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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

HardWorkandaPlan-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Venkat Naryanan 

Having coffee with equestrian coach Eric Smiley is a delightful occurrence worth repeating. Certainly, a clinic with him has a similar effect. A former international event rider who represented Ireland at European, World, and Olympic level, winning team bronze medals on two occasions, he’s “been there, done that” but is also incredibly present in the here and now. His desire to ponder equestrianism, in all its minutia and across its broader themes, results in a philosophical meandering that doesn’t leave you anxious for answers—it satisfies.

We were lucky enough recently to enjoy caffeinated conversation with Smiley and talked about his book TWO BRAINS, ONE AIM, what he hopes its publication might achieve, and whether there are “holes” yet to be filled in the education of those who ride, train, and work with horses.

RidersRoadmapofHow-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Venkat Naryanan

TSB: You have said that your book TWO BRAINS, ONE AIM is intended to “guide riders to perform better by making their lives less complicated and more fulfilling.” How do you feel riders’ lives are complicated and in what ways do you think they could be more fulfilled?

ES: Achievement produces satisfaction. Helping people achieve by giving them a road map of “how,” gives me such a thrill.

TSB: You spent nearly 10 years in a Cavalry Regiment of the Army. How did this time and experience inspire you to make horses your profession?

ES: When I moved my in-tray to my out-tray without looking at it, and it made no difference. It was time to follow my dreams.

TSB: For 18 years you were Director of the Golden Saddle Scheme in Ireland, which identifies talented young riders and helps further their riding education. What did your experiences with the Scheme teach you about achieving success with riding and with horses?

ES: The clarity of youth, the simplicity of delivery, the naivety of what can be achieved. As adults we could learn a lot from them.

TSB: You enjoy starting your homebred horses. What is it about the training process that continues to motivate you to have horses in your life and bring them along from the very beginning?

ES: Every day is a new day. I never stop trying to find solutions to the questions that horses pose.

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Photo by Irina Kuzmina


TSB: What is one lesson you hope readers will take away from your book?

ES: With hard work and a plan, anything is possible.

TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse and a book, what breed of horse would it be and which book would you choose?

ES: An Irish Sport Horse of course. They are enterprising, resilient, tough, and bright enough to help build a boat. The Natural World by Thomas D. Mangelsen. Photography as good as it gets.

TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback that you haven’t yet done, what would it be?

ES: Ride around the world. One sees and hears things from horseback that would make this experience wonderful.

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?

ES: Honesty. Say it as it is, warts and all!

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?

ES: A trier. Less talented but prepared to have a go.

TSB: What is your greatest fear?

ES: Rats in the dark! And having to eat squash!

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TSB: What is your greatest extravagance?

ES: Buying art.

TSB: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

ES: Being cautious about buying art!!

TSB: What’s in your refrigerator at all times?

ES: Tonic and some really nice Sauvignon Blanc.

TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

ES: Exotic travel with my wife Sue.

Two Brains, One Aim

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TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?

ES: I would ask Claude Monet for a lesson.

TSB: What is your motto?

ES: “Go on, have a go 😁”

 

Eric Smiley’s book TWO BRAINS, ONE AIM is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

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FoodforThought-horseandriderbooks

Sugar cubes. Peppermints. Carrots. Carefully sliced pieces of apple. “Cookies.” Admit it: We all have one. A favorite treat.

When your horse comes trotting up in the pasture, it feels good, right? When he turns and looks over his shoulder after a square halt, your heart melts a little. When he walks, trots, and stays right at your side in the round pen or arena, all sans halter and lead rope, you feel like you’re on top of the world.

Was it just the “cookies” that made him do it?

Do you know?

In their book EQUUS LOST? ethologists Francesco De Giorgio and José De Giorgio-Schoorl argue that science says using treats to train a horse—or any animal—is a bad idea, and we should all take our hands out of the goody bag. Here’s what they say:

In today’s social media, there are countless examples of situations where food rewards are used in interaction with all kinds of animals. Dolphins, dogs, horses, cats, rabbits, zebras, tigers, and many others undergo this kind of conditioning. It might look innocent, but it has a direct impact on their limbic system (comprised of brain structures that are involved in emotions).

FoodinHorseTraining-horseandriderbooksWe can understand the severity of this impact by looking, for example, at the importance of the senses for horses, for their well-being in general and, more specifically, in their interaction with humans. If we want to improve our understanding of horses and our interaction with them, we need to be aware of how they create their own experience and leave the horse the freedom to do so.

It’s in the Nose

Horses use their olfactory system to process information coming from odors. They explore and smell in order to be connected with their environment and improve their understanding of it. For this reason, when working with horses, we must learn to be aware of how the horse uses his senses, trying to notice and understand when the horse is interested or focusing on something with his senses. It could be anything! Something on the ground, a fence, something in the air….

Some horses (like many humans!) are no longer used to using their sense of smell to improve their understanding of a situation, and as a result, miss important information that could otherwise be reassuring. This “not smelling” is due to constantly overlooking their needs in their interaction with man. When they want to stop to smell along a path, we ask them to continue walking; when they want to take in the smells of an unknown arena, we ask them to start “working,” for example.

This problem is accentuated further if horses get used to food premium rewards. By being trained to focus on food, their response is stimulated in the limbic system, and the possibility of remaining calm and explorative is almost entirely taken away. They create a strong association between anything interesting to explore and the possibility of food. Of course, the olfactory system is still working, but from a reactive inner state, with the expectation of finding food, instead of simply processing information from an object. A horse that is smelling with food expectations is easily recognizable: his nostrils pass quickly and mechanically without taking in his surroundings, his breath is superficial, and his nose immediately touches a human’s arm or object without first pausing to elaborate the information from a distance or, after slow intense breathing, stopping at a whisker’s distance, taking in all that the moment is telling his perception, to take time to build his own map of the situation. We are not used to paying attention to these kinds of details. We might never know what information the horse is getting, but we can learn to recognize his attention and signs of his elaboration.

Food premiums also have an immediate impact on daily activities. For example, when horses in shared pastures start perceiving man as mere food dispensers, the human presence will immediately trigger food expectations and, consequently, tension in the entire group. This is something we need to take responsibility for instead of trying to correct the behavioral consequences (horses become insistent or even irritated when looking for food), which we caused by using food premiums in the first place.

Can’t Buy Me Love

We often feel the urge to reward because we forget how to live in the moment. The reward becomes a substitute for actually sharing an experience born from an intrinsic interest. Yet, it is from that interest that an authentic relationship can be developed.

Living a calm, interesting life doesn’t need a premium. Life itself should give satisfaction. We live often totally unconnected with ourselves, trying frantically to find contact with the horse, using all kinds of techniques. By offering a premium, we don’t give the horse the possibility to relate to us, congruent and in line with himself.

