Dispatches from “Modern Showjumping”

A few weeks ago, I picked up a copy of a book titled Modern Showjumping by one Count Ilias Toptani.

I’d never heard of Count Toptani, so I did a little reading on him before starting the book. He was a member of the Albanian royal family who competed as an international showjumper in the 1940s & 1950s. He also coached South American showjumping teams to success in the same era. He was frustrated with the typical design of English saddles, which he felt were too bulky and placed the rider in a terrible position to jump. So Count Toptani redesigned the English saddle: a lightweight (9 lbs), narrow-waisted saddle with the stirrup bars recessed inside the saddle tree. His influence in saddle design is still seen in today’s close contact saddles and the Count Toptani MkII and MkV are still in production. You can find the saddles, and the whole fascinating story of the man’s saddle crusade on this website.
Modern Showjumping was originally published in 1954 and revised in 1972. I have a copy of the revised edition, printed in 1973. 
The contents of the book are fascinating, and I feel Toptani’s advice is sound. Here are some highlights:
“Every young horse needs to be taught respect for man. Respect it can get only if correctly treated- with kindness when good and with a little harshness when spiteful. Young colts are just as spiteful and mischievous as young boys and quite as nasty- if they can get away with it.” (p. 39)
“We must always bear in mind that neither young nor old horses love man. It is a popular fallacy that horses often love their masters- only dogs will do that and no other animal I know of. The horse just about ‘tolerates’ man, if trained correctly and broken in with patience. The horse truly loves only three things: to eat, to sleep and to roll happily on a dunghill after careful grooming!” (p. 39)
“I observed earlier that the horse does not need to be a perfect haute ecole horse before starting to learn to jump, but like the rider, it must have elementary dressage training before being taught anything else.” (p. 45)
“This, in a nutshell, is the whole theory of modern show jumping:

(1) Remember that you are only a passenger, so be as little of a burden as possible.

(2) It is the horse that is jumping, not you, so let it jump freely at the speed it requires.
(3) Let the horse decide when it has to take its forelegs off the ground and jump. Never try to show it when to jump- the horse knows better than you do.” (p. 50)
“The best thing is to ride, ride boldly and with decision, give the horse encouragement and the necessary speed to get over the obstacle and not bother about when or how the horse is going to do it. Remember, horses have horse-sense and four strong legs of their own.” (p. 55)
“The worst thing a rider can possibly do is to slow down his horse.” (p. 95)
“I admit that at first it was most difficult to make the riders see my point when I introduced this new saddle. Practically all insisted that any old saddle was good enough for a good rider and that a good rider did not need such a ‘sissy’ contraption to win an event! This attitude was naturally too stupid to bother with…” (p. 133)
“The indicated bit for a show jumper is the snaffle with a drop noseband. Personally, I prefer a soft flexible rubber snaffle to an ordinary one.” (p. 145)
“To my mind the moment a horse needs a standing martingale to get its nose down it no longer has any business in a show ring. It should either be in the manege or in a vegetable cart!” (p. 147)
“Moreover, if the horse needs a standing martingale, it is entirely your fault and the horse is being penalized by your mistakes. My advice is: if the horse is not entirely ruined, take this terrible contraption off and throw it away; take your horse back into the manege and start working it properly by sitting correctly and using your legs as they should be used.” (p. 148)
“If you want to enjoy riding and jumping it is essential to remember the following points:
Never rush the training of your horse.
Never brutalise your horse.
Never try to teach your horse something you don’t know yourself.
Never lose your patience- a horse does not reason like you but like a horse!
Never rely on luck and hope for the best.
Never try to place your horse at a jump.
NEVER try to overcome the efforts of your wrong seat and lack of training by short cuts. Take your horse back into the manege and start again. It will pay in the end.” (p. 150)
Count Toptani also has advice for training the aspiring rider, which includes a great deal of flat work before tackling fences. Count Toptani would like riders to be able to perform an “around the world” movement (you know, where you sit on the horse and turn 360 degrees) at the canter before they even think about jumping, along with a variety of other exercises designed to develop an independent seat, hand, and leg.
He also has advice on training horses to jump and conditioning them. He recommends an hour of slow walking, trotting, and cantering every day in a small arena (or manege, as he calls it) with no reins. As for jumping? As long as you don’t make a big deal of it and reward the horse generously, you will eventually have a lovely show jumper.
I enjoyed this book thoroughly, and would definitely recommend it to anyone with an interest in jumping. While I’m not sure that I’ll succeed at performing around the world while cantering, Count Toptani has inspired me to try!

