California Riding Magazine •February, 2010

Book Reviews
Lessons Well Learned,
Why My Method Works for Any Horse;
The Tevis Cup

Lessons Well Learned, Why My Method Works for Any Horse
Author: Clinton Anderson
Reviewed by Dianne McCleery

Clinton Anderson is one of my favorite clinicians. He’s entertaining, funny (the joke is almost always on him), and very clear in what he has to say. Lessons Well Learned continues in this vein. In the introduction, Anderson starts by giving us his background, the why and how he became the horseman he is today. The rest of the book is broken into 20 lessons. Each lesson starts with a story that serves to illustrate the text that follows.

Lesson 1 is a fitting beginning: “Frustration ends where knowledge begins.” The purpose of these lessons is to help the reader over the frustration of having things go wrong with their horses by imparting the knowledge that Anderson has gained over the years. He states, “What drives me is to be the best horseman I can be and help people understand and form better relationships with their horses.” The fact that Anderson has worked with hundreds, if not thousands, of horses and riders makes these lessons very valuable. By reading Lessons Well Learned, the reader gets the benefit of Anderson’s extensive experience. The subtitle of this book could have very well been “Mistakes I have made that you are probably also making, and what to do about them.”

Not all these lessons are easy for the reader to acknowledge, learn and/or put into practice. I imagine that many readers will recognize themselves and/or their horses in the stories. (The “Nagging Mother Association” hit home especially hard with me.) Lesson 10, “To change your horse you must first change yourself,” might be especially difficult for some. However, Clinton knows what works and what doesn’t.
Some of these stories are familiar and have been told at Anderson’s tours and clinics or in his books and DVDs. But repetition, when it comes to horses, can be very valuable. In fact, the section heading on page 163 is “Repetition is your biggest ally.”

If you are looking for a typical “how-to” book, then you should get Anderson’s Downunder Horsemanship or his DVDs. This book will not give you step-by-step instruction on how to disengage your horse’s hindquarters or do a flying lead change. It does, however, instruct you in how to make needed changes in your horse. If improving your horsemanship and your relationship with your horse is important to you, Lessons Well Learned is a book I would suggest keeping on your bookshelf and re-reading at regular intervals.

Dianne McCleery is a writer and editor who has ridden for the past 10 years with a natural horsemanship trainer in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

The Tevis Cup
Author: Marnye Langer
Reviewed by Rachel Chalmers

The Western States Trail Ride is California in miniature. Held to coincide with the first full moon each August, the 100 mile ride route traces the footsteps of early white settlers over the severely beautiful granite bulk of the Crystal Range in the Sierras. It is the brainchild of a local businessman who wanted to show off his region while bringing tourist dollars to local towns, and by both measures it has been a staggering success. Since its inception in 1955, the Western States Trail Ride has spawned not one but two entirely new sporting industries: the FEI and potential Olympic discipline of endurance riding; and through its sister event, the Western States Endurance Run, the sport of ultramarathon.

Marnye Langer is extraordinarily well-placed to tell the tale of the Tevis. An equestrian journalist, she is also one of the principals of the Langer Equestrian Group, which manages and produces horse shows in California and Colorado. As such she shares entrepreneurial DNA with Wendell Robie, the founder of the ride. Langer is at her best when she evokes this imaginative small-town booster who first rode from Squaw Valley to Auburn with three of his friends, at the age of 59. Robie comes across as equally charming and infuriating, an organizational whirlwind who caught up almost everyone in his life in his excitement and delight for the new project.

By 1959 Robie and his fellow riders had attracted the attention of businessman Will Tevis, who donated the trophy cup for first finisher and named it for his grandfather Lloyd Tevis. It is in her discussion of Lloyd Tevis that Langer first shows herself to be a little too close to her material. She acknowledges that in the wake of his hostile bid for Wells Fargo & Company he came to be known as one of California’s robber barons - but she argues that the effect of such robber barons was “bettering the lives of others,” a controversial claim her book does not necessarily support.

Some of the same over-identification with her subject matter is apparent in her discussion of the ride’s safety. Langer goes into fascinating detail about the evolution of the rigorous vet checks for the Tevis, and for its sister award, the Haggin Cup, which is given to the best-conditioned horse. She herself is responsible for an important change in the way the Haggin Cup is awarded - no longer in secrecy but as a public event, with explanations of what vets are looking for.
But Langer tends to downplay or dismiss the concerns of animal welfare activists - a possibly unreasonable dismissal in the wake of yet another horse death in 2009, when the Thoroughbred mare Ice Joy lost her footing after the swinging bridge, fell and broke her skull. No vet check can prevent accidents and falls, and it is reasonable to ask of endurance riding, as we do of eventing, whether horses can meaningfully consent to risk and lose their lives in the service of what are essentially human games.

That said, the most exciting chapters of the book by far are the blow-by-blow accounts of races, obviously written from the field. A more rigorous editor would have helped improve accuracy in one or two places: a Tevis winner’s name is given as “Major Motion” when it is “Master Motion” for example. But these are minor caveats. Langer captures the simultaneous grind and thrill of long-distance competitive riding. For those of us, like your correspondent, who revel in the beauty and courage of Arabian horses going over the mountains without necessarily wanting to have to get up before dawn and ride one for 20 hours, reading Langer’s book is the next best thing to being there.

Reviewer Rachel Chalmers has exercised Pete Rich’s Polish Arabians in Tilden Park, and will never forget finishing a 25k ride by the side of legendary Australian Arabian horse breeder Ron Males.

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