Book Review: Begin and Begin Again- The Bright Optimism of Reinventing Life with Horses by Denny Emerson

Please note that The Backyard Horse Blog has an affiliate relationship with Trafalgar Square Books, the publisher of this book. When you purchase materials through the Trafalgar Square Books affiliate link on The Backyard Horse Blog website, the blog receives a much appreciated portion of your purchase at no cost to you. That being said, this book review was not solicited or reviewed by Trafalgar Square Books. I received no direct compensation for this post.

Are you looking to infuse inspiration into your horse life? If so, you will want to get your hands on Begin and Begin Again: The Bright Optimism of Reinventing Life With Horses. The information it contains is as hopeful as the book title sounds.

The chapters and sections discuss options for starting, re-entering or changing your involvement in the horse world. The book touches on the issues of brand new riders, re-riders, riders who have experienced injuries, riders who want to change disciplines and riders who must contend with declining abilities.

The author also reminds us that riding isn’t required to remain in the horse world. He gives examples of people who are an integral part of the horse industry whether they ever sit on the back of a horse or not.

“There’s no rule that says someone has to ride or drive or have a hands-on connection to get joy from horses. Some paint horses, others take photos of horses; some sponsor a young rider, work with horse-rescue organizations, build saddles or write horse books.”

Now, if you want a “how to” book, I need to point out that this one isn’t it. But if you like to draw ideas for your own life by reading about the experience of others, “Begin and Begin Again” will fit the bill.

The author, Denny Emerson, makes his points mostly through the art of storytelling, relaying his experiences as he rode a variety of breeds and disciplines throughout his long career. While Mr. Emerson is probably most well-known for his three-day eventing career, he also competed in endurance riding and rode Park-type Morgan horses. In addition, the book features lots of interview side-bars where professional and amateur riders alike tell their own experiences with beginning and beginning again with horses.

As an equestrian who has “begun and begun again” more times than I would like, I found the book relatable. This despite the fact that the author is an accomplished horseman in a way that I never will be.

I sometimes find it discouraging as an average equestrian to read “story of my life” books by horse professionals. As they write about their leaping from one success to the other, I don’t see myself fitting in the picture. It can be hard for me to find common ground with that level of accomplishment.

While Mr. Emerson shares high-level riding successes in his career, he also (refreshingly) describes setbacks and challenges. Including writing about how his training approach has changed over the years. As an example, he describes working with a family member’s teenage Quarter Horse gelding who is an ex-ranch and team roping horse:

“When I ask Kansas for even a little bit of contact, legs into connection, his first responses are to evade, dip his head, open his mouth, invert, basically telling me the only way he knows how, “Hey, I don’t get what you want. Hey, this isn’t comfortable for me to do.” So I stay very quiet, and simply suggest . . . so if I am going to make changes, they will be tiny changes, done over plenty of time, with plenty of releases and rest breaks. I may not even go much further than slight contact, just to steady him from time to time, because he’s so used to a certain pattern. I’m not trying to change Kansas into something he isn’t, not at this stage of his life. I was thinking recently of how I might have responded 25 or 30 years ago, and I am pretty sure that I’d have been more demanding, and more inclined to think of Kansa’s evasions as disobediences rather than as struggles . . .”

Mr. Emerson goes on to write about how he sees that same attitude in other riders too. For example, riders thinking that a horse reacting like Kansas is simply “being a brat about it.” Mr. Emerson notes that he now realizes that line of thinking is the start of a “confrontational downward spiral” with the horse. A spiral that leads to needlessly harsh riding and handling.

It takes guts to look at your past behavior and declare it wanting. This type of reflection is a form of re-starting that fits right in with the rest of the book. It is something that any horseman can relate to, no matter one’s level of skill.

The book is a great reminder to look for options within your horse life. To see possibilities where you might have only seen stumbling blocks. To give yourself permission to step up, step sideways or step back. To know that you can start and re-start as long as you are still breathing.

Begin and Begin Again: The Bright Optimism of Reinventing Life with Horses ends in the same way that it starts, by referencing the apt C. Lewis quote, “We can’t go back and change the beginning, but we can start today and change the ending.”

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