Christofer and Saxo, at Frederikborg's castle, Denmark. Photo: Christiane Slawik

Academic Art of Riding

The academic art of riding is the artform recreated by Bent Branderup where he emphazises the basic schooling of the horse according to the classical principles of dressage. The aim is neither to reach the haute ecole as fast as possible nor a spectacular piaffe in order to get high points at a competition. Instead the schooling is focused on teaching the horse the bending of the haunches to be able to use his back muscles properly and proudly carry the rider. Even after an injury, the horse will learn how to use his body in order to stay sound and continue to train, without pain, for many years to come. Since the work is carried out in a calm and relaxed manner, this art of riding is often compared to physiotherapy. The horse builds muscles to help him move without tension and stay healthy for many years.

The name "Academic Art of Riding" was given to this type of dressage training by Bent Branderup and comes from the riding academies existing in the 16th to 18th century. This is not some new kind of training, on the contrary it follows the old traditions. The first written document regarding the schooling of horses, still known and read today, was written about 400 years b.c. by a man called Xenophon. Xenophon was a Greek colonel in the cavalry and one of the first to teach how to school a horse through positive means and dissociating himself from methods of force and violence. He wrote: 

Such are the horses on which gods and heroes ride (performing with collection and bending of the haunches), as represented by the artist. The majesty of men themselves is best discovered in the graceful handling of such animals. May riders of all times possess the ability to appear magnificent.

Christofer shows us advanced longe work with Saxo Veijleby

The art of riding was originally designed to produce horses suitable for warfare where they fought man to man on horseback. For this the horse had to be in balance, sensitive and brave to easily carry his rider in different situations. When a young man entered a riding academy, a horse was very carefully chosen to suit him, since they probably would stay together until either of them died. Therefore, the education of both the young man and the horse was very precise and with the purpose to strengthen the horse. The rider and his horse had to reach a high level of education before being sent to war. During this period, a knight usually became approximately 30 to 40 years old and even the horses lived to about 30 years of age, unless they were killed in action. The education of both the rider and the horse was of great importance in order to avoid being hurt or killed and therefore carefully planned.

Christofer shows how he starts the young horse
with the advanced longe work.

This art of riding also aims at letting go of prestige. We don't ride in order to win ribbons, we ride to strengthen our horses and achieve a higher level of communication. You would be surprised to see how effective this approach is. When you let go of prestige and the demands for rapid progress and instead allow a calm training in accordance with the horse's ability, both the horse and rider start to make progress significantly faster than before.

Christofer Dahlgren no 67, member of the Knighthood of Academic Art of Riding:
 - today one of the top riders in Europe practicing the academic art of riding.
 - aims to start his examination to become master of the academic art of riding as one of the first riders in Europe. 
Christofer has passed the following tests (only four other riders in Europe have done the same):
Knight exam (both squire and longe test included) - together with Benson, arabic thoroughbred gelding
Piaffe test - together with Siglavy Capriola Zetor, Lipizzaner stallion
Levade test - together with Saxo Veijleby, Frederiksborger stallion
Terre à terre test - together with Nicki Corsai, Swedish Warmblood gelding

Bent Branderup is teaching Christofer who is practicing the levade with Nicki Corsai.

Bent Branderup

Bent Branderup is the man who has brought back this art of riding to Europe and Sweden with his great devotion to horses and the historical theories about the art of riding. Bent Branderup started out as a pupil at the Escuela Andaluza del Arte Equestre in Spain. Later he trained for Nuño Oliveira in Portugal and Egon von Neindorff in Germany. Bent Branderup lives in Denmark and educate riders and horses throughout Europe.

No particular breed is required to practice the academic art of riding. The basic of the system is "dressage for the horse" and not "the horse for the dressage" and this is why it is also called physiotherapy for horses. The purpose of the art of riding is to strengthen every horse regardless of previous injuries or any want in the conformation in order to make them sound and healthy riding horses. However, if you want a horse that is well-suited for the academic art of riding it is preferable if the frame of the horse is square with wide angles in the hind legs. The further away from this "ideal" the horse is, the more difficult the horse will find collection and bending, but the greater the need for training according to the academic art of riding.

Knighthood of the Academic Art of Riding:

Bent Branderup created the knighthood together with Egon von Neindorff to spread the knowledge of the education of the horse and to guide those of you who want to pursue the old traditions of training according to the academic art of riding. It is not possible to simply apply to become a member of the knighthood, you have to be invited by an already approved knight when he/she considers your level of education to be of high enough standard.

The first test is the squire test. When you have been accepted into the knighthood and have further developed your skills, you are eligible to do the knight examination. As an approved knight, you are also entitled to vote at the annual Summer Academy and you can invite other riders to take the squire test. You also receive the special whip as a proof of your knowledge. If you want to expand your knowledge further you can continue your education and challenge yourself by trying for the different gold ring examinations, and perhaps eventually achieve the master title or mayby even the grand master title. 

At the knight examination you ride your horse on a regular curb with the reins in one hand and with suitable music of your own choice. You have to show that you can ride your horse in the walk forward down and with collection. You also have to show the shoulder in, the travers and the renvers in trot both left and right. In the canter you have to do half pirouettes and simple changes on both leads. You have to show a canter - halt transition and be able to back the horse a few steps. Finally you have to show collected half-steps, six steps within one metre, to the left and to the right. After the riding examination you also have to show that you have a good grasp of how to educate a young horse by doing a longe test. The longe test should show how you through the relaxation and bending of your horse slowly strengthen and prepare your horse for riding. Finally you also have to take an oral theoretical exam where you show your knowledge regarding the education of the academic horse, its purpose and function.

The education:

These are the different tests if you want to educate yourself within this form of art. The first four tests have to be taken in this order. The other tests can be taken in any order you find suitable for you and your horse. 

1. The squire test

2. The longe test

3. The groundwork/handwork test

4. The knight examination

Piaffe examination

Passage examination

Canter examination

Terre à terre examination

Levade examination

Croupade & Ballotade/Capriol examination 

To be considered for the master examination you have to pass the longe test, the knight examination and the piaffe, passage and canter examination plus one of the examinations for the haute ecole. All the tests and examinations have to be performed on one horse. You also have to hold a one-hour theoretical lecture to the other members on the schooling of the horse.
You are kindly invited to learn more about this art of riding!