Tag Archives: horse books

Book Review:  Real Life Dressage: Training Advice from Novice to Grand Prix

Real Life Dressage: Training Advice from Novice to Grand Prix by Carl Hester and Polly Ellison

c 2004 Kenilworth Press Ltd. Addington, Buckingham, U.K. 120 pages.

ISBN 1-872119-49-2

After attending the NEDA Fall Symposium with Carl Hester in October of 2017, I became more interested in understanding some of the philosophy behind his training methods.  I came across his book, Real Life Dressage: Training Advice from Novice to Grand Prix, and thought the concept looked interesting; Hester would discuss the process of his training through the lens of his own horses, starting with expectations of a four or five year old and progressing through Grand Prix.  Hester described each of the horses as not being perfect, since the perfect horse does not exist.  Instead, he detailed how he planned to work through their unique challenges.


This concept related quite well to some of the ideas which Hester shared during the Symposium; to wit, to overcome a horse’s challenges one must use their strengths.  In the book’s introduction, Hester writes, “Difficult horses can become good horses….it is important not to give up until you are absolutely sure it’s not going to work.  If there is a glimmer of hope, it is worth persevering” (Hester, 2004, p. 9). All of the horses he highlights in the book, including his famous Escapado, his 2004 Olympic mount, are in training for the Grand Prix.

The most helpful chapter to me was number two: “Top Dressage Horses—Are They Born or Made?”, in which Hester details what he looks for in a young dressage horse.  In particular, he wants good gaits, with emphasis on the walk and canter, a good temperament, and rideability.  Many of Hester’s horses were purchased by him, either alone or in partnership, and developed through his program.  The man clearly has an eye for a horse, and he coaches that if one can find a quality horse young enough, a top flight horse might well be within the purchasing capacity of many riders.

Escapado at the 2004 Olympics

Throughout the book, I could clearly hear the repetition of themes which Hester is still preaching today. He discusses the importance of not drilling, especially on a youngster.  And that horses must be horses—they enjoy turn out and hacking and sometimes will spook, not to be naughty but because it is the prerogative of the species. One great quote was that overcoming this behavior is “…a matter of confidence, which is built up by repetition rather than reprimand” (Hester, 2004, p 43).

Since this book is nearly fifteen years old, it was interesting to Google the names of the horses which he describes and to learn the arc of their careers. Most were sold but had successful show careers through the FEI levels, some stood at stud, and some are now deceased. Reading a slightly older book like this feels like when you find a new TV series several years in; you can quickly scan ahead and find out what becomes of your favorite characters and decide whether you want to keep watching.


Overall, this book is an easy read and I think if you take it for what it is—a quick snap shot into the training system of one trainer—then you will find it enjoyable and some comments perhaps useful.  If you are looking for something which is in depth, a robust analysis into a training system for “real life” horses—this book is not that. The horses Hester is working with are genetically blessed and the discussion of each is fairly basic.  The struggles they face surely mirror the same ones faced by riders on “normal” horses, but of course, the scale is tipped quite a bit in their favor.

3.5/5 Stars




Book Review: Ridden: Dressage from the Horse’s Point of View

Ridden:  Dressage from the Horse’s Point of View by Ulrike Thiel

c 2013 Trafalgar Square Books: North Pomfret, VT. 225 pages.

ISBN 978-1-57076-558-2

Ridden: Dressage from the Horse’s Point of View is an intellectual read, part study of equine biomechanics, part reflection on training philosophy and part treatise on the essential need to commit to the classical principles in all work with horses.  Author Dr. Ulrike Thiel is a clinical psychologist, therapeutic and able-bodied riding instructor, and dressage devotee, and in this book she blends her education, experience and scientific analysis together in a manner which synthesizes a complex topic into a manageable narrative.


What Thiel does extremely well in this book is providing analogies, visuals and exercises which can help a rider to understand, in human terms, what a horse is experiencing under certain circumstances.  Through these means, Thiel helps the rider to have better empathy for how much most horses are willing to offer to us, despite muddled communication, improper balance and a host of other challenges.  She conscientiously takes the reader through the learning process which a horse and rider must undertake, including overcoming the predator/prey relationship by gaining a horse’s trust, confidence and respect.

Once Thiel has laid the framework for developing the horse/human relationship through mutual respect, she then delves deeper into the concepts espoused in classical dressage training, comparing the horse’s progression through the exercises to the process of learning to ski for a human (among her many hats, Thiel is also a certified ski instructor). Throughout, she emphasizes the fact that horses will forgive the mistakes of humans, but those mistakes must first be acknowledged to be rectified.  The consequences of failing to correct training missteps or rider issues can result in permanent physical damage to the horse.

From the United States Dressage Federation

After painstakingly laying out this foundation, Thiel turns her analytical focus to what she calls “modern” training methods—rollkur, hyperflexion, or low, deep and round (LDR).  These controversial training methods have been promoted by several high profile European dressage stars (including Olympic medal winners) and Thiel takes direct aim at the methods, their perpetrators, and the FEI for not wholly condemning their use. To write this book and publish it in her native Netherlands must have taken supreme courage, as one of the most famous proponents of hyperflexion has been two time Olympic gold medalist Anky Van Grunsven, who is a house hold name in the country.

