California Riding Magazine • February, 2013

Book Reviews
Training Tree for Riders; The High School Equestrian's Guide to College Riding

Training Tree for Riders, A Systematic Approach to Rider Development
Written by Amanda J. Berges
Reviewed by Kelli Harmon

Training Tree for Riders, A Systematic Approach to Rider Development, by Amanda J. Berges, is a refreshing read for anyone who would like to see today's riders in any discipline get a more solid riding education. It's also for riders without instructors, or who are unable to take as many lessons as they wish they could. Berges' credibility comes from decades of teaching and certification through the American Riding Instructors Association.

The introduction gives background on the training tree for horses, which she states many horse trainers use to ensure their equine students get a solid foundation of basic training before moving on to specialties. In regards to riders, Berges says, "My hope is that a more systematic approach... will become common, that frustration will be reduced for both students and teachers, and that the holes that are all too common in the education of our nation's riders will shrink in size and lessen in number." To this end, she lays out the steps - in order - that every rider should learn before moving on to their specialty of choice (including both English and Western sports). She also hopes to prevent equestrian sports from being performed as "tricks," with riders' core skills glossed over or skipped altogether.

Each step gets a chapter in the book, including Relaxation, Balance, Rhythm, Fitness, Suppleness, Feel and Influence. She lays out how students will progress through the steps at different rates in each gait, and continually asserts how learning the steps the right way makes riders safer, more effective and better able to communicate with their horses.

Berges is a proponent of beginning all students on a longe line, riding a steady horse trained to longe. What is especially good about the book is that the author recognizes that not every student, or student and teacher, will have the resources to follow her advice exactly. Every chapter has a section called "on your own" that caters to the instructorless rider. Berges has also included a chapter called "off the longe" that gives modified instructions to either riders on their own or instructors teaching students who can't start on a longe line, such as group lessons or students with horses that aren't reliable enough on the line.

There is an entire chapter devoted to "Position," where Berges' main point is that it's detrimental to teach position over the core elements of the training tree which, if done correctly will cause the rider to be in the right position—a means to an end. She writes, "Frequently... when you are watching a riding lesson, you would be led to believe that learning to ride is simply a matter of "posing" on horseback."

The book wraps up with guidelines for lessons and an appendix with lesson plans, making it a solid and well-rounded little volume that will benefit any instructor or rider hoping to improve their core skills as a horseman.

Kelli Harmon is a lifelong writer and horse lover, currently living in Los Angeles.


The High School Equestrian's Guide to College Riding
Written by Sloan Milstein
Reviewed by Linda Bierma

This book is a great help to anyone who has a horse-crazy teenager bound for college. It is often a difficult proposition to get the kids to seriously focus on anything that is not horse related. Sloan Milstein's Guide is well presented, lots of charts and worksheets that will engage the horsey high school student and make the chore of choosing and applying to a great college fun.

More importantly, by working with a high school counselor and parent, this book can help the student demonstrate to non-riders that riding can be an important part of the college experience, as it has been throughout their high school years. To suddenly abandon a passion that has, for most of them, occupied half of their life is difficult to explain to an adult who does not share that desire!

Not all teenage riders will pursue an equestrian related career, but horses will always be a part of their lives. The Guide has a chapter describing equestrian related careers, and a well written chapter on choosing a major, horse related or not. Additionally, it offers clear explanations of the different riding opportunities available at colleges and universities across the country. And the choices are diverse.

The Guide explains the differences between the riding programs, from the relatively small number of schools offering NCAA programs, to schools offering only club programs. The "alphabet soup" of organizations governing collegiate programs is very inclusive and each is clearly described. I would expect that even the coaches and trainers of these young equestrians have no clear idea of the many organizations and programs that are available to the college student rider.

In addition to great tips for handling the process of college applications, the worksheets are fun and encourage the student to think ahead about what they want from their college experience.
As a teacher of these aspiring youngsters, I put the Guide to the real test – actual kids and their parents, and the results were 100% positive – the students suddenly became interested in the process, researching different schools via the awesome references included in the Guide, and the parents were delighted to find options that will allow their children to participate in riding activities at college without breaking the bank. Not to mention that the kids were suddenly interested in delving into the possibilities! To quote the student counselor working with one of my students, "I had NO idea!"

So if you have or know of a horse loving high school student who is horse crazy and college bound – this book is a "must-have." Remember the reason the kids get involved with horses, the many positive lessons and values and friendships they learn at the barn. This book will help you guide them to continue those lessons throughout their college years.

Linda Bierma has been teaching riding in the Los Angeles area for over 25 years, and is active with the Interscholastic Equestrian League, and a past Coach for the IHSA program.