Category Archives: Book Reviews

Ground Manners by Cynthia D’Errico

Ground Manners

A Novel

By Cynthia D’Errico

Soft Cover, 2011, $19.99
Hard Cover, 2011, $24.99
ISBN: 978-1-4568-2394-8
Available at: or on Amazon

Reviewed by Carol M. Upton

Learning that horses were butchered for meat left many people feeling raw and lied to, like suddenly finding out that your neighbour had barbecued your retriever or microwaved your cat. Like so many others, Yanne was clearly unaware that, whether for meat or other reasons, horses were slaughtered at all. ~ Part Three, Chapter Four, p. 116

Ground Manners. A Novel is an innovative synthesis of adventure, romance and animal advocacy. Cynthia D’Errico has produced a compelling tale based on true stories about Canada’s horse slaughter industry, the dangers of continuing to ignore coastline erosion, and which features an especially intriguing thread on how le Canadien became both Quebec’s heritage breed and the National Horse of Canada.

Through the thoughts of Ausencia, a slaughter-bound polo horse, the opening pages introduce us to the horse refuge run by animal communicator Skye Spahro and her daughter on Isle-Saint-Jean- Baptiste. The Institute of Nature Communications, like many horse rescues across the country,  is dedicated to the care and rehoming of abused horses, including the rescue of those slated for slaughter.

The horses narrate a good part of the story as D’Errico performs skillful shifts from the human to the animal point of view. These shifts are reminiscent of those in other classics like Babe and Black Beauty, with that same brilliant seamlessness that keeps the reader fully engaged.  The character of each horse is carefully delineated so that when Ulric, the eternally calm Belgian draft says: “I don’t like the look of things, Tessa,” his ominous tone ushers the reader into the darkness of the book’s last half.

The themes in this book require the reader to confront the moral dilemmas often present in horse ownership and attempt to expand the reader’s vision of horses.  Yet the darkness is never overdone.

The storyline is simultaneously about love, heroes and hope for lasting change in our treatment of animals and the planet – indeed of the very ground we walk on. D’Errico’s writing style intimately involves readers in the lives of her characters, human and animal, in such a way that their world becomes difficult to leave as the book nears its gripping finale.

Ground Manners is the tale that horse lovers have waited for, but also essential reading for anyone intent on creating a more harmonious relationship with our planet. It will definitely raise public consciousness and is sure to spark debate.

A former ESL teacher and business editor, Cynthia has always felt a special empathy toward horses with whom she was raised. She continues to promote animals’ rights to live in whatever is left of their natural environments free of human interference. Visit Cynthia at


Posted by on November 11, 2011 in Book Reviews


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The Bone Trail by Nell Walton

The Bone Trail

Nell Walton
Soft Cover, 2010, $13.95 U.S.
ISBN: 978-1-45649-90799
Available from Amazon

Reviewed by Carol M. Upton:

On the afternoon of the last day of Lindy Abraham’s life, she stood leaning against an old Jeep Cherokee, once red, now faded to kind of a dusky umber, rapping her heel impatiently against a tire. She waited in the Nevada desert in the middle of June; it was hot, and her peach colored cotton tank top stuck unpleasantly in the hollow between her narrow shoulders. ~ Nell Walton

In The Bone Trail, Nell Walton hooks the reader from the very start.  We can feel the unrelenting heat and isolation of the desert, and the vulnerability of those who venture there. I was immediately drawn into this exciting story about the disappearance of two wild horse advocates – mystery, thriller and romance all rolled into one.

Walton’s book is inspired by the true-life events with which many horse lovers are familiar – the brutal helicopter roundups of wild mustangs off U.S. public lands, hearing of them being run to exhaustion into long-term warehousing facilities, where many face illness and death. But, there is more to this story, something far worse, and investigative journalist Kate Wyndham is determined to the discover the truth, even at great personal risk.

Every single character in this novel is lively and engaging – from the cold-blooded mining security staff to the Shoshone Reservation inhabitants to the stonewalling local police. Before we know it, we are following Kate’s terrifying trail, gripped with fear and sickened by the possible outcome.

This is one of those books the reader hopes will never end. Rumor has it that Walton is working on a sequel and there is no doubt readers will be lined up to get their hands on it.

Nell Walton is a journalist and the founder of the online equestrian news magazine, The AllHorses Post ( She lives with her husband and four horses (including two mustangs) in East Tennessee.

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Posted by on November 4, 2011 in Book Reviews


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Ride From the Heart (DVD)

Ride from the Heart DVD
The Art of Communication
By Jenny Rolfe
Cracking Media

50 minutes – $37.00

To purchase on-line, go to:

Also available on Amazon

Reviewed by Carol M. Upton

Training is about connection with our horse with love, harmony and respect. The more we understand the ways of the horse, the more we understand our own feelings. As a result we can live in more harmony – not only with our horse – but with ourselves. ~ Jenny Rolfe

U.K. riding instructor Jenny Rolfe teaches innovative techniques of core breathing to connect with the horse and help the rider to find harmony in body, mind and spirit. Now these techniques are available in progressive and well-organized detail on the DVD Ride from the Heart.

