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Check out the latest review of RIDING FREE by Andrea and Markus Eschbach in the June issue of The Horseman’s Yankee Pedlar!

“European riding duo Andrea and Markus Eschbach are known for their demonstrations riding horses without bits, bridles, or saddles. And now, they have a guide to show you how to achieve the same thing. This book, compact and full of color photos, takes you step-by-step as you learn to improve communication between you and your horse and, ultimately, start riding without the traditional tack. Their whole training methodology is based on the belief that riders only need to send small cues to the horse in order to communicate, and with proper training of the human, things like reins aren’t necessary for communication.

“The book starts out with an explanation of the proper way to familiarize your horse with bits and other tack, plus extensive discussion of going bitless, with various groundwork exercises to get him comfortable with a bitless bridle. The Eschbachs discuss the use of a neck ring, and finally, riding bareback. Whether you plan to go ‘naked’ or not, this dynamic duo of horsemen can help you achieve a more subtle, mutually beneficial, and humane way to communicate with your equine partner.

“The bottom line? If nothing else, this book will make you think twice about your dependence on tack, especially bits”

To download a free sample chapter from RIDING FREE, click HERE and look for the FREE SAMPLE DOWNLOAD on the right side of the page.

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The release of the new TSB book RIDING FREE got me reminiscing…the cover alone reminds me of carefree days in my youth when I was long on confidence and short on fear. From my earliest days on a horse, I was just as likely to clamber on board without a saddle as I was to stick my foot in the stirrup. I was just as comfortable steering my horse with a couple lead ropes tied to the halter as I was with leather reins and a bit in his mouth.

RIDING FREE is actually for REAL horse people. Andrea and Markus Eschbach explain that with correct training and preparation, a piece of metal across the tongue isn’t necessary to control a horse, and a piece of leather over the back isn’t needed to keep your seat. If you have spent any time asking yourself why it takes so much equipment between you and your horse in order to get close to him, then this book will speak to you. Our horses can be happier and more comfortable if we take the steps to communicate with them at the most elemental level, and the riding relationship that can arise from that can defy your expectations.

On my beloved first pony Misty, at age nine, with just a halter and lead rope (and yes, I should have been wearing a helmet).

Besides, it can be good for YOU as a rider to gain the seat necessary to control your horse’s direction and speed without a bit, and to stay in place without a saddle. In his bestselling book HOW GOOD RIDERS GET GOOD, USEA Hall-of-Fame Inductee Denny Emerson asks us if it is “possible to be a centaur in the suburbs.” He describes what it may have taken for young Plains Indians to become “part” of a horse in the eighteen and nineteenth centuries: “They learned naturally, by simply letting their body accommodate to the movements of the horse, and they didn’t have a saddle between them and the animal to use as a crutch, or in any way to impede their total feel of the living entity beneath them.” Denny says that today you can still learn to ride as well as the Plains Indians, “but only if you recreate those same conditions.”

Pretty much the only time I got my little brother on a horse---bareback (just halters and lead ropes) on Asil and Katrina. This was our favorite way to hit the trail.

“I’ve always been thankful that I had all those bareback years, galloping over the hills on [my first horse] Paint with only a halter and a lead rope,” writes Denny, “because I think even now, fifty years later, hip replacement and all, I could still gallop around bareback comfortably and confidently.”

So that security gained by dealing with, perhaps, the momentary insecurity you might feel riding without a bit or without a saddle, is a feeling of being able to really ride that never leaves you. But it isn’t just about being able to “stick” that appeals, it is indeed the “centaur” sensation that is more likely to be achieved when the saddle is shed. Bareback is about as close to being “one” with the horse as we can really get.

There were actually bareback equitation classes at the 4-H shows I attended as a kid--here I'm on Asil (the gray) at the Midstate Riding Club in Randolph, Vermont.

“I’ve never spent a lot of time on a horse bareback,” says TSB Managing Director Martha Cook, “but a winter doesn’t pass (at least not yet), when I don’t indulge in a few short rides without a saddle. There’s something wonderful about slipping onto a shaggy, warm horse on a cold, snowy day. The heat that radiates through my seat on a cold day is like putting on pants fresh from the dryer. It feels good!”

In this day and age of merchandising and marketing it is so easy to think the trappings are what riding is all about. It might actually be difficult for many people to imagine taking a lesson bareback, or riding their horse on the trail with a bitless bridle, or bringing their horse in from the pasture, on board, with nothing but a lead rope looped around his neck. The thing is, really, truly, this shouldn’t be hard to imagine. It should be what we all dream about constantly—is it not the epitome of all that a horse-and-rider partnership should embody?

Misty was in her late twenties when this picture was taken...an all-out gallop across the field below my house, no saddle, no bridle. Nothing better.

I would never have thought twice about hopping on my horses without tack when I was a kid. It wasn’t just youthful bravado, it was that I could think of absolutely nothing better in the world. Bare legs on warm coat, muscle on muscle, and no ulterior motives…just friendship in a common space and time.

Bliss.

