Friday, February 22, 2008

Book Review: Horse, Follow Closely

Several years ago my son and I traveled to Sacramento, California to see the Western States Horse Expo. My memory is fuzzy, probably due to brain damage, but I recall walking from one clinic to the next, not being very patient with each of the famous clinicians. It was 101 degrees outside, and I was feeling irritable. I needed shade, water and a place to sit. We stood behind a crowd and peered between heads to get a glimpse of one horse whisperer, who had standing room only. I gave him five minutes to teach me something, and he spent all five of those minutes promoting his books and DVDs, most of which I already had. I got tired of standing and headed for the Sundowner Arena to see another well known wrangler. He was longeing a horse and rider, who was riding bareback. He was teaching the student how to maintain balance. After five minutes of him yelling, "Sit back!", I decided to move on. The Parelli Pavilion offered shade, but no place to sit. The Sundowner Arena offered plenty of places to sit in the bleachers, but the reflective metal only made the heat of the sun hotter.

My son and I dragged ourselves to the next clinic. Again there was shade, but no place to sit. I was feeling like I was about ready to pass out. I couldn't concentrate on what the clinicians were teaching, because my brain was frying. We bought some bottles of water at a refreshment stand, stumbled upon a small clinic off the beaten path, and found a space in some bleachers under and awning. Once we sat down and cooled off, I started paying attention to the clinician. He was longeing a horse in a round pen, describing everything he was thinking and doing, as well as what the horse was thinking and doing.

The clinician then brought out some students and their horses. He taught them how to do various activities with their horses. One girl was having problems with a runaway horse that kept bolting for the gate, and the clinician veered from his agenda to help her gain control. She cranked one rein around tight so that the horse was running in circles. The clinician instructed her to release the rein as soon as the horse showed signs of slowing down. It took a while, but the horse eventually learned to hold still. I was happy to see how this clinician resisted the urge to take the horse away from the girl and train it himself. Instead, he trained both the girl and her horse together.

What was even more amazing was how his tone of voice remained calm and confident throughout the clinic, despite some guy dressed as a Mexican bandito sitting on a horse shooting off two loud guns in succession right beside the clinician while he was trying to put forth a presentation. I opened my program to find out who this impressive clinician was, and found the name of GaWaNi Pony Boy.

My son and I attended another Western States Expo a couple of years later, and there was a whole different set of clinicians. I was disappointed to not find GaWaNi Pony Boy there that year. Again, we trekked from clinic to clinic hoping to learn something, but always finding ourselves stuck in hot, cramped bleachers or standing in sweaty crowds while the clinicians rambled on about nothing in particular. Some promoted their products, some delivered long monologues about their qualifications to train horses, yet didn't actually train a horse in front of us, some told stories while sitting on the backs of their horses, but didn't do much. At one clinic near the end of the day when the crowds were dispersing, my son pulled a row of folding chairs together and fell asleep. There was too much talk, and very little demonstration. Where was GaWaNi Pony Boy when we needed him?

I was hoping he would participate in the Western States Horse Expo in 2008, but didn't see him on the roster of clinicians. I sent an email to his scheduling agent begging Pony Boy to come, but it's too late for this year. All she can do is make a note that there is interest in him attending it for 2009.

In the meantime, I've been reading "Horse, Follow Closely" by GaWaNi Pony Boy. This book is highly unique in the arena of horse training books. The photographs by Gabrielle Boiselle are so beautiful that it qualifies as a coffee table book. Interspersed throughout the pages are short stories from Native American folklore that are creative, inspiring, and always rich with lessons. Marginal notes and occasional quotes from Native Americans get to the point quickly, while the text in the body guides us through the philosophy and application of "Relationship Training".

The book includes exercises that we can do with our horses. With my 40-something year old body, I chose to skip past the instruction on how to swing your leg up and over the back of a horse in order to mount without stirrups. I not only require stirrups, but I also require a mounting block. I also opted out of practicing how to fall off a horse. I take a lot of calcium citrate to fight off Osteoporosis, but I doubt it's enough to guarantee unbreakable bones.

My biggest problem with horse training books is that they often include a lot of repetitive verbiage with oversights in which the author tells us to do UVW in order to reach XYZ, but completely forgets to mention HOW to do UVW. I didn't find any of these types of oversights in "Horse, Follow Closely". The other problem I have is with retaining the information long enough so that I can carry it in my brain out into the round pen and actually apply it. The Native American folklore is so rich with imagery that the symbolism sticks in my brain, and I can extend that symbolism to help me recall the actual horse training techniques.

My husband thought he had ordered one book and one DVD of "Horse, Follow Closely" for me for Christmas, but what ended up being delivered were two books, each containing a DVD. I'm not sure if the machines that packages go through corrupted the DVDs or what, but one DVD only displayed the first few lessons and then jammed. The other DVD did not work at all. I figured there was no point in returning both books for an exchange, because the odds were that the third book would come with a damaged DVD too. We chalked it up to a loss, (but not really considering that the book itself was worth more than what we paid for it and the DVD) and I decided to give the extra book to my mother, who is one-third owner of our Arabian filly Gabbrielle, and who grew up riding horses. We both hold an interest in Native American history and cultures, and spend our summer vacations visiting trading posts.

I just wanted to add that despite the misery of it all, I absolutely love going to the Western States Horse Expo. Wild horses couldn't drag me away from it.

P.S. It feels kind of weird telling this story from several summers ago of nearly suffering from heat exhaustion, because while I am writing this it is snowing outside. My body doesn't know whether to sweat or shiver.


Rising Rainbow said...

Well, I have never seen GaWani Pony Boy in person but I have seen the book. It is beautiful enough to be a coffee table book for sure. I think if I had not already found Harvey Jacobs, GPB would be the one for me. I loved John Lyons from many years ago just go so tired of the selling products part of his gig. And that goes right along with Parelli, Roberts and Anderson for me.

Twinville said...

I can't tell you how much I appreciated reading about your experience and memories first hearing about Pony Boy.

I first found out about him several years ago, before I even had a horse, though I can't remember how (rack it up to an over 40 yr old brain), but reading your post reminded me of how I was almost instantly imnpressed with him and his theories and practice in horse/rider/owner relationships.

I remember spending hours reading through and watching videos on his website , too.
Fascinating stuff and I'm so glad, now that I finally have my own horse, to be reminded of pony boy again.

Thank you!

Callie said...

I've read a little about PonyBoy. For some reason I seem to remember him being based in Florida. I'm going to have to revive those readings, because as I remember awesome. And my Kola is named after his Kola I'm sure.

Katharine Swan said...

Aha! I found your post on this book. :o) I had no idea you'd written a review on the book when I wrote mine. This was before I started reading your blog.

That is too bad about the DVDs. It's fantastic and has a lot of material not in the book. I wonder if you could get them to send you a new one if you contacted Pony Boy's rep via his website and explained the situation.

I hope someday I'll have the opportunity to see him myself...