Any horseperson knows that when you train horses, you never stop learning. The more you talk to and watch and listen to other trainers, the better your own training becomes. There are lots of times, though, when you won’t have the opportunity to chat with another trainer or to watch how someone else solves a problem similar to what you’re dealing with. This is where training books become your best friend. We’ve done a review of the top three best horse training books we think every horseperson should have on their shelves. For quick tips or full training philosophies, these are books you can reach for every day. And probably should.
As a note, we get that “best” is a relative term when it comes to training. Every trainer’s ideas will influence people differently and what sounds brilliant to one person will sound buck wild to another. We’ve leaned towards tried and true classics that have been lauded by countless riders and whose principles and practices have held up over time.
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#3. Alois Podhajsky, Complete Training of Horse and Rider
- Features & Benefits
- A comprehensive guide to classical training
- Explains key concepts in riding and training
- Includes exercises for riders
- Features photos and illustrations
- Well-written and engaging
- Thorough descriptions of classical training methods
- Training methods put horse welfare first
- Written for classical riders; trainers from other disciplines might not find it specific enough for their needs
- Some readers might find it too philosophical
- Very novice riders might find the more advanced lessons less helpful
Complete Training of Horse and Rider is an older book that proves that good horse training never goes out of fashion. Podhajsky brings his years of experience as a rider and then director of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna to this essential manual of classical horse training.
A treatise on classical training principles as well as a technical guide to backing young horses, this book is separated into three sections. The first introduces the history and techniques of various schools of dressage. The second explains how a rider should be trained and the third looks at training the horse. This arrangement lets readers understand the basic theories of classical riding and solidify their own positions before tackling how to bring a young horse along. A must for anyone interested in training correctly and with compassion.
What Others Are Saying
Readers have found this book invaluable for over 50 years. Providing theory as well as practical instruction, Podhajsky’s work is for anyone interested in giving their horses and themselves a solid basic foundation. It’s generally described as well-written, clear, detailed and even enjoyable.
People frequently comment that this book has proven an excellent resource for them – something they reach for every time they encounter a training issue. Riders say they find something new to learn from it every time they reread it. It’s also highly praised for its insistence that the horse’s well-being needs to come first and for its timeless warning that there are no short cuts in training.
Some readers report that they’ve found this book dense. Comments to this effect often talk about the need to read it in smaller chunks to take the time to process all the information Podhajsky offers. Other readers caution that this isn’t a book a casual or impatient rider is likely to appreciate.
#2. Jane Savoie, Cross-Train Your Horse
Features & Benefits
- Explains key concepts, movements and aids
- Features a section on longeing and groundwork
- Includes summaries of key points
- Sample schooling session and troubleshooting sections
- Straightforward and easy to read
- Detailed explanations
- Easy to follow exercises and sample sessions
- Focuses on clear and kind communication with the horse
- It’s specifically about using dressage as a training tool – if that’s not your aim or your interest, this might not be the book for you
Savoie’s book is all about what a little dressage training can do for you. It’s written for riders of all levels and all disciplines – driving, endurance, games, eventing, you name it. She makes the case for cross-training on a number of fronts: that dressage loosens and strengthens your horse, teaching it to carry itself and thereby making your horse’s physical health better and your other training easier. Then she gives straightforward explanations of key concepts and movements in basic dressage and takes the time to show how these movements can help horses in all disciplines.
Cross-Train Your Horse includes exercises to try and logical training plans to follow so your horse can get the most out of your daily training session. It’s a book that explains how to do movements and why to do them without getting bogged down in theory or trying to convince anyone to become a dressage rider.
What Others Are Saying
Readers universally find Savoie’s exercises and training plans easy to follow. They say they enjoy her step-by-step explanations and note that she strikes the right balance between too little information and too much. Many comment that they were a little reluctant to read this book because of the dressage angle but that it showed them how useful dressage can be in developing a good foundation.
Reviewers tend to praise how accessible this book is and how simple Savoie makes it to put a little dressage work into your horse’s routine. Comments frequently mention the practicality of Savoie’s advice, noting that they feel the book expanded their skill sets. On the down side, reviewers have commented that the illustrations in the book are amateurish and not very helpful.
1. Sally Swift, Centered Riding
Features & Benefits
- Provides exercises to try out
- Unique visualization techniques
- Includes helpful summaries
- Plenty of images and photographs
- Geared towards a range of skill levels
- Explanations of basic riding techniques and biomechanics
- Focused on compassionate riding as well as horse-rider communication
- Highly visual, which is not for every learning style
- Some riders found the holistic approach too vague
You can’t train well if you can’t ride well. Centered Riding has been highly recommended to riders of all disciplines and skill levels for years and with good reason. It’s also frequently recommended for riding instructors because of its clear and precise explanations. Swift’s book isn’t just about how to ride correctly – it’s about building a solid partnership with your horse that will allow you to train without force.
