The “Bem Cavalgar”

“One of the fortunate occurrences that helps the correct learning of the art of riding is to have from the start good and appropriate beasts, in accordance with each one’s stage of learning; because the beasts should be of one type at the beginning and of other types later on.”  

From The Royal Books of Horsemanship, Jousting and Knightly Combat by Dom Duarte, translated by Antonio Franco Preto  and edited by Steven Muhlberger, Chivalry Bookshelf, 2005.

Many thanks to Nancy Nicholson for turning me on to this book.  Dom Duarte was the King of Portugal a very long time ago indeed (he died in 1438) and was known in his day for many things including his skill at wrestling. 

What impresses me most about His Majesty is his kindness and good sense regards beginning riders.  In Chapter V of his book, he deals with the proper way to teach: 

“It should be noted that a youngster or any other person who is starting to learn the art of riding should do it initially on a healthy beast with no signs of malice or evil intentions. . . .And if [the student] starts making mistakes we should not reprimand him severely, but gently and little by little. And we should praise him with enthusiasms whenever he acts correctly and starts showing gradual development. And we should act this way until we see he has really decided to go on learning and is actually looking forward to be corrected and taught.”

Doesn’t he sound like a great teacher? And doesn’t it make you think of all the terrible learning experiences you’ve had in the past, thrown on the back of a “beast” to which you were ill-suited either due to someone’s warped sense of fun or their own ignorance about teaching?  Riding heck; think about the gym classes or math classes or in-service training or anything where just the smallest bit of “you are doing well” would have been nice.

I am pleasantly surpised that a king of the late Middle Ages was of the opinion that beginers are best brought along gently.   However, once a student knows what’s what, the king changed tactics:

“And coming to the last stages of the learning process it is time for [the student] to be severely reprimanded for every error done and force him to repeat his movements and actions as many times as necessary until correction and perfection are ensured and obtained.”

The king was no pushover.

And this should be part of every teacher’s toolkit:

 “And all those who are lucky enough to have good teachers — a most fortunate happening — have a unique opportunity of becoming fearless horse riders.”  



Filed under Books, Learning

3 responses to “The “Bem Cavalgar”

  1. I’ve had more than a few lessons where all the instructor seemed to do was what I call “traffic control”: OK, cross the arena and change reins. Pick up a trot. Circle to the right, then go over the crossrail. Meanwhile, I’m wondering, well, how the hell am I doing? Does she think she doesn’t have to say anything so long as my head is higher than the horse’s? It’s heavenly being on a horse, but why am I paying for this?

    Have also run into quite a few critters who probably should never have been schoolies: too idiosyncratic, or too unresponsive (i.e. won’t trot without a WHACK or five from the crop), or else so flighty that everyone in the barn was terrified of them. Then there are the ones I would happily have bought and taken home if they weren’t worth their weight in gold to the school (LOL!).

  2. The name of the book is “Livro de Ensinança de Bem Cavalgar Toda Sela” and I’m always amused how the title gets translated. One thing I’ve noted in the English translation of the work is that they’ve added a lot of text that didn’t appear in the original. Most likely to facilitate understanding, but it’s not a literal translation.

    I agree, Duarte was very forward thinking, he felt that people could become good horsemen, no matter their age or even if they were infirmed.

    “De o gabar mais, e culpar menos” (Of bragging more, and blaming less) is the one associated with the teaching of beginners. Praise them, don’t blame, but when they reach the point where they should know better, then it becomes the shame game. 🙂

  3. I was just re-reading my post and didn’t mean for my previous one to come off as corrective. I meant to give the historical name: Livro de Ensinança de Bem Cavalgar Toda Sela “The book of teaching to ride well in every type of saddle” also known as “The Art of Good Riding”.

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