It seems clear that Thiel’s motivations are truly to promote humane horsemanship and training methods, in spite of the risk of drawing what surely is sharp criticism.  “The excesses associated with equestrian sports are in the crossfire of criticism…Ultimately, the question we all need to ask is whether the well-being of the horse is being considered as he is used in sports, for pleasure, as a therapy animal, or for other purposes…As it is so often when money, power, and competition play a role, ethics and human assumption of responsibility are left by the wayside” (Thiel, 2013, p. 209).  Further, “I think the horse awakens different needs within humans.  The horse can be used as a tool to fulfill our desire for power and success” (Thiel, 2013, p. 214).

I would recommend Ridden to any horseman who is interested in better understanding why the classical training methods have endured for centuries, and why this approach is still the best way to train the horse to be the most they can be.  I hope that most equestrians that consider themselves to be true horsemen are willing to constantly put themselves under the microscope, asking what they can do better.  Reading this book and taking time to honestly reflect on its content should allow for that opportunity for growth.

I applaud Thiel for being brave enough to write this book, and for taking the time to combine intellectual and emotional rationale—left brain/right brain balance—to advocate for why adherence to classical training concepts is essential for equine well-being.

5/5 stars

Book Review: Teaching Tips for Horseback Riding Instructors

Teaching Tips for Horseback Riding Instructors by Jo Struby

c 2013 Rose Dog Books Pittsburgh, PA, 94 pages

ISBN 978-1-4809-0034-9

As a professional riding instructor, I always keep my eye out for new resources and reference materials which can help me to improve the quality of my work.  Teaching Tips for Horseback Riding Instructors, by Jo Struby, was reviewed in a recent issue of Eventing USA, the publication of the US Eventing Association, and it caught my eye.  Ms. Struby used to teach at Wetherbee Farm in Boxborough, MA, and while I am sure she doesn’t remember it we had several conversations while I was in high school.  Struby is a former vice president of the former US Combined Training Association and also holds an M.A. in Education, which both have clearly influenced her perspective as an instructor.


This book is not intended to be read from cover to cover, though certainly one could do so.  Instead, Struby envisions readers to use the book as a reference.  She is specifically targeting instructors and teachers of horsemanship, stating in her forward that she hoped her book would fill a gap in the available literature by addressing the art of teaching horsemanship, rather than the specifics of riding and horsemanship itself.   In this book, Struby has compiled over sixty “teaching tips”, which she originally wrote monthly and sold by subscription from 1996-2000.

Struby’s tips are arranged by category, ranging from philosophy of instruction to curriculum and lesson organization to teaching tools and techniques to student needs and desires.  Instructors looking for insight or inspiration in a specific category can easily utilize the table of contents and locate short, succinct blocks of reference material on a given subject.  Struby is clear that she is not intending to create a text book, and the format of the book feels very much like a collection of shorter articles than one longer, cohesive reference book.  I believe that she was successful in achieving her aim.

Jo Struby riding Senova (found on Pinterest)

The content in each of the segments is of decent quality and shows Struby’s background in the field of education.  Her material addresses students’ unique learning styles and motivations, as well as how these can influence their progress as horsemen.  For me, though, the delivery was sometimes tedious to process for several reasons.  There are pervasive grammar and typographical errors throughout the text which impeded comprehension and lend an air of poor quality execution to the book.  It is also completely text—visual learners always benefit from quality graphics and I feel there is no reason to not include them in any book.

I don’t have a sense that this book went into a widespread printing, and I had to contact the publisher directly to get a copy.  For the motivated instructor, I think it is worth taking the effort to pick up a copy to use as a reference in order to better apply educational concepts to riding instruction.  It is too bad that readers must be prepared to wade through some of the editing issues and somewhat low quality of production in order to access what is in reality quality content.

3.5/5 stars

Book Review:  Schooling and Riding the Sport Horse

Schooling and Riding the Sport Horse by Paul D. Cronin

C 2004 University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville 274 pages

ISBN 0-8139-2287-9

Schooling and Riding the Sport Horse was originally given to me to review for possible use as a text in a course I teach at the University of New Hampshire.  I had high hopes for the book, as author Paul Cronin is a well-respected protégé of the late Vladimir Littauer and also the longtime director at Sweet Briar College’s riding program.  The content of the book is geared towards the riding and training of hunter/jumpers and is well organized.  Unfortunately, it is also dry and dense, with dated images, and will simply not be read by the Millennials I am now responsible for educating.  If you tell me that you have a Millennial-aged student who will actually read this book….I frankly don’t believe you.

I started reading Schooling and Riding the Sport Horse back in 2014.  I finished it late in 2016.  I was stubborn and determined to get through it.  It is simply not a page turner.


As a rider/trainer whose interests tend more towards dressage and eventing, I still find a great deal of helpful inspiration in understanding the training systems used by those who are more oriented towards hunters, equitation and jumpers.  In this book, I do think that Cronin clearly and progressively lays out the elements of his system, which is geared to develop the position, controls and schooling of the horse used in forward seat riding.  But starting as early as the introduction, I started to take issue with what I perceived as his derogatory tone towards the classical dressage system and his belief in the superiority of what he calls the “American hunter seat”.  I think I had a hard time letting go of this perceived slight throughout the rest of the book.

