March 2015 - Book Reviews
Written by CRM
Monday, 02 March 2015 00:00

When Two Spines Align; 101 Western Dressage Exercises

When Two Spines Align: Dressage Dynamics; Written by Beth Baumert; Reviewed by Lisa Heath

This book is an absolute “must read” for riders from beginning to advanced, from amateur to professional, and in all disciplines. Did you like Centered Riding by Sally Swift? Are you interested in more technical detail and specific application to dressage and flatwork? Are you taking lessons, riding on your own, or teaching students? Are you interested in equine movement in response to a rider? This is an excellent reference for your personal library, no matter your role or focus.

The book is organized into three major sections: How Riders Work, How Horses Work, and, lastly, the combination of horse and rider, How Two Spines Meet in Balance.

Each segment of the book is further divided into short sub-topics that are clear and straightforward.  For example, How Horses Work has 6 chapters including Ch. Eight: Balance Issues, Ch. Ten: Impulsion and Engagement, and Chapter Thirteen: Half-Halts.  The reader will not be bogged down in long, wordy script. Descriptions are short and to the point, easy to read; photographs and drawings are regularly interspersed to illustrate the major points of each topic. The chapter on half-halts starts out with the utmost basics (“What the heck is a half-halt?”) and expands into wonderful detail (including the “go,” “whoa” and “soften” parts of the half-halt).

Associated with some of the described movements, there are bullet-pointed short lists of common mistakes and the effects of the mistakes, or short paragraphs describing problems with solutions.

Most helpful, to tie in the concepts and bring them to life, there are exercises with simple steps which the rider can study and take to practice on the horse. In Chapter Thirteen: Half-Halts, there are 4 riding exercises, the most basic of which is Exercise 1: How to Do a Half-Halt.

The third section of the book, How Two Spines Meet in Balance, has an extensive discussion on the dynamics of bending, including some real gems that shed light on the inside leg-outside rein connection. This final section also includes discussions on long term training plans and the purpose of each dressage test level.

Author Beth Baumert offers a companion DVD, How Riders Work, which may be of interest to some readers. Additional resources to accompany the book may be found on the author’s website

I have returned to this book many times in the short time I have had it. Following a lesson, I refer to specific sections to help me review and recall the points. The text has helped me remember, understand, progress on my own, and take simple concepts such as “the bend” to a new level. I am also using the book exercises for coaching a young rider and his young horse - they are making great strides on the basics of leg yields, bending and straightness.

Reviewer Lisa Heath is a veterinarian and longtime rider in the San Francisco Bay area.

101 Western Dressage Exercises, for Horse and Rider; Written by Jec Aristotle Ballou;  Reviewed by Kathy Arch

Western Dressage is an increasingly popular new discipline in the world of horse enthusiasts.  Jec Aristotle Ballou is a nationally recognized educator in equine conditioning and gymnastic development as well as a national advisor to the Western Dressage Association of America where she helped write the current rules for this new sport. Ms. Ballou, along with Stephanie Boyle, Founder/CEO of Unbridled Rider, have combined their many years of experience in the equine world and written the book 101 Western Dressage Exercises, for Horse and Rider, published by Storey Publishing. This thoughtfully laid out book provides comprehensive yet easy to understand explanations on the art of Western Dressage with detailed descriptions and easy to understand illustrations for each of the 101 exercises.

In chapter one, “What is Western Dressage?” the authors present the reader with a comprehensive description of this new discipline.  Chapters two through seven, each focusing on a different emphasis in dressage riding-softness, looseness, rider development, engagement, adjustability and ground work, begin with an explanation of the topic and are followed by the appropriate exercises to achieve that goal. The exercises are further broken into three levels of difficultly-beginner, intermediate and advanced.  Each exercise is presented on two pages which give the benefits of the exercise, helpful hints in completing the exercise along with a large detailed illustration of the exercise. Icons from the visual glossary of dressage movements (provided in chapter one) are incorporated into each illustration.  With its vertical lay out and sturdy plastic coil binding, this book is perfect for taking out to the round pen or arena to lay over your fencing or on a barn wall for easy reference while practicing the covered exercises.

As stated in the foreword by Al Dunning “There’s plenty in here to benefit horses and riders at every level and from every discipline.”

With its ingenious layout, detailed illustrations and thorough explanations, riders will enjoy many hours of fun while practicing these exercises. Whether you desire to improve your balance and communication in riding on the trail or have aspirations of becoming a competitive Western Dressage rider, this book is a must read.

Reviewer Kathy Arch is a lifelong horse lover and enthusiast and enjoys riding her APHA geldings in Oak Hills, CA.