Kottas on Dressage, Arthur Kottas with Julie Rowbotham

Publishers – Kenilworth Press - ISBN: 9781905693054

Arthur Kottas  

Book Synopsis

Kottas on Dressage is a distillation of the practice and philosophy of one of the most highly regarded international trainers of the current era. Having stressed the need for the rider to establish correct posture and a thorough understanding of the aids before attempting to train the horse, the book highlights the value of establishing rapport with the horse and enhancing his mental responses and developing his physique with groundwork before progressing to work under saddle. The text then focuses on thorough, incremental development of the basic gaits, explains the value and execution of the lateral exercises and introduces advanced work including tempi changes, pirouettes, piaffe and passage. A number of commonly encountered problems are analysed, and remedies offered. Underpinning the whole text is the authors fundamental stance on horses and training: I always see the horse as a partner. He must be trained slowly and patiently.

CRC Review

Arthur Kottas, former Chief Rider of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna could well be considered the greatest living authority on the correct schooling of horse and rider today – and rightly so.  Not only is his scholarship - 40 plus years of learning, practice and ultimately, direction of the work at Vienna, impeccable - but he is articulate, clear and all-encompassing of ethos.  Moreover, and quite unusual in these days where celebrity may over-shadow the spirit of riding, horses adore him.

I have seen Kottas irritated, impatient even – but only with the rider, never the horse.

In the way of the best classical tradition of the past, he always puts the horse first and if any movement is incorrectly done or the result is not what was required, it is of course the rider’s responsibility.  His eyes light up when horses approach him, he approaches them with soft eyes, apt body language and a soothing voice.  For me, this Master is a joy to watch and on those fortunate occasions that I trained with him – the benefits were real and lasting – for me and my horses.

Many people have awaited this book for a long time.  I think at first I was disappointed it was not one of these huge, glossy tomes that have become associated recently with certain ‘names’ in the horse world.  There are one or two out there which look more important than the people who wrote them… which may sound a trifle unfair… but is in fact the truth.

Kottas on Dressage is more of a handbook than a tome; but actually, that is rather the point.  Although glossy and handsome, it is not designer for the coffee-table; rather it is a book to be handled well, read and re-read, tucked in the pocket of the car on the way to a lesson, studied in bed – if that’s your habit – shown to others and dipped into … endlessly. 

It is clear, concise and informative – like the author himself and it is beautifully laid out with bullet points and sub-headings for every aid, every movement, every eventuality.  In some places the tone reminds me of Nuno Oliveira’s first book Reflections on Equestrian Art because much of the more technical work is dealt with economically, with approachable, crystal clear gems of advice.

It is not over-cluttered with hundreds of pictures and diagrams; instead all are meaningful. Those attractive photos of Caroline, daughter of the author are extremely well chosen to show exactly what needs to be shown in each section.  Further insight is provided by a number of subtly coloured drawings and I can just imagine Arthur directing these in a very exacting way.   The minute adjustments required for each and every illustration, each position and attitude of both horse and rider, can be as time-consuming as the writing itself.  As in riding, a couple of millimetres here, a different emphasis there … can make all the difference – so speaks another author.

Kottas’ descriptions and images remind me of all I learned in the Iberian Peninsula not only with my late British cavalry instructor husband Henry Loch but also from the riders of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art and the great bullfighting maestros, the Telles, Manuel Conde, the Spanish Domecqs and others. and others whose influence was all lightness in the grand Versailles tradition.  While many will argue the classical schools change from country to country, the rider’s seat thankfully does not.  There may be national differences in style, but all extol the same proud upper body posture and vertical, balanced seat.   Kottas, very naturally, is no exception. 

Throughout, we are treated to insights that even the best riders should remind themselves of - often.  The necessity to refine the aids, the tiny touches that can either motivate or destroy the horse’s own natural equilibrium and spirit are all here and in a cohesive ordered fashion.  Valuable tips such as:
Do not put your legs in one fixed point – let them loose to free the upper body
Sit tall in the saddle as though you were a tree
Stretch your legs and toes down like roots reaching for water
Relax the lower part of your face, smile from the inside…
The softening or lightening of the hands is done every time a desired result is obtained
Give you hands back to the horse ‘give him his mouth’ and hold him with your chest and belt
Command your horse with your upper torso, the rest is secondary!
Generally, a good schooling session starts with a good-quality walk.

Oh…. If only all instructors taught like this today!  We would have no need for draw reins, for ugly pushing seats, for nodding ‘turkey’ heads, for pulling or for pushing and all the other horrors that we see not only in the jumping and dressage arena but in our riding schools, pony club and even out hacking.

How many teachers and trainers would benefit from studying Kottas’ advice on riding corners correctly, how to lunge the rider correctly, how to commence the work in hand, how to improve the walk of a young horse, how to avoid crookedness and align the horse’s shoulders correctly for straightness, and so on and so forth - how… how… how?

Basically, in this book you will find it all.  It would be hard not to sound smug by saying there is not one word with which I would not agree.  I also feel this book should be a bible for anyone who purports to train horses and riders.  Might the BHS and ABRS not make a start by insisting that every one of their instructors, examiners and rule-makers read this book from beginning to end and actually follow its advice?  Now there’s a thought.  As for CRC Members, please seek it out at our 15th Anniversary Event or on our website.  We are supplying signed copies courtesy of CRC Member Arthur and his publishers Kenilworth Press.  I cannot thank them enough for this privilege.

Review by Sylvia Loch, Roxburghshire, Scotland


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