My wonderful son asked me last week what I wanted for Christmas, muttering that it was probably too late to order on-line to get something by Christmas. I went to the wonderful book site (amazon) and found that I could get any amount of horsie books by Christmas, and I asked for "Riding and Schooling Horses" by Harry D. Chamberlin, the Captain of the US Cavalry teams for international competition so long ago. This book, an old American classic, was written in 1934. Needless to say I had a wonderful Christmas reading my wonderful new horsie book!
It is so interesting reading a book by an accomplished American rider (Gold team eventing, Silver individual jumping, 1932 Olympics) written so long ago. Harry Chamberlin had a very good equestrian education, not only did he get trained at West Point and Fort Riley here in the USA, he also spent one year at Saumar in France and another year at the Italian cavalry school at Tor di Quinto where he learned the still new Italian Forward Seat. I have been reading his excellent "Training Hunters Jumpers and Hacks" over the past 40 years, and because I read and used this book I avoided many, many, many common mistakes. Reading and practicing Littauer's Forward Seat I got a wonderful foundation, but when I got more ambitious it was by reading and practicing what is in Chamberlin's training book that prevented me from ruining my horses. I especially appreciated that Chamberlin preached taking TIME to properly train a horse.
So here I am, happily reading what Chamberlin wrote about the Forward Seat, when I ran into some passages that floored me. Now understand that Chamberlin was a cavalry man long before women were allowed to serve in uniform, and that there were no women riders in any cavalry. Cavalry men, especially in Europe, were all of the opinion that as far as riding horses women were equivalent of cripples who needed the security of the side saddle to have any hope of keeping up with a male rider, any male rider, no matter how bad a rider the male may or may not be. Santini himself, Caprilli's student, writting at the same time as this book, had a chapter on the Forward Seat for side-saddle riders in his books. Back then, in equitation, sexism ruled. Women were considered too weak, delicate and cowardly to be able to REALLY ride a horse.
But I found out that Chamberlin thought otherwise, at least where the Forward Seat is concerned. On page 11-12 he says "Also, let it be said here that women take the correct forward seat with even more facility than do men....The female conformation in general is particularly well-adapted to the forward seat." On page 17 he explains why "Since women are heavier than men about the hips, it is easier for them to maintain their balance with the forward seat, than for the latter, who, due to their conformation, are normally top-heavy. It may also be added that a woman's center of gravity is also closer to the horse, which increases the stability of her seat." EVERY FS author since the end of WWII noted that the vast majority of their students were female, and ALL these old crusty ex-cavalry men (often European) admitted that their female students could become excellent riders, but all the other authors deemed that a woman's greater delicacy in rein aids and greater sympathy for the horse made them better riders, not that they were more secure in the saddle!
This got me to thinking about the present day lack of popularity for the Forward Seat method of riding. Could it be, that with the advent of the FS for show jumping, that all the men who jumped their horses lost their formerly considerable advantages over women in riding? Did male hunt seat riding students suddenly lose their interest in riding horses when they saw the females learning to ride easier and better than they did? Do males in the proper forward seat jumping position feel more insecure in the saddle than women do? DOES RIDING IN THE FORWARD SEAT POSITION MAKE MALES FEEL INFERIOR TO WOMEN? Is this the reason that male western, saddle-seat, and dressage riders seem to think that men who jump at a full gallop over high fences are sissies? Since men still rule all the "important" aspects of any sport, is this the reason that the Forward Seat died away, that the men could not adapt to the, for them, more insecure feeling FS when they felt so much so secure with their seat bones firmly in the saddle?
