Books for Christmas: Eventing produces a real winner

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The Independent Online
FIFTY YEARS of three-day eventing in Britain, starting with the Olympic Games of 1948 and the inaugural event at Badminton the following year, are celebrated with a wonderful selection of photographs in Riding for Gold (Compass Equestrian, pounds 29.95).

Originally conceived as a written history with illustrations, the book changed direction to a pictorial record with text when its author, Jane Pontifax, was left with limited time because of illness. Her text is therefore succinct but always pertinent. The photographs (among which the early ones are particularly evocative) are confined to British events and, almost exclusively, to the overseas and home successes of British riders. Do not expect to find a photograph of New Zealand's Blyth Tait, the current world and Olympic champion. He gets a couple of mentions, but no picture.

It has been a vintage year for books on eventing, while those on show jumping are again conspicuous by their absence. Mary King, out of competitive action for most of the year while preparing to give birth to her son, Frederick, has also produced William and Mary (David and Charles, pounds 16.99).

This delightful account of King's long partnership with the handsome bay gelding, King William, naturally has a wealth of superb photographs to remind us that both horse and rider are eminently photogenic.

The dust-jacket describes William and Mary as "the world's most successful eventing partnership", but most of us would have to regard that as a sad "what-might-have-been" rather than a reality. The horse has never been less than magnificent across country, but his tendency to clobber show jumps has let him down at major events.

With the benefit of hindsight, King believes that William's greatest triumph when winning Badminton in 1992 was also his undoing. "The crowd gave William a rousing reception during his lap of honour, and there were endless photo calls and press conferences. I loved it all, but we now know that it really upset William." The great horse "was never able to settle down at a major three-day event again."

Two books by Kiwi event riders were published earlier in the year: So Far, So Good by Mark Todd (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, pounds 18.99) and Kiwi Magic by Andrew Nicholson (David and Charles, pounds 17.99).

While Todd produced a diverting autobiography, which was reviewed in these pages in May, Nicholson's contribution (written in collaboration with Kate Green, editor of Eventing magazine) is largely instructional.

The co-authors have made excellent use of photographic sequences by Kit Houghton to explain what horse and rider are doing in each frame. Cross- country schooling sessions with some of the young horses in Nicholson's yard are particularly revealing. You can see the youngsters gain in confidence under the rider's sure touch.

Elizabeth Furth raises photography to an art-form in Visions of Dressage (J A Allen, pounds 29.95), which follows her books on show jumping and eventing to complete a trilogy of equestrian "visions". Furth is also responsible for the text, which includes interviews with riders from the great centres of classical riding (notably the Spanish Riding School of Vienna) as well as leading competitors.

Furth includes the two great exponents of dressage today: Isabell Werth of Germany and Anky van Grunsven of The Netherlands. Both seem happy to chat away about their sport and the special relationship that they enjoy with their top horses.

Werth says that riding Gigolo "feels a bit like coming home because we know each other so well. We share a very emotional bond."

Van Grunsven has similar feelings about Bonfire: "Our understanding for one another is very deeply rooted ...When we are in the arena I get the feeling that we are one."

Mary Wanless has built up a following through teaching "the biomechanical principles that underpin good riding at every level" and she continues to propound her theories in For the Good of the Rider (Kenilworth Press, pounds 19.95). The same stable has produced Starting Endurance Riding (pounds 4.95), which is the 41st booklet in the series of Threshold Picture Guides.