Xenophon->the most amazing dude in history (and yes I said dude...)

Hey Everyone!
A member recommended that I write a little about Xenophon. I was wondering if anyone else knew about him?

Above ^ is a link to wikipedia that gives a little briefing about him and some of his works. Xenophon is considered to be the first dressage person. Even though he lived in 431-355 B.C. his training methods are extremely similar to todays. Many horsemen have looked at Xenophon's texts such as his book The Art of Horsemanship and based their training methods off of him.

Below is an exert from his text The Art of Horsemanship
[13] The one best rule and practice in dealing with a horse is never to approach him in anger; for anger is a reckless thing, so that it often makes a man do what he must regret.4 [14] Moreover, when the horse is shy of anything and will not come near it, you should teach him that there is nothing to be afraid of, either with the help of a plucky horse--which is the surest way--or else by touching the object that looks alarming yourself, and gently leading the horse up to it. [15] To force him with blows only increases his terror; for when horses feel pain in such a predicament, they think that this too is caused by the thing at which they shy.


[9] Washing down of the legs we disapprove of; it does no good, and the hoofs are injured by being wetted every day. Excessive cleaning under the belly also should be diminished; for this worries the horse very much, and the cleaner these parts are, the more they collect under the belly things offensive to it;4 [10] and notwithstanding all the pains that may be taken with these parts, the horse is no sooner led out than he looks much the same as an unwashed animal. So these operations should be omitted; and as for the rubbing of the legs, it is enough to do it with the bare hands.
Xenophon. Xenophon in Seven Volumes, 7. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA; William Heinemann, Ltd., London. 1984

So as you can see by reading the first exert it is quite similar to what we do today. The second one contradicts what we do but you can kind of see the reasoning he had for it. For example, he mentions grooming under the horse's belly bothers them. I have also found that quite a few horses do not like being groomed under their belly, so by studying their body language that is most likely how he came to that conclusion. And everyone knows that one of the most important thing with communicating with your horse is studying their body language and getting to know how they say different things using their body. I got this from the citing in bold. If you ever get a chance I recommend reading The Art of Horsemanship. There are a few things that are different, like I said, but since he did not know everything we learnt today from science and such you can see where his ideas were coming from once you analyze it a bit.


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Thank you so much for posting this. I guess the truth is timeless - We certainly have no right to ever deal with our horses in anger.

Interestingly, as far as the second paragraph, my horse hates it when I clean under his belly so I rarely do so (only in the girth area).
That's interesting about the legs. One summer I was with a trainer who clipped the hind legs and washed them after every ride. That year my horse had terrible scurf. After that I never clipped the legs in summer again and although I do wash them (my horse has a bath after every ride, as he is sweaty), he has never had scurf again. I also leave a bit of feathering to protect his heels and some short whiskers even though he is a show horse.
Xenophon is the most precious text in my library, never to be lent out! It is rich with an attitude that sometimes gets lost through history - high mindedness. Here's one for you all:

"The gods have bestowed upon man the gift of teaching his brother what he ought to do by word of mouth; but it is evident by word of mouth you can teach a horse nothing. If however you reward him by kindness..."

Happy riding everyone.


I doubt that Xeneophon said that. In fact I doubt that he said anything of what we claim to know here.

Actually I think the whole thing is a fake, probably from Renaissance time. We know today that many writings about ancient Greece are in fact inventions from people in the renaissance time were it was very fashionable to "discover" things from ancient Greece.

In fact there are not many really authentic documents from ancient Greece left. The Ilias, yes, but not much more. Most other writings are renaissance time fakes. Many of our schoolbook knowledge for example has never really happened.

Authentic written documents are very rarely older than the year 1200.

- but its an interesting question. I'll dig a little bit into the source history to see where the Xenophon thing actually comes from. The bibliographic sources quote publications from beginning of the 16the century only.

But I'll see.

That is fascinating, Bernd.

My husband is in the middle or reading The Odyssey. Do you think that is a legitimate work? I always thought it was.

We are traveling on an historical trip to Greece in the spring and this will certainly send me in an interesting research direction before we go.