Author Paul Cronin in an uncredited photo. 

With that being said, I found much to agree with in the book as well.  I appreciated his emphasis on the importance of correct and progressive work on the flat to prepare horse and rider for over fences performance.  For example, Cronin points out that “it is not accurate to refer to the short gaits with hunters as classical collected gaits. That is a concept that has a special meaning in educated classical dressage riding.  The hunters are not collected and on the bit but are connected and on soft contact” (Cronin, 2004, p. 33). This sentence is contained in his chapter on “Position and Controls”, in which he details some of the differences in theory and objective between what I would call classical dressage theory and American hunter seat theory.

Captain Vladimir Littaur was an influential early proponent of forward seat riding.  His book, “Commonsense Horsemanship” was a bible for the discipline for many years. 

Another theme in the book which I appreciated was Cronin’s direct acknowledgement that all horses and riders have their “niche”; not every horse needs to be trained to the highest levels, because not every rider aspires to ride to them.  “Not all horses and riders will be able to achieve the advanced level of control not do they need to in order to experience safe, enjoyable riding” (Cronin, 2004, p. 46).  He further expands this concept in other chapters, including “Evaluating and Selecting a Horse” and “The Philosophy for Schooling in the Modern Hunter/Jumper System”.

The last half or so of the book is the description of a systematic and progressive series of “schooling periods” which takes the horse successively through seven stages of training.  Each phase includes key concepts and exercises to be attained during the schooling period, important concepts to keep in mind and pitfalls to watch for, as well as some sample plans for workouts and training sessions. The most important theme is “systematic progression”.  Each step is to be taken in turn, not sooner, not later. A serious trainer could absolutely use this series to develop a young horse or retrain one who had inconsistencies in previous work.

Joe Fargis, here on the elegant and athletic Thoroughbred mare Touch of Class (with whom he won the individual gold at the ’84 Olympics), wrote the forward to Schooling and Riding the Sport Horse.  He is featured in photos throughout, as well as on its cover.  Photo credit: Showjumping Nostalgia

My sentiments towards this book softened as I read through the chapters on the schooling periods.  It is clear to me that Cronin is a classical trainer in the style of American forward seat riding, and believes firmly in consistency, patience and slow, steady, horse-oriented progress.  I was able to draw more connections between his concepts and those common to the training of dressage and eventing horses in these chapters than the others (mind you, this was all in year three of reading the book).

Overall, this book really is a good source of information, even if it is written in an “old school” style which makes it a bit dense.  For a reader who is able to thoughtfully digest any of the classical texts on horsemanship written by the old masters, this book would certainly ring true and fit right into that library.  Unfortunately, for the average modern reader of horsemanship books, I am afraid the terminology used throughout the book is too uncommon, the text too dry, and the photos too dated to make it a useful reference.  I suspect that most ambitious modern riders who purchased this book have left it sitting on their shelves amongst the others which they have never quite made it around to reading.  If you are looking for an easy read on progressive horsemanship—this isn’t your book.  If you want to delve into a systematic progression for the training of hunters and jumpers, and enjoy really taking the time to understand the heritage left by Littauer (who went on to influence so many of the great American horsemen of the 20th century), then this text may be worth the time to plod through.

3/5 stars

** Bloggers note: If you like the featured image at the top, it is sold as a decal here.**



Book Review: Paddock Paradise: a Guide to Natural Horse Boarding

Paddock Paradise: a Guide to Natural Horse Boarding by Jamie Jackson

C 2006 Star Ridge Publishing, Harrison, AR, 122 pages

ISBN 0-9658007-8-4

Paddock Paradise has been in my library for a few years (please see previous book reviews in which I confess to being a book hoarder).  I have come to believe that the ideal horsekeeping situation is one in which the animal can come and go as they please, rather than the model which is conventional in most boarding stables where horses are turned out for a  period and then returned to their box stalls.  Here at Cold Moon Farm, my horses are out 24/7 with access to run ins.  I was interested in this book to learn yet another different perspective on the subject.


Author Jaime Jackson is an advocate for natural horse care practices, from boarding to foot care to feeding.  His work has been inspired by personal study of wild horse behavior and ecology, as well as his own experience.  In Paddock Paradise, Jackson provides readers with some background as to where his ideas originated, outlines a model for the ingredients of a Paddock Paradise, and concludes with a successful real world implementation of his system.

Jackson outlines a “day in the life” of a wild horse herd, covering in some detail topics such as herd dynamics, the search for water, food, salt licks, and shelter, as well as the role of predators in determining the herd’s habits and behavior.  He emphasizes that their search for food keeps herds nearly continuously on the move, and that the overall quality of their forage is poor.  Jackson also observed the condition of the wild horses’ feet and concluded that their nomadic lifestyle, covering all manner of terrain, assisted in keeping their feet even and strong.

One of the suggested amenities of a Paddock Paradise is a place where horses can freely enter water.

Inspired by his observations, Jackson began to brainstorm a model for domestic horse keeping which would “create a living space that suits the equine mind” (Jackson, 2006, p.63). Jackson compares the conventional model for horse keeping to an “equine internment camp” (Jackson, 2006, p. 13); in contrast, he has named his alternative system “Paddock Paradise”.

