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Booktalking "A Horse for Mandy" by Lurlene McDaniel
Best friends forever, frenemies, or worse, nothing at all. Laura and Mandy used to be tight, real tight. All of that changed when Mandy got a horse for her 13th birthday, a lifelong dream. Suddenly, there was tension. Laura trained her Tennessee Walker, Diablo, for the show circuit that summer... but alone, not with Mandy as usual. Mandy spent all of her time with her beloved Paso Fino, Solana. Things get worse when Solana accidently gets out of her stall, into the sweet feed, and develops laminitis (or founder), which can be fatal. Then Diablo and Laura disappear, and friends and family convene to search for them. Can the friendship of Laura and Mandy survive the jealously caused by the new horse? Will Laura and Diablo be found? And, also, there's a new boy in town, David, who knows horses. Could he come between them?
Learn about the gaited horses, Tennessee Walkers, with their running walk and distinctive head nod, and Paso Finos, with their rack, both 4-beat gaits with each hoof hitting the ground separately. The height of horses is measured in hands, or 4 inches at the withers (where mane ends and the back starts). Paso Finos range in height from 13-15 hands. Equines 14.2 or 14 1/2 hands or greater are called horses, while equines shorter than 14.2 hands are deemed ponies.
My love affair with horses: I have had a lifelong love of horses. As a preschooler, I did the requisite pony rides at the apple picking farm, etc., but I didn't really get into horses until I was 9 years old, and one of my friends expressed an interest in taking horseback riding lessons. I really did not want to do that; I could not see the point of getting dirty and sitting on a horse, but my mother prevailed, and so I started riding lessons with a 92-year-old teacher in an indoor arena. I never had helpers lead my horse around the circle. I was on my own, and honestly, it kind of scared me that I did not really know how to communicate with the horse, and I was not confident that I could stop the horse, if necessary. However, I just hoped for the best. I knew that the very quiet school horses I rode were good natured and would never hurt me purposefully. I never rode ponies for some reason, even though I was young; I always rode horses. That was my first barn. My instructor died about 6 months after I started there.
Barns where I rode: I rode at several other barns. My next barn was a dressage barn; the Lippizaner stallions do dressage at a very high level. Do not worry; I was not doing any advanced dressage moves. I did Training Level dressage tests, and I believe I may have done a few Level 1 dressage tests there. Dressage is characterized as dancing with horses. The owner of the barn was fabulous; she used a lot of imagery and sports psychology to teach me how to communicate with the horse and position my body properly. She also taught me about equine psychology and how to communicate with the partner who is working with you and for you. I also ended up taking some hunt seat lessons from a woman I met through 4-H. Her mother was my horse bowl coach. She was very smart, and she managed to run a riding school and teach lessons in a wheelchair with the help of her mother. They also did a little bit of breeding and they trained the foals. I also rode at a saddleseat barn that I became aware of through 4-H and was close to my house. I met a lawyer there who had three horses, including a 2-year-old named Luke, and a grey warmblood, London Fog, whom she let me ride because she didn't have time. That horse was big and a little bit spooky. I remember her taking off in the outdoor arena one time just after her owner went into the barn because it was very windy outside, and that spooks horses. Her owner came out soon and helped me calm London Fog down. She was a spectacular horse and very good-natured. Lastly, I ended up at a hunt seat barn taking private lessons on Linus and Starflight for a couple of years. I really liked this last instructor because she had a psychological handle on me and an ability to motivate me that really helped improve my riding. (I might as well admit it, I'm a little bit lazy.) Anyhow, I ended up taking a total of 7 years of lessons, or roughly 250-300 hours of instruction on horseback, which I am very grateful for because now I have the skills to handle any basically trained horse and I can solve some behavioral problems that I have not encountered before or discussed before just on the virtue of my understanding of equine behavior. It makes working with horses very convenient and much safer for me.
Why I love horses: I thought that I would not like it, but I loved the tactile nature of the sport with an animal much bigger, more powerful and faster than me. It is so much fun! I can fly with the help of the horse! I love animals of all types; horses are somewhat shy, yet affectionate, and mostly quiet. I sometimes get very into my horse when I'm riding him or her. It's a kind of silent communication and camaraderie that is way different from communicating with other animals or people, I think. They are so gentle, and it is so much fun to see them have a great time while galavanting on the trails. They are doing what comes naturally; horses want to run and race through the forest sometimes. I love getting to know their personalities and how to communicate with them. At some point when I was riding in the Bronx, I felt like I became fluent in horse language. I was riding an Arabian mix, and he is such a good mover. He has a classic rocking-chair canter, and I started thinking of my equitation in terms of simply avoiding interfering with his movement. He was moving perfectly, and I consequently did not want to throw off his balance. Because he was moving so well, I tried to just sit there. Think of it as running with a backpack; it's helpful if the backpack is not bouncing all over your back. It is easier if the backpack is tight and is remaining in place. I love riding in the Bronx. The horses are interesting, the trail is beautiful, and it's great to experience nature and do something totally different than my day job. It's just interacting with another living being and going on a ride together.
