By the end of the 16th Century, the “Discovery of Humanity and the World”, had wrought fundamental changes in man’s views of himself, of society, and of the Christian religion. Following the artistic experiments and achievements driven by the inquisitive minds of the Renaissance, enters a new phase known as the “Baroque Period”. The word is often claimed to derive from the Portuguese “Barocco”, meaning irregular or rough, used especially to describe pearls of distorted shape. For the last hundred years or so, the term has been used to designate the cultural period of 1590 to 1750. It is now attached to its particular style of painting (Velasquez, Rembrandt), architecture and sculpture (Bernini, Mansart), music (Vivaldi, Bach) along with a certain type of horses and the horsemanship of European royal courts.

Baroque art is defined by rounded, exuberant forms, supposedly imitating the natural glory of Nature polished by Man’s utter control. It was calculated for a maximal uplifting emotional effect. The goal was to create the admiration of both the elite and the masses for the divine right of the “absolute monarchy” (the dominant political system of the time) embodied in glorious monuments and sacred music. As another expression of the themes animating all other artistic endeavors of the period, magnificent parade horses, displaying simultaneously great energy and total obedience, were the ultimate status symbol of Majesty and the powerful extension of the King’s body. The original baroque horse was defined by his elevated style of movement, round forms, softness of gaits, sweetness of character. These celebrated mounts were selected in Royal and aristocratic stud farms for their great beauty and their natural exuberance that could be easily shaped by man. Their natural aptitude to perform the “Airs-Above-the-Ground” was germane to the Greek myth of Perseus flying on the back of Pegasus to perform great heroic feats, an image made fashionable by the Renaissance’s studies of Antiquity. Carrousels, or equestrian ballets, in which high-school riders and fancy carriages were choreographed together, became the entertainment of choice for royal courts.


The Baroque period is responsible for the rebirth of horsemanship as a true artistic endeavor. This determining event occurred due to a fortuitous dynastic crisis in Naples, Italy: Charles VIII, King of France and Fernando of Aragon, King of Spain, were competing for the crown of this rich Italian Kingdom. With Fernando’s victory and subsequent invasion of Naples and Sicily, the Italian Renaissance intellectuals discovered the Spanish Genet and it’s natural ability for quick turns, piaffes, levades, lightning fast departs, along with its willing and friendly nature. Because they wanted to imitate the unique mobility of the Iberian horse, both to give an advantage to the Italian cavalryman and as an art form in itself, the Neapolitan “ecuyers” (horse trainers) applied their inventive spirit to the observation of the Genet tendency for “natural collection”. This is how Fiaschi and Pignatelli devised the earliest known methods necessary to help less talented, heavier horses perform the same beautiful “airs” as the Genets, in spite of their lack of temperament or physical means. So was born the Equitation the French named “Dressage” (or training), aimed at the development of “artificial collection” for practical and aesthetic purposes. Today, we are still using terms derived from ancient Italian, such as Piaffe (from trottare de piedi fermo, or trotting on the spot), Passage (from passagiata, a deliberate way of pleasure walking), Cabriole (the jump of a young kid or cabriola”) and many others.

After the isolated work of Xenophon (who recognized in his writings of the 4th Century BC the amazing qualities of Iberian horses), its “re-discovery” during the Renaissance elicited important equestrian milestones. We know of pioneers such as King Dom Duarte of Portugal (who wrote a very interesting book in 1434 that combines riding and moral education) and the Neapolitan Federico Grisone, who published “Rules of Equitation” in 1534. They precede the creation of the “modern” Spanish Horse by Felipe II of Spain around 1575 (whose Master of the Horse happened to be Pirro Frenato, an officer of the Neapolitan Cavalry). Let’s also mention the creation in 1572 of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna for the Emperor of Austria, later followed by the building of its current magnificent residence in 1735. This event spawned the breeding of Lipizzaners, alive and well to this day, in half a dozen European countries.

The School of Versailles at “La Grande Ecurie” (1682) became the Mecca of Haute Equitation for European nobility. The creation of the Alter Real stud by King Dom Joao IV of Portugal in 1748 was followed by the building in 1786 of an extraordinary baroque monument, the Picadeiro de Belem in Lisbon (soon to become again the home of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art). The “Alter Reals”, famous across Europe, were trained by Manuel Carlos d’Andrade who wrote: “Enlightenment on the Noble and Liberal Art of Horsemanship”, published in 1780 under the guidance of the Marquis of Marialva. The name of this incomparable gentleman, rider and teacher has become forever associated in the Portuguese language with the notion of excellence in equestrian art, with bullfighting and with the baroque riding dress. The Duke of Newcastle, author and Master of the Horse to Charles II of England published his book in 1667. La Broue and Pluvinel (both students of the Neapolitan Pignatelli) brought the new knowledge back to the French Court. Francois Robichon de La Gueriniere (who wrote his seminal work “Ecole de Cavalerie” in 1729), completes, last but not least, this brief panorama of the pantheon of baroque horsemanship.

Academic Riding, or “High School” required intellectual, moral and physical qualities. In the 17th century, it replaced jousting as the favored exercise for the character education of noblemen and future officers. All people of social standing either practiced it or admired its performance and the charge of Master of the Horse was the highest position in the land. Eventually, High School became so sophisticated that military riders saw it as compromising to the practical training of the cavalry horse. The French Revolution of 1789 and ensuing European wars, the changes in cavalry tactics and the new equestrian pursuits influenced by the British (flat racing, steeple-chasing and fox-hunting) eventually brought a temporary end to the fashion of Iberian horses and the equitation they were ideally suited for. During the next 180 years, the Ultimate Riding Horse and the highest form of horsemanship ever created, would all but disappear from the equestrian scene.