Equus LostWe need to be aware of the fact that when we give food rewards to horses, we create such a strong magnet that we reduce their ability for free expression. Positive reinforcement is a form of operant conditioning that falls within the behaviorist framework. Today, it is high time for such an approach to human interaction with animals to be thoroughly questioned. Behaviorism completely disregards animals’ mental elaboration, emotions, and internal state.

Want to know more? EQUUS LOST? by Francesco De Giorgio & José De Giorgio-Schoorl is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

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DressageforNoCountry-horseandriderbooks

In the 1970s, the sport of dressage was still in its infancy in the United States. Unlike the countries of Europe, there was neither an established tradition nor a written history to educate and inspire. A rider intent on learning the discipline had to be prepared to travel, to immerse himself in other cultures, and to care only for what those who had already mastered the art might teach him.

DressageforNoCountryPin-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Rose Caslar Belasik

Paul Belasik was this rider, intent on learning all he could about dressage methodology, and willing and able to compare and contrast the various means for achieving related goals: beautiful movement, “lightness,” connection between two beings. In his new book DRESSAGE FOR NO COUNTRY he shares a lifetime of searching and studying, both through stories of his own adventures and thoughtful essays on the subjects he has pondered during the years he has trained and ridden horses. Beginning in northern New York, and traveling to Portugal, and later, Vienna, Belasik serves as a tour guide of the various dressage “paths” he had the chance to explore, including the German system, the Portuguese art of equitation, and the revered institutions of the Spanish Riding School.

Dressage for No CountryArmed with the knowledge and experience he accrued over time, Belasik debates whether classical dressage and competition dressage are at all compatible. Then, he considers the role of mindfulness, how to become a good teacher, and how to be a good student in today’s horse world, providing the guideposts needed to take dressage–and riding, in general–the next step forward.

DRESSAGE FOR NO COUNTRY is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order, and watch the book trailer below!

Did you know? TSB is streaming some of its most popular equestrian videos! We really are! CLICK HERE to visit our streaming library where we are regularly adding new titles.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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W.O.W.

The year is almost over.

It always hits as a touch unbelievable. And yet here we are, a few days from 2019. It’s cold outside, with enough white stuff to validate the Vermont address. The Prosecco is chilling in anticipation of the celebration ahead. We have some truly exciting projects in the works with wonderful and inspiring movers and shakers from the equestrian world. This means the New Year promises to be incredibly busy, so before we get caught up in what lies ahead, we want to take this moment to cast a glance back at what we published this year.

We studied the art of taping for equine wellness, and found new ways to provide visual video tools in educational books. We told the stories of regular girls who got the big break and young men who traveled the world, looking for one. We got tricky on the ground and balanced in the saddle. We tried to ride better, know better, and do better.

Thank you to all of those who supported us and our authors in 2018. We hope you come back for more in the New Year.

OUR YEAR IN HORSE BOOKS & DVDS: 2018

 

Kinesio Taping for HorsesKinesiology Taping for Horses (January 2018)

Kinesiology taping on human athletes is all the rage: widely used by physical therapists, chiropractors, and personal trainers, we see it on Olympians, runners, basketball players—on amateurs and professionals. Our equine athletes can benefit hugely from taping techniques, too, and this terrific guidebook provides the ultimate reference for understanding both the uses of kinesiology tape and its numerous applications.

 

Ride Better with Christoph HessRide Better with Christoph Hess (February 2018)

Christoph Hess, a Fédération Equestre International (FEI) “I” Judge in both dressage and eventing, is highly respected around the world as a teacher of riding and the development of the horse according to classical principles. Here he collects some of his very best riding and training tips along with well-honed insight related to the topics that he finds most often challenge equestrians and their equine partners.

 

Girl on Dancing HorseThe Girl on the Dancing Horse (March 2018)

Charlotte Dujardin and her charismatic horse Valegro burst onto the international sports scene with their record–breaking performance at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Dujardin began riding horses at the age of two, but dressage was the domain of the rich–not the life a girl from a middleclass family was born into. Her parents sacrificed to give her as many opportunities as they could, and she left school at 16 to focus on equestrian competition. It was at 22, when she was invited to be a groom for British Olympian Carl Hester, that she met the equine partner that would change her fortune. This is Dujardin’s autobiography: the story of an outsider, an unconventional horse, and the incredible bond that took them to the top.

 

Equine Lameness for the LaymanEquine Lameness for the Layman (April 2018)

Dr. Bob Grisel has created a book unlike any other. With color illustrations, dozens of charts, and hundreds of links to online videos of explanatory case studies that you can scan with a touch of your smartphone, readers are given a complete course in observing, identifying, and decoding equine lameness. Dr. Grisel helps you interpret what is seen, plain and simple (no need for medical knowledge of equine anatomy and pathology).

 

Horses in TranslationHorses in Translation (April 2018)

In the much anticipated follow-up to her international bestseller HORSE SPEAK, Sharon Wilsie uses true stories to relate examples of “problems” and how they were solved using Horse Speak. Her engaging narrative introduces readers to dozens of real life scenarios from different barns, various disciplines, and riders and handlers with contrasting experiences and backgrounds. Wilsie highlights her Horse Speak process, the clues that point to the best course of action, and the steps she takes to connect with horses that have shut down, grown confused, or become sulky or aggressive for any number of reasons.

 

55 Corrective Exercises for Horses55 Corrective Exercises for Horses (May 2018)

In this collection of mounted and unmounted corrective exercises, Jec Aristotle Ballou demonstrates how we can actively work to improve the horse’s posture and movement, whether he is an active performance or pleasure mount, an aging or older horse that benefits from gentle exercise, or one being rehabilitated following injury, illness, or lack of conditioning. Ballou’s positive cross-training techniques are free of shortcuts, and her guidelines for analyzing the horse’s posture and way of going help readers gain a new awareness of the equine body.

 

Dressage the Cowboy WayDressage the Cowboy Way (May 2018)

The founder of Cowboy Dressage®, Eitan Beth-Halachmy, explains the development of the Western dressage horse using his methods. Beginning with the basics of body language, use of the aids, and a discussion of the Training Pyramid, Beth-Halachmy then provides guidelines for foundational groundwork and progressive dressage schooling under saddle, such as developing cadence and consistency in the gaits, understanding and requesting correct bend, choosing and using lateral maneuvers, and advancing self-carriage and collection.

 

In the Middle Are the Horsemen-horseandriderbooksIn the Middle Are the Horsemen (June 2018)

In 2008, 26-year-old Tik Maynard faced a crossroads not unlike that of other young adults. A university graduate and modern pentathlete, he suffered both a career-ending injury and a painful breakup, leaving him suddenly adrift. The son of prominent Canadian equestrians, Maynard decided to spend the next year as a “working student.” Here Maynard chronicles his experiences–good and bad–and we follow along as one year becomes three, what began as a casual adventure gradually transforms, and a life’s purpose comes sharply into focus.