Rolfe’s principles are based in dressage, but applicable to all forms of riding.  She demonstrates with her Iberian stallions using liberty work, not only as a training aid, but also as a warm-up, re-establishing connection on the ground prior to riding. The object is calm, assertive leadership, and total empathy between horse and handler.

The DVD includes common training tips such as not pulling on a horse’s head when leading. There are also excellent demonstrations of Rolfe’s exercise system to improve the rider’s body awareness. Exercises, loosely based on Tai Chi, are done in standing positions. The rider is then soft and relaxed when mounted, and thus the horse is as well. Most athletes already use such techniques prior to competition, but not much has been offered on DVD for the equestrian.

Instructors will value this DVD as a teaching tool for all levels, but it additionally offers fresh perspectives on position and groundwork. It is really for anyone who wants to help their horse become a more confident athlete and simply create a better ride.

Jenny Rolfe’s clients come from all over the world and include those professionally involved with horses, among them BHS trainers, physiotherapists and natural horsemanship instructors. She is also an artist and author of the book Ride from the Heart.

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Posted by on October 28, 2011 in Book Reviews


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Review: Blue Mountain Rider

Blue Mountain Rider
Mary Benson and Hedy Strauss

Paperback, 2009, $19.99
Also available in Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-4415-7108
Available on Amazon or

Reviewed by Carol M. Upton ~

This collection of poems reflects our deepest emotions, ambitions, desires, hopes, fears, and dreams. It illustrates love and respect for an animal that has earned its way into our structure of life. ~ Hedy Strauss

Blue Mountain Rider is one of the few poetry collections dedicated to a celebration of the horse. Mary Benson and Hedy Strauss bring us an exceptional anthology that describes the countless ways in which these unusual creatures have enriched our lives.

In the opening section, ‘Horse Evolving’, we are treated to elemental images that remind us why we are often so drawn to horses. In ‘Wild Spirit’ Strauss writes one of several poems about the mustangs whose dramatic images appear in current news of round ups and herd management: “The sound of hoofbeats/ fill the air/ Wild prairie phantoms – disappear!” Benson offers us the ethereal ‘Night Ride’ plucked from childhood dreams: “Oh, the desert sings to me/ And I ride/ In windswept flight, aloft and free/ Forever in this enchanted land, Pegasus and me.”

Other sections include poems dedicated to specific types such as the Appaloosa, the hard-working mules of history, and the world’s wild horses, from the Steppes of Asia to Australia and the Moors of Brittany. Another cluster reminds us how horses have served throughout history, in city streets and country fields, on police patrol or cutting cattle. Special relationships between girls and horses are explored in such tender poems as ‘Pigtails and Ponytails’ and ‘Mane of Red and Gold’. There is sadness, too, in Benson’s pondering: “Oh, how will we say farewell?” and Strauss acknowledging how “It will break my heart the day you die.”

With holiday season coming up, this book is a memorable gift for any horse-lover, but you’ll likely want a second copy for your bedside table, so you can savour these evocative lyrics whenever you wish.

Combining their love of horses and the outdoors, Mary Benson and Hedy Strauss immigrated to the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York where they met. Whether it is preserving wild mustang heritage or saving horses from slaughter, both women are passionate advocates for animal welfare. Visit Mary and Hedy at

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Posted by on September 16, 2011 in Book Reviews


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Dances With Cows (DVD)

Dances with Cows

Cowboy Dressage DVD Series
By Eitan Beth-Halachmy
Amigo Publications Inc.
Wolf Creek Ranch Productions
27 minutes – $25.00 U.S.
To purchase on-line, go to:
Reviewed by Carol M. Upton:

Dressage is my discipline. The Cowboy is my freedom. ~ Eitan Beth-Halachmy

Dances with Cows is a video testament to Eitan Beth-Halachmy’s unique training style and you’ll want to view it more than once. All of the Cowboy Dressage Series demonstrate stunning dressage performed under Western saddle. However, Dances with Cows is Eitan’s most beautiful video to date.

Compadre and Galahad’s Golden Warrior partner with Eitan to introduce the viewer to stunning Wyoming wilderness, where the horses demonstrate their solid trail and cattle abilities, through running water and silver sage. We enjoy some of the most sensuous riding country in the world and then we are danced into the show ring.

Cowboy dressage combines traditional western and classical horsemanship, yet is applicable to all seats and disciplines, so it has something to offer every rider. Passages, piaffes and flying changes seldom seen in western horses are performed brilliantly here, leaving the viewer speechless.  At times, only the horse’s legs are visible in the spotlight shining through darkness. Arena scenes are shot with a wilderness overlay, reminding the viewer that these same performers are also working ranch horses. We learn that horse and rider can do it all with the right kind of partnership.

The viewer may see Compadre and Warrior as wonder horses, but Eitan says there are no secrets. His goal is to share with others all that his horses have taught him about life and about being a horseman. Dances with Cows reflects this goal and is a treat to watch.

