California Riding Magazine • October, 2012

Book Review
Riding Free

Riding Free
Written by Andrea and Markus Eschbach
Reviewed by Dianne Chapman McCleery

Riding Free, Bitless, Bridleless, Bareback, is a fun book. Who hasn't dreamed of riding like the wind, sans bridle and saddle? Internationally known horsemanship trainers Andrea and Markus Eschbach make the case for first ditching the bit, and carry that over to leaving off both the bridle and saddle.

The book, written in German and translated into English, is not just for those wanting to "ride free," but is also a book on basic horse and rider training. The Eschbaches say, "In this book, we want to give you clear advice on how to prepare your horse and ride him with as little tack and/or equipment as possible." They also say, "Riding without a bit does not mean we have been handed a carte blanche that frees us from the responsibility of educating ourselves and gymnasticising our horses." To that end, before getting to the "riding free" part, groundwork is covered. Then the Eschbaches get into the whys and hows of riding bitless, which make up over half of the book. They are proponents of Dr. Robert Cook's bitless bridle and summarize his research.

The section of the book on bridleless mainly explains riding with a neck ring. Once again, groundwork is emphasized before practicing in a saddle. One of the values of a neck ring is that the rider cannot compensate for an unbalanced seat by hanging on the reins. Advice is also given to use a bridle first with the neck ring, and slowly using the bridle less and less.

The chapter on bareback covers mounting, where and how to sit, and riding the gaits. This chapter ends with advice to check the horse's back to make sure it's not sore and post-workout exercises for him.
I appreciated the yellow sidebars of "Tips" and blue sidebars of "Info." For example, one Info sidebar says, "Ultimately, your equipment (bit or no bit) should never determine how safe it is for you to ride your horse. Your horse should be willing and obedient and responsive to the aids before you start schooling him under saddle. And once you get on his back, you should feel just as secure with minimal tack as you would with traditional equipment."

In the back of the book is an excellent "Riding and Training Quick Reference Checklist" that any rider would find valuable. Both horses and riders in Riding Free look relaxed and like they are really enjoying themselves. Even if you decide not to go bitless, brideless or bareback, you cannot help but smile when reading this book.

Dianne Chapman McCleery is a writer and editor who rides with a natural horsemanship trainer in the Sierra Nevada foothills.