Quiet Riding

Equestrian Book Reviews

Book Review

The Complete Training of Horse and Rider

Ali, the horse.
Equestrian art, perhaps more than any other, is closely related to the wisdom of life. Many of the same principles may be applied as a line of conduct to follow. The horse teaches us self–control, constancy, and the ability to understand what goes on in the mind and the feelings of another creature, qualities that are important throughout our lives. Moreover, from this relationship with his horse the rider will learn that only kindness and mutual understanding will bring about achievements of highest perfection.

Alois Podhajsky begins this work with a brief history of the development of riding. He illustrates that “the art is not confined to any special country. It flourishes wherever human beings dedicate themselves to horsemanship and know how to cultivate and develop its practice, wherever there are experts, and wherever such skill brings pleasure to those who love beauty.”

Podhajsky's relationship with horses began as the son of a cavalry officer. He later served in the cavalry himself and eventually became director of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria.

In this book, Podhajsky sets forth the principals and methods employed at the Spanish Riding School so they may be preserved as well as made available to a broader audience. He states: “The experience of hundreds of years has taught us…that the principles of the classical art of riding have their imperishable value, because they deal with a creature of nature and not with a machine devised by the technical mind of man.”

The author goes into much detail of how certain movements should be performed, what equipment should be used, and how it should be fitted. While acknowledging that good riders will vary somewhat in their techniques, he emphasizes that there are limits which cannot be ignored:

Just as the work of a painter will be recognised by its individuality, so experienced riders will not all follow details in the same way and the results of their training will be influenced by their characters and physical abilities. But painter and rider have one thing in common. They both must have an exact conception of the work they wish to produce. Any method can be considered correct if it leads to success without offending the rules of classical horsemanship, because these are the rules that divide classical riding from the circus, rules in which all short cuts and tricks are eliminated

Regarding the time it takes to train a horse, the author states: “The ballet master, faithful to tradition, realises that perfection can be reached only after years of systematic training. Why should it be otherwise with the training of the horse, where not one but two elements have to be blended together in the perfection of movement?”

In this book (first published in 1965) Podhajsky decries training techniques and riding styles still seen in practice today. As an example, he states: “Attention must be drawn to a common fault: the rider should not try to seek contact with the horse's mouth by pulling at the reins, which would check impulsion. The horse should seek the contact from the rider's hands.”

He points out, “There are riders today who attribute greater importance to punishment than to the correctness of the aids.” He goes on to say, “The spur should never be used sharply as an aid, because it would then no longer be an aid but a punishment.” Also, “The use of the whip begins with just touching the horse's body and increases to a light tap but should never degenerate into a hard blow.”

One should not dismiss Podhajsky as a simple sentimentalist. He acknowledges that there are times when punishment may be necessary, but adds a caution:

This is not to say that when dealing with a difficult horse the required standard can always be achieved without punishment. But for the welfare of the horse and the honor of equitation, punishment should be restricted to what is necessary for education. The value of punishment should never be over-rated and employed as a substitute for correct aids.

Again, he emphasizes, “…before administering punishment the rider must be sure that the horse is disobedient and not that he has misunderstood or been unable to follow his rider's command.” He adds, “It is hardly necessary to state that punishment must never be administered from temper or because the rider is in a bad humour.”

The trainer and rider should always keep in mind the goal: “The ultimate objective of training must be to guide the horse with invisible aids. Two creatures, the one who thinks and the other who executes the thought, must be fused together. This is the ideal of classical riding.” To do this, the rider must know his horse. In the words of the author: “The rider must be a psychologist in order to understand, from the smallest signs, the behaviour of his horse and act accordingly. To be successful he must have the same qualities as a good teacher and know how to make himself understood by the pupil entrusted to his care.”

The author's methods are not exclusively for developing horses for high school movements. As Podhajsky puts it: “In principle the fully trained school horse must always be able to show the same standard of excellence as an all–purpose horse as he does as a school horse.”

Buy The Complete Training of Horse and Rider in the Principles of Classical Horsemanship