 

RidingwithOliveiraRiding with Oliveira (July 2018)

Over several years Dominique Barbier had the unique opportunity to form an intimate relationship with the revered Portuguese equestrian Nuno Oliveira. In this deeply personal book Barbier chronicles their time together. Beginning in a tiny, dimly lit riding hall in Póvoa de Santo Adrião, Portugal, where seminal moments of Barbier’s riding education dawned under the watchful eyes of many luminaries of the European riding elite, the book then explores what came later when Barbier studied with the Mestre in Avessada and traveled with him to Belgium. Barbier’s recollections are complemented by those of three other equestrians who learned from the Mestre: Dany Lahaye, Bettina Drummond, and Luis Valença.

 

Tug of War NETug of War (September 2018)

A paperback edition of Dr. Gerd Heuschmann’s international bestseller: an intelligent and thought-provoking exploration of both classical and “modern” training methods, including “ hyperflexion” (also known as Rollkur), against a practical backdrop of the horse’s basic anatomy and physiology.

 

Fergus and the Night Before Christmas FinalFergus and the Night Before Christmas (September 2018)

Fergus, the world’s most popular cartoon horse, shares an epic holiday adventure inspired by the classic tale ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. With colorful, light-hearted comedy on every page, Fergus and his motley group of equine teammates bravely take to the skies to give St. Nick the sleigh ride of his life. Can Santa manage his ungainly hitch and deliver the perfect gift on the most magical night of the year? Fasten your seatbelt! Recommended for ages 5 to 95.

 

Beyond the Track NE REVBeyond the Track (September 2018)

In this fully updated edition of the book that Thoroughbred and horse training experts have called “breakthrough racehorse literature,” “superior,” “a winner,” and “the ultimate in training manuals,” readers learn everything they need to transition an OTTB from life at the track to life out back. Author Anna Ford, Thoroughbred Program Director at New Vocations Racehorse Adoption, begins by discussing the typical Thoroughbred’s early years, then explains reasons for retirement, common injuries and health issues, basic feeding and nutrition, and safe handling. She goes on to provide step-by-step instructions for building the solid educational foundation the OTTB needs to excel in a new career, whether as a highly trained competitor or a pleasure mount.

 

Dressage Training In-HandDressage Training In-Hand (October 2018)

Kathrin Roida details her in-hand training methods, sharing the stories of a number of horses of different ages, breeds, and training backgrounds, and demonstrating the steps to teaching them: shoulder-in, travers, renvers, pirouettes, half-pass, piaffe, passage, canter work, the Spanish walk, and much more. Throughout her conscientious attention to what is best for the horse ensures that not only do the lessons result in a horse that is healthy in body but also one that is healthy in mind and happy in his work.

 

THE RIDER'S BALANCEThe Rider’s Balance (October 2018)

Sylvia Loch provides an image-driven visual guide that shows how each tiny shift of the rider’s weight affects the horse’s balance. With the help of dozens of illustrations and fabulous color photographs, she demonstrates the minute changes in rider position that determine a horse’s comprehension of instruction as well as his physical ability to perform.

 

Cavalletti 4th EditionCavalletti: 4th Edition (October 2018)

Each horse, no matter the riding discipline, benefits from working with cavalletti. Dressage and eventing rider extraordinaire Ingrid Klimke explains how training with ground poles and cavalletti is one of her secrets of success. This newly revised editionshows cavalletti work on the longe, provides valuable new ideas specifically for dressage work, and numerous updated diagrams for jumping gymnastics, along with all new color photographs.

 

Horse Speak DVDHorse Speak: First Conversations DVD and Streaming (November 2018)

In this DVD or streaming video, learn an easy, practical system for “listening” and “talking” to horses in their language instead of expecting them to comprehend ours. Horse Speak can be used by any individual who works with horses, whether riding instructor, colt starter, recreational rider, or avid competitor. It promises improved understanding of what a horse is telling you, as well as providing simple replies you can use to tell him that you “hear” him, you “get it,” and you have ideas you want to share with him, too. The perfect complement to HORSE SPEAK the book and HORSES IN TRANSLATION.

 

Handy Book of Horse TricksThe Handy Book of Horse Tricks (November 2018)

Groundwork and trick training specialist Sigrid Schöpe has found great success teaching her own horses tricks, which they enjoy doing as part of their regular groundwork and under-saddle schooling routines. Here she shares her techniques, using positive, conscientious methods that are easy to follow–and a whole lot of fun! By following the simple steps and clear color photos, readers will find their horses will learn over 20 of the world’s most popular tricks in no time, including: bowing, kneeling, lying down, sitting, rearing on command, performing the Spanish walk, standing on a pedestal, taking a blanket off, crossing their legs, carrying a lead rope, stacking cones, playing soccer, and more!

 

Know Better to Do BetterKnow Better to Do Better (November 2018)

In this smart, honest book chock full of valuable takeaways, gold medalist and renowned rider and coach Denny Emerson uses stories of the standout horses from his own riding career, which spans almost 70 years, to detail some of the things he wishes he’d known “then” that he knows now. With a candid willingness to share mistakes he’s made over the years and clearly articulated ideas on how others can avoid them, he commits himself and those reading to finding more conscientious ways to ride, train, and work with horses.

 

DressageSchoolNEDressage School (December 2018)

In this updated edition of the bestselling reference, readers discover the what, the how, and–most importantly–the why of more than 100 dressage movements. Color photographs of riders of various levels and on different breeds of horse show how each movement should look when ridden correctly. Not only is each movement clearly defined, but explanations include common mistakes and how to avoid them, as well as the benefits of each exercise and how it contributes to the “bigger picture” of the dressage training scale.

TrafalgarSquareFarm-horseandriderbooks

Our very best wishes for a safe, peaceful, and very happy New Year.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

Here’s what we published in:

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

Rainbow-horseandriderbooks

Rainbow, one of the Trafalgar Square Farm horses.

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One of the great pleasures we have at Trafalgar Square Books is working with equine experts from fields far different than our own desk-centric sort. This is not only a source of continuing education that we wholeheartedly welcome but a reminder of the amazingly different kinds of roles people play in the lives of horses and the humans who love them.

A couple weeks ago we had a chance to spend 24 hours with Dr. Bob Grisel, author of EQUINE LAMENESS FOR THE LAYMAN, whose practice is based in Atlanta. Today we hear from Dr. Jenni Grimmett, co-author of DRESSAGE THE COWBOY WAY with Eitan Beth-Halachmy–she is a large animal mobile veterinarian in rural North Idaho, and according to her, she’s never seen a “typical day.”

24HoursJenniGrimmett-horseandriderbooks

“Our days are often unpredictable and can change course at a moment’s notice,” says Dr. Grimmett. “That is one of the things I both love and hate about this lifestyle. I can’t really call veterinary medicine a job. It isn’t what I do, it’s who I am, and it’s a big responsibility to take on as you are servicing animals and the people that may depend on your services for their livelihood. Being a small part in the larger cog that is our agricultural community is very important to me, and I take it very seriously. It’s the main reason that I still provide services for the other livestock species (besides horses, I mean) because we sure don’t do it for the awesome pay or fabulous work environment!”