                “The beauty of the Paddock Paradise model is that, through a unique fencing configuration—adaptable to most if not all equine properties—and strategically applied stimuli, it “tricks” the horse into thinking he’s in wild horse country, “paradise” in other words.  Instead of resisting natural movement, he willingly engages in it.  Through stimulated natural movement, he becomes healthier, and this is our major goal.”

–Jaime Jackson, Paddock Paradise, 2006, p. 63

Jackson’s book provides a basic outline as to how a farm manager could convert their property to be a “paddock paradise”.  My (extremely) short synopsis is that one would take the existing paddock and install a line of electric fencing on the inside, about fifteen feet away from and parallel to the perimeter.  The space in between fences becomes the “track”.  The next steps include scraping away most grass and then installing any of a number of “features” which will motivate the horses to move around the track.  The features one chooses to install may be influenced by the existing terrain, amenities and resources available, but the ultimate goal is to use “Paddock Paradise as a means of getting horses out of stalls, conventional paddocks, and other modes of close confinement that simulate “predator” environments that are so harmful to the mental and physical well-being of horses” (Jackson, 2006, p. 68).

One example of a Paddock Paradise; photo from sustainablestables.com

The entire notion of Paddock Paradise is a bit revolutionary, and I can’t say that I am 100% on board with all of the conclusions regarding domestic horse care that Jackson has drawn from his self-study of wild horses (one example is his suggestion that horses are best fed a mix of grass-type hays and unsweetened oats in small quantities, as this most closely mirrors a wild horse diet).  However, I do fully applaud his ability to look at the conventional beliefs regarding domestic horse keeping through a different lens.  Just because something is “the way we have always done it” does not mean that it will forevermore be the best technique.  Taking our “business as usual” ideas and holding them up to a lens to assess whether they can sustain the scrutiny, to me, is never a bad thing.  We don’t have to embrace every new idea or notion, but certainly keeping an open mind to possibilities can allow us opportunities to integrate bits and pieces into the systems which we are accustomed to.

Jackson released an updated edition of Paddock Paradise in 2016. His website expands on some of his ideas regarding natural horse care and provides examples of “real world” approaches to creating Paddock Paradises in a variety of different climates and topographies.  I was surprised to recognize after reading this book how many references I have come across to facilities with a “paddock paradise”, or people seeking same.  It would appear that in certain communities, Jackson’s “revolutionary idea” has inspired further creative thought.

I would recommend this book for people who have an open mind to alternative perspectives on horse management and to people who already embrace holistic approaches to horse care—but also to those who are pretty secure in their beliefs regarding conventional techniques, so that they can better examine them and look for areas to more closely align our human expectations of horses with the inherent “equine nature” which they all possess.

3.75/5 stars




Book Review: Fit To Ride in 9 Weeks

Fit to Ride in 9 Weeks by Heather Sansom

C 2016 Trafalgar Square Books, North Pomfret, VT, 199 pages

ISBN 9781570767302


Heather Sansom’s new book, Fit to Ride in 9 Weeks, is not the type of book I would normally pick up.  Over the years, I have seen a multitude of different work out plans geared towards equestrians, and I have not ever done one of them.  As an instructor, though, I am always on the lookout for new ways to help riders connect with better awareness of their own bodies, as well as exercises which they can use to improve their overall suppleness, strength and muscle tone.  Work out plans might not appeal to me—but they certainly do resonate with some of my students.

Sansom is a certified personal fitness trainer and an equestrian coach through Equine Canada, as well as a Level 1 Centered Riding instructor.  She merges her fields of expertise to manage her business, Equifitt.com, and offers fitness and conditioning coaching to all levels of rider.  In Fit to Ride, Sansom shows that she clearly understands the unique demands which equestrian sport place upon a rider, and I found her book easy to read and absorb.

Author Heather Sansom (from her website, equifitt.com).

Sansom leads the book off in chapter one with a short essay on the critical importance of rider fitness.   She reminds readers that, “the rider influences the horse in ways beyond most people’s immediate perception, and the way a rider uses her body greatly impacts the way the horse is enabled or blocked from using his….the relationship is biomechanical.   Since there are feedback loops…going in both directions (rider to horse, and horse to rider), both species can impact one another….working together with horses is a lifelong quest for harmony” (Sansom, 2016, pp 2-3).   This is a theme which I frequently preach in my own teaching, and it was heartening to hear the refrain offered from the perspective of a fitness professional.

One of the challenges for the human equestrian athlete is that riding alone rarely allows us to develop sufficient straightness, suppleness and stamina, the “Holy Grail” of rider fitness, according to Sansom.  Unfortunately, “the horse’s imbalances and strain issues correspond very closely to physical patterns evidenced in his most frequent rider” (Sansom, 2016, p 4). It is therefore incumbent upon the thoughtful horseman to develop sufficient body awareness as well as fitness in order to allow the horse to develop to their fullest potential.  “In all disciplines, the goals are to enable your horse to understand what you ask and be physically fit to perform it, and then for you to stay out of his way so that he can move in ways his body is designed to move to perform the task” (Sansom, 2016, p 5).  And according to the author, many non-equestrian fitness programs actually focus on strengthening the human body in ways which will prevent, not enhance, good riding.

