Xenophon. On Horsemanship

Translation by H. G. Dakyns

Translation by H. G. Dakyns

This etext was prepared by John Bickers, jbickers@templar.actrix.gen.nz

Xenophon the Athenian was born 431 B.C. He was a pupil of Socrates. He marched with the Spartans, and was exiled from Athens. Sparta gave him land and property in Scillus, where he lived for many years before having to move once more, to settle in Corinth. He died in 354 B.C.

On Horsemanship advises the reader on how to buy a good horse, and how to raise it to be either a war horse or show horse. Xenophon ends with some words on military equipment for a cavalryman.



Claiming to have attained some proficiency in horsemanship[1] ourselves, as the result of long experience in the field, our wish is to explain, for the benefit of our younger friends, what we conceive to be the most correct method of dealing with horses.

[1] Lit. 'Since, through the accident of having for a long time

'ridden' ourselves, we believe we have become proficients in

horsemanship, we wish to show to our younger friends how, as we

conceive the matter, they will proceed most correctly in dealing

with horses.' {ippeuein} in the case of Xenophon = serve as a

{ippeus}, whether technically as an Athenian 'knight' or more

particularly in reference to his organisation of a troop of

cavalry during 'the retreat' ('Anab.' III. iii. 8-20), and, as is

commonly believed, while serving under Agesilaus ('Hell.' III. iv.

14) in Asia, 396, 395 B.C.

There is, it is true, a treatise on horsemanship written by Simon, the same who dedicated the bronze horse near the Eleusinion in Athens[2] with a representation of his exploits engraved in relief on the pedestal.[3] But we shall not on that account expunge from our treatise any conclusions in which we happen to agree with that author; on the contrary we shall hand them on with still greater pleasure to our friends, in the belief that we shall only gain in authority from the fact that so great an expert in horsemanship held similar views to our own; whilst with regard to matters omitted in his treatise, we shall endeavour to supply them.

[2] L. Dind. [in Athens]. The Eleusinion. For the position of this

sanctuary of Demeter and Kore see Leake, 'Top. of Athens,' i. p.

296 foll. For Simon see Sauppe, vol. v. Praef. to 'de R. E.' p.

230; L. Dind. Praef. 'Xen. Opusc.' p. xx.; Dr. Morris H. Morgan,

'The Art of Horsemanship by Xenophon,' p. 119 foll. A fragment of

the work referred to, {peri eidous kai ekloges ippon}, exists. The

MS. is in the library of Emmanual Coll. Cant. It so happens that

one of the hipparchs (?) appealed to by Demosthenes in Arist.

'Knights,' 242,

{andres ippes, paragenesthe nun o kairos, o Simon, o Panaiti, ouk elate pros to dexion keras};

bears the name.

[3] Lit. 'and carved on the pedestal a representation of his own


As our first topic we shall deal with the question, how a man may best avoid being cheated in the purchase of a horse.

Take the case of a foal as yet unbroken: it is plain that our scrutiny must begin with the body; an animal that has never yet been mounted can but present the vaguest indications of spirit. Confining ourselves therefore to the body, the first point to examine, we maintain, will be the feet. Just as a house would be of little use, however beautiful its upper stories, if the underlying foundations were not what they ought to be, so there is little use to be extracted from a horse, and in particular a war-horse,[4] if unsound in his feet, however excellent his other points; since he could not turn a single one of them to good account.[5]

[4] Or, 'and that a charger, we will suppose.' For the simile see

'Mem.' III. i. 7.

[5] Cf. Hor. 'Sat.' I. ii. 86:

regibus hic mos est: ubi equos mercantur, opertos inspiciunt, ne, si facies, ut saepe, decora molli fulta pede est, emptorem inducat hiantem, quod pulchrae clunes, breve quod caput, ardua cervix.

and see Virg. 'Georg.' iii. 72 foll.

In testing the feet the first thing to examine will be the horny portion of the hoof. For soundness of foot a thick horn is far better than a thin. Again it is important to notice whether the hoofs are high both before and behind, or flat to the ground; for a high hoof keeps the 'frog,'[6] as it is called, well off the ground; whereas a low hoof treads equally with the stoutest and softest part of the foot alike, the gait resembling that of a bandy-legged man.[7] 'You may tell a good foot clearly by the ring,' says Simon happily;[8] for the hollow hoof rings like a cymbal against the solid earth.[9]

[6] Lit. 'the swallow.'

[7] Al. 'a knock-kneed person.' See Stonehenge, 'The Horse' (ed.

1892), pp. 3, 9.

[8] Or, 'and he is right.'

[9] Cf. Virg. 'Georg.' iii. 88; Hor. 'Epod.' xvi. 12.

And now that we have begun with the feet, let us ascend from this point to the rest of the body. The bones[10] above the hoof and below the fetlock must not be too straight, like those of a goat; through not being properly elastic,[11] legs of this type will jar the rider, and are more liable to become inflamed. On the other hand, these bones must not be too low, or else the fetlock will be abraded or lacerated when the horse is galloped over clods and stones.

[10] i.e. 'the pasterns ({mesokunia}) and the coffin should be


[11] Or, 'being too inflexible.' Lit. 'giving blow for blow, overuch

like anvil to hammer.'

The bones of the shanks[12] ought to be thick, being as they are the columns on which the body rests; thick in themselves, that is, not puffed out with veins or flesh; or else in riding over hard ground they will inevitably be surcharged with blood, and varicose conditions be set up,[13] the legs becoming thick and puffy, whilst the skin recedes; and with this loosening of the skin the back sinew[14] is very apt to start and render the horse lame.

[12] i.e. 'the metacarpals and metatarsals.'

[13] Or, 'and become varicose, with the result that the shanks swell

whilst the skin recedes from the bone.'

[14] Or, 'suspensory ligament'? Possibly Xenophon's anatomy is wrong,

and he mistook the back sinew for a bone like the fibula. The part

in question might intelligibly enough, if not technically, be

termed {perone}, being of the brooch-pin order.

If the young horse in walking bends his knees flexibly, you may safely conjecture that when he comes to be ridden he will have flexible legs, since the quality of suppleness invariably increases with age.[15] Supple knees are highly esteemed and with good reason, rendering as they do the horse less liable to stumble or break down from fatigue than those of stiffer build.

[15] Lit. 'all horses bend their legs more flexibly as time advances.'

Coming to the thighs below the shoulder-blades,[16] or arms, these if thick and muscular present a stronger and handsomer appearance, just as in the case of a human being. Again, a comparatively broad chest is better alike

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