Here’s a glimpse at 24 hours in the life of Dr. Grimmett:

5:30 am We have an extra early start today, especially for this time of year. The truck, which is our livelihood, was down unexpectedly yesterday. When you are a mobile veterinarian who suddenly finds herself non-mobile it can throw a serious wrench into the day. Luckily, we didn’t have anything too urgent on the schedule and were able to move our appointments out a day or two. But, that also means that we are planning on a 12-hour day today…if things go smoothly. 

So, after rolling out from under the three large Irish Setters who sleep on the bed with us, I’m starting my day by checking messages and drinking some caffeine while my brain begins to un-fog. Gone are the days I could roll out of bed 10 minutes before walking out the door to head to school. One of the blessings and curses of the aging process is that I must plan some time to actually wake up in the morning.  

6:30 am  I pick up my able-bodied right-hand woman, Carolyn, on the way to our first call of the day. I couldn’t do what I do without Carolyn. She keeps the truck stocked and ready to roll, assists me in every task throughout the day, and usually drives so that I can do paperwork, answer calls, or work on the computer between clients. Without that drive time between calls I could have never written DRESSAGE THE COWBOY WAY with my friend Eitan Beth-Halachmy last year. Most of my Cowboy Dressage organizational time is done between veterinary calls on the road, as well. Carolyn also used to be my traveling companion, groom, and caller when I attended Cowboy Dressage Gatherings.  She just had a baby this summer and is back at work after a few months maternity leave. I missed her dearly and couldn’t be happier that she is back by my side. 

7:15 am  We arrive at our first call. It’s chilly this morning, and you can feel the fall in the air. I notice a gorgeous red maple tree that is already starting to turn but also notice that red maple is planted right next to the fence, dropping delicious red maple leaves right into the area where the horses are eating. I make a mental note to mention that to my client as maple leaves can cause cardiac problems in horses. I lost an older horse a few falls ago that was out grazing on the lawn and picked up too many red maple leaves. 

Our patient this morning is a Quarter Horse gelding that is due for his fall vaccinations and is also in need of a respiratory checkup. We had another terrible fire season this year, and the air quality for the past month has been in the hazardous zone. We’ve seen many horses with coughs and runny eyes. After a rebreathing examination we determine there is no respiratory compromise on Buster and convince him his intra-nasal vaccination isn’t that big of a deal. I feel an equine veterinarian has a responsibility to handle each patient as if he was her own, and I try my best to make even unpleasant experiences tolerable for the horses. While it takes more time, it pays off in dividends as these animals become lifelong patients. 

As we are discussing the red maple tree and Carolyn is readying the invoice, I look down at the little Terrier in her hot pink “jacket,” bouncing around on this chilly morning. A perk of being a mobile vet is the extra animal personalities we get to meet on the road. This jaunty, well-dressed Terrier puts a smile on my face.

8:00 am  We stop at the gas station to meet up with a client that is driving a horse across the state line to Seattle this morning. I pulled blood for an Equine Infectious Anemia (Coggins) test and completed the health certificate last week. My client needs that paperwork in hand to legally transport the horse. Regulatory work is a large part of what we do. Health certificates and testing of animals for interstate travel is an important part of keeping our national populations healthy. While many owners are frustrated by the process and testing required, I see it as a way to be sure we are preventing the spread of disease at shows, rodeos, and other events across the Northwest.

JenniGrimmett-horseandriderbooks

8:15 am  We arrive at our next appointment, which is a busy show and breeding barn for both Quarter Horses and Paints. We have two mares that were serviced by the ranch stallion this spring that they haven’t checked in foal yet. Both mares are large-bodied halter mares that I palpate in the field to confirm pregnancy. I would like to have ultrasounded the mares at this stage of their gestation for placental thickness and to catch early placental separation, but my ultrasound machine went in for repairs last week. So, it’s the old-fashioned palpation. The owners were concerned that the mares would require sedation, but I find that, in most cases, if I just take my time and go slow, I can palpate mares without. I prefer not to sedate as long as I can safely do the palpation because I don’t feel sedation is good for the foal. 

Unfortunately, at this call we also have to perform a humane euthanasia on a broodmare that has become too lame to safely go through winter. She was able to carry and feed her last foal who was recently weaned, but an old injury finally caught up with her. I’m sure that other veterinarians in northern climates are familiar with the rush of fall euthanasias. It’s a necessary but so-difficult part of our job, and as we move further into the fall, we will be doing more and more of them. I often envy the southern veterinarians that don’t have winter challenges to deal with. It’s tough to have a “season” for euthanasia.

9:00 am We are off to see a Jersey cow that is due to calve any day. We have a lot of backyard milk cows in our area. Some of the families use the milk themselves, but many of them take advantage of the Rural Milk Certification Program offered by the Idaho Dairy Council. In order to be compliant for the sale of raw milk, you must have your cow tested annually for tuberculosis (TB). TB testing in cows and goats is done by injecting a small dose of TB test medium into the tail head of the animal, and then coming back 72 hours later to “read” the test for a reaction. Reading the test means that you digitally feel each side of the tail head for a reaction. A positive (or false positive) animal will have distinct swelling at the tail head. 

This particular Jersey has already seen me twice in the past month for her vaccinations.  She remembers me well and is not too happy to see me again. Our restraint consists of a post in the field to which she is tied. She is owned by a lovely family trio of mom and her two daughters, all very involved with the animals on their small farm. Her three owners try valiantly to slow the spinning around the post as I perform the quick injection into the tail head. She’s mad but recovers quickly when they pull out the alfalfa cubes as an apology. Since the only time the cow is tied to this post is for veterinary examinations, I encourage them to do some “post desensitizing” and alfalfa-cube-feeding before my next visit to read the test. The cow is no dummy, and she is not appreciative of the “post torture routine”!

My client (the mom) whips out her ever-present list of questions about all things dietary, calf, and milk related. This will be their first milking experience, and they are anxious to get everything right. I remember when we were in vet school there was a movement that tried to make oral examinations part of our curriculum. The student body was appalled at the thought, but I don’t think anything could have been more appropriate now that I have been in practice for 16 years. The ability to field a barrage of questions and think on your feet while dodging your patient’s attempts to distract you is a skill that every veterinarian must have. 

9:30 am The 30-minute drive to the next call allows me time to return calls, and check text messages, Facebook messages, and emails. The multiple ways for folks to communicate now make it even easier for people to check in with me about treatments, wound care, prescription refills, and ask questions that would take more time over the phone. However, these grand new options in communication mean I may be having three conversations at once. Keeping it all straight and fielding phone calls at the same time can eat up a 30-minute drive in no time! 

