Equestrianism: Tittle-tattle proves more memorable than success

Books for Christmas: Equestrianism
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The Independent Online

Some of those who figure in Nick Skelton's autobiography, Only Falls and Horses (£18.95, Greenwater Publishing), will find this book a far from pleasant read. One imagines that Ted Edgar, his former manager and mentor to whom he first went as a 15-year-old schoolboy, will detest it.

Skelton spent 12 years honing his skills with Ted and Liz Edgar and the horses that were stabled in their Warwickshire yard – among them OK with whom he was the Junior European champion in 1975. He does not, however, seem to look back on those years with much joy. "Ted always referred to me as 'that kid'... He gave me the dirtiest, messiest jobs on the yard, jobs that the grooms wouldn't have done. But Liz used to keep the peace between us and she kept the whole thing going."

Successes in the arena (notably breaking the British High Jump record in 1978 and being on medal-winning teams, including the one that captured gold at the 1985 European Championships) are interspersed with the many "bollockings" that Skelton recalls receiving from Ted Edgar.

The final straw came, according to Skelton, when his manager insulted his new-born elder son. This led to a famous punch-up in a hotel foyer in Gothenburg. "I lashed out and punched him twice, a left and a right," Skelton recalls. "We ended up brawling on the floor in reception and for good measure I gave him a kick while we were down. At that point the hotel staff came and threw me out."

Skelton's story cannot be described as an edifying one, with its laddish behaviour and endless practical jokes. For anyone who loves tittle-tattle, however, it will be an easy, gossipy read. The behind-the-scenes accounts – which include Skelton being locked out of a hotel room in Mauritius when his wife discovered that he was having an affair – will probably prove more memorable than his many victories and the horses who had a share in them. His obvious affection for the lovely mare Dollar Girl does, however, shine through.

The fall that broke his neck – and put an end to Skelton's enormously successful career – is naturally recorded. "All I can remember is landing right on top of my head, with my full body weight above me... I dropped vertically from about five feet. I hit the floor and heard a loud crack, literally inside my head." Although the book appears to have been rushed out without proper editing, it rightly includes an appendix which lists Skelton's wonderful record in a career that lasted 27 years.

Those seeking to enjoy more tranquil places from the saddle will find pleasure in Kent/Nord et du Pas-de-Calais on Horseback (British Horse Society, £5.95), which is the latest in a series of trail guides. It describes 15 riding routes around Kent and 20 in Northern France, all of which are said to be suitable for long-distance walkers and off-road cyclists as well as those on horses.

Peter Gray's The Organic Horse (David & Charles, £17.99) carries a sub-title: The natural management of horses explained. The author, who is a qualified veterinary surgeon and a university adviser on animal treatment courses, addresses all aspects of horse management – with a particular emphasis on the food and water they consume. "In a way," Gray writes in his introduction, "the exercise is an examination of conscience, and an inquiry into exactly what we are doing to the horse today."

Julian Marczak and Karen Bush are joint authors of The Principles of Teaching Riding (David and Charles, £18.99), which is the official manual of the Association of British Riding Schools.

Their straightforward approach carries a recommendation from Charles Harris, the outspoken critic of much that has appeared in equestrian books, who says that it "should be looked upon as the 'bible' for the safety of horse and rider".

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