Thursday, February 27, 2014

The U.S. Cavalry's Role in Modern Horsemanship

The U.S. Cavalry's Role in Modern Horsemanship


Having been involved with horses for most of my life, training both horse and rider, the subject is near and dear. Spending five months with the First Cavalry Horse Platoon, back in 1979, one would think I learned about the American Cavalry Method, there, but that was not the case. By 1979 the Cavalry had lost the knowledge of its own heritage, its roots.


We rode, almost daily, shot balloons, sliced watermelons with sabres, and rode in parades and the weekly retreat ceremony, but never studied the techniques laid out in the Cavalry Manual. There wasn’t even have a copy of the Cavalry Manual in the Unit.

That knowledge came later. The primary lesson to be learned, about horses, is control. Because without control there is no safety and without safety, it is not fun. Controling the horse, requires controling yourself and a sense of balance, emotional and physical, both 

Why would a big, strong, active animal (like a horse) be interested in becoming a friend and servant to man is a real mystery. Looking back on the history of the world, we have to wonder what it would look like to day if it were not for our friend -- the horse.

 In the Western part of the United States, the horse still plays an important part in the life of a great many folks. Every day, people move here from other parts of the world; many have getting a horse high on their ‘want’ list. I know it was true for me and it could well be true for you, no matter where you live in the USA.

I mentioned that the importance of the horse being the servant of man. We can safely say that horses are not ambitious. They are looking for comfort, safety and friendship, along with, food and water as needed. As a general rule, it would be safe to say that when dealing with horses, the worst thing you can do is to hurt the horse. The memory system within the horse is very strong. It makes him relatively easy to train; but, it also can make him fearful of someone’s action.

 As you look at a horse as a friend and servant, you possibly envision riding your mount in some exercise or discipline. As mentioned, horses are easy to train, but you should realize that training a horse takes not only the right attitude, but a system to follow that will give you the right results.

The American Cavalry had that system down, pat.

As you take a look at the system to be followed, we can start with a horse, male or female, at about 3 years old. By this age, he or she is big enough to handle the training to which it will be exposed. This is the beginning of his basic training. There are at least eight actions that are expected at the end of basic training:

Accept tack and equipment used by the rider.

Stand quietly when tied to the rail or other unmovable object

Can be mounted and dismounted without moving

Does back up when required, under control

Goes forward when cued, under control

Stops when cued to do so

Turns right or left on request

When the horse can be successfully and safely managed covering all those points, the horse could be considered to be ‘broke to ride’.

To reach this level, you can follow various paths -- acquire a young horse and do it yourself (not recommended) -- buy a young horse and have a competent trainer -- buy an older horse that has been used by his owner in an activity in which you hope to be active -- and advance, if necessary,  with the help of a trainer.

If you have not already made a decision with regard to how you are going to use your horse the time for a decision is fast approaching -- English or Western styles. Up to this point, the basic schooling is about the same. The ADVENTURE starts here.You may already have an idea as to what activity will get your attention. Hopefully, the information that is being presented on these pages will help you to get off to a good start.

The better you understand the training of your mount, you will better understand the skills required to be an adequate rider, because Riding is Training and Training is Riding!

 Everything you do with your horse will teach you something. Don’t hurry, take the time it takes to do it right. Remember – don’t hurt your horse.

We are looking forward to seeing you on the trail...or in the arena.


The U.S. Cavalry provided the foundation for the equestrian industry of the U.S. It wasn’t until 1912 in Stockholm that equestrian pursuits were routinely included in the Olympics. Led by Capt. Guy Vernor Henry Jr. the first U.S. team was fielded from the U.S. Cavalry.

In fact, until the cavalry was disbanded in 1948, every single U.S. equestrian Olympic team was made up of members of the cavalry or U.S. Army equestrian team; civilians were not invited to take part until the Helsinki games in 1952, the same year women were first allowed to compete in Olympic equestrian events.
Harry Dwight Chamberlin was born in Elgin Illinois in 1887. Following graduation from West Point in 1910 Chamberlin was commissioned a lieutenant of Cavalry and posted to Custer’s famed 7th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Riley, Kansas.
Lieutenant  Chamberlin’s early  Army career were spent fulfilling the duties of a cavalry officer and he came to command of a troop of cavalry in the Garry Owen Regiment. Then in 1916 hr was a promoted to Captain and assigned to West Point as an instructor of Cavalry tactics.