Enter Sansom’s nine week fitness plan, one which she says allows “you [to] return to basics and do a physical “foundational reset” that will improve not only your enjoyment of your ride but also harmony with your horse” (Sansom, 2016, p 6).  The progressive exercises all have both basic and advanced modifications to address individual rider needs, and are designed to fit into a busy equestrian’s lifestyle (the recommended timing is three 30 minute sessions per week for nine weeks).  Each week’s exercises find ways to address the common needs which all riders have for balance, symmetry, suppleness, cross-body coordination and awareness, as well as stamina, core strength and flexibility.  As the weeks proceed, the plan adds in additional discipline specific exercises.  The entire plan is meant to meld with and be a complement to other fitness activities that the rider might already be doing.

A short video to promote this book.

Sansom understands that riders mostly want to ride, and that supplemental exercise activities are meant to be a chance to “get out of the ring” so to speak.  She mentions that “many times, I find riders with a problem avoid fixing it” (Sansom, 2016, p 15) and that “people who need the stretching the most often have the least patience for it” (Sansom, 2016, p 81)—both things I see as an instructor on an almost daily basis.  If you have tight hamstrings, locked ankles, rolled shoulders—the only person who can do the work to make the problem area better is you.  “Just trying a new exercise to the best of your ability has benefits,” says Sansom (p 15).  This is no different than introducing a basic suppling exercise to your mount; they might not make it to the wall in the leg yield, but the horse will no doubt still receive benefit from attempting the exercise. Sansom certainly does her best to make a persuasive case for why riders will benefit from her nine week plan.

Sansom (who serves as one of three exercise models in the book) demonstrates the “simple lateral raise”.

From my perspective as a riding instructor, though, the real highlight of Sansom’s book was in chapters two through four, a section titled, “Training the Rider’s Body”.  In Chapter 2, “Good Training is About Building Balance”, Sansom breaks down in clear detail the components of flexibility, core strength, strength and balance, and stamina, areas which all riders must address.  She includes anatomical discussion supported with excellent, clear visual depictions to help readers understand the how, what and why of each type of fitness.  In Chapter 3, “The Important Core Muscles”, Sansom goes into greater detail regarding the specific muscles which help to control the rider’s body while in the saddle.  In this section, I was able to draw many correlations between her work and that of Hilary Clayton for horses.  Again, this chapter is exquisitely illustrated, helping to show how the various muscle groups overlap and intersect with each other and with the skeleton of the rider. In Chapter 4, “The Differences Between Riding Disciplines,” Sansom helps readers to understand how she has grouped disciplines which might seem quite different (roping and eventing, for one example) based upon the type of fitness required of the rider.

Everyone’s favorite core builder, “plank”, is included in the “Fit to Ride”plan.  Image not from the book.

Overall, Fit to Ride in 9 Weeks is an equestrian fitness plan that has been made as palatable as possible for the skeptical rider.  Sansom explains exactly what the rider can hope to gain by completing her plan, provides options for many exercises to accommodate individual rider strengths and weaknesses and provides superb illustrations throughout the book (including models demonstrating the exercises themselves).  For me, it is worth the read for Section 2 alone, and I think this is a book which should earn itself a place on any serious instructor’s shelf.

5/5 stars





Book Review:  The Green Guide for Horse Owners and Riders

The Green Guide for Horse Owners and Riders  by Heather Cook

c 2009 Storey Publishing (North Adams), 231 pages

ISBN 978-1-60342-147-8

The Green Guide for Horse Owners and Riders is a super easy to read and well organized book which represents the most comprehensive summary of the concepts of “sustainable practice for horse care, stable management, land use and riding” in one place to have crossed my desk.   Depending on your previous level of knowledge on the subject of eco-friendly horse management practices, this book might alternately be too basic in some areas or too detailed in others.  In either case, though, you are likely to find references to supplemental sources which can direct you to more information.


I have long maintained that the equine industry needs to get on board with more sustainable management strategies.  Too many farms are overstocked, with destroyed paddocks/turnouts, unsightly and unsanitary manure piles and out of date protocols.  This book helps take the reader through the steps necessary to establish a different paradigm, whether starting a farm from scratch or working with facilities and layouts already in place.  Cook does an excellent job of balancing general guidelines with more specific detail.  For example, each chapter concludes with guidance to be considered for various climate regions in the US and Canada.

Manure compost bins do not have to be overly fancy.  Image from http://www.horsesense-nc.com.


Some of the strategies covered in this book include techniques for “harvesting” water from rainspouts for use as wash water or for irrigation (which, interestingly, is illegal in Colorado); several methods of composting manure; selection of sustainable and healthy building materials; reducing the use of fossil fuels, and reclamation of muddy paddocks.  In addition, there is an extensive resource list compiled in an appendix which is clearly divided into sections such as green energy, grant sources, recycling, trail riding resources, helpful government and non-government organizations, etc.

muddy paddocks
Management strategies which reduce mud will prevent your paddocks from looking like this one.

This book really is a “must read” for anyone who is interested in being a good steward of their land, or in providing guidance to someone else who is in that role.  The onus is on all of us as concerned and conscientious citizens to do a better job of implementing management practices which consider the local and regional environment.  A healthy farm means healthy horses.

5/5 stars

Blogger’s Note:  Cover image is taken from Sustainablestables.com, another great resources for assistance and tips on better horse and farm management strategies.