The modern “Baroque Breeds” descend from the type of horses explicitly preferred by those equestrian masters. Naturally, their model is the Iberian horse, known throughout Europe as the Peninsular Genet and once identified by his region of origin: Andalusian, Portuguese, Alter Real, Castillian, Estremeno, etc. At the height of the Baroque Age, Portugal was briefly annexed to Spain from 1578 to 1640 and all Iberian horses were then known as Spanish. Iberian warriors had used those celebrated horses for mounted combat and bullfighting, the two staples of their civilization, since time immemorial. The Gineta riding style (knee bent on a short stirrup, body slightly forward) was already apparent in the Iberian statuettes of 2,700 years ago. Both styles of riding, la Gineta (best suited to the needs of individual combat at war and in the bullring) and the fashionable French academic style of equitation, called “a la Brida” in the Peninsula (extremely long stirrup, body leaning back), survived together and were practiced on the same versatile horses. Baroque equitation is epitomized by those two complementary functions: the High School that reached its apogee in Versailles (and later Vienna) and the Mounted Bullfight, still eponymous with the modern day Lusitano.

Stallions of Iberian origin were used to create or improve many breeds, all of them imitating as closely as possible the baroque ideal of a High School horse that could also serve in battle or a high trotting carriage horse for the public prestige of the nobility. So was born the Lipizzaner and the Kladruber in Austrian-Hungarian Empire, the Fredericksborg and the Knabstrup in Denmark, the Normand and the Limousin in France, the Neapolitan and San Fratelano in Italy, the Cleveland Bay in England, the Irish Draft and Connemara in Ireland, the Morgan, Appaloosa, Saddlebred and Quarter Horse in the USA, the Canadian (a descendant of French 17th century exports, known as the “Little Iron Horses”) and many more. Though the Thoroughbred has a completely different function, he carries Iberian blood through the Royal Mares whose breeding was started by Henry VIII of England. Through the frequent exchanges of Spain and Portugal with Marocco, the Barb is both an ancestor and a descendant of the Iberian Genet. The Friesian was already mentioned by Julius Caesar and known during the Middle Ages as a solid war-horse. Later, due to crosses with Andalusian during the Spanish domination of the Netherlands in the 16th century, he became a magnificent luxury carriage horse known for his high stepping action. Friesians were used in the creation of the Groningen, Hackney, Oldenburg, Shire, Clydesdale, Fell and Dales ponies, as well as the Russian Orlov trotter (hence the modern Standardbred). He is nowadays being transformed into a dressage horse and is capturing the imagination of many.

We are currently seeing a strong Baroque revival in the equestrian world, satisfying our yearning for a more passionate form of equitation. It is embodied in the classical presentations of the Schools of Vienna – Austria, Belem – Portugal and Jerez de la Frontera – Spain as well as in the very artistic spectacles of Cavalia in the US and Zingaro in Europe. To better serve their newly discovered passion for the Baroque horses and their equitation, new “aficionados” (amateurs) need to honor their horses properly by becoming involved in the study and practice of this rich equestrian tradition. Classical guitarist Andres Segovia was once asked why the guitar was the most popular instrument in the world. Here is a paraphrase of his answer, well suited to our beloved baroque horses: “they are the easiest to ride badly and the hardest to ride well”, attracting us at first by their gentility and keeping us entranced later with their mystery and the depth of the relationship we can create with them. This wise remark sums up why we are so easily led to dedicate our life to the study and the friendship of the wonderful Baroque horse.


JP Giacomini’s Biography

Jean Philippe Giacomini, known as “JP,” was born in France and later studied dressage with Master Nuno Oliveira in Lisbon, Portugal, and at the National Portuguese Stud of Alter Real. He rode many green colts, raced in a few steeplechases, evented, show-jumped and trained the first of 15 Grand Prix dressage horses when he was 17 years old. Through his travels, he was fortunate enough to ride and feel horses trained by direct students of the great French luminaries, including Gen. Albert Decarpentry, Jean Persyn de Laurette and other Baucher distant disciples, as well as horses trained by Guilherme Borba and the late Herbert Rehbein. Later, Giacomini worked on well over 11,000 remedial horses during clinics given in 13 countries and developed his own training system to improve all types of horses, from pleasure mounts to Western and Driving top competitors.

While living in England, Giacomini produced international champions in dressage and show jumping, including the Lusitano stallion Novilheiro, who was a Grand Prix dressage horse, an intermediate eventer and British Show-Jumping leading money earner of 1983. Giacomini also coached international event and dressage riders from England, Canada, the United States, Ireland and Portugal. This list includes the 1983 European 3 Day Gold Medallist Rachel Bayliss who, aboard four different horses, placed or won at Burghley, Badminton and Boekelo, won five gold and silver FEI medals in European and World Championships and rode in the 1980 Alternate Olympics. Her horse Mystic Minstrel achieved the unique feat of competing internationally in dressage and eventing the same year. Giacomini is an expert at training piaffe and passage and is noted for his ability to bring long-lasting solutions to previously unsolved training or soundness problems.

In 1992, he founded the Trophaeum Mundi Int’l Foundation for the purpose of promoting the Baroque breeds and classical horsemanship, writing more than 100 articles and leading many horse study trips to Portugal and Spain. Giacomini now writes articles on breeding history, training and biomechanics, travels to give clinics and trains his five beloved Lusitano breeding stallions (his ‘living laboratory’) in Lexington, KY, where he lives with his equine photographer wife Shelley and their children. He recently created The Centaur Program for Children, a pilot Character Education Program using horses, for the Fayette County School District and presented a monthly series of lectures on “Horses in Art, History, Mythology, the Economy and Sport” at the Lexington Public Library.

Published in “Horse of Kings” In Spring 2005   This article may not be copied in any form without written expressed permission from the author.