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Vladimir Littauer

Captain Vladimir S. Littauer at a riding clinic he conducted at Sweet Briar College in February 1953.

Captain Vladimir Stanislavovitch Littauer (January 10, 1892 – August 31, 1989) was an influential horseback riding master and the author of books on educated riding and the training of horses. Littauer's riding instruction was in great demand during his lifetime by both riding instructors and amateurs and he was an early, important and controversial[1] advocate of the forward seat riding system. He wrote more than a dozen books between 1930 and 1973 which sparked vivid debates among experienced riders of various backgrounds. He also wrote many articles on forward riding (nowadays referred to as "hunt seat") for notable equestrian magazines of his day. His methods continue to be taught at Sweet Briar College and other prominent riding programs.


Early life

Littauer was born in the Ural Mountains of Russia. Vladimir Littauer grew up in St. Petersburg. In the fall of 1911, at age 19, he entered the two year officer training program at the Nicholas Cavalry School in St. Petersburg.[2][3] During his time in the school, Littauer's equestrian training was based on French dressage as taught by James Fillis.[4]

During the Summer Olympics of 1912, Russian cavalry officers who had spent time in Pinerolo, Italy learning methods pioneered by Captain Federico Caprilli distinguished themselves and excited much interest in Caprilli's new system of "forward riding;" a system which represented a repudiation of traditional manège-style dressage techniques. Littauer took notice. Around 1913 senior coronet Vladimir Sokolov introduced Littauer to Caprilli's revolutionary method of riding.[5]

Early career

On August 6, 1913 Littauer entered the Russian Imperial Cavalry[6] as a 2nd lieutenant and became a hussar. During the nine years he served in the Russian Imperial Cavalry Littauer reached the rank of Captain. He fought in the 1st Sumsky Hussar Regiment through World War I and also fought for the czar in the Russian Civil War.[7] Captain Littauer's war-time experiences demonstrated to him the impracticality and limitations of dressage for field riding and combat. He was later inspired to write, "The method of riding in the Russian cavalry was of the manège type, which today is usually called Dressage . . . This artificial system worked well on the parade ground, but not across country, and the experiences of war disappointed even its most ardent supporters."[8]

He left military service, and his Russian homeland, in the early spring of 1920.[9]

After coming to the United States in 1921, he took factory and sales jobs in New York City to help him learn to speak English. In 1927 he happened to meet two fellow former Russian cavalry officers in New York: Sergei N. Kournakoff and Kadir A. Guirey.[10] Together the three founded the Boots and Saddles Riding School. Littauer, Kournakoff and Guirey started the school teaching principles of dressage they had learned in cavalry school, but soon they began experimenting with the radical and progressive Caprilli methods. The forward riding precepts of Caprilli proved more practical and accessible than traditional manège-influenced dressage for their civilian riding students who had limited time for riding and varying levels of fitness.[3] Despite the Great Depression, the Boots and Saddles School thrived, adding a new ring and stables in New York City.[3]

Writing career

Littauer began writing, publishing Jumping the Horse in 1931 and The Defense of the Forward Seat with his co-founder, Kournakoff, in 1934. In 1937 Littauer left Boots and Saddles to begin working with students on their own horses and to offer riding clinics at schools, colleges and hunt clubs. By this time he was recognized "as one of the most influential teachers, lecturers and equestrian authors in the country."[11]

Littauer continued to teach and write for the next thirty years. He was a frequent guest lecturer at Sweet Briar College in Virginia where one of his students, Harriet Rogers, founded a riding program for the college. Over the years Captain V. S. Littauer conducted original research which, through his writing, resulted in major contributions to the sport of riding. In a 1972 speech, Rogers referred to Littauer as "the outstanding proponent of Forward Riding in this country."[12] Former Director of the Sweet Briar College Riding Program and author Paul Cronin called Littauer "the most influential author and instructor in America in this century."[13] Long-time Chronicle of the Horse contributor George Morris cites Littauer in his list of "the greatest American authors" on riding.[14]


A few of Littauer's significant contributions to modern riding include his accurate analysis of the gaits and mechanics of the jump; his recognition and advocacy of controls as a component of a forward seat riding system; his development of three levels of control for teaching riders and for schooling horses; his advocacy of the voice as an aid in schooling and in riding; his definition of the concept of stabilization; and his philosophy that encourages riders to feel empathy for their horses.[15] His teachings continue to be advocated and supported by the American National Riding Commission and taught by schools affiliated with the ANRC.