Hippology and horse bowl: When I was young, I was involved in 4-H in order to learn about horses. I competed in hippology (the study of the horse) and horse bowl. Hippology involved the identification of horse equipment, feeds, etc. Since I had never cared for a horse, I was much better at horse bowl. Horse Bowl was a jeopardy-like contest quiz show about horse knowledge. Breeding, riding, racing, driving, horse care, medical care, nutrition, horse equipment, training, famous horsepeople and horses, etc., were all topics that could be explored. Luckily, I had the desire to learn about horses and study thousands of horse bowl questions and answers, and, very importantly, I had quick reflexes. There were 4 people on a horse bowl team who competed against another horse bowl team. Some questions were open to anyone, and some were open to only #1 players, #2 players, #3 players, or #4 players. I was very good at this game, and I studied and practiced a lot for it. In 1995, I was the #1 individual in New York State, and our team was also #1 in New York State. We went to the national competition at the Kentucky Horse Park, and I was quite fascinated to visit the museums, full of information about horses, with life-size statues of horses. Everything horses, horses, horses! What could be better?
My stint as a hotwalker: When I was studying abroad in Sydney, Australia, I thought it would be fascinating to work at a racetrack. I was considering a career with horses. I decided to ask around at the stables of Royal Randwick. I must have gone to 5-10 stables before I got hired by the husband of a famous racing businesswoman. I was a hotwalker: a worker who walks horses between the stables and racetrack. I worked 4:20 a.m.-8 a.m. so that the horses could be exercised in the cool of the morning, and sometimes 12 p.m.-2 p.m. to walk the horses in the afternoon for exercise. They were thoroughbred racehorses, and I walked two at a time between the stables and racetrack. I had to hold both hands high separate from each so that the horses would not nip at each other in front of me. One time, my supervisor gave me a filly to walk alone; she was about 3-6 months old. I was trying to use leverage and body weight to keep her from bolting, but she was a little bit frisky, so he told her from me.
Giving Trail Rides in Sydney, Australia: When I was in Australia, I very much wanted to ride, but could not afford to pay for it. So, I went to the stables in Centennial Park and offered to volunteer. Luckily for me, one of the stables was willing to hire me as a volunteer to help give trail rides around the park. I couldn't be happier. In addition, I got free lessons from the owner in exchange for volunteering! On Sundays, I used to take the bus to the park, and either back up or lead trail rides around Centennial Park. There was a paint Quarter Horse that I loved to ride because he liked to work and he was very forward-going and also very adorable. However, he was very nervous and did not trust people. One day, I was riding him and had not secured the lead rope properly on the side of my saddle and the horse took off. I could not stop him, and I estimate that he galloped half-way round the park, which is approximately half a mile. I did an emergency dismount because I knew that he was going through the intersection to get to the barn, because that is their home, what horses run to when they are scared. He arrived, shaken but unhurt at the stable. I endured a minor concussion and sprained ankle.
Working with horses in Scotland: When I went to work abroad in Scotland, I was still unsure as to whether I would like to work with horses as a career, so I thought that this would be a perfect time to find out. I actually interviewed at a barn near Edinburgh to be a groom and exercise rider. I did not know how to dress up for an interview with a horse barn, so I dressed up as if I were competing in a hunt seat show, with riding pants, boots, white shirt, navy blue or black sports jacket, and showed up, ready to ride. I have never ridden in an interview, but it couldn't be much different than showing, and being judged on my riding ability. They gave me a really easy horse to ride, and if I remember correctly, the ride was uneventful, but not spectacular. We also walked around the barn, and the interviewer asked me some questions. That barn didn't end up hiring me.
However, a woman from Craobh Haven, a small hamlet, did hire me over the phone to work in her barn. When I arrived in Craobh Haven after a long bus ride from Edinburgh, one of the boarders from the barn picked me up. She owned a chesnut Arab mare named Giah. I liked her mare, but most of the barn horses were leopard Appaloosas. I felt as if I had woken up into a nightmare. 20 horses that looked like dalmatians! How was I supposed to tell them apart?! However, after a week or so had passed, I noticed that they were different sizes, and I got to know their spots. I did a little bit of training on a grey Scottish Highland pony named Gillie. That was the most adorable pony; he was stubborn, but he was stubborn about stuff that, after I thought about it, made sense. He was trying to stay safe. I did a lot of mucking out stables in freezing cold, wet weather in January, six days a week. I got one weekend off a month. However, I did get to stay in a country cottage for a week, and I would jog at sunset down the country road after work listening to music, and there is nothing like the tranquility and beauty of the countryside, especially at sunset. Once, my supervisor and I saddled up to ride to the country store. I'm not kidding! We saddled up for a trail ride, left the barn, rode to the store, tied up our horses outside, entered the store, bought something, untied our horses, and rode home! That is definitely not something that I thought I'd experience in my lifetime! It feels like something straight out of the 18th century!