Sunday, January 04, 2009

thinking riding

Daughter came home last night with some books checked out from the pony club library. One, called Thinking Riding, by Molly Sivewright, has completely pulled me in.

The copyright is 1979 but it seems like a classic.

This, in the first 50 pages:

Correct work, fresh air and a certain amount of relaxation are necessary in the horses' daily routine for their proper development and general well-being. By nature, from their ancestors, horses are creatures of the plains; they love freedom and wide open spaces for their minds as well as for their limbs. The horseman can feel and share his horse's contentment as his equine eyes take in far-distant views and activities in the countryside, as he is allowed to pick his own way on a long rein, at a purposeful yet leisurely walk.

The full value of walking exercise is often underestimated; there is no better gait for putting on and establishing a horse's condition, for at the walk the horse moves his head and neck extensively, and all the muscles of his top-line are brought into play and are worked and developed, providing he is ridden correctly, and yet at the same time stress and concussion are less than at any other gait.

I love the writing style, and there are nice sketches throughout.


Laughing Orca Ranch said...


Sounds like a wonderful book. Makes me feel much better about my love of walking out with my horse. Trotting is too choppy for me, and loping is too fast. Walking along on my horse's back enjoying nature together is very enjoyable, and apparently quite healthy for my horse, too. :)

And I think when I'm strong enough, but still not able to ride, I'll try just taking Baby Doll for a walk out on a long line. I think it will be very enjoyable.

Thanks for sharing this.
New Mexico

billie said...

Klaus Ferdinand, in his book Dancing With Horses, has photographs of himself taking the horses out walking on longish lead lines as part of their training, to help them get used to many things out in the world, and also to build partnership.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Sounds like a good common sense book. In my opinion walking is one of the best and most underestimated exercises a horse can do. When done correctly with the right amount of impulsion and swing in the back, it is a beautiful gait that can incorporate physical and psychological lessons to the horse. As Klauss Ferdinand demonstrates,hand walking on a long longe line is helpful in introducing the horse to outside stimuli in a calm manner. New things don't seem as frightening when you are walking with them and show no fear. It's also wonderful to ride out and have a peaceful walk with the horse and enjoy nature, especially if you can incorporate some hills into the excursion. This way you're not asking much in the way of training, but his all over conditioning is benefiting along with his mental state.

I'll have to look the book up and see if it's still in print.

billie said...

Arlene, she also quotes ... hmmm, forgot his name, but his quote is: Calm, forward, and straight.

And she elaborates on how that simple phrase covers so much in both the horse AND the rider.

It's very practical but she also touches on some of the mystical aspects of the horse, which I love. It's very much in the style of the books I read about horsemanship as a girl, all written by Brits, and all quite good.

However, it did put me in an odd situation where I knew about things from reading that weren't done in the places I was riding. I often wished I could go to England to study horsemastership.

AnnL said...

That's lovely, re-enforces my opinion on walking out being very beneficial for both horse and rider, both physically and mentally. I had a trainer once who always insisted the horses had to be "on the bit" all the time when ridden, even on trail, and if I told her that all I had done on a 45 minute hack was walk, she would roll her eyes and say that he might as well have just been standing around in the paddock. :-( Obviously, I didn't stay with her very long. I do get a forward, marching walk with a nice swing through the back, but on the buckle unless there's something exciting about. Even if the horse doesn't benefit, I need some time to just dawdle around with my head in the clouds. :-)

billie said...

Ann, I agree - the walking on the buckle, with a nice swing and some engagement from behind, is healthy for the horse AND rider.

One thing I find sad is when upper level riders focus so much on being "correct" - but when you look at the muscle development on their horses, you see the evidence right there in the over-blown neck muscles. They're not moving correctly at all if they have those neck bulges that come from being ridden in that tight, often considered "appropriate" frame.

AnnL said...

YES!! I hate that!! The poor horses never get to stretch out and really work all their topline muscles longitudinally.

One of the many things I love about my current instructors (well, ok, I haven't ridden w/one for a couple of years, but I still consider her my instructor) is that they will both take their GP horses on hunter paces and fun things like that!

billie said...