Captain Chamberlin met one of the most influential cavalry officers and horsemen of the twentieth century, Lieutenant Colonel Guy V. Henry

Returning to Fort Riley after WWI Chamberlin was assigned to the department of horsemanship. He earned a position on the 1920 US Equestrian Team which was preparing for the 1920 Olympics. The 1920 Olympics Harry Chamberlin competed in both the "Military" as the Three Day Event was then called, and in the Prix de Nations (Prize of Nations) show jumping.

From 1925-1927 Harry Chamberlin was stationed at Fort Bliss,Texas where he taught horsemanship and played polo. With his leadership, the 8th Cavalry Polo team won championships in 1925 and 1926. In addition toplaying polo his regular duties and responsibilities.

 Commanding a cavalry squadron of more than 300 troopers and 500 horses. 
His squadron patrolled the border between the U.S. and Mexico.
Chamberlin returned to Fort Riley in 1927 to serve in the department of horsemanship. Here Harry formally instituted the more forward riding, the balanced seat accompanied by a shorter stirrup became the basis for all of the horsemanship instruction at Fort Riley. Many Riley graduates knew this forward for cross-country riding and jumping, as the "Chamberlin Seat."
He became a member of the Army Equestrian Team which competed at Madison Square Garden in New York, and across Europe. He was selected to the 1928 Army Equestrian team and competed in the Olympics in Amsterdam.
Harry Chamberlin was captain of the record making Army Olympic team in 1932 . Once again he competed in 3 Day Event, winning team gold, and also in Show Jumping where he won the individual silver medal.
Harry Chamberlin’s five qualities needed to become a good horseman.
  1. a normally alert mind
  2. a mind with an analytical turn asking “how” and “why”
  3. average physique
  4. regular practice
  5. theoretical knowledge
Harry Chamberlin was responsible for the riding instruction of thousands of men during his career and he he oversaw the training of more men than horses. His training and teaching produced the generation of American Cavalrymen, who trained the civilian riders in the decades after the Cavalry was dismounted in 1946-47. 

Because of his ability to lead men, understand horses, and comprehend the various theories of horsemanship and relate those concepts in ways that could be understood by the average cavalryman, Harry Chamberlin was probably the finest horseman ever produced by the U.S. Cavalry. He was a soldier and a horseman, laying foundation for modern riding in the U.S.

Chamberlin’s method not only became models for the balanced seat/eventing riders and the forward seat/hunter riders, he effected stock seat/western riders through men like Monte Forman and John Richard Young (The Schooling of the Western Horse 1961).

"Every rider is a horse trainer." - Monte Foreman

The most important principle that transfers from the Fort Riley/Balanced Seat to any kind of riding is the rider’s base of support, which is the lower body. It is there that the rider must balance and keep the upper body quiet. This is called muscle group separation.

 One of the western riders from Fort Riley who went on to become well known was Monte Forman. Forman who delveloped the ‘Basic Handle’ system, was amongst the last of the instructors at the U.S. Calvary School at Fort Riley, Kansas. It was at the Cavalry School where he discovered the value of using film in the training program of  the soldiers learning to ride. Foreman used the training methods he learned in the Cavalry to develop a program that  could train both horse and rider, to move together as one, as quickly as possible. The rider being made to understand the mechanics of the horse. After leaving the military at the end of WWII, Foreman went to work at the legendary King Ranch in Texas. At the King Ranch  he ran the horse training and horsemanship programs, and further developed the principles used in the ‘Basic Handle’

In writings published from 1951 to 1954 in the Western Horseman magazine Monte Foreman made reference to Chamberlin’s writings, as published in Riding and Training Horses, and Training Hunters, Jumpers and Hacks

Figure 1: “Excellent jumping: rider's weight in heels; balance perfect; hands light; horse contented and free”
Figure 2: "Correct form during descent. Note rider's weight in heels and on knees; seat out of saddle; hands feathery light" (In many outfits cavalrymen were taught to jump at least three feet without stirrups, maintaining the same form. It can also be done bareback, riding the same place, same form.)
Figure 3 "Correct form in landing. Weight received principally in heels; seat kept out of saddle by stiffening knee joints and setting muscles of back;  hands low and soft; loins free of rider's weight which allows painless engagement of hind legs under the belly as they come to ground." (This is the best way invented so far to ride in balance and is timed with the horses actions. Any time the rider's timing or balance is lost, he must hang onto something with his hands, usually ending up with something like English riders over the Liverpool Ditch.)

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