The oldest known reference I am aware of is Xenophon 500 BC naming his book " The Art of Horsemanship".
Art with horses was alive already then.
Let us have a closer look at what art can be.
"Art - a skill at doing a specified thing, typically one acquired through practice."
Art - in the sense of knowledge, perception, awareness
Starting with the philosophy of the ancient Greeks, e.g. Sokrates and his maeutics, the term art was used to describe not only knowledge, but as well as a synonym to philosophy and science.
Art - in the sense of abilities
Meant was abilities (having finished studying or training, beeing able to do something) within one subject, e.g. the art of fencing, the art of riding, the art of cooking, the art of healing, the art of mathematics, the art of living.
Art - in the sense of handcraft
Up to the 18th century, art is used as a synonym for a (technical) handcraft. Examples are the art of building, the art of gardening, arts and crafts. It is Immanuel Kant who in Germany is separating arts and crafts, defining art as free and crafts as exchange of payment.
Art - in the sense of science
Ancient sources are calling the rudiments of science the "septem artes liberales", the seven free arts, by name Trivium (grammar, rheotics & logic) and Quadrivium (arithmatics, geometrie, music & astronomy). Opposite of the artes liberales we find the "artes mechanicae". Until late Renaissance the artes mechanicae are the arts to make a living from.
- Art - opposite to nature
During the Enlightenment and its new understanding of nature, art becomes a term that is used to describe the opposite of nature.
- Art - in the sense of fine art
If we transfer all these implication on the Art of Riding, Art in the sense of Horsemanship means:
To acquire through regular practice:
- the knowledge of fully understanding riding and horsemanship, meaning the complete horse in its physical and mental outline ,
- the handcraft to build up a horse,
- the science to educate a horse fully, under consideration of body, mind and soul,
- and the abilities and humbleness of respecting natural borders to not allow art to become artificial.
Simon von Athen's guideline is quoted 2500 years ago by Xenophon:
For what the horse does under compulsion, is done without understanding; and there is no beauty in it either, any more than if one should whip and spur a dancer.
Art implicits that you are not only able to do proper handcraft, but as well to use the handcraft FOR the horse, for building it up. As a trainer and instructor, I am an advocat for the horse, a physiotherapist, and a translator in between human and horse.
The word academic is part of the term as riding was in former times taught at University - so called academies. The subject was not the ability to stay up on a horse. As horses were the main means of transportation, this skill was required as given. The subject was the "art" of building up a horse, to educate it to the highest level, and to do so by using a well thought through scale of education.
Nowadays, very few of us grow up on horseback and spend several hours a day with it - for work, fight, farming or simply transportation.
The academy nowadays offers you a structure and guideline, with that you can learn to be the teacher and trainer of your horse, to aquire the skills by practice in a most gentle way.
I would like to invite you to follow that path with me and fellow students. Subjects on the way of mastering the art of riding are anatomy, biomechanic, paedagogics, didactics, movement patterns, Natural gaits vs broken gaits, ethics, philosophy, bodywork, groundwork, lungework, work in hand, riding, using exercises for improving movements, side movements, knowledge about what tools to use (or not use), about feeding, shoeing and saddles. It's a never ending journey to understanding our four-legged friends better.
Embrace the challange and go on the hike of your life.
Enjoy the Journey!