Book Review of Sylvia Loch's 'The Rider's Balance', by Louise Broderick

Finally, a book dedicated solely to how to sit on a horse. Thank goodness. Horses everywhere must be sighing with relief at the arrival of this wonderful book by the incredible horsewoman, Sylvia Loch.

It is an impressive reflection of the equestrian world that we now have whole books dedicated to one tiny part of the art of riding. I have been riding for half a century and have a large library of books dedicated solely to the horse its health, care, training and riding. Over that half century I have seen riding – and books dedicated to the art – change from tomes which would give instructions on the aids to make the horse change direction and pace to the current ones which explain everything in infinite detail. Oh how horses must truly appreciate this change in our knowledge and desire to help the horse understand what we require of him.

It is incredible that it is only in recent years those at the top of their game in the sport have found a willing market for their wisdom.  Yet this knowledge has been around for thousands of years. The quote at the beginning of The Rider’s Balance dates from 1733 and says ‘The art of putting weight into the stirrups is the subtlest of all the aids:  the rider’s legs serve as counterweights to straighten the haunches and hold the horse straight.’  Xenophon’s The Art of Horsemanship was written over 2000 years ago. He clearly realised how important it was for the rider to carry himself. ‘The man should sit astride the horse as though he is standing on the ground.’

The Rider’s Balance is dedicated to Loch’s wonderful Lustiano stallion, Prazner and has a foreword from Charlotte Dujardin, saying how much she was influenced by Loch and how simple her instructions are with the basic premise to make things easier for the horse. As is often seen a central upright position combined with quiet, discreet aids will work far better than moving around and doing too much. If the rider doesn’t understand how his weight impacts on the horse how can they possibly hope to achieve any productive relationship? What is contained in the pages of this book is something that all serious riders should take on board. Loch explains so well about the finer art of feel, something which is difficult to put into words and which is helped by the beautiful colour photographs in the book.

The first chapter of the book tells of Sylvia Loch’s incredible life with horses and the people she has met and been influenced by. I wondered, when reading this, what our riding scene would be without the input of such masters as Loch, Kilmke and others who truly sought to unravel the mysteries of good riding.

Something that stands out in this book is Sylvia Loch’s tremendous love for her horses, but also her deep understanding of them and her desire to make life easy for them. As she says, ‘horses will give you everything if you love them, but what good is love if there is no understanding.’ Often, I read a book and note pieces which really resonate with me, with this book every chapter had that.  However, the premise is simple, ‘ride your horse as you would like to be ridden yourself.’ Of course – we’ve all given youngsters rides on our backs and discovered how difficult it is when they wriggle about. How must it be for horses who not only have to deal with this, but to be forced over and over again to perform movements they don’t understand until they get it right. How can the horse give the right movement if the rider’s body is giving him a different instruction? How many times do trainers who know no different advise the rider that their horse needs its teeth done, its back checked, the saddle restuffed – when quite possibly all that is wrong is the rider inadvertedly sitting wrongly.

The Rider’s Balance contains chapters which will really help riders get a better understanding of how their body affects their horse. Mindfulness, Weight Aids, Natural Balance, The Weight Aids of the Rider’s Seat, How the Horse Moves into Pressure, Moving Away From Pressure, Going with the Flow break down the details and explain to the rider what their body is doing and the difference it makes to their horse. Anyone who has struggled with their training will find this book gives them that eureka moment of understanding. It is incredible that something so tiny as the difference in our weight in the saddle can make such a difference, but once the reader absorbs this the premise is so simple. Of course it does.

This is a book I will read again and again, one that I will use to gain a greater understanding of my riding. I know my riding and awareness will improve no end because of this knowledge.