Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Book Review: The Athletic Development of the Dressage Horse

Title: The Athletic Development of the Dressage Horse: Manege Patterns
Author: Charles de Kunffy
Where to buy it: Used on Amazon


This is my second de Kunffy (and not de Knuffy) book review. After enjoying the last book so much, I browsed through some of his other titles and added this one to my Amazon wish list to pick up later. I still had Bobby at that point, and while he had reached the end of his soundness, I was still holding out hope that I was going to get to ride him again. The thought of having a book with a bunch of dressage exercises to ride through put it on my priority list, but a couple weeks later I had to put Bobby down and I never got around to buying it.

Then I was used bookstore browsing one of the times I was out at my mom's in November and I saw it on their shelves. It was $9, so more than I could have bought it used on Amazon, but I grabbed it anyway. Nine bucks for some de Kunffy wisdom? Sold.

I finally got around to starting it a few weeks ago. I read probably four or five books while trying to slog my way through this one. While I really enjoyed and easily made it through Training Strategies for Dressage Riders, this book felt more like a tedious school assignment.

As in the other book, he starts off philosophizing about generalities of the sport horse. I like reading these insights, and I like that he again points out that the best way for a horse to be a horse is to turn them out and let them interact with each other.

From there he starts talking about training the very young, just-broke horse. I was able to pull some useful points out of this as while Opie is certainly already broke to ride and knows how to balance a rider on his back, he's still very much green broke.

One of them was that horses will volunteer actions that we maybe didn't ask for, but should roll with anyway. "Opportunistic riding" basically installs the thought into the horse that everything he does is "allowed to happen by the rider's will." Does he canter instead of extend the trot? Pick up the wrong lead? A horse that's constantly told No will start to get confused and resent the rider. He's not advocating for letting the horse get away with murder, but reminds the rider to make sure their aids are correct and that the ask isn't beyond the horse's ability. "Riders should correct their own, not the horse's, behavior first."

From there on out, the rest of the book had me dragging my nails down my face. He quickly jumps from a horse that has no training yet to one capable of schooling all the lateral work, pirouettes, and changes. While he does point out the difficulty of these exercises and that you shouldn't attempt them until the horse is ready, I had a hard time staying with it when my own horse is just now getting the concept of two whole steps of leg yield at the trot. I think I would have been able to commit more if I was still riding Bobby and these exercises were pertinent and achievable.

Even so, some of the manege patterns were...well:

excuse me as my eyes cross in confusion 

The writing in this book felt more like a dry, ultra-descriptive, ultra-intense training manual than the friendly read-through vibe the other book gave off. That won't be a problem for a lot of you, but it's not my style of learning at all, and I had a hard time getting the paragraph I had just read to stick in my head.

although there were a couple of not book related
picture pages that i guess were nice to look at?

However, there were still quite a few good gems I was able to pluck out.
  • On how unnatural it is for horses to be ridden. "Both are creatures of precarious balance, even when left alone to cope with the ground." Amen, sir.
  • On collection: "This shifting of the horse's center of gravity towards the haunches liberates his forehand from unnecessarily weight and liberates it from stress. The forelegs being the weaker, riders have learned early the value of saving them and conserving their health." Makes perfect sense of course, but I liked the imagery of this one.
  • "Horses will do almost anything from the rider but read his mind." The rider must make sure they're aiding correctly, judiciously, and clearly. The horse will guess to its best ability, but it can only do what the aids are asking it to.
  • For the spooky horse:

  • "We must remember that it is not sufficient to let the horse move forward, but rather we must ask him to carry forward. ... we ought to insist in our gymnasticizing that the horse move 'forward upward'."
  • It goes against the horse's instincts to move away from leg pressure; they instinctively lean into it. When the rider's calf is correctly wrapped around the horse's barrel, it should rest against the muscles that cause the haunches to react by contracting when stimulated by the rider's leg, therefore increasing the activity in the haunches. Active haunches enable him to move away from the leg pressure. I was able to relate to this a lot with Opie who still struggles with going into my leg sometimes instead of away from it.
  • OMG, never do haunches-in at the canter. The horse loves to use it as an evasion. He brings this up approximated 47,008 times throughout the book.
  • Important that when doing lateral work at the walk to routinely let the horse walk on a loose rein at the free walk to stretch the topline. "Never allow a lazy stroll, but keep a marching attitude."
  • The turn on the forehand encourages the horse to "lean and dwell on the forehand", but it also serves as a useful exercise to get the horse off your leg and moving the haunches. 
  • On lateral work: "Explosive, impatient young horses will not benefit much from these movements... Premature drilling of these exercises can be harmful and can also cause resistence. ... Infinitely delaying more difficult tasks can also be counterproductive in training strategies. Progress can only be made by challenging the status quo." 
The few actual manege patterns in this book don't come until about the last third of the book. I was able to book mark three that I wanted to try when my horse is a little better trained.

