Tag Archives: horse books

Book Review:  Making it Happen: The Autobiography

Making it Happen: The Autobiography by Carl Hester

c 2014 Orion Books: London, UK. 260 pages.

ISBN 978 1 409 14767 1

Autobiography, biography and memoir have almost always been “off” my reading list, but with an increased exposure recently to this nonfiction genre through my M.F.A. program, I have become more open minded. I picked up Making it Happen, the autobiography of Carl Hester, last fall after attending his NEDA Symposium.  The book is written in Hester’s voice–and the text has the unpolished quality of someone who does not write professionally—but on the back inside cover jacket it indicates the book was co-authored by equestrian journalist Bernadette Hewitt, whom Carl affectionately refers to throughout as “Bernie”. While it is no literary masterpiece, this book delivers on its promise to tell “the incredible story of one of the world’s greatest equestrians”.

If you are looking for insight into the training techniques, horse selection criteria or the horsemanship philosophy of Hester…well, this is not your book. But if you are a person who wants to believe that someone from modest beginnings can really make it to the top of a wealth infused sport like dressage—then read on.

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Ok, so my copy wasn’t “updated with a new postscript”…maybe this is the reference to the 2016 Games?

The opening chapter shows us Hester at the London Olympics, just moments before the British team clinches an historic gold medal on home turf.  From this career high, Hester then takes readers on the journey from his youth on the Channel Island of Sark, to boarding school and on through his rise up the ranks of equestrian sport– detailing his apprenticeships, hard horses, risky gambles and sometimes tumultuous professional relationships– to become the king of British Dressage. In 2016, Hester became a five-time Olympian with his appearance in Rio; he also is or has been the coach of all the riders on both the 2012 and 2016 squads, including two time gold medalist Charlotte Dujardin, riding Hester’s own Valegro. Perhaps the story of the 2016 Games might become an appendix if there is ever an update to the 2014 edition.

At times irreverent, only vaguely self-reflective and greatly entertaining, Hester is a lively story teller. There are many, many occasions in this book where he makes reference to someone by their first name only, and I was frequently left feeling as though I had skipped a chapter or missed a page somewhere. His prose is suggestive of the one way dialogue of someone who has drank too much coffee, when the listener can do little more than nod and murmur “oh dear” or “of course” at relevant moments. In reading the chapters, I was left feeling somewhat out of breath by the rapid fire pace of transmission—but yet still felt compelled to turn the pages. Hester takes you along for the ride.

I am not one to believe that someone is inherently interesting just because they are a celebrity, and perhaps that is partially why this particular written genre has never really appealed to me. But it can be heartening for those of us in the trenches, as it were, to remember and recognize that even the greatest of riders are people too, and that we all make mistakes. In Making It Happen, Hester owns the errors of his past and reveals his moments of hubris in equal balance to those occasions in which his good choices were deliberate or he was able to stand firm to his principles despite detractors. Perhaps one of the hardest parts of writing memoir or autobiography is to reveal the warts and dark moments; in his book, Hester does not shy from them. As a both a writer and a human, I appreciated that.

I would recommend Making it Happen to any equestrian, but I think it will be the dressage enthusiast who enjoys this story the most. When the world of “penguin suited fancy prancers” can start to feel a little too much—pick this book up. And recognize that even one of the best in the world is able to not take themselves too seriously.

4/5 stars

 

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Book Review: Training Horses the Ingrid Klimke Way

Training Horses the Ingrid Klimke Way by Ingrid Klimke

c 2016 Trafalgar Square Publishing, North Pomfret, VT. 163 pages.

ISBN 978-1-57076-826-2

If you have read any of my previous reviews of Klimke’s work (including her updates and revisions to her father’s original texts), it is no secret that I am an uber fan-girl of Ms. Klimke and really idolize the focus, talent, compassion and effectiveness she brings to her horsemanship. The fact that she also is a mother and wife, writes books and articles and seems to sometimes to also take vacations only adds to her superwoman status.  So it is with the utmost respect and honor that I say that this particular book was not my favorite out of all of the Klimke collection.

