Classical Riding, Johanna Sharples, Illustrations by Carole Vincer

Classical Riding  

Book Synopsis

An introduction to the principles of classical riding, with key exercises on how to adopt the classical seat and use classical training methods to improve your horse's way of going, in hand, on the lunge and under saddle. The book contains not only classical riding in a nutshell, but also practical exercises to try at home.

CRC Review

Classical riding by ‘Johanna Sharples’ is the latest edition to the ‘Threshold Picture Guides’ and is an introductory paperback book for those wanting to take up classical riding . It includes information on what classical riding is, how it is carried out both in the saddle and on the ground. It also shows movements for the novice horse and rider, such as leg yielding, to the more advanced, such as the full pirouette that can be achieved through classical riding. 

As a newcomer to the whole concept of classical riding I was looking for something which could explain both what classical riding is and how I would go about taking it up. I also hoped that it would show that classical riding could help me and my horse progress in a more natural way without artificial aids or forceful methods which have sometimes been recommended to me throughout my riding life.

I found the book an easy read and clearly laid out with useful summaries or tips at the end of each section. For example at the end of ‘The Classically Trained Rider’ section a tip given was; “Relax your face, lips and jaw muscles…” I found this tip useful as I had never thought of the effects tension and breathing could have on the horses’ movements and when I tried it I really was amazed at how much it relaxed my whole body and understood how this could have an effect on the way I ride.

Another good point of the book is its illustrations, they are well drawn and back up the text very well.  For example when Johanna is describing the classical seat, the illustrations show a comparison of a good and a bad seat and label the common faults. Although I found it useful to recognise what mistakes I could be making I realise a seat doesn’t have to be drastically wrong not to be a classical seat and it would have been useful to see a picture of what is thought to be a good seat in a non-classical practice and a perfect classical seat.

Johanna also indicates the importance of ground work, and being familiar with natural horsemanship techniques such as Parelli, I understood why this is important both as to your relationship with the horse and how it can transform the way the horse will react when the rider is on board.

Unfortunately the book is not all good. I didn’t like Johanna’s writing style as although the book is informative it is a dull read and didn’t leave me inspired or with any enthusiasm to take up classical riding. When reading the introduction on ‘What is classical horsemanship, why you should use it and how does it differ from other horse training methods’ I was surprised to see that it did not mention any of the great masters nor did it mention any other schools other than the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. This is a pity as the art of classical riding is greatly influenced by the way the great masters rode and the different classical schools based across the world.

I think the main failing of the book is that it doesn’t give any references to the reader i.e. bibliography , recommended reading or websites such as the Classical Riding Club which the reader could find useful in finding out more about the practice of classical riding. Also to it is a  great pity the book didn’t show in anyway how one might begin classical riding or contact classical instructors who could help someone make a start in a classical riding career.

Also, I could not see how classical riding differed from just ‘better’ riding apart from the fact that it seemed all the more a lengthy way to go about achieving certain dressage movements. Fortunately this isn’t the only book I have read on the subject so I am aware that classical riding is a special, unique and lifelong way of thinking. Also that it involves great dedication and passion and is vastly more rewarding than this book makes out.

Although the content was well explained and I did gain knowledge in certain areas as how to improve my seat,  I'm not sure I would recommend this book to someone who was looking into taking up classical riding.  I believe it gives rather a mundane outlook and could even possibly discourage them from taking up what should prove an inspiration for life.

Review by Jasmine McKinnon, Earlston, Berwickshire, Scotland


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