The scarcity of reference material on antique saddlery and lorinery can be frustrating. Old catalogues from any era can be fascinating sources of information – but this one is special.

It is in the prints and books collection of the Victoria & Albert museum. The original can be seen by appointment, it is an album of 306 illustrations by Filippo Orsoni of Mantua. The museum has put a reproduction copy on display in its new Medieval & Renaisance galleries – I took these photos there (not great quality, but the museum has MUCH better images of it here. Only a few pages have been reproduced, it would be fantastic if they could publish a commercial version of the whole thing.

Illustration from Orsoni's book of parade armour

Illustration from Orsoni's book of parade armour

One of the pages in the book is helpfully dated 1554.

Many of the designs show armour and costumes for parades – the one on the left could, conceivably have been used at a tournament or on the battlefield. The writing at the top of the page is translated by the V & A to read “This is how the war rider is armed, with his horse armed as visible here”.

I find the protective cage stirrups interesting. Also note the long neck of the spur, the theory goes that this enabled the spur to reach up under the bardings or caparison of the horse.

The caption on this second image translates as “This warhorse has a harness of iron plates, wears full armour, gilded and embossed, as visible here.”

Illustration from Orsoni's book of parade armour

This is described as a Turkish costume for a pageant. Orsoni offers prospective buyers a choice of red or other coloured silks for the harness coverings and the option of gilded weapons.

Illustration from Orsoni's book of parade armour

The caption to this illustration is translated by the museum as “This dress is in Bohemian style, and Russian style. It is good for pageant costumes done as visible here, with gold silk feathers for the whole garniture.”
Central and eastern europe were famous for their horsemen, the term “Hussar” probably originated in Hungary (or possibly Serbia). This image does call to mind the Polish Winged Hussars.

Illustration from Orsoni's book of parade armour

“This carriage mare has a harness as visible here. The same outfit can be made of fabric, velvet leather with gilded buckles; these can also be made of leather to make it lighter”
I can’t quite work this one out, I can see a breastcollar, but no surcingle or roller, and are those straps or shafts behind ? Also is that something for coupling the harness in front – is this a tandem arrangement?

 

Illustration from Orsoni's book of parade armour

An illustration of a horse with many possible afflictions and remedies listed

 

Illustration from Orsoni's book of parade armour

“This type of bit, curved as a pitchfork, shaped as capon’s legs…” – the capon-legged bit, a missed marketing opportunity?
Although this bit looks really severe, I believe they were supposed to be used in a similar way to western spade bits, the rider keeping a very loose rein.

Illustration from Orsoni's book of parade armour

“One stirrup here is shown made of gilded iron, or silver, white or black, another is embossed with motifs of leaves”

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How’s this for a piece of advice in a book ?

“… avoid particularly a rigid neck which means contraction of the muscles. Smoke a cigarette if one feels inclined to stiffen the neck.”

- I’m not making this up – here’s the extract

It comes from a gloriously non-PC small book called “The Rudiments of Riding” by Lt.Col. F.C.Hitchcock, which was first published in 1939 and reprinted in 1949.

It was described as a vade mecum for novice horsemen and women.

Lt.Col. Hitchcock also wrote “Saddle Up: A Guide to Equitation and Stable Management, Including Hints to Instructors “, and “To Horse” – I must find copies of these to read, who knows what vices I’ll be able to justify?

In fairness, Lt.Col Hitchcock also wrote “STAND TO – A DIARY OF THE TRENCHES 1915-1918″, and held the Military Cross. He was probably entitled to a more robust view of life than we have today.

I’ll finish with an image of the inside of the book – it obviously fell into the hands of a pony-mad young girl who favoured long flowing (purple) manes. I wonder if she’s still smoking twenty a day?

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