Sunday 23 March 2014

Book Review - Real Life Dressage: Training From Novice to Grand Prix

The book is great - straightforward, encouraging, and very insightful.

I love that the overriding theme here is that each horse is an individual and there is no rush - no one training system is going to suit every horse and not every horse is going to progress on a schedule. As the title indicates, this is a book about 'real life dressage' with lots of tips and exercises any rider can use with any horse. This book starts with an overview of each horse Carl is riding, discussing their age, breeding, conformation, and strengths and weaknesses. The following chapters progress through the training levels and use horses from the first chapter that he is training at that level as examples. This book is more interesting than most because the horses are all quite different types, with a few not really being what you'd typically expect to be successful dressage horses. A lot of time is spent discussing techniques that work or don't work for each, but nothing is ever black and white, right or wrong, more like 'this worked for me with this horse, try it if you think it might help you'. I really appreciated the numerous insights into training hot or tense horses. I also quite enjoyed how each horse is encouraged to have their personality shine through.

This is certainly not one of those cookie cutter type books that tell you to teach your horse to do x a certain way before progressing to y - his approach is much more fluid and forgiving than that. I really like that the welfare of the horse is very front and centre in this book. It seems like every other page has a reminder that your horse needs to be fit in order build up the ability to do the exercises over time - even 'novice' things like stretching or canter work need to be worked up to gradually in order to keep your horse sound and confident. There are also lots of suggestions for getting your horse fit and keeping them interested and happy - everything from plenty of turnout and time off to hacking to conditioning work like eventers use. His advice to do lots of slow hacks with the hotter horses to encourage relaxation and lots of galloping and forward work with the naturally lazier, slower ones to get them more enthusiastic is great.

There is a LOT of technical information in this book, but it's worded quite simply and the numerous photos make it easy to understand. The riding in the photos is obviously amazing and definitely something to aspire to. I'll definitely be returning to this one in the future.

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