Academic Pathway

Riding Academies

One of the first Renaissance riding academies was established by Frederico Grisone in Naples in 1532. Two years later Cesare Fiaschi established an academy in Ferrara, with others soon following. 

Illustration from second edition of Antoine de Pluvinel’s “L’Instruction du Roy” (Paris: 1625). King Louis XIII on horseback at centre, Messieurs de Pluvinel and le Grand and the Marquis de Souvre standing at left. Original in British Museum.

Equitation formed an important part of the education of young nobles, who needed to train in mounted combat to be able to fulfil their responsibilities to sovereign and state.


Nobles in France who aspired to learn the art of riding began to travel to Italy, such as Antoine de Pluvinel, who studied under Giovanni Battista Pignatelli in Naples. In 1594, Pluvinel returned to Paris to establish a riding academy, where he became one of the first French riding masters, and tutor to a young Louis XIII.


Like many riding academies of this period, Pluvinel’s academy was the direct descendent of the Platonic academies (see van Orden, 2005 & 2020), and taught students a classical pedagogy of music, dancing, mathematics and drawing. He modelled the philosophy and approach to his teaching on the Academy of Poetry and Music, which was established in Paris in 1570 by Jean-Antoine de Baïf and Joachim Thibault de Courville. The academy of Poetry and Music had the artistic aim of “reviving measured poetry and music in the fashion of the ancients” (Yates, 1947), as part of the humanist musical tradition.

Humanist Musical Tradition

From their observations of the celestial bodies in the heavens, the ancients deduced that the paths of movement followed circular patterns. The periodicity of these oscillations were discovered to be founded upon mathematical and musical principles. Platonic and Pythagorean philosophy proposed that these principles were the foundation of a universal harmony and order in the cosmos (see Heninger, 2013).


In the Renaissance, the science of number, geometry and music was deemed key to understanding the nature of the known universe. They allowed the searching mind to consider abstract ideas, and to study these arts was to explore divine mystery. 

Poets and musicians sought to create and compose their works in the fashion of the ancients, believing that their measures and modes were in harmony with the fundamental music of the universe. Through the act of listening and performing, these arts would elevate the mind toward the contemplation of God.


In humanist academies, these liberating arts were taught and cultivated together as an encyclopaedic whole; music was key to the connection. For example, dance masters wrote about the intimate relationship between dance and music; that dance is music embodied in movement; and that measured dance is “a realisation of the proportions that govern all the cosmos, and which tie human beings into the harmony of the universe” (Nevile, 2004).


The art of riding was considered in the same light. In Cesare Fiaschi’s treatise on the art of riding, written in 1556, he describes that “horses have a special sensitivity to rhythm and measure, because they share with humans the same memory for the universal harmony that the human soul dreams to find again.” Claudio Corte, another riding master writing in 1562, describes that “we want the consummate rider to have so many virtues and conditions that he will fly in the sky, will remain in the air, and those who will want to see him in action will have to contemplate him as Plato’s Ideas.” 

Diagrams of manege patterns contained in Pasquale Caracciolo’s manuscript ‘Discorso de’ freni et de’ maneggi‘. Original manuscript held in the Biblioteca Nacional de Espana.

Experiential Research

In order to gain a deeper understanding of how this encyclopaedic academic pathway shapes the development of the classical rider as an artist, I am immersed in continuing first-hand study of the arts together with daily riding practice. The insights that I gain through this process are shared in books, with resources made available in the library.  This study is only made possible with the support and guidance of my tutors:


Classical riding: mentored by Minette Rice-Edwards, who was a long-term student of Danny Pevsner. Minette also rode with Arthur Kottas, and Nuno Oliveira. Our work is steered by visiting clinician Ross Harper-Lewis, who was a student of Nuno Oliveira for many years.


Fine art drawing: initially learning with fine artist Desmond MacMahon, whose guidance blossomed independent study of the works of the old masters.


Early music: studying bel canto singing and music theory with professional Soprano Jeni Bern, and Viola da Gamba with professional player Jacqui Roberston-Wade.


Historic Dance: studying Renaissance and Baroque dance with Barbara Segal and Philippa Waite, and Classical Chinese Dance with Bowen Du.


Philosophy: independent study of ancient philosophy, and Renaissance platonic and pythagorean theology.


Corte, C. (1562) Il Cavallarizzo. Pavia. National Central Library of Rome. (


Fiaschi, C. (1556) Trattato De Caval. Bologna. British Library.


Heninger Jr., S.K. (2013) Touches of Sweet Harmony: Pythagorean Cosmology and Renaissance Poetics. Angelico Press, NE Tacoma, WA.


Nevile, J. (2004) The Eloquent Body: Dance and Humanist Culture in Fifteenth-Century Italy. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.


van Orden, K. (2005) ‘From Gens d’Armes to Gentilshommes: Dressage, Civility, and the Ballet à Cheval’. In The Culture of the Horse: Status, Discipline and Identity in the Early Modern World. Edited by Karen Raber and Treva J. Tucker. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.


van Orden, K. (2020) Music, Discipline and Arms in Early Modern France. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.


Yates, F.A. (1947) The French Academies of the Sixteenth Century. Studies of the Warburg Institute, London. Kraus Reprint, Liechtenstein.