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dressageinharmony-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Coco Baptist

Wouldn’t it be cool if every horse made a New Year’s Resolution not to shy at silly, innocuous, or invisible things in 2019? Alas, I think we all know that isn’t likely, so best case scenario is we riders resolve to do better by our horses when the shy does happen.

The late Walter Zettl was a highly respected clinician and proponent of classical training principles. “My approach,” he said, “is that of complete sympathy for the horse and devotion to its happiness and well-being…. I attempt to educate riders to make their horses happy, confident, and proud to work for them.”

Here is Zettl’s advice for handling the horse that shies, from his book DRESSAGE IN HARMONY:

Young horses often shy and jump away from new objects or situations or quick movements. Older, more experienced horses may also jump away from new “goblins,” but usually time has accustomed them to weird blankets, shadows, flowers, sunbeams, and so on. One should never forget, however, that the horse evolved as a grazing animal whose main defense against predators is flight. A few months or years of training will never overcome millions of years of evolution.

To cure shying, the horse must be brought to trust his rider and himself. He must trust that the rider will let him run away if something terrible happens, and he must feel balanced and in control of his body. You often see riders trying to force their horses past a “scary” object, and the horse becomes more and more tense, and the rider resorting to more and more force. You can never beat the shying out. What is really happening in the horse’s mind is that he is being trapped near this frightening thing and that his one defense is taken away. Also, he learns to associate a whipping with an object, place, or situation, and we have succeeded in teaching him that this thing is to be feared, and he becomes more and more tense. 

When riding past a frightening place, the rider must become more relaxed, careful, cool, and quiet. When the horse trusts that he can run away, he will accept that he does not need to—yet. The rider must lightly control the horse, but always give the horse the reassurance that flight is possible. The rider must also keep the horse well balanced, so the horse feels that he can jump away. 

dressageinharmonyshying-horseandriderbooks

By positioning the horse with a good bend away from the object (shoulder-in for those horses that understand it), the horse cannot bolt away so easily through the inside shoulder, although he still sees an “escape” through the front. For example: When a horse shies from an object on his right side, he usually bends strongly right to look at the object, plants both front feet, and pushes out through the left shoulder. Keeping the bend left makes this more difficult, making it easier for the rider to keep the horse going straight past the object. Making the horse bend right and pulling him toward the object only makes the horse more frightened because escaping forward takes him toward the hazard. 

dressageinharmpb-horseandriderbooksYou can learn more from Walter Zettl in his book DRESSAGE IN HARMONY, available from the TSB online bookstore where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

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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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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TSB Holiday greeting RD Alana

 

As we close in on Christmas and the start of a whole new year, we at TSB want to thank all those who have supported our amazing stable of authors in 2018. We feel very honored to work with such thoughtful, motivated, hard-working professionals, and their efforts to educate always keep us inspired on our end, publishing books for the good of the horse.

 

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From our small family to yours, we wish you the happiest of holidays.

The TSB Staff

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

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JeanSanta-horseandriderbooks

Jean Abernethy, creator of Fergus the Horse, spies her hero at the reins!

“Santa delivered a real pony to our small family farm when I was seven,” remembers equine artist Jean Abernethy. “Her name was Dusty. She was three and very green. My brother Glen, with grit, determination, and encouragement from Dad, got Dusty going nicely. She was not an easy pony. Slight, skittish, and fast, she’d had a few frightening escapades before Santa delivered her to us.”

With her own happiest of holiday stories in mind, this Christmas Abernethy has made it easier for Santa to deliver ponies to all those horse-crazy kids out there: she wrote FERGUS AND THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, starring her own Fergus the Horse—the world’s most popular cartoon horse—and Santa, of course. The colorfully illustrated book features a hilarious retelling of the classic poem (and it fits neatly under the tree—no barn required!)

FergusChristmas-horseandriderbooks

Perfect for under the tree!

FERGUS AND THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS brought a tear to my eye and refreshed the magic of the holidays in my heart,” says Horse Nation. “For the young and the young at heart, [it] would be the perfect holiday gift for horse lovers and budding equestrians in your family.”

“An adventure that will make any horse lover’s heart swell!” agrees Equine Journal.

“I purchased FERGUS AND THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS as a Thanksgiving gift,” shares Larri Jo Starkey, Editor of The American Quarter Horse Journal. “It was a BIG hit with my mom and all the little people she read it to. Strongly recommended!”

FERGUS AND THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS is Abernethy’s fourth Fergus book, and her Fergus the Horse social media pages and merchandise keep her very busy throughout the year, not just during the holidays.

“I wonder if Santa knew when he delivered that first pony that he had initiated careers for my brother and me,” she muses. “Glen is now a skilled horseman in his own right!”

FERGUS AND THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

Order by midnight tonight (Friday, December 14) to get free shipping and receive your book by Christmas Eve. (Orders after midnight will require expedited shipping to arrive by December 24—see our website or call 800.523.4525 for details.)

CLICK HERE TO ORDER NOW

 

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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NEDASymposium-horseandriderbooks

A full house at the 2018 NEDA Fall Symposium featuring Charlotte Dujardin.

TSB was, along with hundreds of others, lucky enough to attend the New England Dressage Association Fall Symposium, hosted by Mount Holyoke Equestrian Center in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Despite beginning in the rain and ending in the cold, it was a beautifully organized event. Hats off to those who planned and ran the operations, decorated the facility with fabulous flair, and ensured everyone there a positive and immensely educational experience.