Ann, we have a local trainer who offers what she calls "sport horse agility" sessions at most of the local dressage shows. She gets horses and riders out of the arena and doing fun stuff with obstacles, baby jumps, etc.

There was someone nearby also doing clinics teaching dressage riders how to work cows! I heard from a few women that took the clinic that it was the absolute best thing they'd ever done - it apparently worked like nothing ever had to deal with spooking issues when outside the arena.

One of things I like about my arena is that it has a gate to the back field. I often open that up and do a little work, take a ride through the field, come back to do some more work, etc. Keil Bay loves that.

AnnL said...

Kathy, my trainer, the one who gives me all those fun exercises that inspire you, teaches riders from other disciplines,not just dressage. I've seen her working with reiners. Obviously, she's working with them on suppling exercises, not the actual western discipline. But, the basic training is (or should be) the same, no matter the discipline.

I recall boarding at a couple of dressage barns where I would be the only one to ever go out on trail. I felt so bad for the horses to never get out and have fun.

I've jumped a few streams and logs with Jeeves, but I never advanced past the close-my-eyes-hold-my-breath-and-grab-mane level of jumping! ;-) I can do some cross rails, and I do have some cavaletti that I should use more often.

Matthew said...


I started looking at that book too after Kenzie picked it out. It definitely had the very direct and forthright "old style" of instructional books instead of the modern slightly schmaltzy and syrupy flavor of most of today's "how to" tomes.

It brought back memories of many years curled up in a corner with a stack of old library books from my childhood.

billie said...

I think at the foundation of all disciplines there needs to be some basic work and basic pleasure that finds its way into riding, especially lessons.

I read someplace a few months back that Hanoverians, and maybe warmbloods in general, warm up best when taken for a nice canter/gallop before settling into focused dressage work.

It was shortly after reading that when I discovered Keil Bay really wakes up and gets excited if there are a couple of baby jumps in the arena that I can pop over with him.

He's always been a horse who wakes up outside the arena, but since I've owned him we haven't had a place where I could take him out on trails w/o hauling.

We love this farm but if we can't buy the adjoining land at some point we will probably look for a farm in a small town an hour away that has deeded land (over 3000 acres) set aside for riding and driving. You have to pay more to get a farm with deeded access to that property, but imo it would be so worth it.

billie said...

Matthew, I agree. It has a completely different tone, and one that is quite lovely and peaceful.

jme said...

dont' you just love the old-timey riding books best? this sounds like a book for me!

calm, forward and straight is my riding mantra, and it absolutely form the foundation for all correct riding.

i've always been a fan of walking horses, to the point where i'd say 80% or more of our work is walking! and as our horses are roughed off over the winter, when we start them back in the spring they'll work up to walking for an hour before we even think of adding trot or canter.

this philosophy used to get a lot of rude comments when we shared facilities with other trainers, but the proof was in my horses' relaxation, willingness, beautifully muscled toplines, etc.

there is a great diagram in philippe karl's book on long-reining that shows the longitudinal and lateral range of movement of the horse in walk, and it is proof to me that, not only does the walk work the whole horse without stress, but it makes it impossible to hold the horse in a frame and still get correct movement and development. 'frame' riding (what most people refer to, imo somewhat incorrectly, as 'on the bit,') as far as i'm concerned, is for trot only (which is also why i never let a horse walk or canter in side reins!) and the rest must be done with close attention to a light, following hand and seat.

i always walk on a long rein, even when there is contact, to allow for that full range of motion...

billie said...

The trainer I plan to work with very soon has said in a workshop that when she looks at a horse she always looks at the walk, not the trot or canter, b/c if the horse has a lovely walk, you can build the other gaits, but if the walk is "bad" it's a much harder task to get rhythm and relaxation, and on up the training scale.

I'm finding that it's far easier for me to spot things "off" at the walk, even though I know the trot is more often used for spotting lameness. There's a certain swing that is either present or not in the walk, and if it's there, it seems to follow that most other stuff is okay.

I'm still very much a novice at lameness evaluation, but I'm interested in learning more.

Thanks for your great comment - I love reading your take on things. :)