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Dressage for the 21st Century, Paul Belasik

From his previous books, readers may expect a quirky, self-absorbed, opinionated, “New Age” tour around the periphery of classical riding – but instead we get a comprehensive and practical review of the entire art, with references made to the greats of the (small) body of literature on dressage.

Belasik covers the field with chapters on walk, trot, canter, the campaign school and airs above the ground. At each point he stresses the layered nature of classical riding, and the need to correctly build on the fundamentals of training at every stage. Yes, an independent seat and light hands are important, and the role of straightness at all levels is explored. Each chapter considers practical problems in the movements, and gives advice that I have already found useful.

Along the way he pokes digs at the riding establishment, with comments about the lack of true collection shown in competitive dressage, and an interesting analysis of the role of overtracking in collection and extension. I greatly appreciated his obligatory dig at trainers who consider half-pass to be travers executed on a diagonal, as well as his explanation of why this has to be considered incorrect.

One of the best features of this book is the excellent collection of photographs, taken in ways that subtly emphasise his points. The sequence of shots showing absolute straightness in tempi flying changes is breathtaking, and the build up to flying change showing the exact moment when the leading foreleg alone is on the ground must have taken an age to shoot.

This book isn’t for those new to riding, but for riders who have advanced some way down the path, and realise how much more there is to learn. It also isn’t for those looking for quick fixes to their problems. I commend it highly.

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