Quiet Riding

Equestrian Book Reviews

Book Review

For the Good of the Rider

David, the horse.
Most people want to be performers, not learners, feeling that riding — like life — should happen automatically.

In For the Good of the Rider, Mary Wanless tries to explain why learning is important for those who wish to ride horses well. In addition, she endeavors to explain how to learn to ride. The main supposition behind the writing of this book is that “…changing the rider is the most effective way of changing the horse.…”

This book is a sequel to Wanless' first book For the Good of the Horse. The two books were originally envisioned as one. With over three hundred pages of text, however, this book best stands alone.

Wanless points out that many people:

…want to be trained by a successful competitor, preferably a known name, and at the same time they want to work with someone who can relate to a rider at their level, and catalyse the maximum amount of change. What they do not realise is that these two demands are almost always mutually exclusive.

Riding well is not the same as teaching well. They are different skills. Wanless adds: “Neither is teaching the same as training.” Trainers may tell a rider what to do but not necessarily how to do it. She emphasizes her point by saying:

If you think of the phrases we so commonly hear in riding, (“relax, keep your hands still, get the horse on the bit”, etc.) they are all declarative statements, which tell you nothing about how to do them.

Wanless seeks to emphasize the how. She stresses that:

…the seemingly magical skill of riding really does have a structure, with laws of cause and effect which determine just how the rider/horse interaction will evolve. Understanding these laws makes riding far easier (and far more fun) both to learn and to teach.

Along the way, she explains the way in which we generally perceive our environments and how to change this perception. Combining aspects of both physiology and psychology, she addresses how to use both our bodies and our minds to improve our riding.

As an example of the importance of proper use of our bodies, Wanless points out that using the large muscles of the body to maintain posture restricts movement. Freedom of motion is essential to good riding. The author introduces another area of her studies when she states:

We, as riders, would benefit enormously from a martial arts understanding of energy, which translates into the ability to focus the mind, to use the minimum number of muscles to the maximum advantage, and to perform in a state of "effortless effort."

Another aspect of how our bodies affect our horses is brought out this statement: “…I am convinced that no rider will ever work effectively with her horse's asymmetries unless she can work effectively with her own.” In this regard, Wanless suggests how various types of “bodywork” can improve one's body and, thus, one's riding.

How we think has much to do with how we ride. This includes both how we perceive ourselves and how we perceive our horses. We can learn from failure as well as success. How well we learn, however, is determined on how we perceive our failure. Wanless points out: “The statement ‘I rode a bad transition’ is about behaviour, and is very different to ‘I am bad rider’.” We must also be aware of that to which we attribute our failure:

…to consistently blame the conditions, or your horse, leaves you far less scope for improvement than if you perceive what you could have done to mitigate the effects of the unforeseen.

Wanless points out that “A rider's orientation towards competition is influenced tremendously by whether her goal is primarily that of mastery or of winning.” A person who values mastery can be happy with personal improvement either in improved performance or in learning what not to do.

Good riding involves communication with our horses, and communication involves listening as well as speaking. Wanless states: “It is the lack of awareness of our own bodies which inhibits our ability to read and influence our horses.” While most people prefer their sense of sight, Wanless points out that “For skills like riding, we need to use our kinaesthetic sense preferentially to vision…” She adds, “…how can we possibly control our horse's body when we are not in control of our own?”

There is often a difference between what we feel and what others see. Thus, it is helpful, if not necessary, to seek the assistance of an observer, for what we feel can change as we develop. Wanless points out that “…as your body adapts, the right feeling changes over time. This can leave you wondering if you have indeed adapted to it, or if you are actually only half doing it…”

For the Good of the Rider is a scholarly work with an extensive bibliography. Wanless introduces many areas of study to the discipline of riding. While not always easy to read or understand, this book can be a valuable addition to the library of any serious student or teacher of riding.

Buy For the Good of the Rider