Book Review: The Complete Guide to Endurance Riding and Competition


By Donna Snyder-Smith

c 1998 Howell Book House, New York, NY 244 pages

ISBN 0-87605-284-7

I picked up Snyder-Smith’s book in preparation for my successful first time attempt at completing a three day 100 mile competitive trail ride.  The author is an experienced horsewoman with a broad background and successful Tevis Cup completion on her resume; while the focus of the book was more on endurance riding than competitive trail, I found that more than anything, it was a book about good horsemanship, and there is something which riders of any discipline can take away from it.


In this book, Snyder-Smith takes a comprehensive look at the details of how to prepare a horse and rider team for success in the sport of endurance.  Full chapters are dedicated to riding in balance, gymnastic development of the horse, conditioning and feeding the endurance horse and the merits of various types of equipment.  The book concludes with a look at the requirements for crewing at an endurance ride and then the dynamics of a ride itself.

What struck me over and over in reading this book was how so much of what the author stated applied to not just endurance horses, but to all equine athletes.  For example, she outlines the requirements for a successful endurance horse as follows: “good feet, a good respiratory system, a good mind, to be an efficient mover, the desire to do it” (Snyder-Smith, p. 8).  However, these are ideal qualities for ANY performance horse, though perhaps certain other disciplines could be more forgiving to a horse which does not have the best attributes in some of these areas.

Lee and I on the last day of the three day 100 mile ride at GMHA (VT), fall 2015.

In her chapter on the importance of rider balance, Snyder-Smith goes into great detail on the importance of body awareness, symmetry and correct riding position and their collective effect on the horse for better or for worse.  If a rider is expecting a horse to carry them over tens of miles of terrain, it is critical that the rider is doing their part to be efficient and to maintain their own balance and coordination.   Horses can cope with rider asymmetry or weakness to a point, but adding in the cumulative stress of a long ride to the mix means that an inefficient rider can make the difference between a completion or a pull.  Lest anyone think that trail riders need not be attentive to the performance of their mount, Snyder-Smith states that “Riding that is comfortable and productive for both horse and rider is based on the rider’s ability to feel the horse and what it is doing with its body” (Snyder-Smith, p 22).  In other words, riding well, and riding correctly, matters!

Lee at the Wentworth schooling show in 2010. Photo Credit to Mystical Photography, used here with permission.

In her chapter on preparing the endurance horse, Snyder-Smith addresses the difference between conditioning and training, and emphasizes that both are required for success in endurance.  Snyder-Smith explains that endurance horses need to spend time in the arena in order to develop their flexibility, suppleness and strength.  In fact, she proposes that basic dressage training is an excellent way to introduce a “systematic, gymnastic training program…to enable horses to perform to the limits of their athletic capabilities without injury,” (Snyder-Smith, p 63).  Another especially important concept for successful conditioning is that “if you are not able or willing to listen to your horse and learn from him, your success as an endurance rider will be limited” (Snyder-Smith, p. 84).  Again, the author is specifically referencing conditioning for the sport of endurance, but the reality is that this idea applies to all disciplines across the board.  Another universally applicable statement is that “commonsense is the single ingredient that, when missing, causes the greatest damage to horses” (Snyder-Smith, p 87).

Throughout the book, Snyder -Smith inserts tips and helpful hints from her own experience as a distance rider.  For example, she suggests mixing electrolytes with baby food like strained carrots or applesauce to make them more palatable. She also discusses the experience of how having a vet make a comment about your horse’s soundness at a check can cause even an experienced rider to doubt the animal’s fitness to continue.  Having personally had this experience at a few rides, I know how much it gets under your skin and infiltrates your consciousness, even when you are really fairly confident that the horse is okay and what the vet saw might be just fatigue or the result of a misstep.

25MileRideAug2014 005
Three happy distances horses at the end of a successful ride!

Overall, I found Snyder-Smith’s writing easy to follow and the concepts clearly explained and well-articulated.  This book was immensely helpful to me in my own preparation for the 100 mile ride, and to help me as a novice to become more familiar with the requirements of the sport.  But more than anything, I found the author’s perspective on horsemanship refreshing.  Simply put, if you take your time, do your homework and only ask of the horse that which you have properly prepared them for, you can expect their best effort.  For this reason, I would recommend the book to riders of any discipline who are reaching out of their comfort zones for a larger goal.

“If your horse has it in him, you’ll be able to get it out of him if you don’t ask for too much too soon and use him up,” (Snyder-Smith, p 175).

5/5 stars


Book Review:  Endurance Riding: From First Steps to 100 Miles

Endurance Riding: From First Steps to 100 Miles by Clare Wilde

c 1996 Kenilworth Press, Buckingham (Great Britain) 170 pages

ISBN 1-872082-83-1

This past winter, I dedicated my equine reading to a selection of titles related to endurance and distance riding.  I knew that for 2015, I wanted to try to bring my horse up to a level of condition which might make it possible for her to tackle a 50 or even 100 mile ride, but I really didn’t know how to go about doing that.  It was with this mindset that I picked up Wilde’s book.  Wilde is an experienced endurance competitor whose love for the sport, and for riding and horses in general, is apparent throughout the book.

