Media Critique: Rider & Horse Back to Back and Raja: Story of a Racehorse

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Rider & Horse Back To Back

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RIDER & HORSE BACK TO BACK: ESTABLISHING A MOBILE, STABLE CORE IN THE SADDLE. BY SUSANNE VON DIETZE WITH ISABELLE VON NEUMANN-COSEL. 2011, TRAFALGAR SQUARE BOOKS. $29.95. AVAILABLE AT WWW.HORSEBOOKSETC.COM, 800-952-5813.

This book is richly illustrated with photographs and drawings that distract the reader's eye and, when just taken as sound bites, the text really does little to grab the reader's attention.

However, when read front to back, as intended, the authors make a forceful argument that the stability of the rider?s back is vital to riding well.? This is easily understood by a rider whose back has been injured and is frustrated by necessary compromises, but it should also be appreciated by strong, talented (young!) riders who ?tend to exploit their body and ruin their health.?

One key observation is that the sequence of aids should be weight first, then legs, then?if necessary?hands, with weight being the most subtle.? If the back and seat can't clearly communicate the rider?s intention to the horse, then stronger and potentially contradictory aids are needed.? At the same time, strong leg and hand aids can destabilize weight aids.

The book explains the function of the rider?s spine and how to both prevent injuries and restore a sore back to health.? It also presents a series of exercises that can improve equitation overall in many subtle ways.? The food for thought can be easily digested and taken to the barn to be put into practice (originally published in Germany in 2009; DVD available).

Bottom Line:? Useful insights to prevent and rehab back problems when riding and to make better use of weight aids overall.

Best suited for:? Analytical riders at any level who can put the written word into practice when mounted.

you'll be disappointed if: You have a short attention span.

Margaret Freeman, Associate Editor

Raja: Story Of A Racehorse

raja-book

RAJA: STORY OF A RACEHORSE. BY ANNE HAMBLETON. 2011. OLD BOW PUBLISHING. $14.95. AVAILABLE AT WWW.OLDBOWPUBLISHING.COM, 802-345-0953.

Anne Hambleton?s first novel is an enjoyable version of a much-loved, often-told tale?a teenager and her horse accomplishing the impossible. Think The Black Stallion or National Velvet, but set in the Triple Crown, the Florida jumper circuit and the Maryland Hunt Cup.

Raja, the title character, is a royally bred Thoroughbred whose life takes a series of lucky and unlucky turns after he suffers an injury just when he seems a sure Triple Crown candidate and then his owner, an Arabian princess, suffers a life-altering change of fortune.

Raja becomes a common, unwanted Thoroughbred ex-racehorse as his life becomes a rollercoaster, passing through the hands of some excellent horsemen and a few deadbeats, going through the New Holland (Pa.) auction ring twice, and even doing a happy stint as a New York City police horse at one point.

Finally he lands in Unionville, Pa., in the hands of Paddy Murphy, an Irish former steeplechase jockey who's become an equine dentist. He puts the horse together with his 16-year-old niece, Dee, and in one season of racing over timber, Raja and Dee win the world?s most demanding timber race, the famous Maryland Hunt Cup.

As Anna Sewell did with Black Beauty, Hambleton tells the story in the first person, from Raja?s point of view. But, in order to explain events and the actions of humans and horses, she has to give Raja human intelligence and motivations, which made it too human and not enough horse for me.

For instance, while competing as a jumper, Raja contemplates an Olympic gold medal, a rather abstract concept horses cannot conceive. And while walking to the paddock for the Maryland Hunt Cup, Raja savors the smells of tailgaters cooking their food and the sight of the women?s brightly colored dresses. But horses don't care for either fried chicken or sundresses.

The story is also a bit short on depth, perhaps partly related to trying to tell the story of an event-filled life from the point of view of an animal lacking verbal communication skills. The climax, in which Raja and Dee come from far back, after nearly falling, to win the Hunt Cup, is a gripping and fun.? But the Hunt Cup is only the third timber start for the horse and the second for his rider. It wouldn?t be impossible for them to win with so little experience?but it would be a longshot.

Bottom Line: Anne Hambleton is an accomplished horsewoman, and Raja is an enjoyable tale, a version of a dream held by so many horse lovers. But, we wish it were deeper and more reality-based.

Best Suited For: Horse-loving teenagers.

you'll be disappointed if: You don't like anthropomorphic stories, with the animals displaying human emotions and motivations.

John Strassburger, Performance Editor