The Reading List

Fortunately, work granted time off to the staff over the Easter weekend, so I suddenly had an unplanned 4-day weekend. It gave me more time to spend with Eli, time that allowed me to get him out of his stall more to walk and graze. I also shortened his mane and bathed him.

But I also had time to actually get back to reading for fun, which I rarely do — I try, but I tend to fall asleep while reading in bed. But since I have been almost constantly thinking about animal cognition and animal emotion, I thought I’d organize a reading list here for anyone interested in the same thing. Beware; it’s haphazard.

The first is one I don’t think I would have ever purchased, except that Eli is injured in such a way that he can’t do much under saddle for a while. I don’t have an ETA for saddle time yet. He actually gets some treatments today, but I can’t be there because of work. Maybe I’ll get some hopeful news from the vet? Anyway. I bought 101 Ground Training Exercises for Every Horse & Handler to get ideas for things Eli could do on the ground at the walk, in hopes of keeping his brain engaged at least a little bit every day. There’s this whole section on poll pressure I am interested in trying, mainly because I have never even thought about this from the perspective of working a horse from the ground. I probably should have.

The next is a book I highly recommend if you are at all interested in how domestication works. How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog) chronicles a long-running experiment in Russia (started when it was the Soviet Union) aimed at domesticating foxes. The experiment wasn’t really about domesticating foxes: it was about understanding how dogs got domesticated from wolves in the first place. The experiment is still running today and of course now has technologies that didn’t exist when the experiment started. Domestication seems to rely more on gene expression instead of gene mutation, with the endocrine system playing a significant role. The book also provides little vignettes of familiar stories from animal science, such as the study of primates, the New Caledonian crows, and Clever Hans. It’s an easy, short read. Plus “domesticated” foxes are cute AF.

I haven’t even started Mama’s Last Hug yet, but I read about it in one of the periodicals I review for work and immediately knew I needed to read it. I think it seems obvious that at least some animals have complex emotional lives. But finding the underlying science to support this assertion interests me, and I think this book aims for that kind of thing. Maybe I’ll hit up page one this evening?

And of course finding one book leads to those Amazon recommendations that are pretty spot on for me at this point, and this is why I picked up The Genius of Birds. Is there something about being able to regulate one’s body temperature that allows one to develop intelligence and sentience? I have noticed that animal cognition and emotion are studied through mammals and birds mostly. Not exclusively, of course, but an adaptation such as warm-bloodedness seems to go along with deliberative thinking.

This next one is something I encountered shortly after getting my MFA and began undertaking library school, and it’s definitely on the academic side of things so it may not be a super accessible read for those with merely a passing interest. I never read When Species Meet cover to cover, but parsed out excerpts to contemplate whenever I had time. I am in the midst of reading it cover to cover now. If you are academically-oriented and interested in the interaction of human and dog, this will be a great book for you to read.

The next two books are by Gerd Heuschmann: Tug of War and Collection or Contortion? I have read the first, and hope to read the second soon. Tug of War explores how bad training negatively impacts a horse’s health. Is it directly about horse cognition or emotion? No, but training affects both directly, so considering the concepts within are worthwhile. Collection or Contortion? apparently builds on how training affects a horse’s health, focusing on flexion and bend. Yeah, I’m going to have to read this soon, too!

As what I see as a follow up to When Species Meet, the same author published Staying with the Trouble not too long ago, and I am interested in reading it. It seems WAY more way out there, but I generally enjoy such challenges. It dwells in of-the-moment-ness to a certain degree, trying to reconcile human existence with nonhuman existence and maybe it explores how we have messed up our shared home and the nonhuman are stuck with our folly. Sorry, animals and other things. But notice the subtitle? This gets me on a tangent related to the poles of our shared home. And H.P. Lovecraft fans out there? I don’t think the author is necessarily directly relying on Lovecraft, but it’s hard to see “Chthulucene” without going there. And since she brings up tentacles, maybe that’s exactly what she’s doing.