10:00 am The next call is to see a patient that I have a soft spot for. Buckskin (as she is lovingly called) is a six-year-old AQHA mare, heading off to training this fall. As a four-year-old she suffered a catastrophic wound to the dorsal cannon bone in her right hind leg. At least 50 percent of that bone was exposed, and by the time we saw the wound for the first time, it was at least four days old, full of contamination, and very painful. With diligent and thorough debridement and very careful and attentive care by the owner, she is left with a nice clean scar on that leg with no proud flesh and no lameness. She is stout and gorgeous and is going to be a good one. The mare’s owner is one of my favorite clients, an Idaho State Patrol woman who has some great road stories to tell. We often compare the horrors and challenges in our jobs—I sure wouldn’t want hers and she feels the same about mine! I float Buckskin’s teeth to make sure her mouth is comfortable, and she is ready to concentrate when the trainer puts a bit in her mouth next month. 

10:45 am Another gas station meeting, this time for some prescription drug refills. As a mobile veterinarian, it can be challenging for my clients to get refills for the medications they need. So, we do an awful lot of “drug deals” in local parking lots. We service two counties and 15 zip codes: It’s a large area, and we average 200 miles on the truck every day. Catching up with clients for refills takes effort from both parties. 

11:00 am We have an hour’s drive to our next appointment, so more time to return calls and schedule other appointments. I’ve had three calls from folks scattered over two counties that would still like an appointment today. Since we already have a 12-hour day on the schedule, it’s tough to fit them in, but we promise to add the urgent ones to the list, hoping we finish some of our calls a little early.   

The driveis also how we spend our lunch time. We don’t ever actually stop for a lunch break. We only stop to refuel. Patrick, my male Irish Setter, always eats with us, and he insists on his share of whatever is for lunch that day. We refer to that as “Paddy Tax”—we are liberally taxed daily. 

We made a quick stop to pick up mail and drop off samples being shipped out to the lab, then off to the next zip code. On the rare days when we are doing lots of “windshield time” with no cell service, Carolyn and I will listen to audiobooks. We’ve been through the entire James Herriot series and always listen to the Harry Potter series at least once a year. Generally this is a winter activity as the phone is just too busy in the summer months. Lately we have been searching and selecting music when we get a lull in the phone calls. The search for good freestyle music never stops!

12:00 pm  We arrive at our farthest and largest appointment for the day. We have a herd of cattle to work through the chute for vaccinations, ear tagging, and castration. These cattle are range cattle that only get worked once a year, if we are lucky. They are wild as deer, and it’s a mixed bag of 4- to 18-month-old heifers and bulls. The oldest ones are part of a bunch that jumped the gate and headed for open country midway through last year’s gather.  The rancher’s wife, who scheduled the appointment, thought we had about 10 heifers and 10 bulls, but when we arrive there are closer to 30 head in the pen, and they are already milling restlessly.

Before we can get started, the owner has a couple of horses he wants me to look at. The first is a young Curly Horse that was pushed through the barbed-wire fence by his pasturemates sometime the day before. I’m told to just take a look at the wound, but it’s obvious that it needs some serious attention beyond the ointment and vet wrap the owner applied yesterday. Due to the advanced stage of the wound, it is a challenge to close it, and I reach for my standard tension-relieving trick, using dollar-store buttons I keep in the truck. These are always a big hit with the client and are a must for wounds that have retracted and require a bit of muscle to put back together. 

Once the Curly is repaired, we move on to two more horses at the other end of the property. One is a mare that is likely foundered and has been lame for somewhere between three weeks and four months, depending on which side of the he said/she said conversation you choose to listen to. I recommend x-rays and schedule another appointment later in the week for that. The other horse is an older POA that unfortunately has developed a cancerous growth on his penis. It is about the size of a silver dollar and non-painful at this time. We discuss multiple treatment options, but due to budget and the inability to get him to a surgical facility, it looks like we’ll just be keeping an eye on it, hoping it doesn’t get too aggressive, too fast.

Rural medicine means that not every patient gets state-of-the-art treatment. Real-life budgetary constraints and environmental limitations are a constant factor in all our medical decisions. I consider it my job to offer all the available options along the entire scale and allow the owners to decide what they are comfortable with. It’s tough, especially when I know I could save an animal if given the opportunity, but I try to remain neutral. It’s a tough decision for families who love their animals. 

We move on to the cattle. There are four of us working the herd, one in the pen, one at the head gate, one pushing in the alleyway, and one dropping the tail gate. The cattle are wild, and the sorting and pushing setup is not ideal, resulting in copious amounts of shouting, whipping, and hot-shot usage. (I don’t know if it is a common method of cattle handling in other parts of the country, but here in Bonner county, the buggy whip is king for moving feisty cattle. I can imagine Temple Grandin cringing if she were watching from the sidelines.) As an added treat for me, the chute has fencing on either side of the head catch, so the only place to stand to ear tag and tattoo the heifers is right in front of them, giving them a very good shot at breaking my arm when I reach for an ear. The four-month-old heifers aren’t bad, but the older ones are a bit tougher.

Luckily I have 16 years experience in not getting my arm broken, and all goes fairly smoothly…that is, until we get a large heifer (I swear this one is closer to 18 months!) in the chute that happens to have a rather large set of horns. The owner is sending her to the auction in November and knows that he will get a better price on her without horns, so the things have to come off. I like to do my dehorning on heifers that are about 120 pounds under full sedation with local anesthesia. That’s my favorite method. The old-time cattleman’s “lop ‘er off in the chute” method is not. It’s quick and it’s effective, but it’s painful and bloody, and there HAS to be a better way. So, we compromise, electing to nerve block and restrain the heifer while I figure out a good position in this boxed-in head catch to try to remove these horns. They are too big for my loppers so I have to use my wire saw. It works great but is exhausting and requires just the right angle to be effective. Imagine a Nordic Track exercise machine or a rowing machine that is trying to thwart all your efforts at establishing an effective rhythm. 

Try as we might we cannot get this heifer in a position that allows for a good angle for the wire saw.  The solution? We put 2×4 boards across the fencing on either side of the chute so I can stand on them up above her, sawing those horns off while three people hold ropes to stabilize her head. The block works and she feels next to nothing, but a wild heifer is still not likely to enjoy having her head restrained, and she definitely does not! There are relatively few spurting blood vessels, and I am able to get them cauterized quickly. Unfortunately, when we take the ropes off her head after the second horn, we realize that one of the ropes had been creating a tourniquet, masking the spurting from that horn. The rancher jumps back, screaming as the heifer sprays him across his chest. Of course, now I have to try to cauterize with her head unrestrained and flinging blood everywhere. She sure didn’t appreciate me wielding a red-hot dehorning iron and tried her best to ram me with her head.   

After the dehorning/gymnastics event, we move on to the rest of the herd, which by now is thoroughly worked up from the whipping, zapping, and cussing. The smell of blood and burning horn isn’t helping to calm them or lure them into the chute either. The cattle collectively take out a panel being used as part of the alleyway and start to rear up like jumping the fence is next. In an unprecedented move, the rancher chooses to use his bulldozer to attempt to corner the unruly bunch. I look at Carolyn and ask if she has ever seen a bull jump a bulldozer because I am pretty sure it is coming right up. Sure enough, once they are cornered, about half of the cattle choose to jump the remaining panel, while the others jump the blade on the bulldozer. I have to admire their athleticism.  

