“The Horse Rampant” by Captain James Joseph Pearce (1947) and The Comprehensive Nature of Traditional Horse Training

“The Horse Rampant” by Captain James Joseph Pearce (1947) and The Comprehensive Nature of Traditional Horse Training

(“THE HORSE RAMPANT: How to Learn to Train and Ride, A New and Simple Method for the Education and Training of Horses and Riders” by Captain James J. Pearce, Formerly Equitation Instructor: Cavalry School and Weedon School of Equitation. London, Robert Hale Limited, 1947)

Rampant: rearing upon the hind legs with forelegs extended.

When I first saw the title of this book, immediately my curiosity was engaged. The cover image of the rider raising his horse in levade suggested that the reader would learn advanced training methodology. However, the subtitle (A New and Simple Method for the Education and Training) confused the issue for me, since learning to ride and train a levade is anything but simple.  My curiosity was amply rewarded when the battered old book arrived and I read the author’s Preface. It alone was a real eye opener for me.

But let me backtrack for a moment…while I was waiting for the book to arrive, I researched what I could about Pearce’s background. There wasn’t a great deal to find, but from news clippings it appeared he was well-known on both sides of the Atlantic as an elite cavalry horse trainer and student instructor, and a successful high-level competitor in multiple disciplines. Pearce was born in New York and was already established as a popular trainer and instructor when he and his American bride emigrated to England, where he made his base to the end of his life. The book’s flap tells us: “Captain James Pearce went on to study at the highest schools of equitation in the world, including those in France [Saumur], Vienna [Spanish Riding School] Russia and Italy [no idea]. He instructed on advanced lines at British Cavalry Schools of Equitation, and was the only English officer to win by a considerable margin the International Military Ride and Endurance Test, consisting of dressage, steeplechase and riding on a racecourse, a long-distance ride from Aldershot to London [who knows, point-to-point exactly but at least 50 miles] against time, and jumping an impromptu show-jumping course without wings at Olympia–all in one day.”

Getting back to the content, when I examined the Table of Contents and read the Preface, and as I read the simply written statements, it dawned on me how much and what variety of training a typical horse of the early-to-mid 20th century had. This horse had an extensive education in being longed and long lined properly, and was driven on the ground in harness so that he could pull a conveyance, after he was backed he was of course taught the elementary aids and gaits from the saddle, and then he pretty much immediately went into a double bridle. Then he was taught about lateral movements, collection, and trained to the side saddle. Next came high school and advanced exercises. He would have been hacked out in the field, hunted and jumped, ridden in situations such as traffic (which was hardly as crazy then as it is now). Here it is expected that perhaps the horse also learned to play polo. This was a thoroughly trained and experienced horse that almost anyone could ride…”just” an all-around horse.


Do you know a horse like this? I don’t. Not one. Would you like to have one? I would. I would have to be crazy to not want such a thoroughly educated and confident horse. So what is different between then and now in our human expectation of how we live with horses and how they should perform? I gave this question a lot of thought.

To begin with, horses were very much still a part of everyday existence for both work and entertainment and it was expected that a horse could provide both products reliably. The horse that Pearce is training in his manual will be able to be “ridden by the ordinary good knowledgeable horseman or horsewoman, it should be a good hack, and because it has been schooled over fences and banks it should possess all the ground knowledge of a good hunter. In fact, this horse should be the last word in versatility and be equally at his ease whether he be carrying a victorious general through the streets of a conquered city, or a lady riding side-saddle in the park, or even being driven in the humble dog-cart.”

Compare this horse of broad experience with the specialists that most of our modern horses have become. We have dressage horses, show jumping horses, eventing horses, trail horses, reining horses, cutting horses…you get my drift. The majority of these specialist horses only work in their own discipline and don’t cross over. Their training is kept focused only on the tasks they need to perform to compete successfully, in essence. Also, today’s riders are specialists and few of them cross over either. Compare this rider to the all-around rider of the last century, where it was expected that any rider had that thing called an “independent seat” and didn’t need to hang on the reins and wedge themselves between pommel, cantle, and big thigh blocks to stay aboard.

Pearce addresses this subject. “Personally, I do not specialize in any one branch of riding; I understand them all, more or less, and have sympathy for every good system and style of equitation. I don’t approve of fixed ideas in riding any more than I do of the fixed seat. Flexibility, adaptability and receptiveness are more interesting, because of the greatness and scope of this subject. Maybe it is my love for the horse–every horse–that makes the question so absorbing and never-ending.”

Pearce tells us that in following his program, by working one hour a day it will take about nine months to one year to bring the horse up to the end of the half-trained stage, that is, to the end of the first two stages. Obviously the advanced work that follows is more demanding and delicate and impossible to estimate in terms of schooling time. Most importantly, “It is really necessary for the trainer of horses to have a love for the work, otherwise he or she may not be able to exercise the patience necessary for complete success,” he cautions. “I believe it is possible to cultivate a real love for the horse; if so, my advice is to “go to it” if you wish to become Master of the Art.”

If you can find a copy of this long out-of-print book, it is really worth getting hold of.




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