Book Review: ‘The Sporting Horse’

By Nicola Jane Swinney and Bob Langrish.

While the horse has always possessed agility, athleticism, endurance and speed, it’s in the past few centuries that the development of the horse as a sporting partner has let us specialize into a myriad of disciplines. While we have shaped the modern sporthorse into a jumper, dressage dancer, endurance racer or fox hunter, the constant remains — the horse is still a willing and gentle partner.

It’s this partnership that is celebrated in The Sporting Horse: In pursuit of equine excellence. A detailed text by former Horse & Hound subeditor Nicola Jane Swinney describes the relationship between horse and rider through specific traits and disciplines; beautiful color photography from leading equestrian photographer Bob Langrish graces each section and showcases some of the sport’s more recent stars.

I’d describe this as a good “coffee table book” — a text that’s informative but not so heavy that it requires a serious sit-down to read. With a healthy dose of Langrish’s world-famous photography (raise your hand if you too at some point had horse posters decorating your childhood walls — I’ll totally spitball and say that Langrish took about 80% of those photos) The Sporting Horse is easy to flip through to see glimpses of horses and riders achieving athletic feats.

The book is organized into unique chapters focusing on the horse’s special traits that make him a performance animal: agility, athleticism, endurance and speed. Within each of these chapters, Swinney details the disciplines that make the most use out of each of these traits (dressage, driving and western sports for “agility,” as an example) with notable examples of breeds and types that are produced for each discipline. Each chapter then features a sub-section gallery for each discipline, illustrating the concepts Swinney describes in each trait.

Generally, the book is interesting to both equestrians and non-equestrians — it’s not so technical that non-riders will be overwhelmed and bogged down, and it’s not so general and introductory that equestrians will be bored. I did feel that Swinney’s section on western sports could have used a good deal more research (all of “western sports” seem to be condensed to only reining and barrel racing, with most of the emphasis placed on barrel racing) but as far as the classic English-based disciplines are treated, this book handles most of its subject matter with ease.

The Sporting Horse would be a lovely volume to grace one’s coffee table, barn lounge or viewing room. The book is available via Amazon.

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