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4:30 pm  By now Carolyn and I are about two hours past schedule and out of cell service so we are unable to contact any of our following clients that we attempted to add into the already packed schedule. We’d managed to inoculate about 1/3 of the herd prior to the mass exodus over the top of the bulldozer. I ask to use the house land line to let my clients know the status, and we call it a day at the ranch so we can head out to try and salvage part of the schedule that remains.

As we get back into cell service a rush of “dings” on the cell phone are testimony to missed appointments, urgent calls, and messages that we missed while chute-dogging unruly young cattle. We decide that our next call better be an ailing patient, as it is an add-on for the day and about 30 minutes away. I spend the drive time sorting through the calls and making apologies where appropriate for missed appointment times.

5:00 pm  When we arrive to see our next patient the owner reports that he is doing much better than when she called in the morning. The gelding had been running a temperature for a while but now is normal and starting to pick at his hay. The old guy is 36 this year and definitely showing his age in the dropped back, knobby knees, and gray sunken face. He has no upper teeth and precious few lower teeth. He’s on a completely pelleted and soaked diet with multiple supplements and has a nice cozy barn to live in. 

After a thorough examination, including a rectal exam, I step back and take a look at the bigger picture. These are the tough calls. This is a healthy older horse. The only thing ailing him right now is that he is 36 and the weather is rapidly changing. I have a hard talk with his owner about his age, his condition, and the plan for this winter if things don’t go the way we like. It’s my least favorite part of the job. The owner tearfully tells me she is committed to attempting to take him through the winter, and we make the necessary arrangements if things take a turn for the worse. 

5:45 pm Next we are off to see a very annoyed little Holstein cow that has been waiting for us to come and do a milk test. She’s been suffering from a recurrent mastitis problem in one quarter. The owner has attempted several at-home treatments, but the problem keeps coming back. Her bag is full and tight with the delayed appointment, and after taking my sample, she is more than ready to be milked out. She has to wait for a while, though, as we spend some time going over the milking procedure and sanitation practices the owner is using in an attempt to track down the source of the problem. 

We decide to send the milk sample off to the lab for cytology and culture, and in the meantime, I recommend a different brand of teat dip with a little better bactericidal scope. These backyard milking parlors are a testimony to the ingenuity of our rural clients. Each parlor is completely unique, and the setup generally depends on the level of cooperation for the cow in question. This particular setup includes a long rope that goes around the cow and attaches to partial wall on one side of the head catch. This cow is apparently adept at kicking the milking machine off, but with the rope, she is stymied and doesn’t even attempt to protest. 

6:15 pm We have a message waiting for us when we get back in the truck from our last appointment—they are starting to get a little worried because we haven’t made it yet.  We are only about four hours late! The other two appointments we on our schedule have been rescheduled for another (already full) day later in the week. 

We arrive in 15 minutes to do a quick blood draw on a ram that is scheduled for a sale next month. All rams have to be tested negative for brucella ovis; this ram is one from a larger group tested a few weeks ago. Occasionally we have one come back as indeterminant, which just means the test didn’t work. So, we have to retest this ram to clear him before the sale. We have plenty of time, but the sample has to be mailed out tomorrow morning if it’s going to make the lab this week. 

Luckily, this is a very experienced shepherd who has been through this drill a number of times. He wades into the flock of about 15 large rams, looking for the one that he had chalk-marked earlier in the day. Wading through sheep always reminds me of crowd surfing or maybe wrestling with live Charmin rolls. You are buffeted around by them, but it doesn’t hurt when they are in a large group like that. They sure can hurt you, to be sure, especially if they get a run at you, but wrestling them in a large group I always find kind of fun. 

The particular ram we want is more intelligent than his buddies. He knows that the shepherd catches him with a hand under the chin, so he is a “crowd diver.” As soon as he sees one of us coming for him, he plunges his head down under all his friends and starts pushing. Then the whole flock rotates through the pen and we feel like we are in a woolen blender until they land in a corner again. It takes four or five rounds before I’m able to slip a hand under his chin and block him long enough for the shepherd to wade through and grab him. Blood draws on sheep can be a bit tricky when they are fully wooled, but the shearer was here right before me, and the nice smooth neck makes the job a cinch. 

6:45 pm  We are finally back in the truck and headed home. I drop Carolyn off with plans to see her again at 8:00 am the following morning. I head for home, hoping that I just might have enough daylight left to attempt to ride my horse. Cowboy Dressage World Finals is right around the corner, and I am still attempting to choreograph my Freestyle.   I’m on call tonight so it’s a crap shoot, but I’m forever the optimist.

By the time I’ve pulled in at home, though, the sun is just on the other side of the trees, and my arena is about 10 minutes away from pretty darn dark. It’s so hard to get used to these shorter days this time of year. Besides, my horses are all sure I should be turned in for equine abuse by delaying dinner so rudely. My husband Dan usually does all the feeding, but he is out of town, so it’s my turn to do the evening chores.

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Photo from Dressage the Cowboy Way by Eitan Beth-Halachmy and Dr. Jenni Grimmett.

7:30 pm  Time to eat and do some computer work. The dogs are happily eating their dinner, and mine consists of a bag salad and a reheated “smokie.” It’s quick and simple and relatively healthy. I spend some time on the computer for my vet practice then switch gears to my other job with Cowboy Dressage. I’m working on plans for my final clinic of the year in New Hampshire in November. There is a Gathering this coming weekend that I won’t be able to attend, but we are sending a box of DRESSAGE THE COWBOY WAY over to sell. Dan will be coaching at that show but won’t have the time to take a horse along. 

9:00 pm  The Setters are sleepy and so am I. We hit the hay early tonight. It’s been a long day, and the dog-piled bed is calling my name. I go through my mental list of things that have to happen in the morning before we do it all over again. I set my alarm, reminding myself that chores are again my responsibility before I head out for calls. I have two phones by my bed side and look at them, pleading for them both to remain silent tonight.  Midnight calls this time of year aren’t as common as they are in small animal veterinary medicine. Typically, if I can get through evening checks, my patients are all tucked in for the night, and I’m safe from emergencies until morning. I am on call 50 percent of the year, which is a vast improvement from the 100 percent of the year I used to be on call.    Those first 10 years of being on call 24/7 were enough to make me question my career choice. I couldn’t pursue the other passions in my life without my fantastic work partner, and it is thanks to her coming into my life that I can be involved in Cowboy Dressage. 

As I snuggle in, trying to carve out some room between Irish Setters, my last thoughts are of my Freestyle, and I go to sleep dreaming about dancing with my own horse, hoping it’s my turn to ride tomorrow evening. 

DRESSAGE THE COWBOY WAY by Dr. Jenni Grimmett and Eitan Beth-Halachmy is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

All photos from Dressage the Cowboy Way by Eitan Beth-Halachmy and Dr. Jenni Grimmett.

