18th Century Military Equitation

A Brief Context

Mounted warfare played a critical role in European affairs of state from the 16th through the 19th centuries. Essentially all English works on horsemanship in that period applied directly or indirectly to the military, particularly the many works focused on the British light cavalry, or “light horse,” prominent in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Henry_Herbert_earl_of_Pembroke_by_Joshua_Reynolds
Henry Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, by Joshua Reynolds. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

These works included broad treatises on the discipline, such as Robert Hinde’s The Discipline of the Light-Horse (1778) and Captain L. Neville’s A Treatise on the Discipline of Light Cavalry (1796), as well as narrower works on equitation, such as the Earl of Pembroke’s A Method of Breaking Horses, and Teaching Soldiers to Ride (1761, with subsequent editions) and William Tyndale’s A Treatise on Military Equitation (1797).

Pembroke’s Military Equitation

Henry Herbert, 10th Earl of Pembroke (1734-94), entered cavalry service in 1752, rose to the rank of general in 1782, and saw his influential treatise through four editions: A Method of Breaking Horses, and Teaching Soldiers to Ride (1761 and 1762), revised and retitled, Military Equitation; or, A Method of Breaking Horses, and Teaching Soldiers to Ride (1778 and 1793). It addressed “the wretched system of Horsemanship, that at present prevails in the ARMY,” a system that leaves men and horses unprepared “for want of proper instructions and intelligence in this Art.”

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The full-leather cover of Military Equitation by the Earl of Pembroke, 1778. National Sporting Library & Museum, Ludwig von Hunersdorf collection.

Military Equitation outlines a program, including lessons, for training the military horse and rider, emphasizing both theory and practice. Unsparing in his criticism of current military horsemanship—after Xenophon, “horsemanship was buried for ages, or rather brutalised, which is still too much the case”—and of inept riding-masters, farriers, and grooms, he spares soldiers and remounts (military equines): their ignorance results from poor training and is therefore correctable. Reason and moderation, patience and gentleness, and simplicity of means are the proper tools for educating horses and soldiers alike.

In The Development of Modern Riding (1962), Vladimir Littauer noted that “Pembroke’s is a very small and unimportant book,” particularly when compared to the 18th century masterworks of dressage. Rather than dismissing Pembroke, however, Littauer was praising him as “a follower of the French school [of dressage who] was practical enough to suggest its considerable simplification for the army,” who successfully repurposed dressage for the military work at hand. What Pembroke did for the French school, William Tyndale did for Pembroke: he further simplified the simplifier.

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Plate from Military Equitation, Third Edition, by the Earl of Pembroke, 1778. National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels, 1999.

Tyndale’s Treatise on Military Equitation

William Tyndale (17??-1830) was a landowner who performed regimental service in the late 18th century, notably as major and lieutenant-colonel in the 1st Life Guards. Tyndale’s first tract, Instructions for Young Dragoon Officers (second edition, 1796), was followed by A Treatise on Military Equitation (1797), published in one edition only. The latter was intended for “regimental riding masters” who may know horsemanship through experience but who cannot teach it effectively because they lack knowledge of its underlying principles.

Tyndale invokes Pembroke’s Military Equitation as “the best work of the kind in our language.” Like Pembroke, he believes that “the present system, which is much the same throughout the cavalry, is contrary to every principle of true horsemanship,” and that successful instruction of young men and horses demands reason, patience, and simplicity of means. Regarding Pembroke’s work, however, as “beyond the comprehension of those whom it is my wish to teach and reform,” Tyndale focuses on the practical application of principles of “true” horsemanship.

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A fold-out plate from A Treatise on Military Equitation, by William Tyndale, 1797, illustrating Tyndale’s plan for a military saddle of his “own invention.” National Sporting Library & Museum.

Tyndale also argues that the British predilection for hunting had caused the military to neglect formal dressageInstructors failed to retrain young recruits in “the method of riding which is necessarily adopted in regiments of cavalry, and which must be adopted by every individual” to prevent confusion—even chaos—in tight formation. Whether Tyndale was right or not, British writers in the next century would press the contrary case for hunting as ideal preparation for cavalry.

National Sporting Library & Museum Holdings

What will 21st century equestrian readers gain from these two treatises on military equitation? They will gain historical knowledge of an important moment in the evolution of horsemanship, and they will find principles and lessons applicable to their own riding. All readers, equestrian or not, will gain the opportunity to converse with two quick and practical 18th century minds and to school with two seasoned trainers of horses and men.

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Title page of the Earl of Pembroke’s book, 1752 edition, with a pasted plate on the facing page depicting the horse Sportsman.

NSLM holds eight copies of Pembroke’s treatise: two copies of the 1st edition, three of the 2nd edition, two of the 3rd edition, and one of the 4th edition. The 3rd and 4th editions call for seventeen plates, and NSLM’s copy of the 4th edition and one of its copies of the 3rd edition each contain the complete set. NSLM also holds a copy of the single edition of the rare Tyndale treatise, complete with its five called-for plates. The copies are clean and clear, and solidly and impressively bound.

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The 1752 edition of the Earl of Pembroke’s book, with the bookplate of the Earl of Lonsdale on the facing page.

A reader with access to NSLM holdings, in short, can experience these two works in their original forms—an experience providing not only textual authority and aesthetic pleasure, but also historical immediacy. Each copy carries its provenance in previous owner bookplates and signatures, auction and donor entries, and marginal notations. Travelers through time, these books carry the physical traces of their histories with them.


caramelloCharles Caramello is John H. Daniels Fellow at the National Sporting Library & Museum and Professor of English at University of Maryland. He is working on a book called Horsemen, Horse Soldiers, and Grand Illusions. This blog is adapted from the Introduction to a dual edition of Pembroke’s Military Equitation and Tyndale’s Treatise on Military Equitation, completed at NSLM and forthcoming from Xenophon Press.

 

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2 Comments

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  1. Very interesting information. I will have to explore this topic further, as I now have a greater appreciation of these works, and the evolution of ideas and techniques. Thanks so much for this interesting article..

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  2. How wonderful that the NSL has so many different editions and bindings of this work! It’s so important for scholars to be able to see how a book and its bindings have changed over time. So glad to hear that someone from the UM system is working on this topic!
    Anne Ross
    Carleton F. Burke Memorial Library volunteer
    Arcadia, CA

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