The great pity about this is two-fold. The worst part is for the horses, Caprilli developed the FS so that the HORSES would be more comfortable, not the riders. Any greater comfort for the riders was purely accidental. Under the FS the horses were finally able to gallop and jump in great comfort under a secure rider who did not torture them. The horses responded by galloping faster and jumping higer with fewer problems. Caprilli definitely did not develop the FS for women riders, as there were no women riders in the Italian cavalry. He expected cavalry men to be BOLD riders, going forth bravely cross-country at a full gallop on horses who were trained to use their own judgement about how to cross the ground safely, all the while doing everything possible not to hurt the horse in spite of not feeling absolutely secure in the saddle. I guess cavalry troopers were expected to feel insecure all the time, that is what sergeants, officers, whizzing bullets and field artillery are for. Also bad for the horses is this modern fad for putting pounds of pressure on the horses' mouths, a fad that looks almost tailored made to negate the other prime advantage women have over male riders, our light, sensitive and responsive hands. I was shocked, shocked!, when I recently realized that I now have lighter hands than most of the dressage riders today, when I started riding it was the other way around! It is even more shocking for me since I have severe physical problems from my MS, problems that are reflected in my hands making them almost unsuitable for riding on contact. Believe me, no horse likes having a constant 5 pounds or more of pressure on their sensitive tongues, lips and bars. It hurts.
The second great pity is for women hunt seat/dressage riders. A lot of women are followers, and they often try to find the best authorities to learn from. And it is widely known, that in English hunt seat and dressage riding, that the best people (usually men) compete internationally. So, by default, a lot of women think that these people, who win medals and prizes, do the best riding on the planet. Since a lot of women want to ride well, and a lot of women want to ride at least as well as a male, they get sucked into a system of riding that was developed through thousands of years just for male riders, dressage, and lately for jumping competitions the "balanced" hunt seat. This seems to cause physical problems for women. In my forty years of riding I have never heard an experienced female forward seat rider complain about how uncomfortable their saddles were. The only time I ever felt any discomfort was when I was 7 to 9 months pregnant riding in my Stubben Siegfried saddle. The next time I was pregnant I switched to my English made Crosby jumping saddle and had absolutely no pain riding, and I rode until the day before labor started. I feel so SORRY for all you female dressage riders who have to spend two to three times as much to buy a custom made dressage saddle just so you do not hurt when riding. I have no pain riding and I can buy a regular saddle and feel quite comfortable. In fact riding FS I have no pain riding in my old German made dressage saddle either. I would not ride in it pregnant, but since I am now too old for that I doubt that it will ever cause me pain. Is this just due to luck? At first when I read about these problems I thought I was just lucky, but now I think it is all due to the fact that I ride FS.
So now I am seeing a picture in my mind of women FS riders learning to ride comfortably and well in the seat most suited for their physique, and of men learning to ride dressage and "balanced" seat, the seats most suited to the limitations of the male physique. Since I have such bad balance I can sympathize with the male inability to easily bring his center of gravity forward effectively enough to keep it directly over the center of gravity of the horse who gallops and jumps, it is hard for me too, hard but not impossible. It is also not impossible for a male rider to develop an effective Forward Seat, hundreds of men managed to do so during the last century, it is just a lot harder for a man than for a woman. It is also not impossible for a woman rider to develop an effective dressage &/or "balanced" seat, just a lot harder than it is for a male rider. I am also thinking that male European ex-cavalry officers who did not deem the FS good enough for them to compete with, managed to make females less effective riders by making them ride in seats more suitable for males, thus reducing competition in the highest levels of competitive riding. Hey, they were CAVALRY MEN, learning to ride for war, to identify the enemy, cripple the enemy, and win! So what if it hurts the horse? Cavalry horses did not tend to have overly long lives anyway.
Women, if you end up in pain when you ride consider riding the Forward Seat, the seat that takes advantage of all your physical differences from men and turns them into strengths. Men, I am so sorry that the Forward Seat is harder for you to perfect, but please think about the comfort of your horses and free them enough so that they can move freely under you. The reward is great. With the Forward Seat I, crippled as I am, can still ride a horse who flies without wings, pain free. You can too. There is nothing like it.
My deepest apologies if any rider feels insulted by this posting. I know you are all trying to do the best as you can within the systems that you were taught to ride, both for yourselves and for your horses.
Have a great ride!