Although Littauer retired from teaching in the late 1970's, he continued to write until the early 1980's. He died at his home on Long Island on August 31, 1989 at the age of 97. His personal library, including his instructional film and manuscript collection, resides at the National Sporting Library in Middleburg, Virginia.[16]

Vladimir Littauer was married to Mary Aiken Graver Littauer in 1935 in New York City. They had one son, Andrew A. Littauer[17] of Princeton, New Jersey.



  • Boots and Saddles, Ten Talks on Horsemanship – 1930
  • The Defense of the Forward Seat – 1934
  • Forward Riding - 1934
  • Modern Horsemanship for Beginners – 1934
  • Riding Forward - 1935
  • More About Riding Forward - 1938
  • Be a Better Horseman – 1941
  • More About the Forward Seat - 1945
  • Do Collected Gaits have Place in Schooling Hunters and Jumpers? - 1957
  • Horseman's Progress – 1962
  • How a Horse Jumps - 1972
  • The Rigid Back – 1980
  • A Complete Guide to Horsemanship - 1982

Notable Students

  • Paul Cronin
  • Jane Marshall Dillon
  • Walter Kees
  • Diana Rankin
  • Harriet Rogers
  • Bernie Traurig

Students of Jane Marshall Dillon

  • Kathy Kusner


  1. Harris, Charles. "Book Review: Horseman's Progress." Chronicle of the Horse. January 4 (1963): p.26.
  2. Littauer, Vladimir S. Russian Hussar. London: J.A. Allen & Co. Ltd., 1965. (p.19)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Littauer, Mary Aiken (Fall 1989). "In Memoriam Vladimir S. Littauer 1892 - 1989". Sweet Briar College Library Gazette 23.2: pp. 2. http://www.cochran.sbc.edu/friends/gaz/Fall-89.pdf. Retrieved 6 February 2010. 
  4. Steinkraus, William C. "Foreword." The Development of Modern Riding. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991. (p. xiii)
  5. Littauer, Vladimir S. Russian Hussar. London: J.A. Allen & Co. Ltd., 1965. (pp. 108, 179)
  6. Littauer, Vladimir S. Russian Hussar. London: J.A. Allen & Co. Ltd., 1965. (p.43)
  7. Cronin, Paul D (Summer 2004). "Author and Teacher Vladimir S. Littauer Developed American Riding Theory, 72". The National Sporting Library Newsletter. http://www.nsl.org/NSLSummer2004.pdf. Retrieved 8 Feb 2010. 
  8. Littauer, Vladimir S. Russian Hussar. London: J.A. Allen & Co. Ltd., 1965. (pp. 107-108)
  9. Littauer, Vladimir S. Russian Hussar. London: J.A. Allen & Co. Ltd., 1965. (pp. 273-274)
  10. Littauer, Vladimir S. Horseman's Progress: The Development of Modern Riding. Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1962. (p. 226)
  11. Steinkraus, William C. "Foreword." The Development of Modern Riding. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991. (p. xiv)
  12. Rogers, Harriet H. "Founder's Day and Thanksgiving Rolled into One." Sweet Briar College Alumnae Magazine 42.(2) Winter (1972): 30.
  13. Cronin, Paul D. "Boot, Saddle, to Horse and Away!". Sweet Briar College Alumnae Magazine. Spring (1976): 34.
  14. Morris, George H., and John Strassburger. George H. Morris : Because Every Round Counts. Victoria, B.C: Trafford, 2006. p.205
  15. Cronin, Paul D. Schooling and Riding the Sport Horse: A Modern American Hunter / Jumper System. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2004. pp.268-269
  16. Campbell, Lisa (Fall 2006). "The Collection of a Lifetime". The National Sporting Library Newsletter, 81 (The National Sporting Library). http://www.nsl.org/NSLFall2006.pdf. 
  17. "Vladimir S. Littauer, Riding Instructor, 96", New York Times: sec. Obituaries, September 2, 1989, http://www.nytimes.com/1989/09/02/obituaries/vladimir-s-littauer-riding-instructor-96.html?pagewanted=1, retrieved 6 February 2010 

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