“Dressage Formula” by Erik Herbermann

 

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When I was eighteen years old I bought a copy of Erik Herbermann’s “Dressage Formula”. At that point in my life I was trying to train a grumpy 14hh show jumping pony and a green 6-year-old OTTB. I had a great thirst for knowledge but knew very little. I was earnestly trying to put into practice what I read and so the wrong books could have been a real problem. I could not have bought a better book than “Dressage Formula” though. There is such a wealth of information in it that I will always be able to pick it up and learn. It is written by one of the world’s greatest horsemen after all. But if you are new to dressage, as I was then, it is accessible and the format is absolutely reader friendly. As you can see in these photos, there are illustrations throughout, bullet point lists break down the ideas very clearly, everything is streamlined and simplified. You could not possibly end up confused by this book.

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One of the things I have always loved about this work is the choice of horses that Erik Herbermann chose to feature throughout.

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Atlantis – a 16.1hh Percheron – Thoroughbred cross. Atlantis is described as having ‘Klunky’ gaits, he was a family hack and hunter who started his training with the author at the age of 10.

Meteorite – a 15.3hh Standardbred cross who had been down the severe bit route and utterly ruined. Herbermann states that his ‘mind and body were knotted with tensions’ but that he was by far the most athletic mover of the horses featured in the book.

Barty – a 14.2hh Arab x Pony with choppy gaits and a thick-set throat area. Barty is described as having a very willing disposition.

Not only are these horses relatable for so many riders but, through the pages of the book, we get to see them transformed in the hands of a master horse trainer. Sadly this is not something that we often see! I have this book to thank for the initial understanding that there are great riders out there who love and totally see the point in training the ‘ordinary’ horse. If anything it helped a young person validate her instinct that these horses are perhaps the most interesting of all to work with and help.

Erik Herbermann’s love and respect for the horse shines through in every line of this book. It is a serious work, suited to the most expert riders and yet it made sense to me when I knew very little. That is rare too and I suspect it is a reflection on the brilliance of the author. Whatever stage you are at in your dressage education and whatever the challenges you face with your horse I would absolutely recommend buying a copy!

Christine xx

“Dressage Formula” by Erik Herbermann was published by J A Allen and is available from ABE Books and Amazon as well as from Trafalgar Square Books as an audio CD

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“Rider Biomechanics” by Mary Wanless

It might seem odd to start a book review by talking about the cover design but I think it is a really important facet of what makes a book successful. As soon as I set eyes on this book I was intrigued. The colours are well chosen and the design is clear, modern and attractive. Just above the title of the book there is a circle in which it says “An Illustrated Guide – How to sit better and gain influence”. This is the essence of what rider biomechanics can offer you. This is the crux of the entire matter for me. The ability to sit is what gives us influence; it governs every aspect of how we ride and how successful we are in achieving our chosen outcomes. When books about dressage talk about harmony between horse and rider it can seem nebulous. Many riders are left thinking that it is an ideal they are doomed to fall short of. This book makes its practical and effective message clear from the very start.

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Before I get carried away with talking about why I loved this book I want to get a tiny little quibble out of the way. It is the use of the word “elite” to describe certain riders and “average” to describe others. I was a little put off when I first encountered this description; this is why. As I may have mentioned in a previous post, I had a teacher early in my career who did me a massive though quite unconscious favour. The horse I was on kept falling out of balance and out of canter. I had been riding for a few months at this stage. I was very average and no way was the future me visible. I’m sure I looked like a soggy mess. He said to me “When you can ride Grand Prix I’ll expect you to be able to hold a horse in balance.” I believe that it was critical that he didn’t say if, he said when. Added to that I was in a place where I could watch incredibly competent, highly trained riders training horses every day. I knew there was a gap between them and me but I never though in terms of “I am average, they are elite and I want to be more like them”. I knew I could become one of them if I did the work; and so I went on to do the work. So I don’t like to talk about ‘elite’ riders and ‘average’ riders as though they were somehow separate groups of people. After all, thinking you want to become like an elite rider could still lead to you feeling inauthentic, even when you have essentially become one. A Zirconia can be very like a diamond but it isn’t one. Perhaps I’m arguing semantics, and it is only my personal opinion, but the impact of words on the emerging rider’s mind can be more powerful than we realise sometimes. That said, this book will certainly help any rider get from where they are to where they want to be.

