Book Reviews

The Rider's Balance

"As someone who believes riding is best learnt when your bum is in the saddle, rather than by reading books, I was pleasantly surprised by how useful I found this book, which is by classical riding specialist Sylvia Loch, the author of The Classical Seat.

Excellent use of photos and illustrations with explanations get to the nub of how riders can use their weight, and the aid of gravity, to enhance their riding and help, rather than hinder, their horse in all paces and movements. While much is said and written about the rider’s seta, this is the first book I’ve found that clearly and simply explains how weight can be used as a positive aid.

I also found it refreshing that horses of all breeds and types were pictured, as well as riders from beginners through to advanced. It includes a foreword by Charlotte Dujardin, who reflects on the impacts Sylvia’s teachings have had on her own riding.

This book is a worthwhile read for all riders wishing to improve their skills in the saddle to benefit their horses."

CP (Horse & Hound - November 2018)

The Classical Seat – The Key To Great Riding – Latest Edition

"My first book review! If like me, you have few opportunities to get in the saddle but are really keen to improve your riding, I hope you find this review helpful in deciding whether this book is for you.  I find reading up on technique helps ingrain what I am learning in lessons (and gain a deeper understanding of it) and it lets me continue to feel connected to riding even when I am sat at home in London. 

First, a little about the author.  I have been aware of the name Sylvia Loch for a long, long time.  If you had asked me a few years ago, I probably would have been able to tell you she had some association with classical dressage but that’s it (I would not have been able to tell you what exactly was meant by classical dressage and, to be honest, I am not entirely sure I could now!).  Sylvia, already a horsewoman, became familiar with the concepts of classical dressage through her late husband in Portugal before they opened a Lusitano stud and riding stable in the UK in the late seventies.  Sylvia and her husband were instrumental in bringing both classical dressage and the Lusitano breed to the UK.  Sylvia is a dressage trainer and judge and she also holds an Honorary Instructorship from the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art.  She has also written numerous books and articles on the subject of riding.  Sylvia is a serious authority on how to ride well, sensitively and humanely.  That is definitely someone I would love to learn from!

The book I am reviewing ‘the Classical Seat’ was actually first published in 1988.  The second edition was published in 2009.  The cover reads “The Essential Guide for All Riders” and I believe it is.  I only wish I had learnt in this way back when I was a teenager, I would have been a far better and more sensitive rider! 

Sylvia frequently refers the ‘Masters’ in the book.  The authorities that she relies upon from these Master horsemen are often centuries old but as she puts it so perfectly, her inspiration for the book is “to seek out the best, break it down into simple language and try to put it across to people”.

Far from being a book about dressage riding, the Classical Seat is a book about how to ride, correctly bearing in mind the anatomy of both the horse and the rider, for any discipline.  The first few chapters of the book establish how to be on a horse without the aids – to sit quietly and in balance and to feel the horse.  Only then, does the book move on to correct aids.  This feels entirely right.  One of the things that I have been learning, through riding with Sarah Williams (https://becksbackinthesaddle.com/sarah-williams/) and the reading I have been doing, is that the way I have always ridden involved a constant background noise for the horse (legs on and off or clamped on, hands moving far too much) which must have made it so difficult for them to interpret what I was actually asking for.  Thank god that horses are such generous animals that even through all that, they still try to understand!

Early on the book acknowledges that finding the right instructor can be challenging.  With so many experts expounding so many different views about what is correct, it can be pretty confusing.  That is definitely something that I relate to.  The other point that the book drives home, is that the unrelenting focus on always correcting the horse’s way of going in lessons is not helpful, unless the rider is first correct. 

The first few chapters of the book clearly and rationally explain the importance of the classical seat, being in a position of balance that creates safety, does not inhibit the horse but allows you to influence him sensitively.  Drawing from thousands (yes, thousands) of years of horse expertise (going back to Xenophon, a cavalry commander in ancient Greece), Sylvia explains the importance of balancing on a horse in the same way you would if you were stood on your feet.  As she puts it “The rider must take responsibility for his own weight by tuning into gravity.”  Sylvia’s explanation of why certain actions (gripping with your legs, leaning back or pushing your seat about) actually result in the rider working against the effect of gravity makes perfect sense.  I definitely know the feeling of transitioning down to trot from canter without stirrups, gripping frantically and becoming so much less stable as a result. 

Far from being a book just about your butt, it also explores how saddle design and how the kinds of riding people have partaken in have influenced riding technique over the years.  Not only is this helpful from a practical perspective (is your saddle helping you or hindering you), it gives insight into why the art of classical riding was somewhat lost during certain periods.  Whilst high level on this point, the book gives some insightful guidance on what to look for in a saddle – among other things does it balance you over the strongest part of the horse?

From this book, I have learnt not only what the ‘three-point seat’ is but why it is important, why would you balance on two points when you can be more stable on three?!  As far as I can tell, when I first returned to riding, I was riding in a fork seat.  My pelvis was tipped forward and my back hollowed, with the result that I was tipping the horse onto the forehand and blocking him from engaging his hocks properly and moving with impulsion.  From learning what the correct seat is, the book talks you through the aids that it can give, to lengthen or collect.

I always thought I had an ok leg position, not perfect by any stretch, but you know – hip, knee, heel alignment.   The reality – that I discovered riding with Sarah but also through reading this book – was that I was turning my knees and toes out and using my muscles to give aids and keep me in place.  I can’t imagine that was great for the horse but it was not making me effective either! Sylvia advocates riding with your leg bones, rather than your leg muscles.  Rather than using your heels to give leg aids, using the inside of your leg.  Riding with your knee closer to the saddle in this way, provides a pivot point and extra security.

The importance of stable and correct seat on the hands is covered.  It totally makes sense that you cannot have a stable contact if the rest of you is out of balance but I had never really connected the two before.  Once again, I am introduced to the concept of allowing the elbow joint to open and close so that the hand remains still.  How, after so many years of lessons, has this never been pointed out to me until now?! Does everyone else know? Is it only me?

Sylvia provides guidance on how you should use the thumb to secure the rein, leaving the fingers free to influence the horse.  By using the thumb and allowing the fingers to be looser, it enables half-halts and transitions to be achieved by squeezing the fingers.

Of course, the book also covers how you would use your leg or the rein in different ways to influence the horse but the real magic for me was in how it deepened my understanding of what I was aiming and why I was aiming for it.  Better still, throughout it incorporates exercises to try on and off the horse to gain a better understanding of the issues with your riding and to correct those issues in a very practical way.  It is not just a book of theory, it helps you put it into practice.

I really would recommend this book to anyone.  It combines a wonderful knowledge of the history of riding with an ability to simply yet powerfully communicate what is important, why it is important and how to work towards achieving it, illustrated with diagrams and examples.  What more could you want?! For anyone who is serious about riding (and by that I mean, wants to be the best rider they can be and a good partner to their horse), you need this.  I don’t think there are many everyday riders who would not get something out of this book and most would get a lot.

If you are interested in knowing more about Sylvia, her website (http://www.sylvialoch.com) and the website of the Classical Riding Club which she set up are great (http://www.classicalriding.co.uk/ ).  There is also a great Facebook group that I follow, run by Sylvia herself, where a whole host of passionate people share their knowledge and experience.    You can buy the book direct from Sylvia’s website."

(https://becksbackinthesaddle.com/)

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