Thanks for the insights.
I believe there is no doubt Xenophon existed and that he was the first recognised, and wise, equestrian author. His Art of Horsemanship, translated by Morris Morgan, is fasinating and a worthy addition to any equestrian library. It is the earliest known equestrian manuscript in existence, although Xenophon himself mentions earlier authors. Among the elite and wealthy at the time both driving and riding was an integral part of their lives and it is not surprising that this type of book was written. What is surprising is the many words of wisdom that are still applicable today and his more gentle approach to horsemanship. He also wrote other non-horsey books which further establishes the provenance of the Art of Horsemanship.
Here Here!
I don't doubt that Xenophon was a real person but I think Bernt is right in that his writings were probably added to during the Renaissance. Remember that the Greeks WHERE NOT USEING HORSES TO PLEASURE RIDE BUT FOR BATTLE, and they did not have saddles ,so I'm sure they had some sort of written manual for the uniform training of their war horses .Being as enlightened as the Greeks were I don't think it is such a leap of faith to believe that this bloke was real . Cheers Geoffrey
We know more about Greek horsemanship because of the extensive literature which has survived from Heroic and Classical Greece, including Xenophon's manual. I would be interested to hear what evidence there is for these manuscripts being added to hundreds of years later. However there is clear evidence of the levade, piaffe and passage in the frieze on the Parthenon in the Acropolis, and there is little doubt that the art of riding and training was also of great interest, despite the fact saddles were not used and the cavalry was initially the driving force of riding. Xenophon also describes the use of his horses both to oversee his estate and to go hunting on. Not surprisingly it does seem that riding became as addictive and interesting a pursuit in peace time to Xenophon as it has to hundreds of cavalry riders over the centuries since this time. It would suggest that it was this more general passion for horses that led him to write his two books towards the end of his life. Another addict!
Great to see the interest in Xenophon!

Right. The use of horses in battle during the Greek classical period had to be limited by the lack of saddle. Without stirrups, you had less traction. You mainly rode to and from battles, maneuvered into positions and you could certainly launch your javelin and intimidate your foe. You could likely indulge in a little quick sword action, but you'll notice Greeks rode very lightly armed, not to mention clad. Unlike Hollywood , it could be easy to put your enemy on foot: remove his horse.

Xenophon's treatise describes in detail triumphant processionals, and it was for this reason that horses were encouraged (you could call it trained) to rear and caper and stamp the ground. It was a real crowd pleaser, and a boost to any returning warrior's ego. I doubt horses were trained to trample enemies in piaffe because there were relatively quick and easy ways to disable enemy horses. I suspect a highly trained and favoured animal was not all that disposable.

Otherwise, the history of horses in warfare shows them universally expendable, sadly.

What I value in Xenophon is a suggestion of another value for horses, the beginning of a new way of looking at this "vehicle"...

Happy Riding!

There is a nice book from Charles Chiveny-Trench about the history of riding.
He makes the point that all the advanced movements such as piaffe, courbette, capriole, pirouttes etc. were made more for show reasons for the nobility than anything else.

It would have had no military use at any time for some simple reasons.
1. given the high training requirements for both horses and riders its very unlikely that ever an army would have been able to afford a number of riders or horses capable of this to make a real difference in battle
2. all of those things requiring collection are completely useless when you are fighting for life and death with an enemy. There is simply no time. When someone on horseback or not tries to kill you, you will have no time for fancy movements of your horse.

As Charles is one of the last cavalry officers who has actually fought battles on horseback he is a very credible source for that.

Well, coming back to Xenophone though, my comments refer to late historic research which put some doubt on the historic reports about ancient Greece in general. One reason is that written documents on Papyrus did usually not survive this time. As I said before there is a growing research claiming that original documents- in writing- are very seldomly older than the year 1200. In other words more than some 1600 years after Xenophone's reported writings.
Also the doubt is from the question of why a cavalry general in ancient greece would have written this?- Not for cavalry instruction, as soldiers at that time wouldn't have been able to read it.
In Renaissance it was very fashinable and profitable to producte 'original' ancient artefacts and it may well be that most , if not all of Xenophone's writing, have been created at this time.

I have checked Klaus Widdra's book about Xenphone in Germany. He has published a synopsis of the Greek and German text. Thanksfully his book contains a large and very detailed bibliographic part, quoting the sources. However in this bibliography the oldest document is from the year 1502. He refers for his sources of the manuscripts to a work from another researcher who published his work of the 'original' greek transcripts in Berlin in 1903.

Well,- maybe at my next summer vacation I will spend time in libraries to track all those quotes and claimed originals to see it myself. It may be fun.

- Anyway- nothing of this limits the value of this riding theory for today,- it may just not be all that old or all that comprehensive.



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