I don’t doubt that maybe this book was written with the rider in mind who might self-identify as average. Personally I think that this book has a lot to offer any rider, no matter how educated or ‘elite’ they might already be. For all the wonderful inspiring horsemen and women who have been my teachers, mentors and muses, none have given me any of the information on which this book is based. They could not have done. The science behind this work is cutting edge; it is not within the accepted cannon of equestrian wisdom yet. I believe it will be and I really hope it will be.

For the rider who is in an early formational stage there is a wealth of clear, accurate insights, which they can apply to their personal learning and the training of their horses. For the rider who has an established seat, and even the rider who already has an advanced skill set, there is much to value in this book. Even if ideas that are pointed out for the benefit of the less experienced rider seem obvious to you, there will be a great deal that is new. For me it was not so much the ‘what’ as the ‘how’. I know how I must sit and I know the consequences for my horse if I fail in a particular moment to be what the horse needs me to be. What this book offers is a fresh evaluation of why and it never hurts any of us to gain a better understanding of why. It will make me an even more mindful rider and it will help me immeasurably as a teacher. This could really do to be a core text for trainee instructors. There is a lot here for the general riding instructor and for coaches in the specialist disciplines.

Thomas Myers meeting with Mary Wanless and the recognition that each had of the other’s expertise was a fortunate thing for all of the riders wise enough to read this book. When experts in seemingly separate fields meet they often see in one another ideas that will translate or inform something seemingly unrelated. I happen to think that all things are related.

This book is too well written ever to over face the reader but it certainly demands our focus. If you want to get the best from it you cannot skim read, but that is true of most really good books. It deserves and demands our full attention. The excellent illustrations supported my growing understanding of just what the Fascial Net is and what it does. My understanding of it prior to reading this book was minimal and hazy. It was possibly at a similar level to many riders. Thankfully part one of the book walked me through the basics that I would need later on. It is entitled “The Fascial Net and Feel”. The explanations are clear and gave me confidence that this book was definitely going to make sense to me. One measure of a good teacher is that they can explain a complex matter simply. This extends to writing and Mary Wanless is highly skilled in both teaching and writing.

Part One is designed to equip us with an understanding of the concepts that underpin the rest of the book. I felt that it does that very well. The subsequent parts are structured to lead us deeper into our understanding of how the human body functions on the horse, the role of the Fascial Net in that functionality, how it interacts with the Fascial Net of the horse and how that impacts the functionality of the equine body. The interplay between our body Fascia and that of the horse is the heart of the matter and the heart of the book. Far from being a dry academic synopsis of what can go right and what can go wrong, this book offers no nonsense advice for how to put things right between you and your horse. In this regard we get the best of Mary Wanless as a riding teacher as well as a glimpse into a fascinating aspect of biology, which is relatively new to the mainstream understanding. The knowledge that this book offers really needs to filter out into the mainstream and add its weight to the growing general interest in rider biomechanics.

I always say there is one caveat with any book about riding or training horses. Understanding alone will not make you a better rider. Only a combination of reading and riding will allow us to improve. The riding must always be the greater proportion of this equation but the reading is also essential if we truly want to change. This book inspires me to think, to reflect and, most importantly, to get on a horse and try to be better at what I do.

I would highly recommend this book to any rider, at any stage of their personal journey. I would particularly recommend it to teachers of riding at all levels. For those of us who want to make our students and their horses happier, more comfortable and more successful there are valuable keys in this book to achieving that. If you decide to get a copy please leave a comment and let me know what you think. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!

Rider Biomechanics by Mary Wanless is published by Kenilworth Press, an imprint of Quiller Publishing Ltd. My copy of this book was kindly provided by Quiller Publishing.

You can buy a copy directly from www.quillerpublishing.com

You can find out more about the work of Mary Wanless at www.mary-wanless.com