Back through the mists of time, I remember competing at my local riding club in a class called, “Prix Caprilli”. This is something of an old-fashioned discipline which now seems to be making something of a comeback. But what is Prix Caprilli exactly?
Prix Caprilli first appeared in the early 1960s and is named after the Italian rider who is credited with introducing the modern forward jumping seat. Essentially, it’s a dressage test with an element of jumping included. The movements included in the test are the same as for a prelim/novice level dressage test but include the requirement for horse and rider to negotiate single jumps at trot and/or canter. The arena used for Prix Caprilli is slightly squarer in shape than a standard dressage arena in order to accommodate the two fences which are placed slightly in from the track on either long side.
The jumps are only about 2’ high; one is an upright and the other a small spread. All trot work is executed rising, unless otherwise stated; a jumping whip may be carried, spurs worn and boots and bandages used. Martingales and dressage whips are not allowed. Jumping penalties are awarded for knockdowns and refusals; 3 refusals or a fall of horse or rider results in elimination.
The test itself is judged like a dressage test but with more emphasis on the rider’s position and the harmony between the horse and rider especially over the jumps. The horse should remain calm and not rush or become overexcited by the fences.
It’s a sign of the times that most dressage riders would be horrified at the prospect of putting their precious, expensive dressage horses at even the smallest obstacle. In the 1960s and 1970s it was considered unusual if a horse didn’t jump. In fact, following the higher level tests, riders were expected to leave the arena at ‘A’ then jump two 2’6” to 2’9” fences outside the arena. These fences weren’t judged but were considered necessary to demonstrate the horse’s submission and obedience.
Many trainers recognise the value of jumping in any horse’s training regime. Dressage horses do benefit from the strengthening benefits of gymnastic jumping exercises and enjoy the variety in their work programme. Work over raised poles encourages spring and lift to the horse’s steps and loosens the shoulders. Jumping can encourage a lazy horse to think more forwards and adds a fun element to the work which can be lost if riders become too obsessed with perfecting their flat work.
Prix Caprilli still features at Pony Club shows but has largely been forgotten about and swept away in the tide of enthusiasm for pure dressage and that’s a shame. Maybe it’s time we turned the clock back to the heady days of the 60s and dragged our dusty cavalletti out of the back of the barn and into the arena; one more time.