Wilde Cover

This book covers many aspects of the sport of endurance for the novice, tackling everything from horse selection to tack to schooling to what it takes to crew at a ride.  One of the sections that I enjoyed the most was called “Basic Schooling and Education,” and I liked it because it reviewed critical basics of training for any horse.  For example,  Wilde discusses the fact that in order for a horse to stay sound and sane over a long distance ride, they must move in an “economical, balanced yet dynamic motion” (Wilde, 1996, p. 45).  To achieve this, the rider must be conscientious in both their own posture and position and also work to develop suppleness and strength in the horse.  Horses must be encouraged to work correctly from back to front so that on the trail they can be supple and balanced.  In endurance riding, where competitive riders move at fast speeds much of the time, this preparation is essential.  “The versatile, supple horse will be able to move away from your leg to enable you to open gates quickly, avoid hazards and move off rough ground.  He will also be able to corner efficiently, particularly at speed” (Wilde, 1996, p. 46).   This information is so critical; a successful distance horse must be a true athlete, which requires paying attention to all forms of physical conditioning.

Wilde also points out that the endurance horse is the marathoner of the horse world, and the end goal of conditioning should be “to produce a supremely fit, laid-back equine athlete in the peak of physical condition” (Wilde, 1996, p. 49).  To do this requires not just attention to their workload, but also their overall stable management.  There is a big difference between the casual trail/pleasure horse that goes for a leisurely walk every now and then and a horse that is in preparation for a serious distance undertaking.  The horse’s stable management therefore must be of a higher standard than for a horse not in such intense training.  This is an important area of consideration which is sometimes overlooked.

Endurance and competitive trail riding can be enjoyed by riders of all ages and with all breeds of horse, with the proper conditioning.
Endurance and competitive trail riding can be enjoyed by riders of all ages and with all breeds of horse, with the proper conditioning.

Just like in other equine sports, Wilde reminds distance riders that the horse needs a warm up and cool down phase in each work set.  It is important to actively walk a horse for at least ten minutes before asking for faster gaits, and then to ease into the trot and canter.  Riders who are looking to start their race time at speed must budget in this warm up prior to the start.

The section titled “Conditioning for Competition” was especially enlightening.  Wilde says that once her horse has been built up to a base level of fitness which allows for easy completion and recovery from 20 mile rides, she rarely rides more than 15 miles in training.  One of the big challenges in distance riding is doing enough work to bring the horse to a fit level of condition but not doing so much that they become sore or unsound, or that their attitude becomes unwilling.  Learning how to “peak” your equine athlete at just the right time is both an art and a science, and certainly the ability to do this well separates the best from the also ran’s in any horse sport, not just endurance.  Wilde offers several sample conditioning and training schedules which can work to help horses develop for various distance rides, but also cautions readers to remember that each horse is an individual.

“Endurance riding Uzes 2005 front”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Endurance_riding_Uzes_2005_front.jpg#/media/File:Endurance_riding_Uzes_2005_front.jpg

The final chapter which I thought was particularly well done was titled “Personal Preparation”.  Here, Wilde discusses the care and feeding of the rider as an athlete, as well addresses the critical importance of rider fitness.  “In the most basic terms, your horse will find himself unable to perform, no matter how well he is prepared, if you are a hindrance to him rather than an asset” (Wilde, 1996, p. 95).  This last statement would seem to be true regardless of your chosen discipline, and is a concept which more riders need to take to heart if they truly want to progress in their riding.

Overall, Wilde’s book is an easy read with relevance to riders who want to improve their level of awareness on the subject of conditioning across the board.  While the author is certainly focusing on conditioning for the discipline of endurance, so very much of what she says relates to any equine endeavor that I would recommend it for anyone who wants to do a better job of preparing their equine athlete for their goals.  In this book, Wilde is essentially preaching practical, good horsemanship.  My only criticism is that at this point, the book is nearly twenty years in print, and photographs and certain references could use an update if there were to be a newer edition released.

4/5 stars

Blogger’s Note:  The featured image is from the first Tevis Cup ride.   Started in 1955 by Wendell Robie in California, the Tevis Cup 100 mile ride is regarded as one of the hardest in the world.  Wilde credits Robie with being one of the inspirations for the spread of endurance riders world wide, and especially within the United States. 

Book Review:  Conditioning Sport Horses

Conditioning Sport Horses by Hilary M. Clayton

c 1991 Sport Horse Publications, Mason, MI, 256 pages

ISBN 0-9695720-0-X

Still referred to by many as the “Bible” of equine conditioning principles, I picked up Clayton’s 1991 work, Conditioning Sport Horses, this past winter as I was beginning to think seriously about the demands of conditioning for long distance riding.  I was worried at first that the book might be a bit dry or too technical for me, a non-scientist, to understand.  However, Clayton is skilled at breaking down complex concepts into manageable pieces and I found it a fairly pleasurable read.

Dr. Hilary Clayton   Photo taken from her promotional poster.
Dr. Hilary Clayton Photo taken from her promotional poster.

Conditioning Sport Horses is divided into three chunks.  Part One looks at the major systems involved in the process of preparing a horse for athletic work and devotes full chapters to the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, energy production, muscles, thermoregulation and fluid and electrolyte balance.  Part Two delves into the “practical aspects of conditioning” and covers concepts such as general conditioning principles, cardiovascular conditioning, strength training, increasing suppleness, and managing these elements in a horse’s overall training program (including using a heart rate monitor and providing adequate nutrition).  Finally, Part Three shows how to use these concepts to prepare a horse for the specific demands of various disciplines; Clayton addresses the traditional sport horse disciplines but also several western sports as well as polo, endurance and chuck wagon racing (!).