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That is not to say that it is a bad book.  It just feels rather…unfocused. In less than two hundred pages, readers get an overview of her principles for training, a snap shot of each phase of work (broken down by warm up, each gait, cool down, cavalettis, etc.) and then offers a brief profile of each of her ten competition horses, revealing their specific training protocols based on their strengths, weaknesses and personalities. We also cover her mentors, support team, and preferred tack. It is a lot of content, and a broad range to cover, and I guess based on the title that is what the reader should be expecting.

The problem I had is that, after having read her other books, this one just seems to gloss over the most important concepts.  I guess it isn’t possible to take the deep dive into a particular facet of training that we do when the whole book is dedicated to that particular topic; in Cavaletti, for example, Klimke is able to break down the steps to introduce cavaletti to a horse, and then details the systematic increase in demands which one can place on the horse through the use of ever evolving cavaletti and gymnastic exercises.

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I was inspired to build these cavaletti and incorporate their use more into my horses’ training after reading Klimke’s update of her father’s book. I try to set up a new arrangement each Monday.

With all that being said—for someone who is looking for more of an overview to Klimke’s system, this book will certainly grant you that.  It is wonderfully illustrated—the woman seems incapable of taking a bad picture—and each photo shows a joyful horse, well presented. Klimke’s tone is one of modesty and humbleness; she is always a student of the horse. Klimke, who was awarded the title of Riding Master by the German Equestrian Federation in 2012, says that to do justice to this status, “I train further, question myself, consider the views of others, and remain open to all riding styles.  Anyone who cares to be a good rider must first of all work on herself: on her inner bearing, her general attitude toward horses, her physical readiness (of course), and on giving aids clearly and “with feel” for the horse” (Klimke, 2016, p xiii). In my opinion, this is an attitude which more American trainers would be wise to embrace.

As always, I still took away pearls from Klimke. For example, Klimke’s horses are all turned out every day, sometimes in groups—even her top mounts.  It is an important part of their program to maintain their mental and physical health. “To me, it seems obvious that performance horses should be kept in the way that is most appropriate to their species.  This means, they get to move freely every day, whether in a paddock or out at pasture. They need social contact or their herd, in order for them to feel safe and well….In my experience, horses that are turned out regularly rarely hurt themselves” (Klimke, 2016, p. 30-31).

Each chapter heading begins with a summary which is excellent in its brevity and clarity; it is like a little nugget which you could read before you ride just to keep your focus sharp, or pin to your computer to meditate on when taking a break from work.  For example, in her chapter on “The Warm-Up Phase”, Klimke writes, “Take enough time to warm up and come together with your partner. This goes for horses of any age and is important both physically and mentally” (Klimke, 2016, p.56).

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Mastering the perfect warm up is an ever evolving process.  Anna, in December of 2016.

One of the other aspects of this book with I appreciated was the credit which Klimke gives to her own mentors and coaches, all of whom she considers part of her team and a critical key to her success, as well as her grooms, stable managers and equine health support team. She expresses gratitude to and offers credit to her horses’ owners for remaining steadfast through the inevitable ups and downs of the training process, and also acknowledges the support of her family. No one can reach the kinds of lofty aspirations which Klimke does without such a network, and it was quite refreshing to get a glimpse into that world for this rider.

So if you are interested in sweeping overview of Klimke’s approach to developing her horses, this book would be a great place to start. I know that some sections of the book are already out of date (for example, in 2017, Klimke retired one of her rising stars, SAP Escada FRH,  due to injury; she describes Escada in the book as “absolutely the best horse I have had under saddle to date” (Klimke, 2016, p. 121)), but for most readers, these factors will do little to detract from the rest of the content.

4/5 stars

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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