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About the Book
In Lessons in Lightness, veteran trainer Mark Russell carries the classical knowledge of “riding in lightness” forward. His theories and concepts are drawn from the teachings of the French and Iberian ecuyers, or riding masters, who are credited with being the first to promote the benefits of suppleness and flexion in the horse in order to achieve lightness to the aids.
When the rider enables the horse to use his energy efficiently, the horse will move freely forward- once balanced in self-carriage, there will be no resistance in the rein. By using these methods the rider liberates the horse’s true movement without either driving force (the rider’s legs) or holding restraints (the rider’s hands).
Mark Russell wrote this book about his methods and his program because riding in lightness works for both horse and rider. To understand how the horse thinks and how he creates forward impulsion and propels energy through his body empowers the rider to better educate the horse. An exploration into the horse’s physiological and psychological state is the basis for building that strong bond most riders yearn to achieve. Learning lightness opens the door to the Art of Riding.
Due to the unexpected death of Mark Russell on June 12th, 2016 Lessons in Lightness has been reprinted with minor updates. Prior to Mark’s death he was in the process of a full revision and this revision is moving forward with his wife, Hela Russell, at the helm and with Xenophon Press as our partner and publisher.
The revision will further reflect the wisdom that Mark gained since the original publication in 2004. The revision will include updated material, clarifications, in-depth discussions, instructions on how to manage challenges, new images, and a new chapter on the somatognathic system and the horse’s head, neck, and jaw by Jillian Kreinbring M.S. Updates will be posted as we cope with the ramifications of Mark’s death and move forward. January 4, 2017.
Lessons in Lightness is one of those rare books that while explaining an approach to riding, perhaps, more importantly inspires us. It instills in the reader the enthusiasm and commitment to true teamwork with the horse. Lessons in Lightness leads you through the steps and thinking processes for the kind of dialogue with your horse that can lead to Artistic equitation. English and Western riders alike will catch the joie de vivre that riding with lightness imparts.
In Lessons in Lightness, Russell explains this concept and method using a four step approach for each movement; the how-to section; the liberal use of diagrams and photos; and sidebar notes. There are frequent reminders that patience is of the utmost importance and that horses learn at different rates. What one horse may understand in one or two lessons may take another horse weeks. The trainer must take this into account and adjust the training schedule accordingly.
Throughout Lessons in Lightness, Russell emphasizes the three stages in developing the horse; gymnasticism: relaxation, flexion, and strength building. Terms that may already be familiar to riders are expanded upon in the context of working toward riding with lightness and take on entirely new meanings. Lessons in Lightness deals with such thought provoking topics as : the 3-track shoulder-in and the 4-track shoulder(s)-in, competitive school versus the artistic school, value of the seldom-practiced counter-shoulders-in, horse’s and rider’s one sidedness, circle training, timing the aids to the horse’s hoof beats, and the significance of in-hand work.
Lessons in Lightness presents a refreshing approach to communication with your horse. Indeed, the use of the word Educating in the title is a key. This excellent book with its reams of valuable points is one that you will want to refer to again and again. When reading the book, you will likely find there are just too many passages to highlight. Every paragraph, if not every sentence, seems to be a point to remember.
Perhaps the best way to use this book would be to read it through in its entirety in order to fully understand the logic and sequence, then go back to the beginning. Whichever way you choose, you will gain sound and useful insights into reaching for the goal of riding with lightness.
Reviewed by Lynne A. Miller, www.gmhainc.org
“This Book Deserves Your Time And Study”
While the basis for much of this book is dressage, the concept of lightness is relevant to most horse sports. Even the speed events could benefit from a horse that is easy to turn and stop.
I especially liked the discussion of using a controlled back-up to engage the horse over his topline. The horse is asked to lower his head and neck before backing up, causing him to use himself more effectively when he begins to go backward.
The explanation of how to get a horse to relax, soften and lower his head and neck is excellent. The horse is encouraged again and again to relax and lower his head and neck. Each time he is rewarded with an easing of the pressure, and after a few repetitions, it takes less time to achieve the result.