 

Be sure to read the other installments of TSB’s “Horseworld By the Hour” blog series:

DR. BOB GRISEL

TIK MAYNARD

JEC ARISTOTLE BALLOU

KENDRA GALE

JEANNE ABERNETHY

YVONNE BARTEAU

JONATHAN FIELD

EMMA FORD

JOCHEN SCHLEESE

HEATHER SMITH THOMAS

LYNN PALM

DANIEL STEWART

DOUG PAYNE

JANET FOY

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

 

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Horseman and eventer Tik Maynard bared his soul in his hit memoir IN THE MIDDLE ARE THE HORSEMEN, which was released earlier this year and has earned accolades from reviewers and readers across the board. Those who have read the book learned the story of Remarkable, an off-track Thoroughbred Tik retrained, and who, in some ways, is responsible for Tik’s book being published. An article Tik wrote about OTTBs for Practical Horseman Magazine caught our eye at TSB, and when we contacted him to see if he was interested in writing a book—we found out he already had one in the works!

Some of those who have enjoyed IN THE MIDDLE ARE THE HORSEMEN have asked what has happed with Remarkable, so we caught up with Tik—a very busy new father with eventer wife Sinead Halpin—to see whether OTTB was still a favorite acronym.

TSB: In IN THE MIDDLE ARE THE HORSEMEN, you share the story of Mr. Pleasantree, aka Remarkable, the off-track Thoroughbred you purchased and trained in preparation for the 2015 RRP Thoroughbred Makeover. You won the Freestyle competition with Remarkable that year. Three years later, where are you with his training?

TIK: I competed Remarkable for two years after the Makeover and brought him up to the Prelim level of eventing. At Three Lakes Horse Trials in Florida in 2017 we were halfway around the cross-country when there was a five-stride line from a table to an angled brush next to a tree. The brush was higher on the tree side, and we were supposed to jump the low side of the brush away from the tree. But there was a 3-inch gap between the brush and the tree, and somehow Remarkable got his eye on that gap. I think many horses would have stopped or run out, but he seemed to say, “If you want me to try that, I’ll try it.” He got halfway over, and then he couldn’t fit the rest of the way. I got him off okay, and then we reapproached and jumped the correct part of the jump. He didn’t bat an eyelash, and we finished the course. It was a scary situation though. I could not believe how much he trusted me. And I let him down. I can’t think of another horse that has been so wiling to try for me.

TSB: Are you still planning on bringing him up through the levels as an event prospect?

TIK: It took me a year of competing at Preliminary to realize that he does not have the jump to keep moving up the levels. Although I would love to keep competing him, I don’t want to force my goals on him. Just cause I want him to be an upper-level horse does not mean he does. I think he is much happier competing at the lower levels. I would love to lease him out to somebody in our program if the right person came along.

TSB: What are his strengths?

TIK: His try. His heart. His sense of play. His trust in me. Playing with him at liberty.

TSB: What challenges are you currently facing with him? How are you meeting those challenges?

TIK: The biggest challenge is his lack of scope with bigger jumps. I am meeting the challenge by backing down and saying, “If you don’t want to do that, that’s fine. Let’s do something you want to do!”

TSB: If you could name one personal goal you’d like to meet alongside Remarkable, what would it be?

TIK: I’d like to find a horse that complemented him and try to put together a little routine involving two horses at liberty.

TSB: What are some of the things you’ve learned through your work with Remarkable? How has he improved you as a horseman?

TIK: He can be pretty spooky in new situations. I try to give myself time to really feel prepared with him before we do something in new place. For example, the day before competing at the Makeover, during the ring familiarization time, I had a friend and my dad go stand behind all the banners that he was nervous about and feed him treats. Then when we competed he wasn’t spooking away from the rails and toward the in-gate.

He was probably the horse that started the shift in my head from trying to get a horse to do something, to trying to create confidence in a horse so that it is not a big deal. It seems so obvious, but I deal with it almost every day with young horses that are getting used to cross-country obstacles. Am I trying to get them into the water? Or am I trying to get them confident about the water? It is a pretty big paradigm shift in thinking, and often I still have to remind myself which one I’m trying to do.

TSB: Do you plan to compete at the Makeover again in the future?

TIK: In 2016 I went back with two horses, Haxby Park and Johnny Football. My goal was to do a liberty routine with both of them. It did not go according to plan. I’ve since heard that for acts like that you want to show 80 percent of what you can do at home, and I wish I had known that then. My whole act sort of fell apart when Johnny got distracted by the loudspeaker. On the plus side, I learned way more that year than the year that I won. Preparing two horses at once was way out of my comfort zone, and I was just learning nonstop in the lead-up to the competition. Linda and Pat Parelli gave me some lessons while I was still in Ocala, Florida. Then I came to Kentucky early and spent a few days with Dan James, who is amazing at balancing horsemanship and showmanship!

In 2017 I went back to the Makeover as a judge with Dan James for the Freestyle. That was also a great learning experience. It was really interesting to compare so many different acts, and to try to find a way of marking them all fairly. It is 50 percent for harmony, 30 percent for degree of difficulty, and 20 percent for entertainment. For the harmony we were really looking for relaxed happy horses—no tail swishing, no mouth open, nothing out of control. For the difficulty level, though, we were looking for a horse that could be relaxed and happy, but one that could also jump, or gallop, or spin. And that is the same thing that can make a dressage test hard: Can they do snappy transitions, but also have a nice free walk?

In 2018 I again competed at the Makeover, this time with Penny Hallman’s Looking My Way. His barn name is Mason, and although he is a big chestnut like Remarkable, they are very different.

TSB: Knowing what you know now, how did you approach working with a new OTTB in preparation for the event? How was it the same as what you did with Remarkable? How was it different?

TIK: I entered him in the same two divisions, the freestyle and eventing. I think the biggest thing is Remarkable really has a much bigger personality and play drive. It made my job easy, I just had to show him off! With Mason I had to really slow things down, explain things carefully, and take my time a lot more. It does mean some stuff was better, but it also meant I couldn’t necessarily show off such an extravagant gallop and play.  I had to do the little things well. Things that were slow and controlled and thoughtful, like circling around me at the walk and trot, coming to me, and lying down. It worked! Mason and I won the Freestyle competition.

TSB: If others are interested in participating in the Makeover, what advice would you give them?

TIK: The hardest thing for me, but also the most beneficial, is to approach it like a fun event. There is money up for grabs, but I try to forget it and just have a good time. And when I have a good time, usually my horses have a good time. And if the horses are having a good time, usually the judges and the audience can tell.

TSB: How is the Makeover changing the horse world for the better?

TIK: They are really creating more of a demand and a focus on horses that might otherwise not have a home to go to. It is a fantastic event! The underlying problem, of course, is that there are too many horses, dogs, and cats in the world, and not enough good homes to take them. I really support spay-and-neuter programs, and I think everybody should really think twice about breeding animals when there are so many that need homes and don’t have them.

