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The Horse Lover's Blog

Book Review: Lead With Your Heart

In Vermont in winter, my horse activities boil down to careful feeding, watering and shoveling, greetings and once-overs, and a lot of reading by the wood stove. I hope some of this reading will stay with me into spring and summer, when it's possible to work horses again.

A book I'm reading this winter is Lead With Your Heart; Lessons From A Life With Horses, by Allan J. Hamilton.

This beautiful small book is not a training manual, not a book of theory, not a story. Instead, 112 short meditations, each titled with a short aphorism, consider categories like Teaching and Learning, Energy and Emotion, and Breaking Through. Hamilton believes in good observation, in becoming still within, in taking the time it takes but not drilling the horse into a state of boredom. But my summaries don't give you the poetry of his writing; this is one to look at for yourself, to enjoy for the design as well as the words, to savor slowly, put down periodically while reading to think about your own horse, and situations you've been in with him.

We aren't all lucky enough to have a wise mentor in our lives, especially atthose crucial training moments. But if you read Lead With Your Heart slowly and thoughtfully, it may be that one of these aphorisms will come to mind at one of those moments. Like, "A windy day can make a horse stupid." Or, "More than four is a bore." (In other words, don't drill a new behavior to death. Three or four repeats, then do something else.) "Find the curve of compromise." That is, approach a horse's shoulder, on a curving line, greet, then turn away.

This paragraph stood out for me. "When the problem starts to seem too complex or stubborn, we need to stop. It means we are close to a new revelation. That is where the turmoil is coming from. There must be a moment of torque before there is traction . . . "

The book is illustrated with beautiful photo-collages by Robert Farkas, and is handsomely designed. Published by Storey in 2016. Read More 
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Your volunteer fire department

The fire department rescues Gale from a snowy ditch. Her legs weren't even touching bottom.
This is a cow story, but it applies to horse lovers and horse owners as well. Sometime in the wee hours, my parents wee cows, very short-legged, barrel-shaped Irish Dexters, went walkabout. They explored the hay barn and the shed where the grain is stored--safely in an old chest freezer. They ate all the bird seed out of the feeder.

Then they trudged a quarter of a mile up the road to the neighbors' house to check on their bird feeder. When my husband and I arrived to help, one cow was being escorted back down the road, one was waiting at home and mooing very loudly, and one was still at the neighbors, thinking about taking a shortcut through my horse fence.

I lured her away from that and we got her headed down the road, but when she came to our parked car she veered off into the ditch, which is especially deep in that spot and full of fresh snow. She floundered, sank, and gave up, apparently ready to wait there till spring. Clearly my husband and I and my 87-year-old dad were not going to shift her.

Enter the Westminster Fire Department. About twelve guys arrived with a Rescue truck and a winch, the sheriff parked at the top of the hill, my large animal vet and next door neighbor appeared on the scene, and after a lot of digging and thinking, they put soft shackles on her hind legs and dragged her out backward. Once they had her on the road they let her lie up on her breast for a few minutes while they spread kitty litter all around her. Then Stephen (the vet) bumped her in the shoulder with his knees while somebody else tailed her up. She got to her feet and headed for home, none the worse for her ordeal.

My takeaway--the volunteer fire department is the best, when you need a lot of muscle in a hurry. I appreciated how thoughtful and quiet they were, and knew they had the cow's health and safety in mind. If you own large animals in a rural area, get to know those guys. Donate, bake for them when they're on a rough call, or volunteer yourself if you are that kind of person. Sometimes large animal veterinarians give classes on rescuing animals. Maybe you could underwrite one for the education of your fire department.
Also, keep kitty litter on hand. I would not have thought of it, but I think a bucket rides around in every fire truck in Vermont, and that's as it should be. Thank you, guys! Read More 
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Bare Foot Police Horses

My beautiful barefoot boy. Still miss him!
I've kept my horses bare foot for most of my life. Not that I'm against shoes. I know they can be essential in certain situations, and they were invented for a reason, to solve the problems of a horseback, horse-drawn society. We are not that society anymore, and my horses are lightly ridden, mostly on grass. Atherton went 18 years never wearing shoes. Robin has never worn them. I've never bought boots for them, either.
I save a lot of money that way, and all other things being equal, I do believe it's best for horses to live as naturally as possible.

That said, it's interesting to see that Houston switched all its police horses over to bare foot several years ago, and has found that the horses' health has greatly improved. They have even seen a reduction in colic cases. It looks to me like there are other variables, like a new facility with turnout continuously available--probably the most important thing you can offer a horse. The switch was done thoughtfully, on an individual basis, and lo and behold, the hoof that evolved for plains and tundra is pretty decent on pavement too. Good to know!  Read More 
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Horses Are Not Human: Or, Why I Don't Blanket

