If you’re thinking about acquiring or riding a horse, this lavishly illustrated book tells you just about everything you need to know before climbing aboard that first time.
For my own part, the number of times I’ve been astride a horse can be counted on one hand, and as far as I can remember every occasion was more or less traumatic for rider and mount. The last time was in January 1982 at the Great Pyramid of Giza, when some Quebecoise girls I had fallen in with took it into their heads they wanted to tour the site on horseback. Against my will, I found myself cantering over uneven ground, acutely conscious that, in the event of a fall, there was no place to land that was not covered with stones of different sizes and degrees of jaggedness.
I survived that ride, and hung up my spurs. But if I’d read The Ultimate Book of the Horse and Rider, I would have been much better prepared; and I would have realized that riding a horse with confidence is a skill that takes time, patience, and determination to develop.
More recently, I wanted to learn about horses and riding as part of the research for my mighty work in progress. Back in the time of my story, the 1st century BC, the horse was a primary means of transportation on land, possibly equivalent to the automobile in, say, the 1920s: a time when it was known to be the best way to get around, but only the well-off could afford them. Looking to gain more authority, I went to the library, browsed the horse shelves, and quickly lighted on this hefty book. Yes, it looked just the thing.
The book is divided into 5 sections:
- Breeds of the World
- Horse and Pony Care
- Learning to Ride
- World of the Horse (about competition and racing
- Saddlery and Equipment
In Breeds of the World, the authors begin with a brief history of the horse, a description of the anatomy of “conformation” of the horse, and a guide to colors and markings. Then it’s on to an illustrated look at the breeds, broken down into different regions of the world. Each breed is described with a short article accompanied by a large photo portrait and a few action photos of the horse at work or play. From my standing start in the subject, I learned plenty, such as that most of the breeds have been developed in just the last few centuries. For example, the Thoroughbred, the only breed I’ve seen very much of in my life, was the product of a breeding program that was set in motion by England’s King Henry VIII when he founded the Royal Paddocks at Hampton Court. His daughter Elizabeth I founded a stud at Tutbury, Staffordshire, and imported horses from Spain and Italy to cross with native stock. Horse breeding and racing was pursued further by subsequent monarchs, giving rise to the phenomena of regular race meetings and of the Thoroughbred racehorse.
Modern breeds stem from just a few ancient varieties, notably the Arab, a fast, hardy, and beautiful animal that is still considered the gold standard among horses. Other ancient breeds include the North African Barb and the Akhal-Teke of Turkmenistan.
I was interested to discover that, apart from breeds, horses are also categorized in types, which may reflect their coloring, as with Palominos and Appaloosas, or their function, as with hunters and cobs. Any of these may occur across multiple breeds or combinations of breeds.
The rest of the book is laid out in the same way, as a richly illustrated guide to riding, caring for, and competing with horses. There’s a 2-page section, for example, on common horse injuries, complete with a sidebar listing the contents of a horse first-aid kit. The authors discuss how and what to feed a horse, how to manage the bedding in a stable, how to mount and dismount, what the different paces are, what the proper posture is for different kinds of ridingand much else. Toward the back there is a lavishly illustrated section on tack.
The book is well organized, with just about all the chapters falling in neat 1- or 2-page units for easy consumption, with lots of text boxes and bullet lists of key points. It’s clear that the authors love horses and are trying to instill the same love and respect in the reader. And for this “non-horse” person, they’ve pretty much succeeded.
I would certainly say that if you’re thinking of acquiring a horse, your first purchase should be a copy of this book. You’ll know what you’re getting into. And if you decide not to get into it, you’ll still have a handsome volume filled with excellent photos of all kinds of horses and ponies.