The German Equestrian Federation first published The Principles of Riding over 50 years ago and it has received wide ranging acclaim as a reference for horse and rider training since then, it has even been recognised by the FEI! I am ashamed to say that this 28th edition, which the publishers advise has been brought up to date and modernised while respecting the classical principles, is the first time I have been introduced to the book. It feels like an old friend, however, and I’m sure everyone will recognise within it aspects that they have read in a horsey magazine or comments that they have heard during lessons or read from a dressage test sheet!
The book is exactly as advertised: a comprehensive guide to the fundamental aspects of horse riding (with helpful diagrams). There is guidance on almost everything you can think of: from very basic explanation of tack and the horse’s gaits up to more advanced dressage moves like the walk pirouette and advice for tricky cross-country fences like ditches and water. On a personal note, as the owner of a gaited horse, I was pleased to spot a little nod towards the “specialist” gaits even though they aren’t properly dealt with. There are entire books on the particulars of training and retraining the gaited breeds: definitely not a subject you would expect to be covered in depth in a reference book on basic principles, but the acknowledgement here is good enough for me!
My favourite thing about this book is the fact that a good amount of it focuses on the rider’s responsibilities and relationship with their horse. Some of it should go without saying, like the basic care section gently reminding you to groom and make sure your horse is happy and comfortable before AND AFTER a ride. However, having spent a good amount of time on various livery yards now, it surprises and saddens me to note how often people don’t heed this simple advice. It is important to remember our horses are not machines, so I’m pleased to see The Principles of Riding reminding us of this.
There is also a full chapter on “The Seat and Influence of the Rider”, which carries on with the theme of the rider’s responsibilities. This edition of The Principles of Riding has been informed by modern science and biomechanics and uses this to great effect adding to long-standing guidance about rider seat. Here, again, the section is interesting and relevant for most levels of amateur rider. It starts with the total basics and discusses the ideal seat for dressage, jumping and cross-country and develops through a discussion of rider aids on to “feel” as the ultimate in horse and rider harmony. There is also a “common problems” section highlighting the most common mistakes in rider position and aids – mistakes I’m sure we’re all guilty of from time to time! Any rider who has had an instructor tweak their position by about an inch and felt their horse drop into a perfect outline as if by magic will know how important rider position is. Ours really is a team sport.
The Principles of Riding is probably not a book that you would sit down and read from cover to cover as soon as it arrives on the doormat. It is an indispensable reference book that no equestrian bookshelf should really be without. It is a book that you are meant to dip in and out of. Maybe to review or remind yourself of the very basics (because we all need reminding of those time to time); maybe to back up something your instructor or a judge has said recently; or maybe to learn exactly what is required for tackling ditches or mastering simple changes as you move up the levels in your sport. A friend’s dressage schoolmaster recently reminded me just how important it is to get the basics right – this book is there for all of us who want to get the best out of our horses by being the best teammate they could ask for.
by Sara Godwin
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