In the Middle Are the Horsemen-horseandriderbooksYou can read the full story of Remarkable in Tik’s bestselling memoir IN THE MIDDLE ARE THE HORSEMEN, available from TSB, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

For more information about the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover and how you can be involved CLICK HERE.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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Sharon Wilsie, founder of Horse Speak™ and author of the books Horse Speak: An Equine-Human Translation Guide (with Gretchen Vogel) and Horses in Translation, provides a guest post this week. Her books are available from the TSB online bookstore (click HERE) and watch for her new DVD, coming in November 2018.

I like coffee. Strong coffee. The kind of coffee that sends an aroma out, wafting through the house and creeping under the bedroom door around 6:00 a.m. when the automatic coffee maker has brewed the liquid gold. More often than not, the urge to get just “one more minute” is corralled by the opposite urge to get my first cup of that delicious stuff.

I am one of those “animal people” who finds themselves living amidst a slew of furry friends. Slumping toward the kitchen, I have to be careful to step around a sleeping dog and not to trip over the purring kitty convinced that the best thing to go with coffee is a can of cat food.

It’s late summer here in Vermont, and from our patio I can still enjoy the early morning sunrise through the deep mists of the forest surrounding our home. There are mountains to the south and a “good hill” to the north, where we can currently spy ducks and geese practicing their flight patterns.

The horses shift and snort down below in the little valley they call home. They live in total turnout, with run-in shelters to go into when the sun is high or the bugs are too intense. We have one intrepid escape artist, so the herd has to be locked behind a gate at night where the shelters are. But the “old man” is left loose, and he usually saunters up to enjoy my morning coffee with me.

Zeke stares at me now, as though he would like to fill me in on all the goings-on that took place during his night watch. Seems a raccoon got into the garbage bin again. Zeke let’s me know by staring toward the mess, which I had not noticed yet. I lift my cup to him, and nod my head, certain he chased the varmint away. He nods his head and lets out a prolonged snort. Zeke likes things to stay tidy around here. I have seen him pin his ears at a moose when it had the audacity to wander into the back acres.

The newest member of our family, a one-year-old lab mix named Willow, has been digging, bouncing, and sniffing around, and now sneaks up toward Zeke’s nose. He sniffs her, too, then for good measure pins his ears and looks away. She takes this as a signal to run at top speed around and around him for a few minutes while he stands still, looking very annoyed—but I suspect he secretly enjoys it, because they do this every day. She loves to go trail riding with us, and even though due to his advanced age Zeke is restricted to a 20-minute walk down a very level trail, he seems to prefer it if she comes along.

Because of his senior status, I had chosen not to ride him this summer, but he got steadily depressed. One day, when I was tacking up another horse in the riding ring, he sauntered up to the saddle, which was placed on the split-rail fence, and stood alongside it, perfectly still. I smiled at him but went ahead with riding the other horse. When we were done, he lay down in front of the riding ring gate. Immediately, I assumed he was sick and went to him. Upon standing up, he walked over to the saddle again, and put his nose on it.

Well! What was I to do?

I put the other horse away, and saddled Zeke. He marched me over to the trail head and insisted on trotting every chance he got.

Since then, I take him out once or twice a week. He has even opted to go up the dirt road near our home a few times. I try not to ride him more than 20 minutes at a time, but it is always my choice to dismount, he seems to be perfectly happy to keep going.

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Sharon and Zeke. Photo by Rich Neally

Our property has different levels of fencing on it for various turnout, but Zeke has the run of it most days. Sometimes in the early morning, he will walk up to the bedroom window and get the dog barking. When we look out the window and see his enquiring nose, we know he wants something, and its time to get up. This was the case one morning when the trash men came a little earlier than usual. Our driveway is more like a short road, and Zeke came to our window to wake us, then stood in the yard, facing the sound of the oncoming trash truck. We jumped up just in time to get the barrels up the driveway, and he even sauntered halfway up the lane to watch us transport the barrels out of the back of our pickup truck and into the garbagemen’s hands. We thanked Zeke for the wake-up call and scratched his belly—his favorite spot. Then he received his morning rations of soaked senior grain and hay stretcher, right next to the back patio where we typically have our morning coffee and enjoy the first light of the day.

I have known of many people who have a senior “lawn horse.” Zeke’s records are lost, so we don’t know exactly how old he is—but there are many years under his belt. I feel that his long career as a circus vaulting horse, a carriage horse, and a therapeutic riding horse have earned him the right to live a life of liberty and the pursuit of his own happiness. Each time I invite him to go riding, it starts with simply placing the saddle on the rails. If he wants to go, he walks over and puts his nose on it. If he is not in the mood, he doesn’t.

Zeke has had a series of mouth tumors over the past two years. He has lost two teeth and regularly deals with having the vet remove the bulk of a tumor when it interferes with his chewing. However, he barely even needs sedation for any of this and appears grateful to receive the aid. He suffered a serious hind-end injury somewhere in his past, because he has scars up and down his hind legs, and his rear ankles are quite enlarged. Despite this, he loves his life. He loves Dakota, the half-blind mare he lives with when we put him in a paddock when we need to leave the house. He whinnies and even canters around if I take her out for a ride. When Zeke first came here, he was in a lot of pain, and had become a serious biter. He was going to be put down, and I offered to adopt him instead. Dakota claimed him and became his “alpha mare” in about two minutes, and they have been together ever since. She even taught me how to work with and around him safely.

Even though I am the author of two books, Horse Speak (with Gretchen Vogel) and Horses in Translation, I am still learning the intricateness of the language of equines. Having an elder wiseman such as Zeke gives me much to think about. He challenges me to communicate directly with him (like drawing my attention to the garbagemen, or the raccoon), and he makes me dig deeper to find connection with a horse that many people would have written off.

 

I like to ride my horses, but I love to sit and learn from them even more. Each time I am around them doing chores, brushing them, or just sitting with them as they graze, I seek to allow myself to go into what I call “Zero”—the inner state of stillness. From there, I can watch and observe their communications. There is a rhythm to Horse Speak; it’s like a timeless dance, moving to the music of “crunch-munch-munch” as the horses swish at a fly or chew their food. Step, chew, swish, step—lift the head, lower the head—chew, step swish. I am reminded of bees doing their “flower dance” and communicating to the rest of the hive where the best pollen is. Or fish, moving in tandem under the dock at Woods Hole, Cape Cod, at my friend’s house. Sitting on the dock, witnessing the movements of cormorants diving or seals swimming out of the harbor, I am reminded that life does this natural thing, this rhythm of movement, sound, feel, and breath. The waves crash into shore, the waves recede out.

Horse Speak is a gift. It is as old as the hills and as new as the message today from Zeke, saying, “Hey, don’t just sit there, come with me into the woods…. Sit on my back and feel my rhythm.”

And I will.

 

HorseSpeakSetSharon Wilsie’s books HORSE SPEAK and HORSES IN TRANSLATION are available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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