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Lessons in Lightness



Horsemans’ Yankee Pedlar


Awarded 5 Ribbons = Best in Show!


Lessons In Lightness, by Mark Russell and Andrea Steele,

Hardback: 178 pages, Publisher: The Lyons Press, The Globe Pequot Press; 2004; $22.95.

Summary: Useful, clear approach to classical dressage riding and good horse handling and riding.


Best for: English/Western riders to help our horses move with increased lightness, relaxation, precision and happiness.

 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, but this one – 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 the Horse Down, The Halt, Rein-back, Shoulders-In, Counter Shoulders-In, Half-pass, and Summary of Work-In-Hand), Longing, Body Mechanics of Horse and Rider, Tack and Accessories, Phase I: Beginning the Circle, Phase II: Building a Working Frame, Lateral Work Under Saddle (Shoulders-In, Counter Shoulders- In, Half-pass, Travers, Renvers) and Half-Halt, Rein-Back (Yielding the Chest), Developing the Canter, Cantering the Circle, Developing Collection, Transitions, Phase III: Counter Canter and Flying Changes. Key Terms and Recommended Reading are helpful if thin–a thorough Index would have been welcome, too.

With his graying mustache and aviator glasses, Mark Russell looks like the veterinarian next door. His tone is kind, patient, helpful and clear, always respectful to horse and rider. When Russell introduces the horses used in this book, with various breeds, ages, strengths and weaknesses of each and their background, it is a lovely reminder to the reader to tailor the education of each horse to his or her individual nature.

Lessons in Lightness: The Art of Educating the Horse

By Mark Russell with Andrea W. Steele

ISBN 1-59228-360-8


New England Horse Talk


Lessons In Lightness: The Art of Educating the Horse

Drawing on the theories of the old dressage masters, Lessons in Lightness shows how a rider at any level can greatly benefit from the traditional dressage techniques and exercises. Written by a thirty-year veteran horse trainer, this is the only book that takes core elements of classical dressage and applies them as the basis for good general horsemanship today.

            With this step-by-step program, both horse and rider learn from each other. Once the horse master the basic exercises, the rider not only has a very ridable horse but one that can advance in almost any discipline for which it is suited – from western pleasure and performance riding to show jumping and dressage.

            Veteran horse trainer Mark Russell studied with legendary dressage master Nuno Oliveira, an experience that revealed to him the concept of riding in lightness and forever changed his outlook on horsemanship. Today he trains horses and riders throughout southern New England from his home base in East Hartford, Connecticut.

            Andrea W. Steele is a native of England and a lifelong equestrian. She met Russell in 1980 and has followed his vision for riding in lightness ever since. She lives in Durham, Connecticut.


GMHA, Inc 


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 process 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: an explanation of the principles involved in the movement; the how-to section; the liberal use of diagrams and photos; and the sidebar notes. There are frequent reminders that patience is of the utmost 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’s 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, horses’ and riders’ one sidedness, circle training, timing the aids to the horse’s hoofbeats, 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 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 it 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 goals of riding with lightness.

–Reviewed by Lynne A. Miller


The American Quarter Horse Journal


While the basis for much of the 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 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 fro 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.


Reviewed by Christine DeHerrera


Lessons in Lightness: The Art of Educating the Horse

By Mark Russell with Andrea W. Steele


What I liked most about this book was that the training methods were appropriate for any type of horse–jumping, dressage, western riding or trail horse. With so much specialization for competition, it sometimes is forgotten that proper horse training works for all disciplines, Mr. Russell worked with the legendary Nuno Oliveira and his concepts of training reflect this classical background.

The book focuses on progressively training the horse beginning with groundwork through advanced saddle work, including flying changes. Dressage purists may be put off by the photos of horses in western tack and the fact that Mr. Russell does not advocate tight flash nosebands—all the rage in current dressage training. However the message of working with the horse rather than stressing the animal to achieve a short-term goal is well emphasized. Those interested in following Mr. Russell’s methods should plan on spending some time. Classical training offers no shortcuts and requires skill and patience from the rider and strength and acceptance from the horse. Follow this book and your horse will thank you for it.



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