California Riding Magazine • January, 2011

Book Reviews
Bringing It Together;
The Most Glorious Crown

Bringing It Together: An Approach to a Lighter and Happier Dressage Horse
Written by Ellen Eckstein and Betty Staley
Reviewed by Barbara Slaughter

When I first picked up this book, I thought – brilliant! It has a spiral binding so I can lay it flat while studying the exercises. The authors focus on three exercises that are meant to teach your horse what you thought you were already being clear about when you held him in front, drove with your legs, but didn't get the result you wanted. This book isn't a coffee table book; it's a practical guide to improving the balance with your horse no matter the discipline.

The gems of the book were the Critical Concept sections which summed up the key takeaways. For example, an exercise the authors refer to as Reach and Release (the rein) could easily be interpreted as being about the rider's hand pulling on the rein. We're advised that performing this exercise involves the rider's whole body affecting the horse by being connected to the horse's back legs. When I visualized this, I was better able to imagine how I might do the exercise properly.

Sprinkled here and there you find out what to do when things don't go as the authors intended (inevitable, right?). For example, when the horse does nothing during the Reach Forward exercise, we're advised to wait on the horse (among other things) to learn that he is putting pressure on himself.

I found that the accompanying DVD was crucial to the points of the exercises since the photos in the book are black and white and at times not as clear as I'd like. It was easy to see in the videos what the rider and horse were doing. The narration highlighted what to look for in those mirrors when you try it yourself.  

The only disappointment was that it was so short (in terms of actual content). Dressage-challenged people like me might hope for a bit more verbosity and pictorial descriptions of each point. For example, in illustrating how to use the Step-by-Step exercise to improve the canter depart, there were before/after photos. I have to confess, my untrained eye couldn't tell the difference. However, where the authors were verbose about the points and how to execute them, I found the explanations useful.

Overall, I'd say the value to be had in this book/DVD is learning about three new exercises that could help you overcome that frustrating feeling that you are asking your horse to balance and engage
yet he feels heavy or uneasy. The exercises can help you be clear about what you're asking and allow the horse to take responsibility for making appropriate adjustments.

Barbara Slaughter is an eventer living in Danville who has recently discovered the delight of furthering her dressage with her Selle Francais gelding.

The Most Glorious Crown
Written by Marvin Drager
Reviewed by Gretchen Davis

The Most Glorious Crown by Marvin Drager contains the trials, tribulations and victories of the 11 Thoroughbreds to capture America's Triple Crown. From Sir Barton in 1919 to Affirmed in 1978, Drager takes the reader through more than just the races themselves. He includes details on the entire life of each horse from birth through the sunset years, once their racing careers were long over. Drager paints a complete portrait of each horse, highs and lows, and the people who surrounded him.  

While the minutiae of exact purses won and exact fractions recorded for each portion of each race becomes a bit dry after the first few stories, Drager does include vibrant details that enable each horse to come to life. Nowhere is that better seen than for the champions from the early years of racing, through the 1950s, when Drager has a wealth of colorful commentary from jockeys, trainers and sportswriters of the day to draw from. For example, a quote from a newspaper of the day regarding the competitors of the diminutive Whirlaway, standing just 15.2 hands high, during his come-from-behind victory in the 1941 Preakness: "Somebody suggested afterwards that maybe they didn't see him go past."  

Having all the stories collected in one place also allows the reader to pick up on patterns and commonalities among the Triple Crown winners themselves. Man O'War, though not a Triple Crown winner himself, sees his bloodline featured prominently for many years. For several, though not all, of these horses their 3-year-old year would prove to be, indeed, their "Crown"-ing moment.  Rarely did these horses show the same success on the track in the years that followed, although certainly they tried. The 1948 Triple Crown winner, Citation, was brought back not once but twice from injuries, before finally being retired for good in July of 1951. And of the four Triple Crown winners challenged to match races after their crowing, not one would go on to win their match race.  

Drager offers a wider picture of the races themselves, as well. In later chapters he gives a short synopsis on each of the 17 horses to come heartbreakingly close to becoming Triple Crown champions, only to fail in the last grueling test, the Belmont Stakes. He also discusses why Triple Crown winners were rare from the beginning, often because owners did not care to race in the Kentucky Derby, considered in the early years of racing to be too far west to be of importance to good Eastern racehorses and, even back then, too early in the year to ask a 3-year-old to run one-and-a-quarter miles. Overall, The Most Glorious Crown does a great service to both the history of the Triple Crown and the horses that made it great.

Reviewer Gretchen Davis has loved horses since the first Black Stallion book was placed in her hands as a young girl. She currently teaches therapeutic riding lessons and lives in Escondido with her husband and two young daughters.