The Good (Horse) Book – What’s Your Equine Bible?
In the beginning, God created horses and little girls who loved them. The horse was not cheap, and pocket money was not what it should be, but the spirit of God was hovering over the arena of dreams. And God said, “Let there be books!” And there were books. Lots of books. And, for me, it started with ‘For Love of a Horse’ by Patricia Leitch.
As a seven-year-old who lived for the Saturday Riding Club at the local stables, Leitch’s novels gave me access to a life I couldn’t have. Whenever we went to town, I would scour the shelves of WH Smith looking for books in the Jinny series, paying no attention to order because it was less about the story and all about the horse. Leitch captured my love for an impossible dream and though I’m pretty certain I didn’t fully appreciate her writing, I do now.
“The horse was a pure-bred Arab. She came, bright and dancing, flaunting into the ring, her tail held high over her quarters, her silken mane flowing over the crest of her neck. Her head was fine-boned and delicate, with the concave line of the true Arab horse. Her dark, lustrous eyes were fringed with long lashes and the nostrils wrinkling her velvet muzzle were huge black pits. She moved around the ring like a bright flame, her pricked ears delicate as flower petals. Her legs were clean and unblemished and her small hooves were polished ivory. After the dull ache of the rosinbacks, she was all light and fire.”
Forty-three years later, I find myself in the happy position of living my dream – and still reading horse books. However, having grown up and out of Jinny, today’s library appears to be a literary reflection of my own horse journey.
Having come late to the ownership game – buying my first horse when I was 42 – and having been untroubled by anything remotely equine from the age of 13, my first purchases were basic fare from a giant book of horse breeds to horse care manuals that explained markings, conformation, tack and an alarming list of potential ailments and disorders.
Once I knew my snaffle from my curb bit, I moved on to the ‘honeymoon stage’; reading expert views on how to know a horse, think like a horse and basically join up with one because that’s where I thought the magic happened.
Of course, most of these books are pretty standard, and repetitive, and there comes a time when it’s less about the feels and more about the doing. As a beginner rider of advanced years, I felt a need to understand what I was trying to do and why things I was trying to do simply weren’t happening. It’s no coincidence that at this stage of my literary journey I was trying to train my ex-racehorse to strike off with the correct canter lead on the right rein.
As with most how-to-ride books, I was soon wiggling my jodhpur-clad ass down a rabbit hole of never-ending riding tips and 101 exercises until I emerged none the wiser yet achieving a correct canter strike-off perhaps by squeezing my inside leg or kicking back the outside one or shifting the weight on my seat bones. It’s hard to work out what was making it happen, it was just happening. But what I did know was that I wanted to focus on dressage – and that led me into the next phase of my literary journey.
In the space of a year, I read everything from Kottas to Hester to Loch. If Isabell Werth was on the cover of something, I’d read that too. I bought numerous books that promised me a classical seat in 90 pages and I memorised the training scales of the Germans while dabbling with the philosophies of the French. In short, I had a lot of information, and no clue. But it soon became clear that good riding was less about the doing and more about the feels. About turn. But that’s horses for you.
Today, I’m in a pretty happy place when it comes to my riding – thanks to my instructor rather than the books I’ve devoured. Of course, every book whose pages I turned served a purpose in that it made me seriously consider my relationship with my horses and the kind of rider I hoped to be for them. Not that the reading has stopped. I am now in the next stage of my equine literary evolution, and it actually feels like coming full circle because it’s all about the horse again. Only this time, we’re going deep.
I have books on biomechanics, straightness, the equine brain and fitness. My anatomical knowledge is no longer muzzle to dock but lateral nostril dilator to coccygeus. But the latest book I’ve picked up and brought home is a story that most of you will be familiar with. It’s a story about a young girl and her love for a horse. It’s ‘The Horse Whisperer’ by Nicholas Evans.
I expect there will be tears.