This review is in honour of the great athelete Hickstead. The Olympic Show Jumping gold and silver medalist horse died during competition last Sunday, Nov. 6th in Verona, Italy. He and his riding partner Eric Lamaze knew well the way of horses and of horse and rider. To Eric and all connected to Hickstead, condolences on your loss. And to Hickstead, you are missed. Rest in peace, brave heart.
“If you knew a horse, you could depend on him and if he was going to do something bad, you could depend on him to do that too. I always understood horses better than I did people.“ This opinion on the staightforwardness of horses is from retired US Captain Thomas Stewart. His story is told in The Tao Of Horses: Exploring How Horses Guide Us on Our Spiritual Path by Deborah Kaye McCall. At the end of WWII, Capt. Stewart and a German army captain and veterinarian Dr. Rudolph Lessing got 200 Lipizzaner stallions and broodmares out of Czechoslovakia before it was given to Russia in the Allied division of territory.
The Lipizzaner story is in the chapter entitled ‘Peace – The unequivocal ambassador.’ This book has many such stories – individuals and breeds of horses that are particular noteworthy in the equestrian world. It’s a small book and it covers a lot of ground. Each chapter focuses on a few people and the breed of horse with which they work. You get the story of the breed, including some individual horses, the people and their philosophical musings on what horses and their particular branch of equestrian activity gives them mentally and physically. The author adds thoughts of her own, short sections at the end of each chapter with a physical or mental exercise to do, travel tips and internet search suggestions.
I stay well clear of any book with ‘Tao’ in its title – a little too New Age self-helpish for me. I’d come across mention of this book while reading online about Barbaro. It sounded interesting, but. When I found a copy in a thrift store, I thought why not. And I’m glad I bought it.
Before I read it, I did not know the singer Wayne Newton is a well-respected breeder of Arabian horses. I did not know that the drummer of the 1970s band Three Dog Night, Michael McMeel, was inspired by the movie City Slickers to set up an equestrian programme for Los Angeles “at risk” kids. The book tells the horse stories of people you have heard of and those you have not but are happy to have learned about.
This book is exactly what its title says, a look at the way of horses. It discusses them and their relationship with humans in all ways – practical, emotional and psychological. You get an easy to understand overview of breeds and equestrian arts as well as a lot to think about in terms of how horses and humans connect at the heart. You can read about the art of dressage, for example, and learn some technical points of it. But you also read about a man, and family, who have spent their whole lives in pursuit of this dance between human and horse. You are moved to think about that expression of balance and fluidity in terms of your own life, with and without a horse to share it.
It is a self-help book and a very good one. It doesn’t outline steps to fix your life; it gives you something better. Food for thought about yourself and your emotional interior and also about creatures – human and equine – outside yourself. It also teaches you about horses and equestrian disciplines from reining to racing.
A lovely little book, and well worth its full price for horse- and non-horse people alike.
Adams Media, Avon, Mass. 2004