Book Review: Eventing Explained

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I’ve always dreamed of living and eventing in England. I interview American riders, trainers and coaches all the time who speak of the strength of competition in the U.K., so I was excited to pick up Liza Randall’s Eventing Explained, which was released in 2012.

While the book doesn’t share any secrets of success to the British Eventing Team, it’s published in association with British Eventing and is the perfect companion to anyone, British or otherwise, who’s new to the sport or who just wants some handy tips.

I found it interesting and informational to read not only about Randall’s tips and tricks for riding and competing, but some of the cultural differences in the sport across the pond. The book explains British Eventing’s levels and includes many of the important rules of competition. For instance, did you know that you have to have your helmet tagged to show it’s certified or that BE events have two jump judges per fence? What a luxury!

Randall explains eventing from the ground up and covers all bases, from tips on how to prepare for your first competition to what to feed yourself and your horse.

I found Chapter 6, Rider Fitness and Mental Preparation, very interesting. Randall teaches Pilates for equestrians and she lays out several different exercises for the rider that I’m going to try to incorporate into my daily routine.

There are a few chapters that won’t be of much interest to the U.S. eventer, such as one on who’s who at affiliated events, but again, it was educational to me to see how a BE event is run. Did you know that at most events, there is a “Safety Research” fence that has a camera and special load cells that record the forces exerted when a horse hits the jump? That’s innovative!

There are quick riding and grooming tips peppered throughout the book as well as riding exercises and troubleshooting tips.

I think a book like this would be a great idea for the U.S. Eventing Association to put out or partner with an author on. It would be great to sell to new members. Phillip Dutton’s Modern Eventing that was released last year is the closest thing we have, and it’s a very complete book, full of tips, exercises and rules for U.S. competitions.

If you’re at all curious about how BE events are run, or are just looking for tips and tricks to improve your eventing experience, check out Eventing Explained.

Book Review: Modern Eventing With Phillip Dutton

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It’s been awhile since a book about eventing was published, so when I saw that Phillip Dutton was releasing one this year, I was excited to check it out.

One of the United States’ best international eventers, Dutton has a unique riding style, but gets the job done. Professionals and amateurs alike line up to ride with him and he’s had a far-reaching influence on eventing in the U.S.

Although proper riding never goes out of style, rules, equipment and the basic format of the sport (no more long format) have changed over time, so Modern Eventing aims to provide a complete resource to eventers.

The book, published by Trafalgar Square and co-written by Amber Heintzberger, is thick at 334 pages and covers just about anything a newbie could want, which is where I was a little let down.

As I read, I kept waiting for something I didn’t know. The book was excellent at explaining rules, giving tips and talking about basic concepts, but nothing was a revelation to me at this point in my riding career. Most of it served as a reminder of the basics, which is always useful, but I think I expected some more advanced techniques.

Part I, Introduction to Modern Eventing, features chapters on setting goals, selecting an event horse, tack, equipment and fitness. I found the horse fitness chapter to be interesting, as I know everyone has a different way of conditioning, and seeing how an Olympian conditions his horses is something I knew nothing about.

Part II, Schooling and Training, includes chapters on cross-country, show jumping and dressage. Dutton gives step-by step explanations of how to execute basic exercises and movements, as well as tips for introducing those concepts and troubleshooting.

Part III, Competing, includes tips on how to warm up for each phase and Dutton adds tips about rider position for each phase.

The final section, Part IV, Care and Maintenance, was the most interesting to me. Dutton’s former head groom, Emma Ford, wrote a chapter on grooming in which she gives her tips on how to get a horse ready for competition and the jog.

I’ll admit my knowledge in equine nutrition is not as good as it should be, so the chapter on basic nutrition served as a good refresher for me, as did the hoofcare and shoeing chapter written by Dutton’s farrier.

The final chapter, written by Dr. Kevin Keane, was also interesting. He discusses common health issues and injuries found in event horses and options for treating them. Sadly, I recognized several of them due to my several years managing Sam’s soundness issues!

The back of the book has a glossary of eventing terms and quick reference guide to scoring that will be useful to first timers (or to hand off to a mom, dad or boyfriend!), and an always helpful event packing list.

My favorite part of the book was the jumping exercises appendix. Although it’s only a couple of pages, this was what I was hoping for when I picked up the book. Dutton provides several grids, lines and exercises and gives short explanations for how to ride them. My only complaint is that the distances are mostly in yards.

