Book Review: New Track, New Life: Understanding And Retraining The Off-Track Thoroughbred

This review originally appeared in the July/August issue of the Chronicle’s Untacked.

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New Track, New Life: Understanding And Retraining The Off-Track Thoroughbred

By Kimberly Godwin Clark

This book came across my desk at exactly the right moment. I’d just picked up my new off-the-track Thoroughbred and was excited to start his retraining. I’ve brought along two other OTTBs in my life—one straight from the track who was quite simple and sweet, and the second who came to me with walk, trot, canter and knowledge of basic jumping, but after reading Kimberly Godwin Clark’s book, I realized there was a lot about the breed that I didn’t know.

Clark has galloped, trained and owned Thoroughbreds for 30 years and has been promoting them for adoption since 2007, both on her own and through her non-profit, Thoroughbred Placement Resources, so she brings a wealth of detailed knowledge.

Before I bought my OTTB, the only time I’d ever been to the track was to watch a race on a summer evening, so Clark’s step-by-step description of how the track works was extremely interesting. She describes the details of everyone’s job at the track, what kind of tack your OTTB wore, and how they were ridden and trained. She then walks the reader through a first trip to the track and what to expect—researching the horse online before you go, etiquette in the barns, evaluating a horse for sale, and how to make an offer.

In the second half of the book, Clark offers advice on everything from how to start a recently retired race horse to what to feed, how to deal with turnout, behavior modifications and when things go wrong.

If you’re new to OTTBs, it’s always a good idea to get help from an experienced person. But before you embark on the journey, New Track, New Life is an educational read to help you have a positive experience with your new partner.

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Book Review: World Class Grooming For Horses

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WORLD-CLASS GROOMING FOR HORSES

By Cat Hill and Emma Ford
Trafalgar Square Books

*This review originally ran in The Chronicle of the Horse.*

Cat Hill and Emma Ford offer tips from their years of grooming and stable keeping for top riders of all disciplines in World-Class Grooming For Horses.

Even if you learned how to care for your horses from a mentor, Pony Club or by picking up tips from others, you’re sure to find something useful. It’s all there in one spiral bound book, making it a great resource for experienced horsemen and novices alike, and it should be considered required reading for those looking into working student or groom positions.

The book covers all aspects of horse care, from getting tacked up to ride, cleaning the barn and basic equine health care, to more detailed jobs like clipping, taking care of horses at a show, wrapping and studs.
Ford has spent most of her career as a groom for top eventer Phillip Dutton, and Hill works mostly as a freelance groom for eventers these days, but they’ve both worked for a variety of riders, so even if you’re not an eventer, you’ll find their knowledge useful. Both authors spice up the book with personal stories of mistakes and lessons learned from their years of working in the industry, which gives a fun insight into the care of upper-level horses.

Everything a groom does for a horse is done not only for its health, but also its safety, so the authors make sure to point out every little detail. Nearly every page is full of step-by-step photos to make sure you’re raking your herringbone pattern on the barn floor properly or folding your horse’s winter blanket so it doesn’t look messy.

Whether you’re looking for instructions on how to do hunter braids, wrap a leg or properly adjust a figure-eight noseband, you can be sure Ford and Hill have done it thousands of times, and they’re eager to share their knowledge.

Book Review: 200+ School Exercises With Poles

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Who knew there were so many ways to trot around poles?

Claire Lilley’s book, 200+ School Exercises With Poles (JA Allen, 2012) ensures you’ll never be bored again in the ring, whether you jump or just do dressage.

While it’s a bit of a dry read from cover to cover, I found it easy to flip through and pick out a few exercises to try, all of which require four poles or less, making them easy for nearly anyone to try.

Poles can be used for everything from teaching a young horse to be straight on the centerline to giving the rider a visual “longside” on the diagonal when learning half pass. You don’t have to actually trot over them to benefit.

There are 30 pole layouts in the book using between one and four poles, and each layout has about five exercises each.

Each exercise gets its’ own page and Lilley explains how to lay the poles out by distance (which is in meters, unfortunately for us U.S. readers) in a standard sized dressage ring. There are illustrations using different colored lines with arrows to follow for particular movements or gaits and Lilley describes each exercise in detail with bullet points for more ways to ride each one.

She also includes bullet points on common rider faults to watch out for during the exercise and “Teacher’s Tips” that focus on the finer points of rider position and can be useful in any situation, not just for the particular exercise they’re included with.

