Quiet Riding

Equestrian Book Reviews

Book Review

Everyday Training:
Backyard Dressage

Hershey, the horse.

Horses must move well to perform well. In Everyday Training: Backyard Dressage, Mary Twelvepoinies illustrates how applying basic dressage principles can help the average rider improve his or her horse so the experience of riding improves. After all, “The aim of basic dressage training can be summed up as teaching the horse to go forward willingly under control, straight, relaxed, rhythmic and balanced.” This is why the author states:

I found that no method can produce the best results unless the basic principles of dressage are used.

While recognizing that dressage can be practiced exclusively, Mary Twelveponies emphasizes that “…if you prefer to end up with a western or English pleasure horse, jumper or whatever, then you should employ the principles of basic dressage in order to get the very best results.” She states that she wants to “…act as a translator and simplifier; get this thing down to everyday riding and training, and teach you theory (how you should do it). But I also want to let you know how to feel and apply it.”

The author recommends doing this work in a snaffle bit.

In order for a horse to be properly trained, he must be taught to bend laterally — bend his spine full length from side to side. The broken snaffle is the most effective tool for this training because you have independent control of each side of the bit.

She goes on to point out: “Even when showing a trained horse in the curb, it is best to do most of your homework in the snaffle to keep him sweet and working right.”

Mary Twelveponies also puts much emphasis on longeing stating: “Longeing greatly improves the performance of any saddle horse.” At the same time, she cautions, “I would not longe any horse before he is two.” She feels longeing is good for the young horse, stating: “…longeing can be so valuable in training the horse — he can get a head start on proper work without having to learn to carry your weight at the same time.”

Three of the book's sixteen chapters discuss longeing. This is not the “free longeing” so often practiced nowadays. This is the more classic way of longeing on a line that gets the horse used to contact and prepares the horse for work with reins and bit.

Regarding riding, she states:

…no colt is ready to be ridden before he is three years old. Those that are grown out early are actually weaker than those that have been allowed to grow at a more normal rate

The author feels that using verbal cues can be advantageous for the trainer as well as the horse. “Verbalizing can be a help to the trainer because of the subconscious relationship of his words to his actions.” Regarding the horse, she adds: “Tone of voice is more important than which words you use, but be consistent in using the same words for the same action.” She also stresses: “In all cases speak with authority and confidence — no matter how frustrating things get!” Realizing that not all riders feel confident, she adds, “It takes practice and experience to become such a voice of authority. Do not get discouraged. It will come.”

Mary Twelveponies also emphasizes impulsion. She states:

Impulsion is one step farther than going forward willingly. It is going forward with springy steps that push the horse lightly off the ground, making him a pleasure to ride.

She adds: “A horse must start to balance (carry himself) in order to start to develop impulsion.” And, “He has to develop his hindquarters and back muscles to be able to stay balanced for any length of time.”

The author emphasizes that a rider must be relaxed and in balance to apply aids effectively. She cautions: “Relaxation, however, does not mean limpness. Muscles must be engaged but not tense.” Relaxation and balance lead to the next step which is feel.

Feel of the horse means that without looking you can tell what foot is going forward, what lead he is on, what his head and mouth are doing, whether he is tense or relaxed, straight and balanced, etc.

When discussing the various aids, the author makes the following statement regarding rein aids: “Rein aids are just as important as the rest of the aids but detrimental if over–used or used alone.” She adds, “The most important thing about rein aids is to use them the least amount possible, indicating and yielding rather than demanding.”

The rider's back is important in giving harmonious control. “With your back muscles relaxed your seat can go with the motion of the horses's back while your upper body remains independent.” And, “Just being relaxed in the waist encourages the horse to go forward.”

Riding without stirrups is generally considered a good way to develop a secure seat, but Mary Twelveponies adds this caution: “Riding without stirrups is the best way to develop your seat, but be sure you do not hang on with your legs.”

Giving aids is not a matter of strength: “…trying to ‘squeeze’ harder will just make you contort yourself out of position and so become ineffective.” The author suggests: “Always relax an aid and apply it again if needed. Never aid continuously. Aid in rhythm with the horse's rhythm or in the rhythm you desire.” It is also important not to startle the horse when giving aids. “Flow into all these aids so you do not assault the horse with them. If your aids flow, then he can flow into the necessary changes; helping both of you to maintain your physical and mental equilibrium.”

Mary Twelveponies points out the importance of the horse's rear end when she states, “The horse's engine is in the rear and it must be engaged to make him maneuverable.” She adds, “The basic principle of all riding is to ride the horse forward from the rear onto the bit.”

Straightness is important when riding a horse, and the author reminds her readers that, “…the horse is straight going around a corner — or on a circle — when his spine is bent full length to the arc.”

The author also emphasizes the importance of rhythm. “The first thing you must develop in the horse is rhythm.” She adds, “…you can help him slow his rhythm by slowing your posting, rising barely off the saddle and staying down just slightly longer than his rhythm dictates.”

She stresses that the rider should take responsibility, giving credit to the horse when it responds correctly. “Praise your horse often for doing what you want, but examine your riding carefully when you fail to get what you ask.”

Mary Twelveponies uses most of the her book to guide her reader in details concerning basic riding. “More advanced work will not be any good if the basics are not good.” In the last part of the book, however, she introduces the reader to more specific advanced work with chapters on “Finishing for Pleasure/Trail Horse”, “Trail Class, Gymkhana, Endurance Riding”, “Reining the Stock Horse”, “Preparing for Jumping”, and “Riding the Dressage Test”

Buy Everyday Training: Backyard Dressage