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.”

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.