Horses are not human.
Obvious, right? I don't mean they aren't persons, or individuals, or that they don't have feelings, or that I don't love them. I mean that they do not have human bodies, or human needs. They have horse needs, for horse bodies and minds that evolved in different circumstances than ours did.
I keep my horses beside a well-traveled road. That means the general public can see how they live and form opinions, and I'm sure many people would feel much happier to see my three wrapped up in cozy blankets.
But here's the deal. That's not what they evolved for. It's not what they need.
In a fascinating article on the Soul of a Horse blog, Natalja Aleksandrova discusses how horses' winter coats, and the fat they accumulate in the autumn, insulate them from cold. The ability of the hair to fluff up and stand out from the body, and the oil that prevents water from penetrating from the skin, can all be compromised by the tender loving care we give them. Blankets can flatten the coat. Grooming can remove the oils. A cozy winter stable can raise levels of ammonia (from urine, manure, and bedding) and cause lung problems.
So my horses stay unblanketed, with access to turnout 24/7. They generally go ungroomed from November until the hair starts to fly. I'll admit that I didn't know why these were good practices until today. They worked well for my horses for some 50 years, though, and now I know more about why. Read More 
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The Horse Lover's Blog

Another change in name for this far-too-occasional blog. But only yesterday did I realize what it should be called, and what it should focus on. (What can I say? Sometimes I'm a slow learner!)
My new book, coming in March, is the revised and updated Horse Lover's Encyclopedia, published by Storey. I spent months thinking about horses every single day. It was my job. Recently I wrote an article for Muse, the children's science magazine, about the horse blanket study--more on that later. In both cases I had a ball.
And yesterday I was thinking about difficult-to-trailer-alone horses, and found a study showing that horses with a mirror in the trailer travel much more calmly. I love that stuff! And that's what I'm going to do on this blog from now on.
Think of it as an extension to the encyclopedia, because we couldn't make that a bazillion pages long, and because new scitorence and new training methods are popping up every day. I'll try to keep up with it, and I'll try to help you do the same. Let me know if you like it.  Read More 
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The Chestry Oak--Don't Read It If You Hate To Cry

The gorgeous original cover--and it's back in print!
Yesterday I dipped into The Chestry Oak, by Kate Seredy. This is a book I read as a teen and loved, and had not looked at in many years. I was looking for gorgeous prose about horses, to snip out some quotations for Workman's Horse Gallery 2017 calender, and I found some.
But I also found myself unable to keep from crying, at the story of Hungarian Prince Michael, who lives with his father in Chestry castle in the midst of the Nazis. Michael loves Chestry Valley, his father, their beautiful horses, and his peasant nurse, and loses them all in one terrifying night of bombing.
But the part that made me cry was when he begins to get things back again, in his new home. I won't spoil the plot, just suggest that you buy this book, recently re-released. Don't read it in public, or with anybody you can't cry in front of. It's a sentimental book, yes, but that really works here, and Seredy wrote so beautifully and knowingly about horses. You will fall in love with the black stallion, Midnight--but you can't have him for your own. He belongs to himself. Read More 
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Jessie Haas, Horse Expert

As I finish the first round of edits for Storey's Horselover's Encylcopedia, which I'm editing and updating, I'm daring to wonder--is it time to call myself a horse expert?

I don't know everything about horses. I can ride, I've saddle-trained 3 horses, owned 4, cared for 6, but when the going gets tough this girl gets off. Hey, even the great John Lyons says that's okay!)

But I have written over 35 children's horse books, including the comprehensive nonfiction book Horse Crazy, which won the American Horse Publications book award. I've fact-checked Horse Heroes for Magic Tree House. I've written a world history of horses in poetry. I've written captions for Workman's Horse Gallery 2016 calender, and am just about to start 2017. I wrote a pioneering book on horse safety, and I'm finishing an encyclopedia, and you know what? It's time to name it and claim it. Jessie Haas, Horse Expert.

Don't stack me up against a smart 4-H kid in a Quiz Bowl. I think I'll always have to look up normal t-p-r rates. I rarely get horses in the correct order in those judge-the-horses photo contests.

But I know the smart questions, and how to avoid the ignorant mistakes. I know how to find stuff out, and how to hit a deadline. I know how to draft a sentence so it's crystal-clear. I can write a riding scene that will make a nonrider feel like she's just had her first lesson, on a real horse.

And I love horses. I've loved them passionately, all my life. I love their looks, their sounds, their smells, the feel of riding them, the sweetness of feeding them, the mystery their thoughts and feelings.

And I love horse books. Horses and the written word, my sweetheart and my cats and dog, family and the farm -- and good wine, and something nice to eat with it. There you have me. Jessie Haas, horse expert. Humble horse expert, who knows she still has a ton to learn and always will, but who's willing to take on any interesing horsey project that comes my way.( Read More 
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This Rider--stanza six



Last stanza--

And this one hopes
the judge did not see that.
If the mistake was overlooked
she'll win.
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This Rider--stanza five

Patient as the stone around him.
Thanks to Wikipedia for the image of the British sentry.

This rider
sits
motionless
in a tall
narrow
sentry box
outside
the palace,
pretending
not to hear
what people say.
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This Rider--stanza four

Yes, I ride her. But I keep my wits about me.
The fourth stanza of a horse poem from Hoofprints. The accompanying picture captures the spirit of spring in Vermont--muddy and explosive. Spring is here but the grass isn't greening up yet, and we all have a bit of cabin fever.

This rider stays on
--that's all--
eight seconds.
Legs fly loose,
spurs scratch fore and aft,
and then at last the whistle blows.
Let go!
 Read More 
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