There is one Lovecraft book that stands independently of that whole tentacled thing: At the Mountains of Madness is a weird, quick read about an expedition to Antarctica, and if you are into weird sci-fi/fantasy/horror/Gothic stuff, you’ll love it. Really. It does get freaking weird. But it brings me to two other books grounded much more in reality, relating to polar expeditions. Not sure if Frankenstein got me hooked on polar adventures, but here I am.

Earnest Shackleton is my jam. His descriptions are so detailed! The problem with this book is that I know what happens so I keep starting it, then putting it down before it gets gruesome. South starts off magically, with glittering sea ice and charming penguins. I don’t really want to read the rest, but I suppose I will finish it eventually. It compels me to consider the idea of pushing the human constitution to the extreme and what that does to the human psyche. The Third Man Factor is no doubt about one of the craziest possible adaptations humans have developed. People get close to death and experience a rather fascinating phenomenon. And where do people get near death a lot? The polar regions. Also on mountains and in deserts.

This tangent brings me to a melancholy question. Do animals hallucinate when near death? Humans foolishly push themselves to these novel limits, but animals certainly don’t seem to seek out such limits. Is this the thing that separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom? Not emotions, not cognition, not sentience … but our utter stubbornness about doing stupid things? Oh, wait, horses are kind of like that, too. Just maybe less purposefully so.

Yeah, I got to this question in a rather circuitous way, wondering how different are we really from our animal companions. My first thought is that we are really not that much different at all. We are, after all, also animals. My second, darker idea is that the difference is we are destroying our home, while other animals are just trying to live here. Some animals have cast their lots with us inextricably. Maybe we should try harder to keep our shared home livable? Maybe it’s too late.


Holiday Reading List

Not so strangely enough, I am an avid reader. However, I do SO MUCH reading at work that pleasure reading has been winnowed down to reading half a page in bed before passing out and losing my place.

But then I had SEVEN days off in a row! Don’t worry, I still haven’t finished anything I am reading right now and this list is only a small selection of what’s sitting in stacks on end tables that I pick through whenever I get a chance.

Tik Maynard, In the Middle are the Horsemen

If you ride horses and you haven’t started reading this one yet, you are missing out. The engaging narrative starts with how this guy’s journey into exploring all aspects of horsemanship got started and goes from there. I am still reading, so I can’t possibly provide you with spoilers, but so far it’s my top horse book of 2018.

James Comey, A Higher Loyalty

In some part due to my employment, I rarely if ever seek out politically-motivated nonfiction. I mean … I am surrounded by it. But this particular title piques my interest. I think the Comey firing that could have been scandal enough for a year, let alone a week, turned out to be merely a prelude to bigger and weirder and more confounding … actions … of the current White House. Comey’s writing is clear and it’s not so much about the current leader of the free world as it is about approaches to leadership and civic duty that work, versus those that don’t.


On to my favorite type of fiction ever! Gothic. There are SO MANY titles I could recommend if you are at all interested in Gothic literature, particularly from the late eighteenth century through the Victorian Era. I have been wending my way through the “horrid” novels mentioned in a conversation between Isabella Thorpe and Catherine Morland in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Which is also good. I am not much of a Jane Austen fan (team BrontĂ« over here) but she satirizes Gothic fiction extremely well. Anyway, back to Clermont … it has all the classic elements of a Gothic tale: abandoned castle ruins, innocent young lady, curiously handsome, dark stranger …. yes, I know, it BEGS satirization. And I LOVE it. The writing is overwrought, as is often the case in Gothic fiction. I can’t get enough of it.

The New Annotated Frankenstein

Here’s one I got for Christmas. Could not be a more spot-on gift. Frankenstein IS my favorite book. It provides endless literary facets to explore. I’ve read it, both the 1818 (which is the currently in-vogue version with scholars and my preference) and the 1831 revision, many times. I have read all kinds of derivative works on it. I have studied with glee Byron’s “ghost story challenge” that spawned the novel. As epistolary novels go, it is one of the topmost influential examples in the English language. I cannot wait to pore over this book during my four-day weekend!

