The question used to be, “Read any good books lately?”

To my mind, it was a far better question.

While educators now acknowledge that reading isn’t everything, and it’s universally acknowledged that people learn in different ways (visually, verbally and through experimentation), employing youtube or Facebook as a font of knowledge is an unfortunate trend in today’s equestrian world.

Rene Descartes (1596-1650) said, “The reading of all good books is indeed like a conversation with the noblest men of past centuries who were the authors of them, nay a carefully studied conversation, in which they reveal to us none but the best of their thoughts.”

I wish we could say the same about youtube or Facebook.  But videoclips and micro-thoughts posted on microblogs simply don’t do it.  Nor can they.  Nor are they expected to….one would think.

Except for the fact that there is a disturbing trend towards educating horse and rider through youtube, disseminating that “education” through Facebook, and determining its value through the number of people who click on a “thumbs up” icon, conveying the fact that they “like” it.

Well, they might like watching reruns of Scooby Doo, too, but that doesn’t make them qualified to judge at the Westminster Dog Show.

It’s no accident that some of our greatest living horsemen continue to encourage reading.  Bill Steinkraus and Jimmy Wofford immediately come to mind.  Pick up an equestrian book published by Doubleday and chances are it was edited by Mr. Steinkraus and he has put in a good word for reading in his introduction.  If you clinic with Mr. Wofford, chances are he’ll recommend that you read to build your knowledge.

Even in his articles for Practical Horseman, Mr. Wofford makes his point.  This article, which focuses on lateral work, is instructive for both hunt seat and dressage riders.  If you read the article, you’ll recognize this passage, which shows that Mr. Wofford not only reads, he re-reads:

“To discuss these two movements correctly, I first needed to reread works by the two widely acknowledged inventors of these basic and necessary exercises: the Duke of Newcastle, who wrote A New Method, and Extraordinary Invention, to Dress Horses in 1667 and François Robichon de la Guérinière, who published École de Cavalerie in 1731.”

Just for the record, I don’t have anything against videos or DVDs.  I have shelves full of them, and some I treasure.  Perhaps it’s silly of me to refuse to sell my copy of “Selecting Hunters and Jumpers with Rodney Jenkins” despite the fact that used copies are selling on Amazon from $134.95 to $325. Actually, I realize as I write this that it is definitely silly, since I’ve watched it so many times, I “know it by heart.”

As a self-proclaimed clinic junkie, you know I like to watch other people ride. And there’s nothing like watching a really good rider show you how it’s done, on youtube or in person.

Steinkraus and Wofford, as dedicated as they are to reading, have put out (great) videos of their own.  You can pick up “Cross Country Clinic with Jim Wofford” or “Basic Techniques of Riding and Jumping” by Bill Steinkraus, and you’ll no doubt learn something new — even if it’s only that one of them confirms something you discovered on your own.

What makes riders and instructors good isn’t the fact that they’re on Facebook, or how many people “like” them.  It’s their achievements, their experience and their knowledge and, in no small part, their talent. If they think it’s important to read, where does that leave the rest of us, with a fraction of their achievements, experience and talent, if we choose not to read?

Seriously at a disadvantage.  Not just in our own achievements, but in our judgment.  And that’s the problem with learning from a “like” icon.