“The Riding Doctor” by Beth Glosren, MD
I must admit I got quite excited when asked to do a book review for the CRC. The book chosen was The Riding Doctor by Beth Glosten MD. As with any book on riding you hope to pick up on a few tips that will help you progress and improve your own riding and briefly after flicking through the pages I knew I wasn't going to be disappointed.
The author describes her own experience to which many riders I'm sure can relate. After taking a break from riding to pursue a medical career, she found that in middle age when she finally returned to the saddle, riding was much more of a challenge. Gone was the confidence and suppleness she took for granted in her teens, instead replaced with a feeling of awkwardness, tension and back ache. In her frustration she decided to turn to her medical knowledge to look at the anatomy and the workings of the human body so she could evaluate common postural and muscle imbalances and the challenges that we are faced with on horseback. She came to the conclusion that over 90% of the riders she assessed had postural issues. Some minor and an awareness was all that was required to remedy, but some had caused compensatory tension and dysfunction that could eventually contribute to harmful and misalignment of the spine and early wear and tear of the joints if not addressed. All of which would in turn preclude effective riding and add to health problems in the horse too by disrupting his balance and movement.
Throughout the book there are examples of real rider challenges to help us become more aware of how we use our bodies and how it affects the horse. She promotes good posture on and off the horse and to ride mostly from the centre (core) of our bodies with quiet rein and leg aids.
The content of the book initially looks quite complex, definitely a reference book rather than an easy read. The detailed diagrams of human anatomy are very useful for those of us who like some visualisation into how our bodies are structured and give a better understanding of how we use and mis-use our bodies when relevant to balance and the giving of the aids. She describes the correct spine alignment and the different habits we can adapt. She describes how supple joints are essential and how we can inadvertently use the legs and arms to cause tension and stiffness elsewhere in the body. What we do in the saddle isn't always what we think we do and every rider should be aware of their postural faults and reassess regularly.
Good posture is good for back ache and good riding.
As a certified Pilates instructor too , the author recommends various exercises tailored to suit individual problems and is very clear in her instruction that these should be done mindfully to retain a neutral spine.
Good riding comes from fitness combined with body awareness, respect and control.
Personally I like the book very much and feel I have gained helpful information. I also feel it is a book which I needed to read to compliment what I already knew about self awareness. If I had anything negative to say about the book it would be that the diagrams showing correct rider position show the seat too far back in the saddle for my understanding of the classical seat. The correct position in the saddle can make all the difference to good rider balance. This could just be an illustrative error though and in the author’s defence she doesn't really describe the position in the saddle knowing of individual preferences.
I would certainly recommend this book to any serious rider's reference library. It would also be excellent for instructers to help recognise and understand their pupils’ difficulties which are not always easy to correct.
The overall message being that :-
Healthy, balanced riding is not only beautiful but good for our health and our horses too.
We are all made up of the same components but how we arrange them reminds me of a saying by the late comedian Eric Morecombe. In one hilarious episode, when playing the piano, he was stopped by the conductor and told that he was playing all the wrong notes! His reply was :-
" I was playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order!!"
Book Review by Alison Lambert