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RIDING FREE, the new book from Andrea and Markus Eschbach, promises you CAN feel safe and secure when riding your horse without a bit, without a bridle, without a saddle…even without all three!

The Eschbachs have an amazing ability to spell out the steps you need to take to prepare your horse for a life of minimal tack and maximum fun. Their new book is a joy to read and a thrill to try out–they provide both theory and step-by-step exercises that anyone can use.

In fact, RIDING FREE inspired TSB Managing Director Martha Cook to give a bitless bridle a try.

A Morgan in a bitless bridle--it is NOT a figment of your imagination!

“When I read Riding Free: Bitless, Bridleless, Bareback,” says Martha, “I was intrigued by Dr. Robert Cook’s research on how a bit affects a horse’s breathing and reflexes for chewing and swallowing. The science made a lot of sense to me. I have a Morgan gelding who exhibits any anxiety during schooling or out solo on a trail ride by champing his snaffle bit. The more he champs the bit, the tighter his whole body becomes. The action of champing builds tension, and I feel working the bit becomes the anxiety. It’s difficult to move beyond the tension once this sequence begins.

“I figured, what do I have to lose? I purchased one of Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridles and gave it a try. So far, so good after a handful of rides both in the arena and on the trail. I find school figures lack accuracy, but I’m sure this will improve as my horse becomes used to aids without the direction of a bit. The best thing is I think my theory of taking the bit out of the equation when riding on the trail is working.”

You can download a sample chapter of RIDING FREE by clicking HERE and finding the DOWNLOAD button on the right side of the page.

Read a review of RIDING FREE on TheSweetFeed.com by clicking HERE.

Order your copy of this exciting new book at the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is always FREE and where you can get 15% off your entire order now through the holidays.

TSB Managing Director Martha Cook poses with her Morgan after a successful foray into the woods in a bitless bridle.

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I admit it–I haven’t read the book, and I haven’t seen the stage production…and now that I’ve seen the trailer for the much-anticipated Steven Spielberg production of Michael Mopurgo’s bestselling book WAR HORSE, I don’t know that I’ll be able to sit through the movie. Did anybody else sob audibly during the running scene at the end of the Coen Brother’s rendition of TRUE GRIT? I was upended and undone for days afterward.

I started thinking about War Horse after seeing the special section in Vogue magazine last month–I found the photos startlingly beautiful, and as always, I’m intrigued by the horse and the model (or in this case, actor) pictured. I find myself wondering, “Does he/she even LIKE horses?” “Is that bit really necessary for a fashion shoot?” “Does anyone actually RIDE in an Hermes saddle?” “Who thinks it’s a good idea to ride a gray horse bareback in black designer pants?”

But the Vogue photos were truly stunning, and evocative enough to inspire me to try to find out a little more about the movie and whether the actor who plays the lead, Jeremy Irvine, actually knew anything about horses before he found himself “lucky” enough to play the role. And what about Spielberg? How did he manage to direct a film that has been called by some “Black Beauty in the First World War”?

Working with horses on this scale was a new experience for Spielberg, who commented on flicksandbits.com that: “The horses were an extraordinary experience for me, because several members of my family ride. I was really amazed at how expressive horses are and how much they can show what they’re feeling.”

“It’s challenging to tell a story where you have to look at a horse and wonder what the horse is feeling from moment to moment. But that’s why I wanted to direct this picture,” Spielberg says in a USA Today article. “You’re giving language to a horse based all on physical performance.” (Check out DANCING WITH HORSES: THE ART OF BODY LANGUAGE by Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling.)

And what about young Jeremy Irvine? Vogue reports that although he grew up around horses, he’d never actually been on one until he began intense training for the film. “We spent two months learning to ride together,” he says in the November issue, “racing across the fields with swords…it was the best summer ever.” (He should have read RIDING FREE by Andrea and Markus Eschbach first!)

So what do YOU think? Should I read the book, see the play, or go right for the movie? With all the buzz, I can’t ignore it completely…is it required reading/viewing in my line of work?

I’ve heard from colleagues and friends that the stage production is magnificent–and gut-wrenching. “I was fortunate to see the theater production of War Horse this spring at the Lincoln Center,” says TSB Promotions Director Julie Beulieu. “The production was spectacular. While you may begin watching with a feeling of awe at the puppetry, by the end of the play you are in tears as the puppets have magically become real horses in your mind. I am not in a rush to see the movie production of this play, as I was so struck by the torture these horses endured in the war that I am not sure I want to relive their pain.”

Publishing and equine industry consultant Susan Harding says she loved the play, too. “What made it so special was the reality created by the puppets. Having now seen the movie [Susan caught a screening–the film is officially released in movie theaters December 25th), I would say that the puppets were more ‘real’ than the horse in the movie. The movie gives too many human emotions and actions to Joey [the main horse character]. If you haven’t read the book, I definitely recommend it!”

If you have an opinion, let me know! I’m a crier, be warned…the end of Homeward Bound (yes, the one with Michael J. Fox as a dog) gets me every time.

Rebecca Didier, Senior Editor

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