On alternating pages, there are some cute inspirational quotes like, “The horse must respond to and respect the rider” and “You’re sitting on the greatest teacher in the world: learn from your horse”.

I think the biggest thing missing from the book are more exercises actually trotting or cantering over consecutive poles. There are a few that include four trot poles at about 4 1/2′ apart to go over, but for the most part, the exercises require you to trot around or between poles, focusing on your flatwork.

I think this book would most benefit dressage riders who might want to spice up their routine, but I think it can definitely benefit eventers too, especially those of us stuck in the indoor all winter!

The book is available and Horseandriderbooks.com for $45.00, but it can be found for cheaper on Amazon.

Book Review: Blyth Tait’s Cross-Country Clinic

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Over my Christmas break, I was in search of some inspiration and new gymnastic exercises as Oh So and Bear are coming back into jumping work, so I pulled out an oldie but a goodie–Blyth Tait’s Cross-Country Clinic, which was published in 1999.

A four-time Olympian for New Zealand, Tait brings a wealth of experience to his book. The format is question and answer, which makes it really easy to find what you’re looking for.

The book is laid out into five sections–Horse Problems, Rider Problems, Cross-Country Problems, Problems Arising At Competitions and Training Exercises.

Each question is pretty broad, such as, “What are the causes of a run-out?” and “How can I prevent a run-out from happening”, and Tait provides several bullet point answers, making it an easy read. The book is illustrated throughout with photos of Tait and others demonstrating both correct riding and flaws, as well as diagrams.

Tait’s training philosophy is systematic and common sense–for nearly every problem he advises being consistent in your training, empathetic to your horse, but also keeping a firm insistence when things go awry.

He’s also good at explaining the mechanics of cross-country position–from things as simple and obvious as looking up to improve balance to how to improve weakness on landing from a fence.

Perhaps the most useful section was the Training Exercises at the end of the book. Some of the 14 exercises are quite simple, such as working on a figure 8 over a vertical, but others ramped up the difficulty with multiple fences to help improve the horse’s form.

Tait explains the benefit of the exercise, things to be aware of and most importantly, provides the distances and strides in meters AND feet!

While I wish there were maybe a couple of exercises that focus on rider position, I’m only too happy to have more ideas to work on Oh So’s technique.

For those new to eventing, those who want a refresher on cross-country technique or those who are looking for a few new exercises to try this winter, Blyth Tait’s Cross-Country Clinic is a good choice.

 It’s available for $11.00 from Amazon.com.

Book Review: 40 5-Minute Jumping Fixes

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This review originally appeared in the Oct. 20 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.

40 5-Minute Jumping Fixes
Wendy Murdoch
Trafalgar Square Books, Box 257, Howe Hill Road, North Pomfret, VT 05053. 2014.
HORSEANDRIDERBOOKS.COM
224 pages. $29.95.

I really enjoyed Wendy Murdoch’s previous book, 50 5-Minute Fixes To Improve Your Riding, so I was excited to pick up her latest release, 40 5-Minute Jumping Fixes.

Inspired to learn more about how to ride pain-free after a severe riding accident in 1984, Murdoch developed a teaching system that focuses on developing riding skills by focusing on individual body parts, so 40 5-Minute Jumping Fixes is divided into several sections including Lower Back and Pelvis, Hips, Legs and Arms and Hands. This made it easy to locate which fix I might want to read about.

Murdoch notes that not all of us have the luxury of growing up on horseback, galloping across the country, and learning a natural “feel,” so her exercises focus on body awareness, something that I think is of particular use to amateurs who often only have one horse to ride and limited time to do it.

Many of the exercises can be performed off the horse and require as little as an exercise ball or a chair. Several are performed on the horse with and without a helper, which makes the book great to take ringside.
In certain sidebars, Murdoch can get quite scientific in her explanations of the anatomy of horse and rider and how they function together while riding, which made those parts a little dry for me, but each exercise was then simply explained, step-by-step.
There are countless photographs and illustrations of how to perform each exercise and three simple questions at the beginning of each to decide if you might want to read further. For example, “When jumping do you: Hold your breath over jumps? Exhale only at the end of a round? Take shallow or panting breaths?”
Then you might want to try exercise 29, “When In Doubt—Breathe Out!” which offers a breathing exercise to try on the horse and another off the horse.
If you’re looking to improve your jumping position this winter, 40 5-Minute Jumping Fixes should give you plenty to practice when you’re stuck in the indoor waiting for spring.

