29 September 2013

Book Review: Lt. Col. M. F. McTaggart's _The Art of Riding_

Although reprinted many times since its debut in 1931, including  a facsimile edition  in 2010, few riders today have read Lieutenant  Colonel Maxwell Fielding McTaggart's slender The Art of Riding. Those who haven't miss much. I first learned of McTaggart (1874-1936) through some pithy remarks in the now also obscure and useful works of John Richard Young. 

An English gentleman through and through, McTaggart focused on jumping, but his advice shows a man well ahead of his time. For example, here are a few of his rules for jumping:

1.  Never jump a larger fence until your horse can jump the smaller one perfectly.
2.  Never use the whip or spur, as punishment.
3.  Avoid excitement. If your horse gets too worked up, go back to easier jumps.
4.  Make him jump straight and exactly where you mean to go.
10. Do not jump your horse until he has been schooled and is obedient to the leg and rein.  
13. If a horse knocks down the rail do not punish him.  He  did not do it because he was careless but because he was either off his balance, had not used his hocks sufficiently, or was not sufficiently muscled up. Remember that a perfectly balanced and muscularly fit horse will clear big obstacles with ease. It is your job to put him at a fence correctly.
16. If you horse is very sluggish, there is probably something miss.
17. If he refuses unexpectedly, search for the cause. The ground is probably too slippery, or he  may have a pinching saddle or other discomfort. (116-17)

One of my favorite plates is on page 119, which I have scanned below. It shows a man, most likely McTaggart himself, cantering and jumping in the paper reins he invented and that disciple John Richard Young demanded his children learn to use. These "reins of brown paper . . . have been cut in half and joined together by a single thread" (118).

Before you critique this man's seat or question the presence of the standing martingale, get a paper bag and some scissors and a bit of grocery string. Give this a go.

If I have a criticism of McTaggart it's a jealous one. Like most of the finest horsemen, McTaggart's innate physical gifts of balance and timing, plus great tenacity and courage, proved both on horseback and on the battlefields of World War I, undoubtedly allowed him to ride hot horses with this finesse.

I now have five of his books in my library, and at one point, the United States Cavalry had ten of his books on their recommended reading list. Despite some repetition, the five I have are all well worth reading. I'm sure I'll enjoy the rest of his work as much as I've enjoyed The Art of Riding, Stable and Saddle, Hints on Horsemanship, Mount and Man, and  From Colonel to Subaltern; Some Keys for Horseowners.