The basics of proper riding technique are covered but with an eye to developing a holistic relationship with the horse. Her goal is to help riders become more centered, balanced, connected and responsive to their horses. She encourages riders to really be in their bodies and to stay relaxed in the present moment. Explanations of how muscles work and move are coupled with exercises in technique that show riders how to maintain relaxation and harmony.
The real draw of this book is its imaginative imagery. Swift uses famously unique metaphors and analogies to communicate that most elusive concept in horse training – feel – and riders around the world have found her methods effective.
What Others Are Saying
Readers have been drawn to Swift’s book for decades because they find her ideas clear, simple and easy to apply. They praise Swift’s ability to describe how things should feel and frequently comment that after reading Centered Riding they’re finally able to understand what their riding instructors have been telling them. Many people find their horses go better and their riding progresses more quickly after reading this book. Reviewers even comment that the book has helped them outside of their riding life by improving their posture and helping to alleviate aches and pains.
Reviews of this book are generally very positive, but those who felt the book didn’t suit them pointed to the visual imagery as a problem. Some more practically or technically minded readers found Swift’s imagery too vague to be helpful. Others felt they just couldn’t “get” what Swift was trying to communicate.
For accessibility, usefulness and relevance to a wide range of riders and trainers, our top pick has to be Sally Swift’s Centered Riding. Trainers of all equestrian sports go back to Swift’s book again and again to find solutions to issues and to make sure they’re being the very best riders they can be for their horses. This is a book that’s found on the bookshelves of top riders, instructors and trainers all over the world and will be for years to come.
Buyer’s Guide to Horse Training Books
You can’t read too many books. That said, it’s rare to find a library with a really excellent stock of books about horse training that you can borrow and return. Since there really is only so much time and money you can spend on books, you will likely find yourself in the position of having to pick and choose the books that are the most helpful for you. Here are some brief thoughts on how to choose books that are more likely to find their way onto your bookshelves than onto the table at your future garage sale.
The internet is great because it’s filled with people who have already read that book you’re thinking about reading. Not every review is worth the space it takes up, of course, but if you read through a number of them you’re likely to find someone who seems like they’re at a similar place in their riding career and is looking to get similar things out of a training book. Even if you don’t find that, you’re still likely to get a sense of what a book covers, what people have found helpful or frustrating and what people’s experiences of the writer’s style is.
Read Sample Pages
If you can take a peek inside the book, take the time to read a few pages. Every writer’s style is different and what may have seemed straightforward to other readers might seem incredibly dense to you (or vice versa). A writer can have the best ideas in the world but if you can’t get past the style you won’t get as much out of them.
Go Beyond the Big Names
Superstar trainers who have their own books and their own training system will swear that their system works for everyone. While every writer is trying to sell a book, remember that superstar trainers aren’t just selling books – they’re using books to market a particular method. Their methods might, in fact, be great. Their methods are guaranteed to be super specific and to show you one way of doing things. This means you might not get as much out of it as you might out of a book that’s geared towards showing you multiple ways to get desired results. Try looking for books on the topics you’re interested in (“trail riding” or “biomechanics,” for example) rather than looking for a book about one method that a trainer thinks works for all. Unless that’s actually what you’re after. You know you.
Scope out Second-hand Sales
Books that one person places lovingly on a cherished bookshelf might find their way into someone else’s “to donate” pile. Be on the alert for local used tack sales that might include books or used book sales that might include equestrian literature. Try used bookstores online or local online equine marketplaces. Equine training books are really a niche market but if you can find a second-hand source for them you can usually pick up a number of them for cheap, skim through and find the ones you want to lovingly place on a bookshelf and send the rest back into circulation.
Create a Reading Circle
Reading circles are great ways to find new books without having to buy a new book every time you want to read one. Organize some friends and pass around the books you have. Have each person in the circle take a turn at buying a book, reading it and then letting everyone in the circle have a chance to go through the book. You’ll get exposure to a number of different books and learn more about the style and subject matter that work best for you. The bonus with a reading circle is having friends to share thoughts and questions with. Having conversations about different ideas can give you a new perspective on them and having multiple people try out specific exercises will give you a much better idea of whether or not they actually work.
There are a lot of training books out there that will claim to solve your horse’s problems, teach you how to become an expert at all aspects of horse training and make your horse the perfect equine partner. While few books will actually be able to do everything they claim, when you find the right training book – one that will grow with you and stay useful as your horse progresses through the levels – you’ll have a helpful resource for all kinds of issues right at your fingertips. Or on your shelf.
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