I felt like I deserved a good wrap-up for getting through the last training chapter, but instead the book just...ends.

abruptly, the end.

I would recommend this one to riders that have an easy time processing large blocks of detailed information. That person is not me. I'm glad I got through it, but this isn't one that's going to get a re-read from me.

28 comments:

  1. Well damn, I got all excited about adding another book to my wish list, but I am probably not cerebral enough to get any use out of this 😂 at least you did get some good tidbits and exercises though!

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    1. I definitely felt like I was too stupid to be reading this.

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  2. i think my favorite thing about book reviews is that i get to read through a peer's high level, applicable takeaways without slogging through all the rest. thank you for your sacrifice here. i love the points about 'opportunistic riding' and not constantly saying "NO" to the horse.

    abruptly, the end.

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    1. I feel like I need to finish every one of my posts with "abruptly, the end" from now on.

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  3. Sh!t. Hanches in alternating with straight, then shoulder in at canter is my go to for getting B to actually use her hind legs and bend her body. And trust me, she does NOT like it. I could see it maybe becoming an evasion on a horse that finds it easy? We aren't that fancy, lol

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  4. THANKS for the cliff's notes version. I barely kept myself engaged reading your post and I LOVE Your writing. BUT YAWN I could not read that book....even if had to :) I wish I could read things like this but I am very visual and I can imagine I would get frustrated esp since I am not very cerebreal LOL. I do like the don't always say no to your horse thought! I am very guilty of this fussing at Remus. Thanks!!

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    1. It wasn't my type of learning at all either--very hard for me to process!

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  5. Neat book! I feel like horses naturally want to dog track at the canter anyways so doing Haunches in would just be encouraging them to be crooked lol

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  6. I giggled at the pattern from the picture in the book. It looks like a diagram of a leaf falling or something. Katai would tell me to F off if I tried anything like that with here.

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    1. Even the description to go with it was like, wait...wut.

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  7. My horse shies most on a loose rein :( but I make him walk on one all the time so that he figures out that he can be a brave horse without having me tell him what to do all the time.

    This seems like a super cool book! Though yep, a bit dry lol props to you for pulling out all the good stuff.

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    1. I can see where he's coming from, but I can't say I agree that they're only spooking just because they don't want to work.

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  8. I read that long ago and appeared to have forgotten a lot of it. :) And, like Megan, my horse will also shy on a long rein and so we work on it.

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    1. I've forgotten a lot of it after just finishing it. :P

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  9. I have that book. It's covered in dust and squashed between Kottas and some historical horsemanshipbook because I never made it past the first chapter. You should get a ribbon for actually making it to the end!

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    1. LOL I'm glad I'm not the only one!

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  10. I love the "horses aren't after all afraid of things, they sleep alone in the dark". Thanks for gleaning some useful information from it for those of us who weren't gonna make it through that book.

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    1. He drops some pretty hysterical one-liners throughout!

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    2. If you ever get a chance to audit one of his clinics, I highly recommend it. He's a brilliant lecturer and is indeed very fond of those one-liners!

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    3. I've been trying for like the past half year to figure out his clinic schedule - I've tried on the website http://www.dekunffyclinic.com/ (is that his official page??) and FB, no response. Any idea how to get in touch or when he is in No. Cal?

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  11. I just gave away 90% of my horse books but kept this one. I read it (some of it) years ago. Good recap! I also like The Alchemy of Lightness and, Tug of War as well as Right from the Start...that’s a great one for people with young horses!

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  12. That one pictogram made my brain hurt

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If you can't say anything nice, fuck off.