Books with horses on the cover

I’d like to introduce a new feature here on Hand Gallop: Books With Horses On The Cover (or BWHOTC for short!). Is there a better name for this? Probably. Can I think of one? No. (Suggestions are, however, welcome.)

When I had friends in town last weekend, one of the Tulsa institutions I dragged them to was Gardner’s Used Books. While it’s notable for being Oklahoma’s largest used bookstore (at a whopping 23,000 square feet), I enjoy it for its little charms: the slightly squishy carpeting, labyrinth-like layout, musty smell, confusing checkout line, and endless selection of books. My friends are both archivists with an appreciation for old books, so while they were perusing the history section, I found the animal section. I scored Modern Showjumping by Count Toptani, Practical Horseman’s Book of Horsekeeping from the 1980s, and The Treasury of Horses. None were over $5.

However, those books, while fine and interesting tomes, aren’t what I want to share with you today. What I want to tell you about is the absolute glut of fantasy novels featuring horses on the cover. Now, I am a huge fantasy and sci-fi fan. I read it all: the good, the bad, the ugly. Don’t ask me how many times I’ve read Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series. Lord of the Rings? Check. Tamora Pierce’s The Song of the Lioness series? Check. Everything Terry Pratchett has ever written? Check.

So when Johnny finds novels with ridiculous looking covers (which are rampant in Gardner’s), I usually buy them. When they have horses on the cover? Well, what do you think led me to Mercedes Lackey’s Heralds of Valedmar series and Kristin Britain’s Green Rider books? THE HORSES, DUH.

Now, I said all that to say this: The BWHOTC feature will cover just that- books with horses on the cover. They’re probably not horse books. Horses may not even feature very prominently in them. But I like to read, and having a horse on the cover is as good a reason as any to pick up a new novel.

Today’s book is Pigs Don’t Fly by Mary Brown.

How could I not want to read this book? There’s a horse, a winged pig riding said horse, a dog, a blindfolded man clutching the horse’s tail, and a woman with a staff. Plus, the horse isn’t wearing a bridle, which suggests some sort of mystical force at work- or a gross oversight. Either way, it’s fun, right?!
Pigs Don’t Fly begins auspiciously: “My mother was the village whore, and I loved her very much,” states Summer, the novel’s protagonist. After her mother dies, Summer isn’t keen to pick up her mother’s trade and instead takes her dowry and a magical ring left by her dead father and hits the road to look for a husband. 
Summer’s magical ring enables her to communicate with animals, which is how she picks up a dog, a horse, a bird, and a winged piglet. She also find a blinded, amnesic knight. Together, the unlikely group searches for the knight’s home; various members find their true homes along the way. The winged piglet undergoes a dramatic transformation toward the end of the novel, and forces Summer to reconsider what it is she wants from her life. 
Brown’s writing is good, and the characters are likable. (I could have done with some more of the talking horse, but that’s just personal preference.) The story is interesting and isn’t so full of fantasy tropes that it’s boring or trite. The book is part of a series, but it isn’t necessary to read the previous book. I haven’t read subsequent books, but as Pigs Don’t Fly ends on something of a cliffhanger, I’ll be searching for its sequel next time I’m in Gardner’s. 