The final pages find Dutton talking about several of his top horses over the years. While he’s a man of few words, his memories of his special partners was fun to read.

If you’re new to eventing, want to find out more about Phillip Dutton’s strategies and theories, or just want a reference book, Modern Eventing will appeal to you.

While I was hoping for a more in-depth how-to on riding each phase, I still found several useful chapters that will give this book a prominent place on my bookshelf.

My only major complaint is that the book isn’t available digitally. It’s a thick book to try and carry around! I wish more equine books were available on E-readers, but for now, you can pick up the book for about $30.00 at Amazon.com.

Book Review: Dressage For The Not-So-Perfect Horse

This review ran in the Oct. 29 issue of The Chronicle.

Dressage For The Not-So-Perfect Horse. Janet Foy. Trafalgar Square, North Pomfret, Vermont. 2012. 218 pages. $32.95.

International dressage judge Janet Foy has ridden, shown and judged many different kinds of horses throughout her years in the sport. Her new book aims to help riders with imperfect horses achieve success across all levels.

The introduction gives readers an idea of Foy’s accomplishments and credentials and includes a quick reference section of imperfections and evasions that makes it easy to jump to the right chapter depending on your horse’s issue with a particular movement.

The book is divided into three sections: “Building a Solid Foundation,” which includes basic movements like leg-yielding and shoulder-in, “Achieving Success at Third and Fourth Level,” which goes into more advanced movements like half-pass and flying changes, and “The Pinnacle of Dressage,” which looks at the movements that come at Grand Prix.

Each section includes chapters on individual movements, making it easy to find exactly the kind of insight and help you might need. Foy intersperses personal stories of horses she’s ridden, helpful photos, and excerpts from the U.S. Equestrian Federation rule book to help illustrate her points.

What I found very interesting were the “Judging Tips” spread throughout the chapters. Foy gives insight into what judges might be thinking when you perform a movement in the ring and how you can perfect it for test-riding purposes.

The book is well-organized and easy to understand and makes for a good read for those of us with “imperfect horses.”

Book Review: Peter Leone’s Show Jumping Clinic: Success Strategies For Equestrian Athletes

I wrote this for The Chronicle. It can be found in the Oct. 15, 2012 issue.

Peter Leone’s Show Jumping Clinic: Success Strategies For Equestrian Athletes. Peter Leone and Kimberly S. Jaussi, PhD. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2012. 224 pages. $18.00.

As an eventer, show jumping is my weakest phase, so Peter Leone’s new book geared towards hunters and jumpers piqued my interest.

It’s organized neatly into chapters based on Leone’s principles of riding. Bullets, Q&A sections and key points stand out and make it an easy read.

The information, especially in the first half of the book, is geared more toward beginning jumping riders, explaining concepts like defining goals, identifying the aids and connecting with your horse. I skimmed over those chapters, but some illustrations of Leone’s concepts were interesting to note. It’s always good to be visually reminded of things like the difference between a two-point and three-point position.

The book uses photos of top riders in action to help demonstrate concepts. It’s easy to be inspired to work on my position after seeing a photo of McLain Ward over a grand prix fence.

I was most interested in the gymnastic diagrams. Since I only see my trainer once a week, I’m always looking for grids to practice at home. While Leone doesn’t guide you step by step over each part of a grid, he does offer advice on how to successfully navigate any line of jumps. He discusses different lines, pace, walking distances and identifying different kinds of jumps.

This book offered some helpful grids to work on and reminded me of the basics. Practice activities and checklists for self-evaluation make this a great pick for someone working on their own or new to the hunter/jumper discipline.

New book reviews

I wrote these book reviews for USEA before I got the job at The Chronicle. I had planned on doing a couple of books each month, and I’d like to continue to do so here if I can find the time and motivation to do it!

For now, check out these books.

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Now that spring has sprung in many parts of the country, it’s time to dust off the cobwebs, get out cross-country schooling and polish your position before kicking off the competition season. A good book can help you along the way to your riding goals and reading is the perfect way to spend a long drive to a competition or a few hours in front of your horse’s stall at an overnight event.

As a former assistant librarian at the National Sporting Library and Museum in Middleburg, Va., I’ve seen just about every equine book you can imagine, so I’ve come up with a list of books I think will benefit every eventer, no matter your skill level.

Here are my favorite picks for the amateur eventer.

