The Origin of "The Forward Seat"
Captain Caprilli jumping in Italy.
Captain Federico Caprilli (Apr 8, 1868- Dec 6, 1907)
was an Italian equestrian who revolutionized the jumping seat. 
His position, now called the "forward seat," formed the modern-day technique used by all jumping riders today.

The old jumping seat: leaning back to "save" the horse's legs. Note the horse's inverted frame and poor technique.




Caprilli examined horses free jumping (without tack or rider), using photographs to document their shape over fences, and found that they always landed on their forelegs. He then developed his theory on the position the rider should take while over a fence: one that would not interfere with the horse's jumping movement and most importantly one that would not touch the horse's mouth.


The old jumping seat involved the rider using long stirrups, keeping his legs pushed out in front of him, and his body leaning back, pulling the reins, as the horse took the fence. This position was adopted because it used to be believed that the hindquarters and hocks were more flexible and better shock absorbers than the fragile front legs. By leaning back and pulling the horse's head up, the riders tried to encourage the horse to land hind legs first (YIKES!), or at least with all four legs, to decrease the impact on the front legs.

This position had extreme problems, first and foremost because the horse was uncomfortable being hit in the mouth over every obstacle. The position also kept the rider's weight directly on the back of the horse, and pushed the rider behind the motion, sending his center of gravity behind the horse's. The weight on the horse's back, in addition to the upward pull on the head, made it impossible for the horse to round up in a natural bascule over the fence. Thus, the rider interfered with the horse's jumping movement, making it more difficult (and sometimes painful) for it to clear the obstacle, and made many horses sour when it came to jumping.
(Photo: Unknown rider, circa 1929 at a horse show in the United States, displaying the typical jumping style of the day, prior to the Caprilli influence that was becoming increasingly popular in Europe and, soon, the US).

Caprilli's position made horses much more willing to jump obstacles, now that they were free of interference. However, his "rebellion" against the "classic" position of the day lost him his position as Lieutenant in the Italian cavalry and he was no longer allowed to train cavalry units.  Luckily, the Italian Military Chief tried Caprilli's methods years later with great success, and reinstated Caprilli in the famous cavalry schools of Northern Italy.  After a year of training, members of the schools had made incredible progress. The horses became so willing to jump that riders completed the training course without reins!

Due to his incredible success, Caprilli was made Chief Riding Instructor of the Italian Cavalry. The Italian cavalry began to dominate international competition, and riders came from countries all around the world to study Caprilli's system. The style spread world-wide, helped by the fact that Caprilli himself rode in the 1906 Olympic Games.  Caprilli died in 1907, after a freak accident when his horse slipped on icy cobblestones and fell.