In which the reason that God made winter is discussed: a book review

I don't buy many books.  
I borrowed this one from the library...but after reading it,
I plan to order a copy of my own.  It's that good.

Know Better to Do Better (Mistakes I made with horses so you don't have to)  by Denny Emerson

Denny Emerson's name may be familiar to readers because he's a famous 3-Day Event rider.

Others may know him because of his extensive endurance career. 

He's has been riding horses longer than most readers of this blog have been alive.  To hear him tell it, he's learned a few things along the way.

What I liked about this book:

The photos.

Denny Emerson (age 12-ish) and his grade pony "Paint" 

This book features photos of the author through the ages--and in many cases, a caption to point out what he's doing wrong in the picture--jumping ahead of the motion, maybe.  In an adjacent photo, he shows how he has changed and improved--and notes that sometimes it took him 20 years or more to repair himself!  It's encouraging, in a "misery loves company" kind of way, to see that even a world class rider has done stuff imperfectly...and that same rider still struggles to improve, just as we all do.

The book has several sidebars that highlight his life with specific horses, beginning with his very first pony, Paint.  In each, he talks about his goals for the partnership, and what went right--and also, what went wrong.  For every sidebar horse profile that he shares, he also includes a concluding paragraph called "In retrospect", where he details what he would do differently with the horse if he could push the "do-over" button.  How many people even talk about this, let alone write about it?  

He never once says that a particular horse was "bad."  There were some he calls "difficult" and "challenging," certainly.  But even the most difficult and challenging horses had virtues as well, and Emerson is quick to point to those.  

He's an advocate for off-track Thoroughbreds, for classic Morgans, and for Warmbloods...but he also sings the praises of Quarter Horses, Connemaras, grade horses, and most of all, ponies.  

The War Stories
Anyone who has sat 'round a campfire with horse folks has heard plenty of war stories:  the tales of things gone wrong, and how we survived 'em.  In more than 50 years of competition at high levels, Denny Emerson has collected plenty of war stories, and he's also had plenty of practice in telling them.  

Come for the pictures, stay for the stories, sez me.

The Good Advice
Unlike some competitors, Denny Emerson gives out his wisdom with a free hand.  The subtitle of his book really sums this up:  mistakes I made with horses so you don't have to.

Truthfully, that is one of the reasons I wrote Endurance 101: I saw people making mistakes I had already made, 10 years prior.  Waste of a good mistake, thinks me.  Read my book, learn from my screw-ups, go invent new mistakes of your own!

Emerson is a huge advocate of walking--both for humans and for horses.  "It's hard to get hurt at a walk" is his mantra, and he practices what he preaches.  He spends hours, every week, walking his young horses, teaching them about being out in the weather, on uneven ground, over rough terrain, through water, up and down hills.  No agenda, no pressure, no hurrying.  "A good walk can be your secret weapon."  

Now, that is good advice.  And there's more of it, but I'll let you read it for yourself.

His book list
Some of them, I could have predicted (The Tevis Cup by Marnye Langer and The Making of the Modern Warmblood by Christopher Hector).

Some of them made me smile (The Black Stallion by Walter Farley and  Justin Morgan Had a Horse by Marguerite Henry).

Some of them have nothing to do with horses (The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown and Everest by Thomas S Hornbein)

But, since he took the time to put together a list, I think it's worthwhile to consider reading some of his recommendations.  (Especially Hey Cowboy, Wanna Get Lucky? by Baxter Black, one of my all-time favorite equine humorists).

I don't usually advocate buying a book, especially when you can get your public library to buy it.  

If the library owns a book, you can read it, and when you're done, a total stranger can read it, and then another and another.  I'm a librarian, and that kind of sharing seems the best way for most books.

I borrowed this book from the library (and they probably bought it because I requested it), and I'm glad I did.  Tomorrow, I'll return it to the library, and then I'll go over to my local bookstore and buy a copy of  Know Better to Do Better for myself. 

If you don't follow Denny Emerson's "Tamarack Hill Farm" Facebook page, do.  I've been reading his page for several years now.  Some of the stories in the book are familiar to me because I read them on Facebook first.  

There are always new stories, because he isn't done riding...and he isn't done writing yet, either.  He reads every comment, and he responds to readers thoughtfully.  He is quick to acknowledge that he doesn't know everything...but we would be crazy to ignore the opportunity to learn the stuff he does know.

It's winter.  The weather is awful, and it's going to stay awful for a couple more months.  Don't waste this time!  Go get this book.

Read. Learn. Ride better.

Springtime is coming.



  1. I bought this book for myself after Christmas, as Santa forgot to put it under the tree! ;-) I have yet to start, but I cannot wait! Denny is one of my favorite humans.

  2. There was once upon a time when an endurance vet was very concerned about the weather. I have no freaking idea which ride, probably in Oregon.

    He said, "Break with your schedule, your habit. It is freezing, if you didn't notice? I want to see every horse with a blanket not only on his back, but in the very least a towel around its neck!"

    Do remember that ride? I'm sure you were there. I found it fascinating that people would adhere to a sponging down practice when the weather was whipping the horses' manes against their necks.

    I still have that thick wool full body blanket in burgundy - ears to dock! - though I have no need for it. 100% wool. Cowan rescued it for me in a vet check. I need to give it up, cuz when will I use it in Germany, but....... it is full of Princess, Mac, and Baasha hair. Ugh.

    1. It's okay to hold onto stuff. Or maybe you could re-purpose the wool blanket for something you do use?

      I don't specifically remember "the" ride where it was very cold...there were a lot of those. When I competed with the Toad, I rarely had to sponge him anyhow, his recoveries were always pretty much immediate (but also, we tail-ended a lot).


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