Books for Christmas: A world champion reveals his faults: Genevieve Murphy on the champions and fallers among the current stable of equestrian publications

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The Independent Online
IN HIS preface to Eventing Insights (Kenilworth Press, pounds 15.95), Blyth Tait tells us that he has 'tried to be perfectly honest and tell it exactly as it is'. There is no reason to doubt the New Zealand world champion's candour as he describes his own ideas on buying and training event horses and riding them in competition. But the frankness is most compelling in his final chapter, Viva Barcelona.

In this Tait relives the anguish of his 'appalling' Olympic dressage test on Messiah, who 'blew a fuse completely' in the arena to finish that phase in 69th place. His subsequent rise - to eighth after the cross-country and third after the final show jumping - is also vividly recorded.

'I made the single, most stupid, riding error of my life,' Tait recalls, describing an awful moment at the penultimate cross-country fence. Having failed to check Messiah before the second element, he was unable to take the sharp turn that followed and the horse, ever brave, ended up jumping a five-foot barricade that was not part of the course.

Tait would have finished within the optimum time but for that dangerous diversion, which could so easily have resulted in serious injury.

Mary Thomson's Eventing Year (David and Charles, pounds 17.99) also gives a valuable insight into the training methods of a leading rider. The year in question is 1992, during which Thomson won the Badminton Three-Day Event on King William and competed in the Olympics.

She, too, has vivid memories of the Olympic cross-country. 'We hadn't even reached the second fence and he (King William) was getting horribly strong.' Approaching the second water complex 'William raced over the preceding fence, which was quite small, and just scorched down the hill towards it.'

Having intended to take the quick route at this complex, Thomson changed her mind - 'he was still going faster than was safe to jump even the long route, and only just missed leaving my knee behind on the guiderail. As we progressed around the course I was getting weaker and weaker while William just got stronger and stronger . . . The finish was a very welcome sight.'

Thomson's book, written with Debbie Sly, follows the rider's month-by-month training plan, starting in early January when William began his preparations for Badminton. It proves a neat structure, which should help other riders to plan their own campaigns.

There are some lovely photographs in Thomson's book, but the pictorial prize must go to Elizabeth Furth's Visions of Show Jumping (Springfield Books, pounds 19.95), which includes some stunning head-on shots with horses practically jumping out of the page.

All facets are covered: intense concentration, graceful harmony between horse and rider, dramatic falls, quiet moments behind the scenes when grooms cosset their charges. Furth was also busy with a tape recorder, interviewing course designers, riders and grooms for the text which makes a pleasantly undemanding adjunct to her wonderful photographs.

The show jumpers in Furth's book bear little resemblance to the ancestor of all horses, the little fox- sized Eohippus that lived in North America some 50 million years ago. Sue Baker tells this evolutionary adventure story in Survival of the Fittest (Exmoor Books, pounds 19.95), which charts the gradual change to Equus and the long trek (across the now submerged land bridge beneath the Bering Straits) from Alaska to Asia and Europe.

Baker's book, illustrated with charming line drawings by Stephanie Poulter, celebrates the survival of the oldest of the British breeds - the Exmoor pony. Elwyn Hartley Edwards writes about more than 100 breeds - including the Exmoor - in the Horses Eyewitness Handbook (Dorling Kindersley, pounds 12.99), which is a concise reference book with excellent photographs.

Poor reproduction makes the photographs in Dressage for the Event Horse (Kenilworth Press, pounds 14.95) a big disappointment. But the clarity of the text - by dressage trainer, Ferdi Eilberg, and equestrian correspondent, Gillian Newsum - will still make it a valuable book for competitors at any level.