Book Review: ‘The New Anatomy of Rider Connection’

By Mary Wanless.

Horseback riding, for being a traditional art rooted in history and long-standing customs and beliefs, is ever-changing, evolving as we learn more about both horse and rider and the way the body and mind work — and work together. As these discoveries come to light, the way we think about riding and the way we teach ourselves and others can also evolve. I kept this concept in mind as I read Mary Wanless’ The New Anatomy of Rider Connection, published just this year.

Mary Wanless combines her equestrian experience with information from the fields of psychology, biofeedback, neuro-linguistaic programming and various bodywork systems. She coaches riders in the United States and her home nation of the United Kingdom and has published the Ride With Your Mind series of books as well as twelve DVDs about rider biomechanics. She holds Bachelor of Science degrees in physics and applied sports coaching.

In the first few pages of The New Anatomy I found myself wishing I had had this book in hand when I was still teaching multiple riding lessons a day: even the most experienced of instructors, trainers or coaches can learn plenty from Wanless as she redefines what was believed to be true about the way our muscle groups work on horseback. Rather than focus on individual parts, Wanless focuses on the fascia, the body-wide net that connects us from the top of our skull down to our toes.

Much like how a good instructor can explain an old concept in a new way that suddenly “clicks” with a student, Wanless is skilled at explaining why certain rote concepts parroted by instructors actually work: “stretch tall and lengthen your leg” is good advice, mostly, but Wanless delves deeper into how a rider can train his or her body to actually achieve that oft-repeated advice and why it works to help connect with the horse.

The book is broken down not into parts of the rider or parts of the horse, but functional lines: front and back in both the rider and horse, lateral lines, arms and hands and the spiral lines, connecting your front and your back around the body. This might sound a little new-agey at face value, but Wanless’ text is backed up with anatomical evidence as well as diagrams and plenty of photographs of real riders.

Not being terribly well-versed in anatomy beyond a basic human functioning level, I was initially anxious that I was about to pick up what would read like a science textbook — but Wanless does an excellent job of introducing concepts without requiring the reader to hold an advanced science degree. Any equestrian can pick up this book and find it approachable, easy to understand and well-illustrated. I also love that Wanless’ suggestions and training tools can be used both by trainers and teachers as well as individual equestrians with the help of a friend.

Wanless maintains that talent is not something we’re born with, but something we can learn to develop — an encouraging thought for all riders, regardless of where we are on our equestrian journey! The New Anatomy serves to help foster that growth in talent for every equestrian with an open mind and willingness to try.

The New Anatomy of Rider Connection is available from Trafalgar Square Books.

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