These polo ponies show how much a horse will naturally lean onto the inside forelimb and shoulder when turning. Polo is a fast moving sport, requiring speed and agility (Clayton, 1991, p 229).  "Polo3-1-" by Ems (Emanuel Sanchez de la Cerda) - de.wikipedia.org: 18:50, 16. Mär. 2006 .. Ems .. 800×520 (292.111 Bytes) (* Bildbeschreibung: Sal. Oppenheim Cup Finale 2005 * Fotograf/Zeichner: Emanuel Sanchez de la Cerda (~~~) * Datum: 26.06.2005 18:00). Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0de via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Polo3-1-.jpeg#mediaviewer/File:Polo3-1-.jpeg
These polo ponies show how much a horse will naturally lean onto the inside forelimb and shoulder when turning. Polo is a fast moving sport, requiring speed and agility (Clayton, 1991, p 229).
“Polo3-1-” by Ems (Emanuel Sanchez de la Cerda) – de.wikipedia.org: 18:50, 16. Mär. 2006 .. Ems .. 800×520 (292.111 Bytes) (* Bildbeschreibung: Sal. Oppenheim Cup Finale 2005 * Fotograf/Zeichner: Emanuel Sanchez de la Cerda (~~~) * Datum: 26.06.2005 18:00). Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0de via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Polo3-1-.jpeg#mediaviewer/File:Polo3-1-.jpeg

I read this book much like I would a text book, underlining key concepts and passages and pasting sticky notes on others.  Doing so really helped me to dig into the material. While I have studied conditioning concepts in the past, I have never done so with the intensity or scrutiny that I have brought to my work this season, and Clayton’s writing included many important concepts and principles that I am not sure I have truly ever heard before, as well as reminded me of old favorites.

Conditioning Sport Horses, by Hilary M. Clayton (cover).
Conditioning Sport Horses, by Hilary M. Clayton (cover).

For example, we have all been told that we shouldn’t feed our horses immediately following a hard work because the blood supply has been shifted away from the digestive organs.  Clayton includes a graph which shows that during exercise, just over 75% of the cardiac output and distribution of blood flow is shifted to the horse’s muscles, and less than one quarter is dedicated to all of the other organs in the body.  A horse at rest is nearly opposite of these values.  Seeing the ratio so clearly visually depicted really drove the point home (see Clayton, 1991, page 14).

Another relevant question was answered in the chapter on thermoregulation.  Here in New Hampshire, winters can get downright frigid, and the question “when is it too cold to ride” is often raised, in particular in reference to whether or not conditions are safe for the horse.  Clayton settles the point clearly: “Compared with horses exercising at normal temperatures, horses undergoing strenuous exercise at -25* C(-13* F) have no significant changes in heart rate, lactate production, blood gas tensions, gait or lung tissue morphology” (Clayton, 1991, p 70).  So next winter when I choose to not ride when the temps are in the single digits, I will know that it is for me that I am staying in the warmth, not for my horse!

My horse, Carmel, after the New England Blizzard of 2015.
My horse, Carmel, after the New England Blizzard of 2015.

Perhaps one of the most interesting segments of Conditioning the Sport Horse is the section on general conditioning principles.  When most riders think of conditioning, it seems that their minds immediately go to the concept of “sets”; going out and riding at a certain speed or pace for a specific period of time, then allowing the horse to partially recover before completing another round.  I am not sure that riders in non-aerobic disciplines (dressage comes to mind) often think hard about their horse’s “conditioning plan”.  Clayton explains in great detail that the term conditioning encompasses far more than just improving the horse’s cardiovascular capacity; in fact, this system is the fastest one to improve with exercise, while other equally critical systems (such as the musculoskeletal system) lag behind.  If a rider fails to address each of the critical areas of conditioning, their equine athlete’s performance will be compromised (at best) or they will risk injury or breakdown (at worst).

There are three components to the volume of exercise which a horse is in:  intensity, duration and frequency.  Smart riders are able to gradually increase the horse’s capacity in each of these areas, though not in all three at once (Clayton, 1991, 80-81).  Strategically incorporating the various forms of conditioning with these principles will allow for the most consistent and safe increase in athletic capacity.

This book is full of practical and useful tips, everything from  how to make your own electrolytes (3 parts sodium chloride to one part potassium chloride—see page 72) to how to introduce fitness concepts to a green horse in any discipline to feeding strategies for animals in endurance sports which will maximize performance.  In the chapters on specific disciplines, Clayton provides clear and do-able formats for conditioning in each sport, attending to each of the major categories of conditioning.   I learned a lot from reading each chapter, even for those disciplines which are not my specialty.

If you are going to consider yourself a serious student of the correct and conscientious development of the equine athlete, you simply MUST have this book on your shelves.  Read it, underline it, dog ear it, and refer to it regularly as you create a conditioning plan for your athlete— and whether they are a dressage specialist, a reiner, a show jumper, or something else,  your horse will thank you.

5/5 stars