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Book Review: “Dressage Training In-Hand” by Kathrin Roida

“Dressage Training In-Hand” is a solid book, information-wise, that could be stronger than it already is with a little polishing.

Kathrin Roida’s “Dressage Training In-Hand” is a challenging review because my feelings are mixed. Roida’s philosophy, approach and methods are sound, or at least they seem sound to me from my “lower-level-definitely-not-an-expert” perspective. The book is 134 pages, excluding the index, but it reads longer than it is, though, because it isn’t concisely written. It’s solidly written but could’ve benefited from stronger editing and fine-tuning; it’s not bad, per se, but a final extra polish would’ve helped it greatly and I’ve noticed this trend in several horse training books lately.

The bad: It’s wordy. I kept zoning out, losing focus, often stopping and re-reading pages to ensure I understood Roida’s points. By the last chapters, I found myself wanting to take a red pen and perform acts of slash-and-burn editing on this book; the filler words and bloated phrases served no purpose, muddled the points further and made reading a chore. I understand preserving the author’s style, but as-is, this was a dry, difficult, at times unengaging read and it didn’t have to be. We can and should do better.

Conciseness aside, I have one other main complaint; as advanced movements (i.e. piaffe, cantering in-hand, passage) are discussed, Roida states readers will want to work with a skilled trainer and schoolmaster horse. I appreciate, respect and wholeheartedly agree with Roida’s point, but it left me wondering: what about readers who don’t have access to a schoolmaster or expert dressage trainer? Will they simply be unable to implement these techniques? Offering options for those who don’t have experts or schoolmasters at their fingertips would’ve been nice.

The good: Pacing is consistent, most chapters are 10 pages or less, with the sole exception being the 26-page chapter discussing collection in lateral movements starting on page 68. That chapter slows the book down considerably and probably would’ve worked best as two chapters — one discussing basic lateral movements, the other covering advanced lateral movements.

It emphasizes the importance of groundwork at all levels, beginner to advanced, and makes a case for groundwork being as vital in training as under-saddle work. I loved seeing Roida cite dressage classics she’d read — I always enjoy seeing what books the author reads because it gives me more material for my reading list! What I loved best, though, were the “Osteopath’s Perspective” sidebars scattered throughout the book; these add a layer of depth not often seen in training books by explaining how these exercises improve horses by building muscle and strength.

Final summary: this is a solid book, not quite in “must-own, must-read” territory, but if it’s a book you might use, I’d recommend it with a warning about how slow it can be. My feelings are mixed; the information and content are fine, the subject matter relevant and, frankly, not discussed as often as it sometimes should be, but this book just isn’t what it could be. I find myself thinking how much better it’d be, how it could be more engaging, less dry and more in-depth were it better edited.

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