Susan McBane - Equestrian Author

HNC Equine Science and Management

Author of 44
equestrian books

Classical Riding Club member and Gold Award holder, listed in CRC Trainers Directory

Practitioner Member of the International Society for Equitation Science

Founder and Publicity Officer of the Equine Behaviour Forum

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Black Tent Publications

THERE is a lot of misunderstanding about classical riding. This is partly because, as it has increased in popularity over recent decades, many trainers have claimed to be classical but, in practice, are not. Another reason is the widespread idea that it is all about 'fancy stuff', that it is outside the orbit of most horse owners and that it is too esoteric to be useful to most of us.

None of this is true. True classical riding has at its heart the humane treatment and training of horses at any level. It complies with the way horses naturally move, emphasising

  • aids which are easy for the horse to understand,
  • an independent, balanced seat which gives both horse and rider great security and confidence (which, in turn, produce wonderful results),
  • lightness of the aids in all gaits and activities and
  • self-balance from early training onwards.

The term 'classical' comes from the classical period of history - principally the ancient Greek and Roman periods - because it is generally believed that the aims of classicism were a normal part of riding then. The Greeks, in particular Xenophon who was a Greek cavalry commander, certainly preached kindness and logic in training horses. However, anyone who has visited the British Museum and studied the Parthenon frieze there, and other reliefs and sculptures from ancient civilizations, can see at once that these principles were far from universally applied as horses often look distinctly uncomfortable and in actual pain - then and now.

The ethos of classical riding handed down by Xenophon and, less famously, others before him, is certainly an ideal, achievable guide and I think of it as just that - an ethos - rather than equitation from a period of history. It is not a lofty perfection which 'ordinary' riders and horses can never attain. It is simply a case of their learning a kinder, more effective and more rational way of going on around and on horses - and ponies because children should be encouraged to ride in that way, too.

Anyone, from any era, who rides harshly, is willing to cause distress and pain to horses and/or unwilling to learn when they are doing so, who trains by means of punishment, fear, distorting the horse's body out of its natural form and action or confusing the horse's mind is not a true classicist, no matter what they say, who they are or which country or establishment they come from.

Modern classical riding is based on the methods refined and taught in the 18th century by French trainer François Robichon de la Guérinière and detailed in his 'bible' Ecole de Cavalerie (School of Horsemanship) published in a modern translation by J.A. Allen and still available. (However, you may be well advised to take much of the horse management section with a large pinch of salt!)

Classicism is also an attitude of mind and a way of life in everything we do, involving simply kindness (not weakness) and consideration for people, animals and our environment. It involves a good deal of self-control and care of the mind and body of horse and trainer, so that they function efficiently in accordance with the laws of nature.

Completely novice riders and green horses aimed at every discipline, including racing, can be taught classically from the start, to their great benefit. Conversely, some of my most fulfilling experiences have been when rehabilitating and retraining abused horses, my own and other people's, and seeing them become calm, trusting, confident and wanting to work to the best of their abilities.

Classical riding is for you. It's for everybody who wants something better than has become common today. The best starting point for learning more is to look at the website of the UK-based Classical Riding Club, founded by teacher and author Sylvia Loch. Its address is You'll find more classical contacts on my Links page.

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