Did you get to do any reading over the holidays? Horse books? Great fiction? Anything for political or news junkies?

Weenie Wednesday: Oops, Forgot to Blog

Hey, man, sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in a day, y’know?

First, adorable dog is adorable.


Second …

drain the swamp?

Riding opportunities have been a bit spotty. While the new turnouts and quick-drying fields make riding and time outside possible at least some of the time during a 2-week-long rain event (in Texas, no less, wtf), Eli has lost some fitness, as have I. Fortunately he has been very enjoyable to ride when I’ve been able to ride, except for maybe one evening when I tried to ride in the rain — sorry, Eli. Mommy hates it, too.

this stuff doesn’t just curry off very well

Rain comes back into the forecast late this week …

exhumed the Equivisor for that one afternoon it was sunny

Maybe I will have a little time for pleasure reading? Maybe I’ll try a juice cleanse? Any recommendations along those lines?

juice cleanses don’t mean this, though, right?


light reading (already finished the Necromancer a long time ago and meant to swap it out for Clermont)

My arms are also COVERED in some kind of bug bites, so that’s fun. I think maybe gnats got me on Sunday afternoon while I was working outside.

Horse Books

Amanda started a hop about horse books and what we have in our personal libraries. I realize that this isn’t about horse fiction or poetry, or coffee table books, but I am including those anyway, mainly to demonstrate the slightly outdated and somewhat eclectic nature of my equestrian book collection. Although I am a librarian, my personal book collection is completely disorganized.

First, my recent favorite … who else shelves the Klimkes in between Faulkner and Jean Valentine? I love raised poles/tiny jumps and work over them frequently with Eli. I find at the walk to be the most challenging because Eli doesn’t so much walk as he does mosey, so he has to pay attention and march with the cavalletti.

Next is this little group. I use the Linda Allen one A LOT for ideas. Also, The Ultimate Horse Book … where do I start? This was exactly the type of book I spent hours poring over as a tween and teen. And it has some quirky gems that when I see them now, I’m like, did y’all just make this up?

Anyone familiar with this breed? Don’t worry, the book also has practical information, too. Such as recognizable breeds (apologies to any Furioso devotees out there) and illustrations of gaits.

I studied gaits pretty thoroughly in book form, less thoroughly in real life until I had my first horse. It’s immensely helpful to me to see the footfalls drawn out explicitly so I have a mental image to go along with what I can (or can’t) feel under saddle.

Another coffee table book? I am not sorry. This one is gorgeous.

I have required horse person fiction shelved with … other stuff.

Not to worry, though. More reference volumes, coffee table books, and classics are in my collection. You can see the riding books slant toward the hunter/jumper end of things, with bits and pieces of dressage stuff. I also have early editions of a lot of the reference/care books. Newer ones are available, so my collection might not have the most recent knowledge or best information, but what an interesting time capsule, complete with advice on ear-twitching foals … ew. But the George Morris and the Anne Kursinski are crucial for h/j types.

Speaking of crucial, more Morris and some Steinkraus grace my pile of what I’m reading right now. Or trying to read. And not fall asleep dreaming of puffins and sled dogs (I haven’t gotten very deep into the Shackleton yet so it’s quite pleasant so far).

Does Ariel count because it was the name of Sylvia Plath’s horse?

Back to reference. This is a well-worn tome that I arduously studied as a youth. I am sort of a sucker for information presented in encyclopedic format complete with color illustrations — I have similar books on birds and rocks and dogs. There lives within my brain a tiny little Victorian-era naturalist that I must sate on the reg.

I mentioned bits and pieces of dressage … really, just this book and the Klimkes stand out to me. This post also reminded me to order the Xenophon, speaking of classical horsemanship. So that will be added to my pile of nightstand books.

