Theme: The 'Art' of Riding


Riding as 'art'

The concept of riding as an 'art' is mentioned in many writings, both recently and historically. When does riding transform from being a purely physical endeavour based on skills and technique, to "sculpting while progressing through space?" (de Kunffy, 1992, p.3)

Many authors have grappled with the topic, explaining from their perspectives how riding can transform the rider and the horse, taking them from mere 'performance' to the higher heights of 'artistic' accomplishments. We know 'art' when we see it - the performance transforms from just plain effortless and technically correct to evoking an emotional response, moving us in the depths of our beings and reminding us why we are so enthralled by the power and magnificence of the horse.

Below are four excerpts from writers and organizations, written as recently as 2006 and dating back to 1967. Although they are sourced from the discipline of dressage, all types riding have the potential to make us admire the horse and rider, giving us the goosebumps reserved only for the awe-inspiring few.

Not for nothing do we speak of the 'art of riding'. Not many riders are skilfull enough to train different horses, with their varied physiological and  psychological features, to the highest level of difficulty. 

HL Five Years
HL Bundle
HL Goal Setting
HL Book 3
HL Book 2
HL Book 1

As well as extensive experience, the rider should have a sound understanding and a 'feel' for equine nature and behaviour. He must be constantly 'listening' to the horse and should see training as a joint venture, a collaboration between rider and horse....

A horse which has been trained systematically, logically and consistently, and with the necessary tact and sensitivity will obey the aids willingly; in fact, it will enjoy doing so. It will have confidence in its rider. Novice, excitable, timid or nervous horses improve noticeably, during the course of correct training, in their willingness to accept and allow themselves to be 'framed' by the aids, and they become more and more confident and steady under the rider in unsettling situations.

German National Equestrian FederationAdvanced Techniques of Dressage, Kenilworth Press (Reprinted 2006) p.26-27

"The art of riding", this concept is on everyone's lips, but what exactly is the art of riding? Is it an art to ride horses or an art to train horses to the highest level of education? No, the art of riding lies very much deeper than that. It starts with where I handle my horse and how considerately I handle my horse.

A sign of a talented rider is that he thinks like the horse, he knows the ways a horse thinks and reacts.

The art of riding lies in being able to understand and see through the cause and effect of everything you do. This manifests itself in the correct way of caring for and managing the horse, and the sympathetic way in which a horse should be trained, without generating bad experiences.

The horse as a living being should be a cheerful collaborator and partner, not a disgraced object that is discarded in the corner after use: therein lies the art of managing horses and training them successfully.

If you abide by these rules when you work with your friend the horse, he will in return be a joyful companion that will be eager to do anything for you. What is more, the horse will most probably educate you more than you could ever wish to teach it in return: matters akin to compassionate love, sensitivity and humility. These are the most significant human virtues necessary in order to work with horses for them not to lose their grace and beauty.

Alfons J. Dietz, Training the Horse in Hand: The Classical Iberian Principles, The Lyons Press (2004) p.10

As the artist must know what he wishes to convey by his completed work and the workman must understand how best to use his tools, so must the rider have an exact knowledge of his aim and the ways and means to obtain it.

The object of the classical art of riding is to train a horse not only to be brilliant in the movements and exercises of the High School, but also to be quiet, supple, and obedient, and by his smooth movements to make riding a true pleasure. This clearly shows that in every kind of riding we strive for the same objective. Whether it is a dressage horse, a jumper, a hunter or charger, he should always be quiet, supple and obedient. These qualities are the basis for every kind of riding. Performances of the greatest brilliance can be built up only on this foundation.

A successful teacher must have a thorough knowledge of his pupils. The rider must know his horse physically as well as mentally. He should have not only a thorough knowledge of the horse's anatomy and of the functions of his joints and muscles but also be able to understand his feelings and anticipate his reactions. With this knowlege he will ensure that his horse enjoys his work and does not become sour.

Alois Podhajsky, The Complete Training of Horse and Rider: In the Principles of Classical Horsemanship. Doubleday & Company, Inc. (1967). p. 29

The Portrait of a Well-school Horse

Lifting and putting down his feet in a regular pace, with lightness and steadiness, the horse moves well forward on the track, going freely and willingly without haste or disturbance. His neck arches well in front of the rider with a supple poll. The position of the head is such that the line of the face remains a little in front of a vertical line drawn to the ground. The ears will be at their highest point, neither pricked forward nor laid back, but revealing by their natural position the horse's attention and obedience to the rider's will.

The eyes, full of confidence, are turned in the direction of the movement, the mouth is closed but wet, indicating that the horse is chewing the bit without grinding his teeth...

The rider, by sitting quietly and comfortably, proves how much he feels at home on his horse and how pleasant his movements are, and yet the horse is full of impulsion. Every step and every bound is brought about by the hindlegs springing energetically under the body and bent well in their joints....

Horse and rider seem to be one being. They form a well-balanced entity, a living work of art, showing the beauty of life, with harmony of form, and graceful movements which at the same time are both energetic and precise.

Franz Mairinger, Horses Are Made to Be Horses: A Personal Philosophy of Horsemanship. Howell Book House (1983). p127-128.


1. de Kunffy, Charles. (1992). p. 3. The Athletic Development of the Dressage Horse. Howell Book House, New York.

What are your thoughts about the 'art' of riding?

Horse Listening

Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Horse Listening Book Collection - beautiful paperbacks with all the excellence of the blog - in your hands! Click on the image for more information.

HL Five Years
HL Bundle
HL Goal Setting
HL Book 3
HL Book 2
HL Book 1


For more Listening Corner thoughts, click here.


  1. going from here to where i can purchase the AJDietz book! Thankyou. I have the others but this is new to me & strikes a paticular resonance as I search for a guide to help me & my horse get the most from each others input into this ‘Joint Venture’ i love that phrase!!