As a boy, Eitan dreamed of becoming a cowboy. He also worked at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, where he developed the high personal standards he brings to his present-day work of breeding and training world-class championship Morgan horses. Visit for more information.


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Posted by on September 2, 2011 in Book Reviews


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A Mare’s Heart to Win

A Mare’s Heart to Win
By Betsy Kelleher

Zenyatta is one of the great mares in racing history. Her owners, Jerry and Ann Moss, planned to retire the six-year-old after the Breeder’s Cup Classic in Louisville, KY on November 7th, 2010. Instead of retiring with an outstanding record of twenty wins, she came in second by a nose in this last important race. Zenyatta’s record of nineteen wins out of twenty starts should be her lasting tribute, however, more than her one loss.

Crowds lined the area where Zenyatta walked to the paddock to be saddled. People yelled and cheered their encouragement while her handlers tried to shush the noise, hoping to lessen the pressure on her. She showed her nervous anticipation in her characteristic walk, lifting her right front foot, and sometimes her left, in a dressage-like extension, as if pawing the air. The announcer called it a dance movement. Maybe they will name it the Zenyatta Step.

We all watched as horse number eight headed for the loading gate, entered without problem and stood waiting. We saw her come out of the gate more slowly than we hoped for and follow the pack of eleven other horses for way too long! We urged her forward, urged her on to find her way to the front! And then she came, fighting to get there, finally getting through the bunched pack to enough space where she could move out. She tried. She gave it everything she had. She lost by a nose. And we all felt that moment of heartbreak for her, for her jockey, her trainer and her owners, and for all those others who have grown to admire this fantastic mare.

Zenyatta came up from dead last to almost win. As the sunset cast a rosy glow over Churchill Downs, she was led back to the barn for the first time without her moment of glory in the winner’s circle—while Mike Smith, her jockey, fought to control his emotions over perhaps his greatest loss. Her trainer, John Shirreffs, walked back with his head down, hands in his pockets. Her owners seemed stunned.

Did we expect her to be invincible? Didn’t we expect her to come up from behind again with her thrilling power and heart to win and to cross the finish line with her usual last-minute triumph? Things happen. If anything, blame the dirt thrown in her face from the flying feet in front of her. She was used to a synthetic track. But in spite of the dirt and the late start, she gave it her all, as most mares do.

Speaking for women in general, many of us know something about the pressure to win in a male-dominated sport. Zenyatta definitely has the heart of a winner and we will remember her valiant try. This mare has won the hearts of countless fans. May her babies continue her legacy!

Betsy Kelleher’s second book, MARES! (ya gotta love em), is a compilation of stories from mare owners across the United States, sharing the challenges and joys of mare ownership. Her first book, Sometimes a Woman Needs a Horse, shared her experiences training her first mare and the spiritual message she found in their relationship. Betsy writes a monthly column for the Illinois Horse Network newspaper under the heading, Sometimes God Uses Horses. Visit her website or her Mares and More Blog to learn more about her horses, her books and her columns.

See review by Carol Upton of MARES! (ya gotta love em) here.

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Posted by on August 26, 2011 in Book Reviews


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Charmayne James on Barrel Racing

Charmayne James on Barrel Racing
Charmayne James with Cheryl Magoteaux
A Western Horseman Book
Western Horseman Magazine, 2005, $23.95 CAD
Soft cover, ISBN-978-0911-647-76-7
Available through tack stores and Chapters/Indigo

Reviewed by Carol M. Upton –

Much of what you’ll read in this book goes against popular barrel racing theory and technique, but I ask you to give it chance. Take the time to learn the techniques and I know they’ll help you. ~ Charmayne James

Charmayne James is the All Time Leading Money Earner in Barrel Racing. She conducts clinics that are booked years in advance and she has developed the unique approaches outlined in this book. Whether you are a long-time competitor or just starting out, Charmayne can make your road a whole lot easier.

This book is laid-out in the classic style we have come to expect from Western Horseman books. Each chapter includes sidebars listing tips, to help us learn and remember, and colourful stories from Charmayne’s experiences with her own horses. The usual basics are covered, but there are also terrific chapters on the Strategy of Competition, Pattern and Position, and Winning Attitude.

Solving problems through slow work and bonding with the horse is a hallmark of Charmayne’s training philosophy. In her section on Common Problems, she uses case studies to demonstrate workable solutions. She has found that many difficulties, such as a horse that doesn’t want to enter the arena or one who displays lack of control nearing the barrels, can be resolved by improvement in riding skills.

Very few books have been written on the topic of barrel racing. This one is thorough, motivating and shares Charmayne’s years of proven experience. “Becoming a winner,” she says, “ is in your grasp if you want to work hard enough at it.” Keep her book handy on your barn shelf and you too can become unbeatable in the barrel racing ring.

Charmayne James became a World Champion Barrel Racer when she won her first title in 1984 at the age of 14, a title she continued to win for the next 10 years.  She earned National Finals Rodeo qualifications for 19 consecutive years, also beginning in 1984.  Charmayne has been heralded by professionals across the world as “one of the greatest horse people of all times.”

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Posted by on August 19, 2011 in Book Reviews


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