Got say it: you may as well skip the Billy Collins. I have no memory of even reading it, it stood out so little to me. The Monk is a really goofy, fun Gothic romp, though.

I have the 2001 edition of this title and I think a 2007 edition is available, and I am sure even more recent information is available, but this book emphasizes the importance of forage in the equine diet, and I highlighted lots of stuff in it.

More hay, everybody. More hay. But do you see the line just above where I highlighted? Yeah, no, we can and should actually give water after exercise. Unless it’s really hard exercise, then I think it’s more of a tailored plan among rider, owner, and veterinarian to provide water safely in smaller amounts after crazy difficult workouts like upper level xc. That could be what the author was getting at, but the lack of clarification could be cause for continued confusion over whether to offer water to horses after exercise — for a very, very long time we were all told not to, in many cases by otherwise knowledgeable horse people we looked to as mentors and teachers. Like I said, time capsule. Eli gets to drink water out of one of those little 8-qt. buckets before and after exercise.

The book also presents data in easy-to-understand charts and other illustrations. This might actually be the most-used book of my collection, so I should probably seek out a more recent edition or any other new books on equine nutrition.

So my collection of equestrian books is pretty all-over-the-place, both in topic, tone, and physical location on my book shelves.

Rain Break

It does not rain in Texas in August, except maybe for a few days if there is a hurricane making landfall.


Eli has done a whole lot of nothing this week. I couldn’t even get to the barn on Tuesday after work because of how bad the weather was. This is truly the most bizarre rain event I have experienced in Texas, because really, it does not rain like this in August ever. May? Yeah. October? Sure. But in August, Texas is typically a parched swath of burnt grass, the oppressive sun frying everything at 102F on a daily basis.

Luckily, last evening, we got a break from the rain for a bout 20 minutes–long enough to stick Eli in the round pen, which was really only muddy on one side … I didn’t work him, I just let him wander around while I did some yoga in the middle. I hope I can ride him tonight in the fields!

In the meanwhile, my mom has been going through some old stuff and found this gem:


My interests were clear from a young age: horses and The X-Files. And possibly trucks. Also unearthed are some kids’ books, one of which is an exquisitely illustrated book of nonsense verse.


Again, featuring horses. Or donkeys …


The look of utter scandalization on the pig’s face at the donkey not requesting a finger of Scotch is pretty much a look that ends up on my face daily for any number of reasons.

I have also been passing the time by pinning some equestrian fall style ideas. I am super into camel & grey with accents of wine & coral. So much grey. All the grey.

Hopefully next week I can get back to riding! While I invite the cooler temperatures to stay, I would like it if the rain could just hold off until after a September 10 schooling show I want to go to.

Holiday Weekend Recap

The weekend started on Friday afternoon when I left work early to meet up with Eli’s massage therapist so he could get mushed on again. This time, the therapist started with the right side and got much further in his right hind area than she had last time, so that’s progress!

right stifle! from patentlybay on Vimeo.

I had a meal and drinks with friends Friday evening, and tried more doughnuts, this time at Voodoo Doughnuts and ohmygodallthesugarallofitALLOFIT.


Saturday, Eli just got a light hack and felt pretty much fantastic–very loose under saddle. I just want to add here a note about my Ariat tall boots, as an addendum to my review of them. They are wearing really, really well. The leather, which at first I thought of as too thin and a bit papery, is now soft and supple. Additionally, the leather has developed a gorgeous patina. Definitely getting much more out of this purchase than I expected and the boots are less than $300. I still strongly dislike the zippers, but they are holding up.


Sunday, I jumped Eli around just a little bit–maybe a total of 20 jumping efforts. Six of those were through an in-and-out. One of those six efforts Eli gave to me as charity and I have no idea how he managed to save my ass and clear the oxer but he did. I mean, it was U G L Y. The remaining efforts through the in-and-out were basically flawless from my perspective because he really had every right to throw me to the dirt, but nope, he jumped anyway. Thank you, horsey.

