August 2017 - Book Review - Dressage Sabbatical
Written by CRM
Saturday, 29 July 2017 20:04
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Dressage Sabbatical: A Year of Classical Riding at Lost Hollow Farm
Written by Rose Caslar
Reviewed by Leah Strid

Rose Caslar’s Dressage Sabbatical gave me a glimpse into the experience of a lifetime for a dressage rider: taking a year away from work, home and family to study dressage 24/7 with a classical master. I found myself laughing out loud and nodding in agreement in so many places in her story, empathizing with that moment of extreme frustration right before a major breakthrough. I saw so many of my own struggles and triumphs in Rose’s journey, and was inspired by the immense progress she made.

Rose spent a year as a working student for Paul Belasik, a classical dressage icon and author who utilizes Austro-Hungarian methods also employed by the Spanish Riding School (SRS) in Vienna. During the course of her year in Pennsylvania, aside from hours in the saddle, she also spent a significant amount of time immersed in Paul’s famous library, featuring books and rare videos that any serious dressage rider would clean fifteen stalls twice a day to get their hands on (the book features an incredibly useful reading list).

Rose entered into Paul’s internship with a second level Andalusian/Thoroughbred mare and a riding position that Paul made it clear needed an overhaul. She left with a completely retooled seat, a deep understanding of the proper use of a rider’s back, and with her mare schooling flying changes and piaffe. She writes with a refreshing frankness and honesty about the rigors of the program and hours of practice and breaks down theory, history, competition and controversy into manageable, entertaining bites.

Because the book is written in a weekly journal-entry style, the reader lives and rides alongside her as she engages fellow intern Ryan and Paul in complex barn-aisle theory discussions, weathers a small flood and large snowstorm, copes with homesickness for her family and boyfriend, and wrestles with anxiety about the challenges of being a professional dressage rider and competitor.

As Rose writes about both the personal and the professional, her journey through Paul’s coherent, cohesive training system stands out. Aside from the position and riding work, Rose absorbs a thorough education in how to train young horses up through the levels and how to approach retraining project horses. She longes, she double-longes, she long-lines, she works in-hand, and she writes about every step she takes in the sandy arena. The clarity of Paul’s system and how each exercise layers upon the next helps the reader follow her remarkable advancement over the course of the year. (Although her sheer grit and determination have much to do with her progress, too!)

Although I ride dressage at a much lower level, I was still able to glean many useful tips for my own riding, as well as ideas on books to read and films to study to continue in my quest for improvement. The detailed descriptions of body work, focus on specific movements and training techniques are useful to equestrian disciplines across the board, not just dressage. The attention to the smallest details, not just in riding and training but also in barn work, weaves this rich tapestry of a real-life story together.

The next time I’m tempted to accept some minor progress and “have a margarita at the crossroads of Getting Better and Good Enough,” (as Rose puts it), I’m going to pick up Dressage Sabbatical again and remind myself what can be achieved through hard work, sacrifice, and having a willingness to learn. It is a wonderfully inspiring book for any rider.

Look for Dressage Sabbatical in the publisher’s store at, or as paperback and Kindle on Amazon.

Reviewer Leah Strid is an Adult Amateur dressage rider with perfectionist tendencies, living in the Midwest with several Spanish horses. You can follow her journey through her blog, Confessions of a Dressage Barbie (

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