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James Fillis (1834–1913) was a well-known English-born French riding master. He was trained by Francois Caron, a student of Francois Baucher, in France and also studied with Victor Franconi (famous for the Cirque Olympique de Franconi). Although engaged to train horses for the French Thirteenth Army during the Franco-Prussian War, Fillis was never officially employed at Saumur - although his name is inscribed on the roll of Écuyeres Célèbres.

Whilst performing with the Ciniselli Circus at St. Petersburg, Russia - he caught the attention of the Grand Duke Nicholas, who subsequently offered him the position of Ecuyer en chef at the Russian Cavalry School.

Fillis is featured in Alexander Nevzorov's book and movie The Horse: Crucified and Risen.

Theory and teachingEdit

In his preface to Breaking and Riding (1890), Fillis states his fundamental principle thus:

it is necessary for a horse to be correctly balanced and light in forward movements and propulsion, in order that the rider may obtain the most powerful effects with the least exertion

His motto was "en avant", "forward".[1] His method of equitation consisted, in his own words, of:

distribution of weight by the height of the neck bent at the poll and not at the withers; propulsion by means of the hocks being brought under the body; and lightness by loosening of the lower jaw

Fillis was also accredited with a particular style of holding the reins of a double bridle, whereby the snaffle rein passes over the index finger and the curb rein under the little finger, however, he himself referred to this as the "French" way in his book Breaking and Riding.

Published worksEdit

  • Principes de dressage et d'équitation Paris: C. Marpon et E. Flammarion 1890 vi,376pp., pl. "Principles of dressage and of riding" Full text of 2nd edition, 1891
  • Breaking and Riding London: Hurst and Blackett 1890 (English translation by M. H. Hayes of the Principes) Full text of 1902 edition
  • Grundsätze der Dressur und Reitkunst. Ins Deutsch uebertragen von M. von Zansen gen. van der Osten,... 2te Auflage... von Gustav Goebel... Berlin: C. Borgmann, 1896 xvii,431pp., pl. (German translation of the Principes)
  • Journal de dressage Paris: E. Flammarion 1903. xxviii,499pp., fig., pl. "Journal of dressage"
  • Règlement pour le dressage du cheval d'armes, établi en 1908 par la Commission de l'Ecole d'application de cavalerie des officiers à Saint-Pétersbourg. Traduction de James Fillis,... Paris: E. Flammarion [n.d.] "Regulations for the dressage of military horses..."


  1. ^ Fillis, James, trans. M. H. Hayes (1902). Breaking and Riding. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  • Podhajsky, Alois (1967). The Complete Training of Horse and Rider. Doubleday and Company.
  • Karl, Philippe (2008). Twisted Truths of Modern Dressage. Cadmos.