Eli had a well-deserved spa day on Monday, and he’s getting some fun things in the mail this month so be on the lookout.


The long weekend also allowed me a little extra time to get some reading in, so I read Tug of War by Gerd Heuschmann and again looked through Cavalletti: For Dressage and Jumping by the Klimkes, father and daughter. I recommend both books very highly. Tug of War resonated strongly with me as insightful, direct, and powerfully thought-provoking and I think all equestrian sports need voices like Dr. Heuschmann’s. The book provides a number of helpful and interesting illustrations and at 135 pages I easily devoured the book in a few hours and I am sure I will re-read passages from it over and over.


Cold Holidays, Warm Sweaters

starlightChristmas, come back! I need more time off to recover from time off.

lensflareweenieOver the break from the M-F grind, I rode when the weather wasn’t rotten, and for one ride it was rotten. I took Conrad out on walks, too, also when the weather wasn’t rotten. Lots of damp and blustery days over the long weekend that otherwise might have kept me inside, left me a bit tired, and also I have a cold that has settled into a lovely chest cough.

diggingBut Christmas was ever so enjoyable, and I got lots of cool stuff, including some books–maybe a few of which I might review.

booksI tried to have a lesson on Saturday, but north wind blowing rain into my face and Eli’s pretty much convinced me to call it quits. Eli was totally game, and wanting to play and maybe even go for a bracing gallop, but I just wanted to curl up with a hot toddy.

suchafaceIt rained even more on Sunday, and I thought for sure I’d be hand walking, but the footing held up, so I got in one last vacation ride, and jumped a few jumps just to make sure Eli didn’t forget his job. He may have thrown in a few dolphin leaps instead of canter strides, but if we get to the jump, he jumps. He seems to enjoy the cold, at least for a while. I’m going to ride tonight, too, because the weather looks to be taking a downhill turn starting on Wednesday.

windywalkI’m over winter at this point, but it’s still just December.

thinkingI think I have finally settled on a breastplate & running martingale set up that I like, after trying, oh, about 7 different ways. So I may have some breastplates with running attachments for sale soon… I can’t decide if I want to keep them as back-ups, at least until I get a new saddle, because I may like a different set up with a different saddle.

doneridingI hope everyone had a fantastic holiday! On to the Internet window shopping of all the sales!

A simple grid is not so simple!

A few weekends ago, I set up a simple grid with the help of my coach. I love grids! Done right, they build confidence and develop skills for horse and rider. I get great ideas and  exercises to build out of Linda Allen’s 101Jumping Exercises for Horse & Rider.

Eli can trail with his hind end a bit (major understatement), and a grid helps us so that he rocks back and jumps the jump, instead of just cantering over it. A grid also helps me not mess with my hands so much. The farm’s owner was kind enough to film us through a grid about 10 times, while my coach made slight modifications after each time through. The three video highlights below go from beginning, second to last, and last time through. Between the beginning to second to last, Eli and I had a few derpy moments, but mostly he jumped through it smoothly and I mostly stayed out of his way. And I’m glad I finally have film of me on him–I noticed right away I have a tendency to lift my right hand and collapse my right shoulder simultaneously, so my upper body kind of twists to the right, which is why Eli drifts left out of turns. Duh. Gotta fix that!

First go … not too shabby:

first go.mp4 from rennikka on Vimeo.

Too much coming in … WAY too much! What was I thinking?? Sorry, buddy! I should have said “WHOA!”

toomuchcomingin.mp4 from rennikka on Vimeo.

The Power of Whoa … need I say more?

powerofwhoa.mp4 from rennikka on Vimeo.

The next weekend, we worked on rollbacks, and he jumped some jumps that felt great, and my coach said they looked pretty amazing. He even jumped me out of the tack a little over a Swedish oxer. Favorite problem to have! Wish I had filmed that, too!