This tool forms the basis for ongoing training, whether you aim for serious dressage or western pleasure. The dressage principles are explained clearly, and it becomes apparent how these methods can be used in all types of training.
Inspired by the late Nuno Oliveira, one of the legendary masters of modern dressage riding, trainer Russell has done a terrific job of writing a book that is useful and a pleasure to read. The photographs are of excellent quality.
If you are interested in any type of horse training, this book deserves your time and study.
By Pat Ingram, The American Quarter Horse Journal
“This book Is Terrific”
This book is terrific. It is respectful of both horse and rider, written clearly and thoughtfully with an easy to use layout and beautiful illustrations that support Mr. Russell’s ideas. Photographs and illustrations are clear, succinct and helpful. The anatomical analysis is interesting and useful and does not require a doctorate in veterinary medicine for the reader to quickly make connections between structure and performance. Russell interweaves “natural horsemanship” theories and admonishes against over-reliance on draw reins and spurs.
If you don’t have time to read a book on riding better, buy this one – it is made for you. Thumbing through the book, even the briefest pause in the three pages of “The Position of the Rider” can make you ride better tonight; just-the-right-length bullet points and bolded notes alongside the text make key information easy to assimilate for those with little time or a short attention span.
Seventeen chapters highlight: Understanding Lightness, Meet The Horses/How to Use This Book, Teaching Lightness, Working In Hand (The TMJ, Relaxing the Jaw, Lengthening Down, The Halt, Rein-Back, Shoulders-In, Counter Shoulders-In, Half-Pass, and Summary of Work-InHand), Longeing, Body Mechanics of Horse and Rider, Tack and Accessories, Phase 1: Beginning the Circle, Phase 2: Building a Working Frame, Lateral Work Under Saddle (Shoulders-n, Counter Shoulders-In, Half-Pass, Travers, Renvers) the Half-Halt, Rein-Back (Yielding the Chest), Developing the Canter,Cantering the Circle, Developing Collection, Transitions, Phase #: Counter-Canter and Flying Changes.
Horsemen’s Yankee Pedlar, September 2004
“I have a relaxed happy horse”
I am a level 4 parelli student who has struggled with more advanced maneuvers such as flying lead changes. My horse is naturally downhill, long-backed, on the forehand, and struggles to have a relaxed balanced canter. All other trainers and books seem to encourage driving the horse forward into the contact, which created lots of tension and eventually bucking and tail-swishing during walk-canter transitions (and bucking with lead changes down the entire rail!). Mark’s method has transformed this– I have a relaxed happy horse who blows out frequently with happy-forward ears. He is learning to canter with relaxation, and spontaneously offered me a left to right lead change on straight line this week while just cantering up the road! It is the key I have been looking for to finally have lightness, relaxation, balance and a fantastic partner. Additionally, the book is well laid out with good photos and good descriptions — my copy now has loads of underlining and highlighting as well!
Amazon Review, April 2014
“Twelve Star Rating”
I would rate this book twelve stars if that were possible. Not every horseman has an interest in understanding how and why training methods affect the horse biomechanically. But for those who do, I have ridden with this author and read his book, highlighting as I go along. Mark Russell explains completely and I have had almost instant successful results. If you want to understand and not just go through the motions, live by this book!
Amazon Review, August 2014
“Bravo — no more spank and crank”
Mark- thank you for writing a book that is easy to understand. Your philosophy is both timeless, and timely. I can’t believe the responses I have gotten from my horses from applying your simple and yet so meaningful exercises. I have been searching for someone to explain how to “start” or “restart” a horse from the ground up. I get licking, chewing, and jaw cracking, eye rolling yawns. My horses shake their necks and breath more deeply after the exercises. Thanks so much Mark. My horses are more relaxed, stronger, and focused. I can’t say enough.
Amazon Review September 2009
“Carrying on the tradition of Nuno Oliveira”
Well presented system of Classical Dressage training. Mark is carrying on the traditions of one of the greatest rider/trainers of the 20th century, Nuno Olivera. My horse is responding very well and I feel that I am acquiring new “tools” for my training “kit’. I highly recommend this book for all horse disciplines.
Amazon Review March, 2010