California Riding Magazine • December, 2009

Book Reviews
The Agua Caliente Story;
Give a Horse a Second Chance;
Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover’s Soul

The Agua Caliente Story
Author: David Jimenez Beltran
Reviewed by Iana Gonzalez

This book is close to my heart since my father, Fernando Gonzalez Diaz-Lombardo, is part of the history of the famous Agua Caliente Race Track in Tijuana. The author David Jimenez Beltran does a wonderful job of relating the story of this track. I found the book very entertaining and filled with wonderful pictures.

We must remember that, at the turn of the last century, America was living a very different atmosphere. The Great Depression was around the corner and conservatism was rampant. With alcohol prohibition and Sunday rest day laws in effect, the rich and famous in Southern California wanted a place where they could continue to spend their money and forget their worries. Agua Caliente racetrack, just south of the border in Tijuana, Mexico, served this purpose. Horse racing, greyhound racing, card tables and bars kept the money and booze flowing. Beltran presents to racing fans this famous track’s long and
colorful history.

Agua Caliente was the place where the newest innovations in racing could be tested, away from the conservative Jockey Club in New York. Johnny Alessio was behind many of these new ideas, many of which you can still see today at tracks across America, if not the world. Jockeys Bill Shoemaker, George Woolf and Eddie Arcaro started here, as did trainer Charlie Whittingham and racing official Marshall Cassidy. Racing fans saw the first starting gates, the first jockey safety helmets, and bet their first quinellas, exacts, daily doubles and pick sixes at Agua Caliente, and could also do it on Sundays, when racing was prohibited on the U.S. side of the border. Agua Caliente’s role in today’s racing environment no longer exists (due to its current owner) but its place in history will never be forgotten.

The author has made sure that the track he loved starting at the age of 2 with his father and brother will never be forgotten.

Personally, I think he left the story short, because he stopped where my father began as owner of Agua Caliente. And even though I do not agree with some the author’s comments on the development of the track after it burned down, I do have to say that Beltran did a wonderful job in putting this book together.

Reviewer Iana Gonzalez is an accomplished dressage trainer and rider in San Diego.

Give a Horse a Second Chance: Adopting and Caring for Rescue Horses
Author: J.R. Wise
Reviewed by Rachel V. Shultz

This book begins with a brief heartwarming narrative to broaden the reader’s perspective about what it means to find and re-home a rescue horse.  Not all horses needing a second chance will come from situations of dire abuse and neglect. Many responsible owners face life changes that force them to re-home healthy, stable horses. 

The author J.R. Wise rightly cautions potential rescuers to consider the full spectrum of care, cost and expertise needed to re-home horses from severe situations. This book is helpful both as a research tool for novice equestrians interested in rescue and as a reference tool for experienced equestrians forging ahead to add rescue horses to their repertoire.

I loved the full circle approach that the author takes as she guides us through the adoption and adaptation process. Wise includes well-organized sections on choosing where to find a rescue horse, evaluating general health and addressing common vetting issues that arise from neglect. She closes with practical, natural horsemanship activities to evaluate disposition and address certain problem behavior. The sections are well illustrated with sketches and photos that help the reader visualize the vetting concerns and the training activities. 

It is evident that Wise has taken her own advice. Although she has spent 30 years in the company of horses, she sought out her own skilled mentors to continue her journey toward good horsemanship and to create this book as a valuable rescue and adoption resource. 

I highly recommend this book for anyone considering horse adoption or rescue and especially anyone looking to start a non-profit equine therapy or rescue operation.

Reviewer Rachel V. Shultz is interested in the many facets of equine assisted therapy. As the wife of a United States Marine, she enjoys immersing herself in the varied equine communities as they move from place to place. She currently lives and rides in the New Orleans area.

Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover’s Soul
Author Theresa Peluso & others
Reviewed by Ann Zollinger

From tears to cheers, Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover’s Soul is comfort food providing all of the ingredients of a fine recipe. Seven sections delectably offer the stock to inspire, heal, astonish, teach and help us overcome our fears and road blocks in life. Short stories and anecdotes of good times, bad times and sad times give the opportunity to read from cover to cover or to reach for a certain tale when the need arises. Concocted by different chefs, these recipes feature the common ingredient of horses, which is what makes them successful. As with chicken soup, perhaps one story has too much pepper – or not enough noodles – but the perfect story to lift your spirits is contained within the pages of this book.

Like everyone else reading this book I, too, have a favorite story. Having had the privilege to ride at Charles Howard’s Ridgewood Ranch in Willits amidst towering redwoods and on the same trails as his famous racehorse and to be a docent for The Seabiscuit Heritage Foundation, I cherished the recollections of her grandmother that author Theresa Peluso shares of how that little racehorse kept Floss dreaming and full of hope when our country was gripped by The Great Depression. I do not get up to Ridgewood Ranch as often as I would like - usually just for a special occasion like the unveiling of the Seabiscuit stamp last spring - but each trip is a memorable occasion. At first my own tours as a docent were comprised of the Seabiscuit tales taught to me by Tracy Livingston, president of the Seabiscuit Heritage Foundation, a true gentleman and a Seabiscuit fan extraordinaire. With each tour I gave, I met people with their own special story about Ridgewood Ranch or that great race horse. Now my story as I guide people through these historic buildings and vistas has grown to encompass Seabiscuit’s life, my own life and the lives of those whose stories have touched my horse lover’s soul. And like a true story teller I look forward to being able to pass on the story of Floss and the Biscuit to new listeners on my next trip to Willits.

Perhaps the true inspiration in this book comes not from within its pages but the stories that each horse lover has within. Putting the book down, thoughts turn to a personal triumph, a private sorrow or a special time when an equine friend provided the guidance to help each of us achieve that special goal in life.

Reviewer Ann Zollinger is the owner of Dream Horse Vacations and a docent for The Seabiscuit Heritage Foundation at Ridgewood Ranch in Northern California. For more information on SHF please visit their website at

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