California Riding Magazine • April, 2012

Book Reviews
Dressage 101;
Dressage Training Customized

Zen Mind, Zen Horse
Written by Allan J. Hamilton, MD
Reviewed by Dianne Chapman McCleery

Allan Hamilton has written a powerful book on the relationship between horse and human. In Zen Mind, Zen Horse, he shows the horse as a sage to teach humans, the willing students. Hamilton also acknowledges humans as the super-predator, the horse as the ultimate prey. This book is about what the horse can teach the human: to be present in the moment, to move away from "left brain" thinking into "right brain" feeling.

Dr. Hamilton's unique perspective on horsemanship is shown in the subtitle of the book: "The Science and Spirituality of Working with Horses." That subtitle is more understandable when the reader realizes Hamilton is both a Harvard-trained brain surgeon as well as a respected horse trainer. He states, "Remember: this is not a book about riding. It's a book about gaining insight into yourself through training."

Zen Mind, Zen Horse leans heavily towards natural horsemanship, and Hamilton quotes many of the well-known clinicians of that discipline. Both Monty Roberts and Dr. Robert M. Miller wrote forewords. Students of natural horsemanship will deepen their understanding by reading this book. Those interested in learning more about natural horsemanship will find this book an in-depth guide.

With chapter headings such as "Chi and Equus," "Grooming as an Act of Love," and "Now and the Ocean Liner," don't expect Zen Mind, Zen Horse to be your usual horse how-to book. Although there are plenty of how-to's, Hamilton wants the reader to delve deeper into the mind of the horse and see the world from the horse's perspective.

The illustrations throughout the book are numerous and excellent. The majority are delightful pen, ink and wash drawings. The table in the chapter "Prey, Predator and the Rules of Learning" contains the most in-depth list of prey versus predator attributes I've ever seen. Each chapter has a page of "Highlights" to recap what was taught, useful because of the depth and breath of information presented.

At the end of Zen Horse, Zen Mind are "Twenty Exercises, Expand Your Spiritual Awareness with Your Horse." One of my favorites is "Herd Hike," where you take your horse for a walk (not a ride) and see around you from your horse's point of view.

I knew this book was for me when I read in Chapter One, "To be content, horse people only need a horse or, lacking that, someone else who loves horses with whom they can talk." That definitely describes me and if it describes you, I'd suggest getting this book.

Dianne Chapman McCleery is a writer and editor who rides with a natural horsemanship trainer in the Sierra Nevada foothills.


Five Cent Return
Written by William A. Luckey
Reviewed by Jeffi Wood

Five Cent Return was written by William A. Luckey. Mr. Luckey is actually a woman, Belinda Perry, who decided to use a pseudonym because she felt western literature readers were predominately men and liked male authors. She has been an active equestrian for her whole life and her knowledge of horses is evident in her books. I enjoyed this book more than the one other book of hers that I have read (Sweet Grass). Sweet Grass was a good book, but much more in the western genre. Five Cent Return is a man and a horse story.

The man is an American Indian who was recently released from prison and is going back to home. On the way he finds a horse that is going to the killers. The horse happens to carry the brand of his grandfather. He buys the horse and together they walk most of the way back to his grandfather's ranch. When they start the walk the horse is in such bad shape that he leads the horse, eventually he can ride the horse, and they get one brief trailer ride.

The book is about their adventures along the way. The people they meet are interesting and the situations they encounter are varied and believable. The main character is half Indian and half Scottish and this blend apparently makes him very handsome. This results in some sexual encounters, which make this book questionable for younger readers. The descriptions of the encounters are about the level of typical graphic romance novels, so if that offends you be aware and just skip those pages. Two friends to whom I lent this book also found it interesting and worth reading.

Reviewed by Jeffi Wood, a rider who has ridden long enough to have dabbled in many riding styles.