Thursday, June 16, 2011

Nothing Like the Classics

I majored in English in college. I read so many books that I was actually burned out on reading anything other than a restaurant menu for quite a while after graduation.  After a time, I started to enjoy reading again, but ironically, despite reading obsessively as a child and taking all of those literature classes, I missed out on many classics.

So every summer I make a point to read at least an old favorite or two or a book that I somehow overlooked. There is something to be said for picking up a cherished book and really soaking it in instead of worrying about getting through ten chapters before the next class.

The same goes for the old classics in horsemanship. Two favorites that I always come back to: Hunter Seat Equitation by George Morris and Centered Riding by Sally Swift. You may know these books yourself, but if not, find and order them today.

George Morris’ advice is just as relevant today as when he wrote this book 40 years ago.  One of my favorite ideas from his book is that you respect the horse always and foremost. But the best way to do this is not by riding as best you can, but by cleaning your tack, dressing out appropriately even just for schooling and being a good all-around horse person and practicing good horse-keeping.

Sally Swift’s legacy continues with her Centered Riding program and method of instruction. But her illustrations and visual metaphors are so vivid and striking that they are easy to remember. I find myself going back to several visuals that work well for me whenever I feel out of position or those days when I’m not in harmony with the horse I’m riding. 

What is on your reading list this summer? A few fun ideas to get you going:

  • I love non-fiction books about horse racing as the stories and people are larger than life. Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand is hard to put down—horse, action and history lesson all rolled into one.
  • Those who have not read any of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books (The Lord of the Rings series) would be fascinated to learn that horses play key roles in the storyline and are revered by the inhabitants of the fictional realm of Rohan.
  • If you have a horse-crazed child, trying reading National Velvet by Enid Bagnold out loud and imitate all of the British accents. Forget the movie—with all due respect to Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney--the book is full of amazingly rich characters and brilliant imagery.
  • For a non-horsey flavor, but a chance to regress to those endless, childhood summers, try Treasure Island or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Pride and Prejudice.
Share your favorites in the comments!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Put a Helmet on That Pretty Little Head of Yours

Last time I had an x-ray, thanks to an unfortunate fall off of a fast-moving horse which left me outside of the riding ring, the technician asked me, “Know how many people who ride horses get hurt?”

Like a dummy, I said, “No, how many?” 

“All of them,” he said. 

I kinda thought he was a jerk for saying that, but he’s right. 

Which is why next weekend is so incredibly important: Saturday, June 11 is International Helmet Awareness Day.

Although many riders are very careful and wear helmets, some people have helmets which are too old (you should replace it every five years, regardless), don’t fit correctly (another risk) or they expose them to extreme temperatures which compromise the internal structure (hot car in the summer, not good).

The 2011 Awareness Day is led by the organization According to their web site:

The Brain Injury Resource Center states that “an estimated 300,000 sports related traumatic brain injuries, of mild to moderate severity, most of which can be classified as concussions (i.e., conditions of temporary altered mental status as a result of head trauma), occur in the United States each year.” 

Whether you participate in Equestrian Sports, Cycling, Skiing/Snowboarding, Football, Hockey, Baseball or Skateboarding, wearing a helmet can reduce your chances of sustaining serious injury. One of the most important pieces of safety equipment athletes in any of the above sports can own is a properly fitting helmet in order to absorb the impact to the head, provide cushioning to the skull and reduce jarring of the brain against the skull. It should be noted that helmets must be appropriate for the sport in which the athlete is participating and must also be correctly fitted to be of benefit.

Another personal experience I can share is a concussion I sustained in college while riding. I got left behind over a fence, lost my balance, and my horse took off. We parted company in front of a solid wood wall. At the time, all of us young people cut off the measly strap of black elastic that was supposed to secure our black velvet hunter helmets. But, our college riding coach would not let us get on one of her horses unless we attached a rather ugly, but very functional, harness that fit over the brim and under our chins. She would stick a finger in the strap and express her disappointment if the strap was too loose. 

I was grateful for that ugly, very non-horse showy piece of leather as it kept my helmet securely on my head. My injury could’ve been so much worse.  I still cannot recall about six hours of my life. After the fall, I got back on the horse and rode around for a while until someone noticed that I could not process simple instructions. They tell me I went to the hospital. I “woke up” to find myself in my dorm room with a very worried roommate ready to tend to my headache which lasted for several days. I always wondered if she could see the little cartoon birds flying around my head. (Thanks, Michele!)

I was always good about wearing a helmet (for a teenager), but after that day, I am became even more committed to wearing a helmet.  For me, not wearing one is like not wearing a seat belt. Thanks to my concussion, I soon discovered that my razor-sharp memory was just not quite the same. To compensate, I became a dedicated list-maker and carried small notebooks and pens in every purse, vehicle or backpack. My friends tease me sometimes about the lists I make. Of course, now that I’m older, I probably can’t blame the concussion anymore—it’s more of an age thing now!

Here are some more details about the Awareness Day if you want to organize an activity or generate some interest at your barn or among fellow riders:

Individuals or organizations wishing to hold an event to recognize International Helmet Awareness Day may email for helmet awareness graphics and other support materials. “You can participate and show your support just by wearing a helmet on June 11th, no matter whether you are trail riding, showing or competing,said Lyndsey White, co-founder of the riders4helmets campaign. Additionally, Riders4Helmets logo wear is available for purchase at for equestrians who wish to show their support for the campaign.”

Equestrians may visit to locate their nearest participating retailer. Manufacturers or retailers wishing to participate in the event may visit the International Helmet Awareness Day page on the website for details on how to become involved and to download promotional support materials.

For more information on the Riders4Helmets campaign, visit or contact Lyndsey White at You can also follow the campaign at and The campaign is officially endorsed by USEF, USEA, USDF, USHJA, AETA, ARIA, EAF, CHA, PRO, EMSA and many leading equestrians.

Riders4Helmets was founded in early 2010 after Olympic dressage rider Courtney King Dye was seriously injured in a riding accident. King Dye, who remained in a coma for a month following her accident, was not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident and is currently undergoing rehabilitation. Jeri Bryant donated her helmet campaign t-shirts (featuring the slogan “Strap One On–Everyone’s Doing it”) to an eBay store set up to raise funds for King Dye, and a partnership was formed, resulting in the Riders4Helmets campaign.

Also, check out the Troxel web site which list 10 myths and facts about riding and helmets

Think of it this way—shopping for a new helmet just gives you a better excuse to visit your local tack shop.