only eventer EVER to have won the Grand Slam!!! That means she won Kentucky, Badminton, and Burghley Horse Trials all in a row, a feat never seen before or since!! Just WOW!

5) Lee Pearson

Lee Pearson is a para-dressage rider but despite his disability has gone on to become one of the most successful equestrian athletes in the world!!! His 10 gold Paralympic medals speak to that!!

4) Monty Roberts

Everyone knows who he is; the Man Who Listens to Horses needs no introduction. Monty Roberts discovered much about horse behaviour, including the method he calls “join-up”, and has used it to train hundreds of horses, including wild mustangs! Nobody believed him when he first shared his techniques and he was constantly mocked by those who believed in the “traditional” cowboy methods of breaking a horse in. Despite all discouragements, Monty Roberts continued to learn from the horses he met and his training methods are now internationally renowned!!

3) Charlotte Dujardin

The golden girl of dressage (and we can’t forget her horse, Valegro!) is number one in international rankings, won gold in the 2012 Olympics, and sets a new world record every time she competes!!!! Charlotte Dujardin is also a good role model as, unlike most elite dressage riders who wear a top hat, she always wears her riding hat when in the saddle. If we could ride just a third as good a her we’d be happy!! We love you Charlotte!!!

2) Princess Haya

Her Royal Highness Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein of Jordan is the 12-year-old in the photo at the top of this post. At the age of 12 she became the first girl to ever compete in the fiercely male King’s Cup competition, and won!!! By jumping over a car!!!! Yes, a car!!!!!! Some nerves she’s got!! Princess Haya later became the first woman to compete internationally for Jordan. I just love that photo of her; I find it inspiring beyond words!

1) Alycia Burton

Alycia is a “free rider” from New Zealand who is possibly one of the best riders I’ve ever seen!!! Just watch the video – it shows how incredible she is better than my words ever can. But a clue: she jumps over 5ft bareback with no bridle and makes it look easy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I told you she was good!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

See you soon!

Horse Daydreamer xxx

Grey Horses and More Grey Horses!!

Hiya!dapple grey in snow

If you’re anything like me you’ll think all horses are beautiful, but there’s just something special about grey horses! Maybe it’s because we’re brought up hearing fairytales about mystical white horses and their riders, or maybe we just remember that little grey pony who was always at every riding school. Whatever the reason, they’re gorgeous!!

Most horsey people know that a horse is never “white” – they’re always called grey – but there’s more to it than that! How many different types of grey can you name? Challenge you!! (Ok, I admit it! I cheated, but if you get all of these I’ll be very impressed!!!)

Grey is technically not a “colour” but a colour modifier. Horses are born another colour such as bay, black, chestnut, or palomino and then grey as they age. A horse’s age can be guessed from whether they are a dark, medium, or light grey. The greying gene (G) is a dominant gene which means some breeds are almost always grey.

Iron grey is dark, seen in the initial stages of greying when the dark hairs mix with the grey hairs. It is also known as steel grey or salt and pepper.

Rose grey is a less common stage of greying than iron grey. It is found when chestnuts or light bays grey and their coat gains a pinkish tinge.

Mulberry grey is when a horse’s coat has greyed but the mane and tail are still the colour of the base coat. This is quite a rare colour, usually only found in young horses!

Dapple grey has darker rings with lighter centres, covering 30-80% of the horse’s body. These are caused by blood arteries closer to the skin warming it. Warmer skin greys faster than cooler skin, creating dapples.

Flea-bitten grey is an end result of greying where the body is covered in speckles from the original coat colour.

White-grey is another end result of greying. White-greys look pure white but are never called white (with the exception of some breeds, just to make it difficult!) as their skin is dark rather than unpigmented.

Have you seen any of these greys? I’ve never met a mulberry grey or a rose grey, but I think they sound beautiful! Do you have a favourite grey?

Until next time, happy daydreaming!!

Horse Daydreamer xxx

What’s Prix Caprilli?!

Hi everyone!prix caprilli

Have you ever heard of Prix Caprilli? I never had… until my instructor announced that was what we were going to do in my last riding lesson.

It turns out that Prix Caprilli is basically dressage – but with jumps! I know, ingenious right?! Why then has practically no one even heard of it, let alone competed in it?

After my lesson I did a bit of research.

Prix Caprilli is named after the Italian cavalry instructor Federico Caprilli, who invented the modern forward seat used when jumping. This now almost unheard of discipline was very popular during the 1960s and 70s, when many riding clubs competed in it. With the rise of modern dressage Prix Caprilli fell out of popularity, but is now making a comeback!

If you ask me, it was due a comeback years ago!! Prix Caprilli is great fun and also helps improve your riding skills!

In many ways it’s a lot like a dressage test. You’re judged on balance, impulsion, accuracy, position – all the things you’d usually expect in dressage! The idea is that horse and rider should be so in harmony that the jumps shouldn’t affect their way of going.

Prix Caprilli is an interdisciplinary challenge, requiring lots of concentration!

The main emphasis is on dressage. Prix Caprilli tests include walk, trot, canter, and circles. The only thing they don’t have is the more advanced dressage movements.

Instead there are jumps!! Typically there are about two, both quite small. If you’re practising at home you can replace them with poles on the ground to start with.

Just one of the reasons Prix Caprilli is so great is that it encourages both horse and rider to think forwards. It also focuses on accuracy rather than the height of the jumps, boosting confidence as well as improving your riding.

Prix Caprilli may be considered a bit old-fashioned, but it really is the best way to combine different aspects of your training. To borrow a cliché, Prix Caprilli has the best of both worlds!

Horse Daydreamer xxx