Dressage Books Worthy of Your Shelf

It is a question I encounter a lot this time of year when winter-bound riders hope to supplement meager riding hours with extra learning: what books might they find helpful to read? Where amidst the hundreds of dressage books available should they start?

sally-dressageAs an avid reader and student myself (not to mention author, as well), I enjoy offering my opinion on this subject. Over the past 10 years it seems like a plethora of dressage books has hit the market. While exciting that our sport supports so much written attention, the sheer number and heft of all that published material can overwhelm students. How do they pick just one or two books? Is it okay to gravitate to the books with the best pictures? Should they buy only ones written by the most famous trainer?

Several factors contribute to a book’s quality beyond its depth of information. What makes an educational book worth reading is its ability to present useful material in a clear way that leaves the rider-student with lasting knowledge. It eliminates confusion, the language is accessible and supported by illustrations, it provides broadly supported information rather than a single author’s personal rant. It should be the type of book you want to share with someone of common interest.

So, on that note, I offer you three dressage books that are worth adding to your shelf.

The Elements of Dressage by Kurd Albrecht von Ziegner. At 120 pages, this slender non-intimidating book by a respected German trainer is, hands-down, one of the clearest books on the progression of training from elementary rides up to advanced work. His descriptions of concepts and movements are simple and factual, never digressing to preachy or overly philosophical. von Ziegner popularized the term “Hangbahn,” or dressage schooling on cross-country terrain, which you can read about in the book’s final chapter.

Dressage: a Guideline for Riders and Judges by Wolfgang Niggli. At first sight, this hefty hardcover book seems meant for the coffee table more than for devouring. But, trust me, if you’re at all curious about the movements of dressage– how they have evolved over time, how they are scored, what makes them good– you will love this book. It even includes copies of old dressage competition tests from the early days of our sport, which are downright fascinating. Niggli is an international dressage judge; his perspective on dressage is invaluable and his tone is never stuffy.

Tug of War: Classical versus “Modern” Dressage by Dr. Gerd Heuschmann. This book, and its follow-up DVD, has helped changed the way a lot of dressage riders see and approach their riding. Even while being written by a veterinarian, its vital information is delivered in easy to understand language with exceptional photographs. It provides dressage students with the understanding of the horse’s muscular and skeletal system that must guide and conscientious rider’s training. To quote Dr. Heuschmann from chapter two: “Why is an anatomy lesson worth your time– time you perhaps feel is better spent actually riding your horse? It is my feeling that in order to truly consider oneself a rider, one must be educated in the horse’s basic physiology, conformation and behavior. If you know how the horse is built; how its skeletal, muscular and ligament systems work together; and also how its actions are controlled in part by instinct along with the other aspects of mind, then it only follows that you know better how to ride it.”

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