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.


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.

Book Review: 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: Blyth Tait’s Cross-Country Clinic


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

Book Review: 40 5-Minute Jumping Fixes


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.
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


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


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.

Look…No Hands! Straightforward Cross-Country Book Review


I came across several eventing books while working at the National Sporting Library and Eric Smiley’s Look…No Hands! Straightforward Cross-Country was one that caught my eye, mostly because of that cover!

Published in the U.K by The Pony Club, the book was released in 2009, so it’s not too old. It’s available for about $17.00 on and I would say it’s worth it.

It’s short, at 112 pages, but I really enjoyed the conversational text. I felt like I was attending a clinic and Smiley was laying out his points in different ways with simple and easy-to-remember lists, key words and bullet points.

Smiley lays out his approach to cross-country riding, which I totally agree with–clear, fair and consistent. Clear communication between horse and rider and teacher and rider, asking fair questions of the rider and the horse, and making sure the question is consistent  every time it’s asked of the rider and the horse.

Smiley addresses both the rider and the instructor throughout the text, explaining how to ride each exercise and how to explain it to a student, which was kind of an interesting approach.

The beginning of the book features a chapter on how we learn, with both the conscious and subconscious mind, and how the horse learns, via conditioned reflexes. The next chapters explain the rider’s aids, position and balance with color photos showing proper position and explaining common faults.

Smiley briefly describes why the flatwork and dressage phase is connected to the jumping phases of eventing and lays out several trot and canter pole exercises before moving on to the phases and mechanics of horses and riders jumping.

He moves on to the basics of jumping outside, including the judgement of speed, riding a good line and riding up and downhill. The remaining chapters include advice on how to ride and teach a horse and rider to jump different kinds of cross-country fences and exercises in the ring to simulate cross-country fences.

I think this is a unique little book, full of useful advice and exercises for cross-country riding that addresses both teacher and student to create confident, happy horses and riders.

Book Review: Making The Time: An Expert Guide To Cross-Country Riding


I came across Making The Time: An Expert Guide To Cross-Country Riding by Stuart Tinney when I was working at the National Sporting Library, so I bought a copy. Published in 2004 by Blackwell Publishing, it’s a bit dated at this point and sort of hard to find (it’s available in paperback on Amazon for $54!), but it’s a pretty complete book on the basics of riding cross-country, which never go out of date.

Tinney is an Australian four-star rider. He was a member of the gold medal team at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and competed at the 2004 Olympics and the 2002 and 2010 World Equestrian Games. Most recently he was fifth at the 2013 Adelaide CCI**** in Australia aboard Pluto Mio, so he’s well-qualified to write a book!

Making The Time is fairly short, at 133 pages, and in black and white, which is unfortunate. It reads fairly dry, but if you’re looking for Tinney’s thoughts on cross-country riding and insight into what he considers important in day-to-day training for eventing, it’s worth your time.

The first chapter covers basic necessities for the horse and rider, then jumps right in to walking a cross-country course in chapter 2. It’s a little sad to read the section about figuring out your speed for each phase of the nearly extinct three-day event, but those who ride in training three-days might find it useful.

Tinney lays out how to save time on course with drawings of the lines he would choose in certain situations and combinations and uses photo sequences to show the different phases of what he’s describing, such as rebalancing down or up a hill and what’s considered a good take-off point for different kinds of fences (sloping ramps, angled fences, banks, etc.)

He includes a chapter on training for cross-country in the arena, and suggests several different exercises, like bounces, skinny barrels and creating a fake ditch for a sunken road using panels and polls.

The rest of the book touches briefly on basic fitness and interval training, horse management and horse types, but just doesn’t get specific enough to hold my interest. He doesn’t really touch on show jumping or dressage, which would make the book feel more complete since all three phases are related.

The last section of the book gives you a better view of Tinney as he looks back on all of the horses that got him to where he is today.

If you’re into collecting every book on eventing you can find like I am, or looking for a refresher on basics, this is a good one to add to your collection, but I think there are more recent, colorful and complete books about eventing out there.

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


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