Book Review: Schooling For Success With William Fox-Pitt

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The basics of horse training never go out of style, and with bringing along a baby this year who’s learning everything for the first time, I was inspired to pick up William Fox Pitt’s 2004 book, Schooling For Success recently.

William needs no introduction, but the book does a good job with one about how he got started in eventing and features a first-hand account written by him about some of his top horses and some of their quirks.

It’s obviously not up to date at this point, but I remember many of the horses he writes about–Moon Man, Tamarillo, Chaka–all horses I watched on my Badminton and Burghley DVDs years ago.

I’m a big visual learner, and considering I take photos for a living, I’m really interested in studying a rider’s and horse’s form at each pivotal moment. William’s book relies heavily on unique photo sequences and examples of correct and incorrect form.

He starts with a primer on the rider’s position, the paces and pole work. In fact, these sections are the most photo heavy of the book. William notes that the most important thing for any horse is to establish forwardness and freedom in every pace. He likes to use long and low exercises in his warm up before collecting more.

Sadly the pole work section is only one page. I would love to know more about what exercises he uses, especially with his youngsters.

In the jumping section, William uses about two pages on average to touch on things like grid work, introducing spooky jumps, angles and accuracy and riding a course. Throughout the entire book, he has handy tidbit boxes to summarize the main points of the text and to offer other useful pointers.

After watching William teach a clinic last fall, it was clear to me that he values a systematic training process when bringing along young horses and that comes across in his book. He notes that he uses a gradual and thorough teaching process, views a refusal as a sin to be avoided, introduces young horses to new concepts with a lead, and that a horse should associate going cross-country with having fun.

In the cross-country section, he goes over each kind of fence you might encounter, from basic banks to trakehners and ditches. Most of the photos feature photos of riders going over huge fences, which can be inspiring, but not always useful to the lower level rider that the book appears aimed at, so that would be my only real criticism.

Towards the end of the book, William offers troubleshooting tips for each phase, as well as a quick look into his daily life with his novice level horses.

Schooling For Success offers common sense training tips, explained clearly that will benefit visual learners best. Ten years on, I think it’s time for an updated version, perhaps with a bit more text!

Book Review: The Riding Horse Repair Manual

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This review ran in the July 7 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse. I’m a great admirer of Doug Payne and his ability to ride so many horses. Perhaps this book will come in handy as Bear progresses through his training!

Trafalgar Square Books, Box 257, Howe Hill Road, North Pomfret, VT 05053. 2014. 224 PAGES. HORSEANDRIDERBOOKS.COM. $29.95.

 While he’s best known as a top-level event rider, Doug Payne has ridden just about every kind of horse and ridden in several different disciplines—from upper level dressage to grand prix show jumping and from well-schooled packers to wild buckers and stubborn ponies.

So it’s no surprise that his debut book, The Riding Horse Repair Manual, covers solutions for nearly every kind of riding problem you could encounter.

Payne starts the book with an important reminder about bad behavior in horses—“Many times these behaviors have their root in poor riding and training. Nearly always, such problems can be fixed with correct riding and retraining so these horses can be ‘reclaimed,’ and enjoy their intended job.”

In the first few chapters, Payne covers how to start a green horse by suggesting groundwork exercises and explaining his methods for backing, longeing and how to get through the first few rides.

The remainder of the book is split into neat sections like “Contact Issues,” “Unruly Outbursts” and “Jumping Issues” to make it easy to reference a particular problem.

Payne explains the issue clearly, offers one or two reasons why it may be happening, then offers a couple of solutions with step-by-step instructions.

There are several tips scattered throughout each page, as well as photo sequences of disobediences in action (those must have been fun to capture!) and diagrams of jumping exercises.

The last section features several stories of horses Payne’s ridden, including his top mount, Crown Talisman, who overcame a fear of loud noises and tension to become a winning advanced horse.

Payne’s advice and solutions show an honest, thoughtful horseman who always looks for the good in any horse but doesn’t shy away from a serious “problem child.”

If you’ve ever come across an issue with a horse young or old, experienced or not, you’re sure to find an answer in The Riding Horse Repair Manual.