We were thrilled to be able to bring Charlotte’s autobiography THE GIRL ON THE DANCING HORSE to North America early in 2018, following its major release in her home country across the pond. Charlotte graciously signed hundreds of books for appreciative fans over the weekend in South Hadley, and the thrilled recipients of photos and autographs spilled out of the indoor at the end of each day.

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Charlotte Dujardin with TSB Managing Editor Rebecca Didier.

Of most value, though, was Charlotte’s insight when it came to riding and training, and all in the audience—whatever our age, ability, or riding level—had something to gain from watching the lessons each day. We collected 20 of our favorite quotes from the pages of notes we took to share here.

And yes, she really did mention transitions that many times (it was actually many, many more!)

THE GIRL ON THE DANCING HORSE is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE. CLICK HERE for more information.

20QuotesfromCharlotteDujardin-horseandriderbooks

“Does it mean you will ‘make it’ if your horse is big or small or long or short? No, none of that should really matter.”

“Every transition you ride should be a good one, because this is your foundation.”

“Every person is able and capable, whatever horse you ride, of riding good transitions. It is just about being willing to work on it.”

“For young horses, 20 minutes of work is enough. This is hard for one-horse riders because you feel you should do more.”

“Learn to love your right rein as much as you love the left one.”

“We get so ‘precious,’ we are overthinking ‘doing’ dressage, we end up too busy, when all you need to do is get the horse to think forward.”

“How many transitions should you ride in a session? Hundreds.”

“Don’t override. Let your horse make a mistake, then correct it.”

“People say so many things and make dressage so complicated, but it really isn’t. Half-halt and the horse should come back. Touch with the leg and he should GO. It is black and white.”

“It’s not difficult to make good transitions; all it is is discipline.”

“Hot horses need your legs on and easy horses need your legs off, and it is terribly difficult to do.”

“I tend to go for horses that look really basic and normal, but when I get on, I get that feeling…”

“There are four kinds of canter. Why do we get stuck in one kind? We’d rather feel safe.”

“Can I bend it, can I stretch it, can I straighten it, can I collect it? That’s a supple horse.”

“Training never just goes up. It goes up and down continuously.”

“The best stretch you get from the horse is at the end of the session.”

“That’s what we call slap the rider, pat the horse.”

“A good horse has to be able to do two things: sit and push.”

“People are so quick to want to teach the tricks, and then simple things, like cantering the centerline to a square halt can’t be done correctly.”

“The tricks are the easy part. The basics are the things that bite you in the bum all the way out.”

Read more from Charlotte in her book THE GIRL ON THE DANCING HORSE, available 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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DressageTrainingInHandMain-horseandriderbooks

Kathrin Roida is a classical dressage devotee who has learned the value of using groundwork to prepare youngsters for later work and foster the proper, conscientious development of older horses in training. Gymnastic work in-hand is now her specialty, and her new book DRESSAGE TRAINING IN-HAND shares her techniques, exploring how they help horses of different ages, breeds, and training backgrounds.

“Over the course of my riding life, I’ve become more and more convinced of the value of gymnastic work in hand,” says Roida. “This applies both to young horses, who develop good body awareness and the balance necessary to prepare for being ridden, and to older, trained horses where I’ve reached a plateau in their schooling under saddle. In-hand work is also extremely valuable when working with ‘project’ horses that are being retrained or rehabilitated—sometimes, it’s the only way for these horses to get sound again.”

Roida’s work doesn’t stop with the traditional in-hand exercises; she is a proponent for liberty work as a complement to daily training routines, whatever your horse’s “job” might be.

“When working at liberty,” she explains, “all that was learned in hand can be called upon, without even a bridle. This work is a mirror reflecting your relationship with the horse.

“At Frédéric Pignon’s farm in France, I got my first glimpse of liberty work. It brings me great pleasure when I can call upon these exercises without the use of bridle or halter…. In liberty work, shoulder control is the be all and end all. One must be able to control the horse using the whip and body language.

“It’s important to me that the horse does not get dull. I like to see a spark in the horse’s eye during this work—not a dull horse that’s eye gives the impression that he’s trying to be ‘so good.’ Just as with any other type of work, liberty work must be done in the right amount, otherwise the horse will get tired of it and, despite the freedom, it becomes forced. Accomplishing this is an art that only few people understand. In my mind, Frédéric Pignon and Magali Delgado are two such people, and I consider the way they handle and relate to their horses the ideal example. I hope to someday reach their level, so I continually work on myself.

“We trainers, especially, must constantly remind ourselves not to allow our work to settle into a ‘day in, day out’ routine. We can’t just follow a routine, executing our ‘agenda’ for one horse after the next. When this occurs, it’s our relationship with our horses that suffers.

“With occasional liberty work, our horse has the chance to show us, with unmistakable clarity, what he thinks about our relationship. Then, we need, again, to self-reflect, asking how we can work on ourselves. My personal goal is to always see and reflect upon the mirror the horse provides me, and in doing so, to maintain the sparkle in his eye.

“As long as you have the possibility to work with horses, you should see it as a huge opportunity to also continue your own personal development, never ceasing to learn new things or believing that you already know it all. A good trainer sees her horses as a mirror and will continue to confront her own weaknesses over the course of her lifetime. Our horses offer us an incredible opportunity to build character!”

DRESSAGE TRAINING IN-HAND by Kathrin Roida is available now 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 DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

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HorseSpeakZeke-horseandriderbooks

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.

DSC_1249FL 7-17

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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