Book review: Hannah Hooton’s “Share and Share Alike”

Buying a share in a racehorse syndicate seems like a good idea to Share and Share Alike‘s Tessa Hawkesbury-Loye, the artistically inclined protagonist at the center of the story. Recently back from Malta, Tessa is looking for a way to integrate herself back into Aspen Valley’s social scene as well as take her mind off the events that drove her home to the UK. Things are going well at first: the horse is winning, Tessa’s making friends, and there’s more than one eligible bachelor among the syndicate’s members. Disaster strikes when the horse is deliberately injured; someone close to the syndicate is responsible, and the culprit must be found before blame is placed on the innocent. 

Share and Share Alike is author Hannah Hooton’s third entry in the Aspen Valley series. Reading the other novels isn’t necessary to understand or enjoy this book. While classified as a romance novel, there’s very little bodice-ripping; instead, the book focuses on the ups and downs of racehorse ownership and the mystery of the horse’s purposeful injury. Romantic encounters and relationships are written to accompany the story- not to overwhelm it. Readers looking for steamy bedroom scenes and silly euphemisms will be better served by another tome. 
Share and Share Alike is a wonderfully enjoyable book. Hooton’s writing style is fast-paced but easy to read. Her descriptions of races are excellent- they’re full of the thrill and tension any race-goer experiences while rooting for their favorite horse to win. Descriptions of horses, their care, and their training are accurate. The mystery elements of the story were also well done. Hooton keeps readers guessing throughout the book, and when the criminal is finally revealed, it’s a surprise. Relationships between characters are believable and develop naturally; nothing seems forced or awkward. 
While some may be disappointed that Share and Share Alike isn’t a book about racing itself but the relationships that form between people involved with it, most readers will enjoy the engaging story and the outstanding writing.
You can purchase Share and Share Alike (along with Hooton’s other novels) as an eBook through a variety of outlets:
You can also buy it as a paperback through Lulu: Share and Share Alike.

Friday Favorite: “Training The Three Day Event Horse & Rider”

Other than the USPC manuals, Jim Wofford’s Training the Three-Day Event Horse and Rider is my favorite equestrian book. I’ve read it cover to cover multiple times, and I learn something new with every read.

Why is it so good? For starters, it’s very thorough. Jim Wofford covers everything from acquiring a horse, training for each of the three phases, addressing specific problems, and exercises for improving your riding and your horse.

It’s written concisely, and in many sections, pictures are used to illustrate a concept more often than text. The pictures are perhaps my favorite part: they’re nearly all of Jim Wofford and he isn’t afraid to criticize himself. (However, he never reaches George Morris-levels of disapproval.) There’s a detailed appendix full of diagrams for gymnastic jumping exercises, sample conditioning schedules, and how best to log and record your rides.

All of that makes for an excellent read and reference, but my very favorite part of the book is the sense of humor with which it’s written. Some of my favorite quotes:

“To start at the beginning, the first thing you need to go eventing is some kind of horse.” (p. 17)

“If three-day event riders have a tendency to over-bit their horses in dressage, they have an absolute compulsion to over-bit their horses for the cross-country test.” (p. 27)

“Probably the least common form of resistance is that of a horse that from birth willingly sets himself, mentally and physically, against the rider. My best advice to you is to sell this horse. Now.” (p. 86)

“The first rule of cross-country is that you don’t win if you fall off.” (p. 88)

“It is amusing but true that if you do not lose your knee grip, you will never fall off.” (p. 140)

“There is no sense in galloping down to a telephone pole cemented in the ground with a horse that is waiting to be told what to do with his feet.” (p. 168)

“The second tool is to maintain a diary. By diary I do not mean a ‘Dear Diary, my horse was terrible today’ sort of operation.” (p. 182)

Training the Three Day Event Horse and Rider is a marvelous read for any level eventer (or anyone who likes to see pictures of horses jumping ridiculous fences). It can be found at Bit of Britain for about $28.

What are your favorite equestrian books? Should we get a horse book club going? How about a book swap?