Book Review – ‘Ride the Right Horse’ by Yvonne Barteau
The author, Yvonne Barteau is an experienced FEI dressage trainer, rider and instructor as well as a USDF bronze, silver and gold metalist. What differentiates her from a lot of other professionals is that she didn’t start out with the golden spoon. She started working from the ground up with all kinds of horses: thoroughbreds and standardbreds from the track, she competed as an endurance rider, she also worked as a performer in evening dinner shows with arabians, lipizzaners and a variety of other breeds. Eventually, she began to work with warmbloods and really focus on her dressage career. This rich and diverse background has given Barteau a unique perspective when it comes to riding and training horses. She really has seen it all. Her approach has always been gentle and compassionate focusing on her horses’ well-being as her first priority, she truly loves horses.
In her book ‘Ride the Right Horse’, Barteau makes good use of her experience with a variety of different horses to come up with a personality typing system which she documents in it. I’ve read personality typing books in the past which I wasn’t really convinced by, there were inconsistencies in the logic and I found that in many cases the authors’ opinions on personality type did not mesh with my personal experience. In my opinion, Barteau has really nailed it with her book.
She defines four personality types: social, aloof, fearful and challenging. I’m sure, just like me, you can think of horses you know that fit into these personas. Barteau writes that each horse can be passive for a particular persona or aggressive. A social-passive horse for example might always have their head out of their stall enjoying all the activity in the barn, a social-aggressive horse would likely bang the stall and stretch his neck trying desperately to join the fun. Barteau also points out that some horses can even be combos of the four personality types, showing their secondary persona more distinctly when pressured or stressed. An example of this might be an aloof horse who is constantly nagged by its rider. An aloof horse will tune a rider out but if that rider pushes the aloof horse too far he might become challenging and buck the rider off, seemingly out of the blue – this is a dominant aloof horse with a secondary challenging persona.
Through reading ‘Ride the Right Horse’, I have had many revelations about horses I’ve worked with in the past and the horse I currently own. For example, my last horse came to me very fearful and I always assumed that that was his personality type and nature. Through instinct I found myself riding, training and caring for him in a specific way. What I realize after reading Barteau’s book is that my gelding was actually aloof by nature and through the experience he had before I bought him, he had artificially became fearful as a secondary persona. In his older age, the fearfulness faded significantly and I was left with his original nature of being aloof. Some of these characteristics included that he was a one person horse, he liked to have horses in visual distance but liked to have his own space. He didn’t love to be groomed but did love to be on inside board, in a stall in a quiet part of the barn. Although I was still able to accomodate to his preferences through instinct, it would have been much easier to have been able to predict his behavior rather than just guessing and testing.
My current horse is a coming 2 year old and totally different from my last horse, he is very ‘social’ according to Barteau’s personality system. He IS that horse I mentioned above who stretches his neck out of his stall banging the door for attention (social-aggressive). Since understanding him and defining him through this persona system, I am better able to predict his behaviour. I realize now that my biggest challenge with him is distraction not fear. When he is outside and I am leading him to the arena, he often holds his head up high looking almost spooky. Prior to reading this book I had taken the approach of quietly talking to him and reassuring him. Now I realize, he is not worried, he is just nosy and trying to check out what all the horses in the other pens and field are doing. My new tactic is to encourage him to bring his attention and inside ear toward me. It may seem like a subtle difference but I believe horses are all about subtleties and that these small training tweaks are the difference between success and failure.
Barteau also talks about people’s personalities and I realize that I prefer an aloof horse so it is my spiritual journey to adapt to my lively social butterfly. I am the type to be very patient with fearful-aloof horses, very compassionate, but I find myself feeling strangely and uncharacteristically impatient with my new ‘social’ horse. Since I have no plans to sell my social horse, I need to learn to adapt to his ‘energy’ which I feel ultimately will be a character-building experience for me. Because I can never hope to satisfy my two year old’s urge for excitement, instead of battling for his attention in general, I’ve devised some tactics to get his attention on the task at hand. For example, I make sure that when I work with him, I switch up our routine. Sometimes, I tie him to brush him, sometimes I work on ground tying. Sometimes, I tie his jolly ball next to him while I work with him and I always keep our schooling sessions short .
Understanding a horses’ motivation and correctly understanding the emotion behind it is key to proper training. As a rider and trainer, we must be open to learning from others and from our horses.
For more information visit Yvonne Barteau’s website - http://www.kybdressage.com
I am giving ‘Ride the Right Horse’ a rating of 5 our of 5 as I feel this book is one I will pick up again and again. The writer is very experienced and knowledgable and I feel a strong sense of trust and faith in her judgement. Finally, I’ve implemented suggestions from the book into my coaching and training with much success.
Star Rating: 5 out of 5