The Science of Equestrian Sports

For this month's book review we decided to focus on the rider with The Science of Equestrian Sports: Theory, Practice and Performance of the Equestrian Rider by Dr. Inga Wolframm. Dr. Wolframm specializes in rider psychology and is a Senior Lecturer and accredited sports psychologist at the University of Applied Sciences Van Hall Larenstein, Netherlands. She is also a Council Member of the International Society for Equitation Science (ISES). Her research interests focus on psychological, physiological and social processes in the rider, including horse-rider interactions.

" ... the bond between humans and horses is both awe-inspiring and wondrous. There can be no doubt that horses have captured the imagination of entire nations for millennia. Indeed, the equine species may well be considered one of the most prominent forces to have driven civilizations forward."

The Science of Equestrian Sports systematically explores the core subjects of:

  • biomechanics and kinematics
  • physiology of the rider
  • sport psychology in equestrian sport
  • coaching equestrian sport
  • preventing injury
  • the nature of horse-rider relationships

This book was a gem to read. However it was at times very technical in terminology and scientific lexicon, and one's mind can blur a bit when reading some of the supportive data and scientific research. But it's meant to be a comprehensive study of the rider in various equestrian disciplines and is in fact the first book to really reference and use current data relating specifically to riders. Within its pages there are all kinds of valuable insights into being an equestrian and improving your riding performance. Who doesn't want that?

"This is a landmark text for all riders, if they are truly committed to do the best for their horses rather than simply to pay lip service to the notion of excellence in training and riding. Every horse deserves a rider who has read this book!" 
-Dr. Andrew McLean, President of ISES 
Dr. Inga Wolframm

Certainly today only the best of care and training leads to horses that are happy and healthy, that are also safe to ride and will perform to a standard conducive to competing. We spend much of our time ensuring our horses are in peak health and condition. But, how many of us will spend time on a lunge line with no stirrups to improve our independent seat and balance? How many of us will participate in fitness activities outside the saddle? Too few, and it's to the detriment of overall horse-rider performance and connection. Novice riders who aren't balanced are ineffective and actually destabilize their horses causing disruptive influences; the opposite of suppleness and harmony. The Science of Equestrian Sports really dug deep on all aspects of rider biomechanics and the importance of rider fitness.  

"Riders should, ideally, possess appropriate fitness levels to support optimal performance on the one hand and to ensure rider (and equine) safety on the other."

Mind and body are pretty inseparable, as many of us find out at shows where all of a sudden things aren't going like they do at home. Chapter 3 was of particular enlightenment in understanding equine sports psychology. It identified what studies have shown to be the major differences in elite and amateur/non-elite riders. In fact, the ability to perform under pressure and cope with adversity is what sets elite athletes apart from those who are just as good at training horses (if not better) but cannot perform under pressure. Along with performance ability, mental skills are just as vital but novice riders do not put any emphasis on learning or honing them. Table 3.3 on page 67 went through the differences in mental strategies between elite and amateur/non-elite riders and was very insightful.  

" ... while riders of all levels are usually quick to emulate the superstars of their chosen discipline, when it comes to sport psychology training, many riders at the amateur, non-elite levels seem reluctant to invest in the training of these 'soft' skills."   

Horse Collaborative has a great article, Try This Relaxation Technique to Keep Calm on Your Next Ride. It covers a great technique you can use to help create a sense of calm and relaxation while in the saddle no matter where you are. It is one of many soft skills, or mental skills, you can learn in order to help you cope with anxiety and performance. Because self-confidence and self-esteem are paramount to a great ride, no matter where you are.

After reading this book, you might feel a bit overwhelmed by the data presented, and the scientific method of delivery, however you will most certainly be a better rider (and competitor) for it. We can forget that there is more to riding than simply trying to understand and repeat the mechanics of it, or emulating top riders. Therefore learning is synonymous with being a life-long equestrian. We as owners and riders should always be looking to improve ourselves through education, learning and taking positive actions, and in so doing improve our horse's life and well-being. 

Dr. Wolframm's parting advice: 

"Readers of this book, students of equitation science in the broadest sense of the word, are encouraged to look upon the world of equestrian sports with an open mind and a questioning attitude - and take another step towards a better future with our horses." 

Live. Love. Horses.