18th Century Military Equitation

A Brief Context

The growing number of books on horsemanship published in Europe in the 16th and 17th Centuries gathered momentum in the 18th century. Scores of works were published in Great Britain alone between 1700 and 1800—some of them English translations of continental writing, most of them English in origin. Each work fell somewhere on four intersecting axes: horsemanship, farriery, dressage, and equitation. Horsemanship generally included the latter two, and farriery both the shoeing and medical care of horses.

Mounted warfare played a critical role in European affairs of state from the 16th through the 19th centuries, and essentially all English works on horsemanship throughout that period—beginning with Thomas Blundeville’s The Arte of Ryding and Breakinge Greate Horses (1560)— applied either directly or indirectly to the military. Salient among them were a stream of works focused on the British cavalry, particularly the light cavalry, or “light horse,” that emerged in the 17th century and evolved over the course of the 18th century, firmly cementing its value by mid-century.

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

Clustered late in the century, these works included numerous official publications, as well as several unofficial treatises by officers in the cavalry.[i] The latter range from broad works 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), to narrower works on equitation for the discipline. Notable among the latter were the Earl of Pembroke’s A Method of Breaking Horses, and Teaching Soldiers to Ride (1761) and William Tyndale’s A Treatise on Military Equitation (1797), published four years after the last edition of Pembroke’s treatise.

Pembroke’s Military Equitation

Henry Herbert, 10th Earl of Pembroke (1734-1794), self-described as “horse mad” since youth, entered British cavalry service in 1752 and rose quickly through the ranks, eventually attaining major-general in 1761, lieutenant-general in 1770, and general in 1782. A wealthy and raffish aristocrat as well as a soldier, Pembroke 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 was intended to address “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.”

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

Written for “the use of the Cavalry,” Military Equitation outlines a program for proper training of military horse and rider with lessons on specific aspects of that training: it comprises, in short, theory and practice. Pembroke is 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 in his contempt for inept riding-masters, farriers, and grooms. But he spares soldiers and remounts (military equines), whose ignorance results from poor training, not lack of virtue, and is therefore correctable. Reason and moderation, patience and gentleness, and simplicity of means are the proper tools for educating soldiers to ride and their horses to be ridden.

Vladimir Littauer, the great 20th century horseman and writer on horsemanship, conceded that “Pembroke’s is a very small and unimportant book,” particularly when compared to earlier 18th century masterworks by Cavendish and de la Guérinière.[iii] Rather than dismissing Pembroke, however, Littauer was praising him as “a follower of the French school [who] was practical enough to suggest its considerable simplification for the army.”[iii] Pembroke, in short, not only understood and appreciated his haute école predecessors, but also successfully repurposed them for the military work at hand. What Pembroke did for the French school, William Tyndale, in effect, would do for Pembroke: he further simplified the simplifier.

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 and Sheriff of Gloucestershire who performed regimental service in the last decades of the 18th century, notably as major and lieutenant-colonel in the 1st Life Guards. The first of Tyndale’s two tracts, Instructions for Young Dragoon Officers (second edition, 1796), “instruct[s] the young officer in the part of his duty required in quarters” and in “the business of the field.” Tyndale’s second tract, A Treatise on Military Equitation (1797), published in one edition only, was intended for “regimental riding masters” who may have knowledge of horsemanship through experience but who cannot transmit it to soldiers because they lack knowledge of its underlying principles.

Tyndale invokes Pembroke’s Military Equitation in his opening sentence as “the best work of the kind in our language.” He believes, like Pembroke, that “the present system, which is much the same throughout the cavalry, is contrary to every principle of true horsemanship, both in the instruction of man and horse,” and he argues, after Pembroke, that successful instruction of young men and young horses alike demands reason, patience, and simplicity of means. Tyndale thought Pembroke’s work, however, “beyond the comprehension of those whom it is my wish to teach and reform.” Subordinating theory to practice, his tract aims to educate the instructors of men and horses in the basic principles of “true” horsemanship and their effective application.

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.

The British predilection for hunting, Tyndale proposes, has caused the military to neglect proper manège training and riding in the cavalry, but hunting, he argues, offers no preparation for precise maneuvering within “large connected bodies of horsemen.” Instructors have failed to retrain young recruits, adept at hunting, 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 throughout the next century, ironically, would press the opposite case for hunting as ideal preparation for cavalry.[iv]

National Sporting Library & Museum Holdings

What will 21st century amateur equestrian readers gain from two treatises on military equitation written for 18th century professional soldiers? First, readers will gain historical insight on how broader intellectual currents in 18th century England influenced military training in equitation. Second, they will gain historical knowledge of an important moment in the evolution of horsemanship. And third, they will find principles and lessons applicable to the improvement of their own riding. Whether equestrians or not, finally, readers will converse with two quick and eminently practical 18th century minds and school with two seasoned trainers of horses and men.

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

NSLM has the good fortune to hold 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 of both works are clean, clear, and solidly and variously bound—impressively bound in some cases.

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 that provides not only textual authority and aesthetic pleasure, but also palpable historical immediacy. Each copy bears the traces of its provenance in the form of previous owner bookplates and signatures, auction and donor entries, and marginal notations. Travellers through time, these books carry the physical traces of their histories with them.


[i] Official works pertaining to cavalry include guidelines in short pamphlet form, such as Warrant for Establishing Certain Regulations Relative to the Clothing and Appointments of the Cavalry (1796) or The Light-Horse Drill: Describing the Several Evolutions in a Progressive Series (1800); and guidelines in somewhat longer form, such as Rules and Regulations for the Sword Exercise of the Cavalry (1796) or Instructions for the Provisional Cavalry (1798). One lengthy manual, Instructions and Regulations for the Formations and Movements of the Cavalry (1796), generated its own gloss: An Elucidation of Several Parts of His Majesty’s Regulations for the Formations and Movements of Cavalry (1798).

[ii] William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle, published two treatises on horsemanship: La Méthode nouvelle et invention extraordinaire de dresser les chevaux (1658), translated posthumously into English as A General System of Horsemanship in All It’s Branches (1743), and A New Method, and Extraordinary Invention, to Dress Horses (1667), which Newcastle described as “neither a translation of the first [treatise], nor an absolutely necessary addition to it.” François Robichon de la Guérinière published École de Cavalerie (School of Horsemanship) in 1733.

[iii] Vladimir S. Littauer, The Development of Modern Riding. Rpt. 1962. (New York: Macmillan, 1991), pp. 90-91.

[iv] This trend culminated in E. A. H. Alderson, Pink and Scarlet, or Hunting as a School for Soldiering (London: William Heinemann, 1900).

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.




Leave a Comment

  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..


  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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