Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Sivewright's "Thinking Riding"

"It is almost a truism to say that he who would influence others must control himself. He must have a quieter and more impartial mind than those whom he would restore, he must make allowances for this, and sometimes put himself in their place. He must not either command or reprove until he is fully acquainted with all the circumstances of the case. He must convey the impression that he will listen to the voice of reason only, and not be moved by entreaties, that he remembers and does not forget, and that he observes more than he says. He must know the characters of those with whom he deals, he must show that he has a regard for their feelings when he is correcting or reproving them. The great art is to mingle authority with kindness; there are a few, but a very few, who by some happy tact have contrived so to rebuke another as to make him their friend for life. Kindness and sympathy have a wonderful power in this world; they smooth the rough places of life, they take off the angles." -Benjamin Jowett

Molly Sivewright, founder of the Talland School of Equitation, wrote this book as a manual of sorts for the student instructors at her school, but it comes across as a wildly valuable manual for instructors globally.

There are three sections in the book: General Notes for Instructors, Doctrine, and Early Riding Lessons. All three are PACKED with information, but I particularly loved the first part. It's possible I am influenced, as I'm a riding instructor.

Sivewright has a very clear vision for what an excellent riding instructor looks like and she has no hesitation calling people out for lazy instruction (notably allowing students to fall through corners and ride lop-sided ovals in their early lessons, or pushing jumps bigger rather than expanding the base of understanding with more complex exercises over small jumps).

She writes extensively about the mental aspects of learning to be a riding instructor, that we must become calm, thoughtful, forward thinking persons if we are to take over the education of either a rider or a horse.

She advocates careful and consistent training of our horses, while not insisting that all the lesson horses in a program be paragons of virtue.

And perhaps most importantly, the book is filled with advice on executing the basics, on improving that foundation upon which we all must build our performance.

Even flipping through the book, looking for sections I wanted to expound upon, I found sentences and paragraphs I hadn't fully absorbed the first time through, and the ideas in the book are plentiful. I reckon this is a book I'll be reaching for again and again in order to both find new things to work on with my students or even to inspire me to reach for a higher overall standard of education.

Do I recommend this book to everyone? Certainly not. It's a bit difficult to read at times, and contains much of the same information available in more modern, scientifically up-to-date books.  However. If you teach anyone at all about horses, I think it's an invaluable add to your library if only for the first third of the book. Sivewright is acerbic and tough, but entertaining nonetheless.

Here are some sections of the book that can give you a taste of her writing style---

Words to a potential student-instructor:
"A career or a life with horses? Usually they are one and the same, for the equine species tends to be extraordinarily time and interest consuming. Although there is an endless list of specialist and non-specialist jobs available, the scope of a riding instructor's career is boundless for he should be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of them all! Being a skilled rider he must be dexterous in his work with horses both in the stable and outside. Pupils and horses must thrive in his care. All this proficiency will only come about with training, practice, and experience.

"Before any young person decides to embark on a course of training to qualify as an equitation instructor he or she must embark on come serious heart and soul searching. A career with horses will not necessarily be a glamorous one - far from it, invariably it involves a great deal of very hard work, providing a never-ending test of mental and physical strength and stamina. Besides enthusiasm and all the other necessary qualifies listed later, a student-instructor will need a bottomless supply of energy and resilience."

The rider's rein-aids:

"Much has been written about the riders' hands, perhaps too much, and possibly this is contributory to so many riders guiding and governing their horses by means of their hands, to the detriment of the horse's mouths, backs, action and movements. A second yet greater reason for the predominance of the rider's hands when influencing his horse is that the human race has been ordained by Nature to do most things with its hands. If aspiring horsemen were to take up writing, painting, and basket-weaving with their toes perhaps they would then ride far better, with only minimum hand influence."


Thinking Riding is a dense, insightful book aimed primarily at educating future trainers.


  1. I love this quote: ""It is almost a truism to say that he who would influence others must control himself. He must have a quieter and more impartial mind than those whom he would restore, "

  2. Very interesting! I like the bit about how we naturally want to fix problems with our hands

    1. It's so much easier to just do things with our hands... right?

  3. I must get myself a copy of this book!

    1. If you do and you read it I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to have a chat about it! Shoot me an email or something if you do!

  4. Replies
    1. It's a great one. I recently went through and counted - I have upwards of 100 books on training/riding so I thought it might be good for me to go through and write publicly about my favorite ones

  5. Super interesting and as an aspiring trainer I definitely need to pick up this book. I'm going through the soul searching phase right now

    1. It's not too expensive used on Amazon! If you read it, please shoot me a message on Facebook! I'd love to chat it over!

  6. That sounds like a really good book!