I know I’m not the only one who flings a book across the room when the author gets horse stuff wrong.
It happens a lot in novels, especially children’s books: the underage main character miraculously cures a malnourished, lame or chronically cranky pony, and then goes on to win the Grand National or the Kentucky Derby, or some other high-profile event.
Authors of books for adults are equally guilty of writing the impossible, as when a rugged cowpoke sweeps a swooning damsel up onto the back of the yearling colt he has just “gentled” and they gallop away to the sunset.
We horse-readers will tolerate a lot in fiction. We complain about the inaccuracies, but the pleasures of imaginary horses who will never stand on our toes or run up our vet bills sometimes outweighs implausible plot points.
In non-fiction books, we need to be less tolerant.
There are a bucket-ton of books available right now advocating practices and methods that (at best) do no good, or (at worst) cause irreparable injury to horses or riders.
How can you tell which books are the good ones, then? I'm so glad you asked.
In libraries, we apply the CRAAP test to evaluate information sources, including books.
"CRAAP" stands for:
C - Currency. How old is the information? Is newer information available? Have best practices changed?
R - Relevance. Is the book an appropriate match for the reader's skill level and information need?
A - Authority. Who is the author, and is s/he qualified to write on the topic?
A - Accuracy. What is the source of the information? Is it backed by evidence? Can it be verified from another source? Does it match with your personal experience?
P - Purpose. Is the information intended to persuade, teach, inform, sell, or entertain?
Maybe the information is old. Maybe the information is incomplete or not appropriate for the audience. Maybe the author lacks credibility. Maybe the science is cherry picked. Maybe the photos are misleadingly captioned. Maybe the author is trying to sell stuff.
Or maybe there is “information” that belongs on the manure pile!
Sometimes information is outdated.
I know of a great book about endurance that outlines an excellent feeding program for hard-working horses. The problem? It doesn't mention beet pulp—not because the author is ignorant, but rather because the book was written before beet pulp was available as a horse feed. The rest of the book is great, but the nutrition chapter is out-of-date.
When selecting books, look at the publication date.
Sometimes the information is not appropriate for you.
I was thrilled when endurance legend Julie Suhr said that she learned something from my book Endurance 101. However, I wrote the book for a green bean audience, not for legends who have been competing in the sport since before I learned to tie my bootlaces.
By contrast, advanced veterinary texts are written for medical professionals, not for backyard riders. There aren’t any secrets that need to be hidden, but the technical information may be easy to misunderstand.
Choose a book written for your knowledge and skill level.
Sometimes the “expert” author isn’t really an expert.
An author who claims to be an authority on some aspect of horse training or competition should be able to verify that claim. From bronc riding to Olympic-level dressage, competitive achievements are easy to prove—or disprove.
If the author relies on interviews with experts, those experts should be named, and you can look up the credentials. For medical topics about animals, look for a "DVM" by the name.
Look for authoritative reviews. If well-known people in a specific sport refer to a particular book, the book is worth considering. A glowing review from the author’s mum or best friend isn’t as authoritative.
Choose a book that is well-reviewed by people who know what they’re doing.
Sometimes information in a book makes no sense.
Maybe your experience is unusual. When in doubt, ask people who know more. For veterinary information, ask your vet. If it's a training technique, ask a trainer you trust.
Research should be cited with the title of the project, the name of the research team, and the date it was released. Be ready to run if you see vague statements like "I read recently that..." or "I saw online that..." or "a lot of people say..." Read it /saw it / heard it where? Hearsay is not research, and repeating hearsay is not science.
If the "information" violates basic safety or science, run-don't-walk away. For example, a book that claims that good riders don’t need helmets is wrong—science has proved that gravity applies to everybody.
Choose a book that makes sense.
Sometimes, a book is an extended infomercial.
Books that advocate specific equipment or techniques should clearly explain the reasons those things are preferred.
Be cautious of claims that a patented training device will convert a reprobate equine easily and instantly. Be equally cautious of the author who advocates that you read only his/her books, view his/her videos, and attend his/her expensive.
Choose a book that suits your needs, not one that is trying to sell you something.
Does one screwball notion wreck the whole book?
Maybe. Maybe not. If I find an author pushing a loony idea, I’m skeptical about the rest of the work.
Occasionally, I fling the book across the room. I think that's reasonable, even for a librarian.
There are plenty of books in the world: be sure you find the good ones.
Librarians do this kind of information evaluation all the time. If you have a question about a book or any other information source, call your local public library and ask an expert to help you figure out the best horse books for you.
We think doing that kind of research is a lot more fun than flinging books across a room.