50 5-Minute Fixes to Improve Your Riding

By Wendy Murdoch
Trafalgar Square Books (2010)

Wendy Murdoch has authored several books on riding pain-free and using the mind/body connection between horses and riders. Her latest book targets common rider problems and gives simple solutions to fix them. It focuses on using simple exercises to create new, good habits, and offers easy-to-follow solutions with photos. Amateur riders tend to have to make the most of their limited time in the saddle, so five-minute fixes are perfect.

Murdoch starts the book with her guidelines to learning. Amateur riders tend to have to make the most of their limited time in the saddle, so she suggests giving yourself a moment to focus on a new task, doing that task slowly, and not trying too hard. A rider must remember to have fun, because often the harder you try to fix something, the worse it gets.

The exercises in the book are divided into sections based on different parts of the body; head and neck, chest and upper back, pelvis and lower back, arms, legs, wrists and hands, and ankles and feet. At the beginning of each section, Murdoch explains the importance of that body part as it pertains to riding. A checklist at the beginning of each exercise can help you quickly decide if it’s a problem you have.

Each numbered exercise explains physically why it might benefit you (for example, you have trouble sitting the trot because you might feel stiff in your hip joints and stiff hip joints are often caused by the position of the pelvis and lower back) and clearly explains how to do the exercise and what to remember as you’re performing it (“Take one hand and feel your back. Is it hollow, rounded, or flattened?”). Step-by-step photos make it easy to understand.

Some of the exercises require simple equipment such as an elastic exercise band, an excess stirrup leather or a wooden dowel, and most are meant to be performed on the horse. If you’re new to eventing, be sure to read exercise 42, which explains how to bridge your reins, a must-have skill for any eventer!

Photographing and “Videoing” Horses Explained

By Charles Mann
Trafalgar Square Books (2006)

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Photos can help you critique your position, your horse’s form, capture a memorable competition or be a form of expression. Basic knowledge of photography and videography is a helpful skill to an amateur so you never miss that special moment. If you’re ever asked to shoot a few photos of your friend at a cross-country schooling, make a sales ad or show someone how to video your dressage test, it’s helpful to know even basic camera functions and composition.

Charles Mann, an internationally renowned equine photographer, explains it all in his book. He gives advice on the best camera to buy for every budget (hint: not a point-and-shoot) and explains general camera functions in clear, understandable language. Photos throughout the book demonstrate slow and fast shutter speeds, depth of field, hard and soft light and white balance. A chapter on lenses and focusing is particularly useful for those just starting out. Knowing where and how to focus is an important step to capturing the peak of the action.

Planning the perfect place for a portrait or sales ad is covered in depth, including recommendations for getting those perfectly pricked ears and capturing candids.

Two chapters on editing, storage and management of images cover basic Photoshop techniques that can improve your photos after you’ve taken them. Cropping, color balance, printing and resizing are all covered. A useful chapter on 25 common photo problems can easily help you fix issues like back lighting, unwanted blur or red eye.

If you’re thinking of turning pro or trying to sell your images, the chapter with advice on copyright, contracts and insurance is a good first step.

The last third of the book is dedicated to video, sales and promotion. Charles gives advice on the right camera, tripod and editing software and how to set up a shot. Perhaps the most useful part of the book for amateur photographers is the final chapter, which gives advice on conformation shots, head shots, gaits and movement, and ideal shots for different disciplines.

Riding For the Rest of Us

By Jessica Jahiel
Howell Book House (1996)

Although this book is slightly dated, author Jessica Jahiel’s advice still rings true today to the adult rider who has less time than she might want for her horse and maybe less money, but still wants to learn and succeed. The book is also aimed at those who may have come to riding later in life and discusses the advantages (including a long attention span, self-consciousness, body awareness) and disadvantages (including physical, emotional and mental fear) that come with maturity.

A chapter on reasons for riding asks the reader why they ride. Jessica looks at motivations, expectations and goal setting. She also covers general rider fitness, which is important to any adult rider, especially one who starts later in life.

A good instructor is important to every rider, no matter their age, and Jessica gives a checklist of things to look for when searching for an instructor, as well as what to expect during lessons.

While the majority of the book is dedicated to adults just starting to ride, it can also serve as a reintroduction to horses or a reevaluation for many adult amateurs. For many, the fun of riding can be found in improving the communication with your horse and striving to refine your skills, and Riding For the Rest of Us offers sound advice to adults of every level who are trying to achieve that.