Book Review: “Horses and Horsemanship” – M.E. Ensminger (2nd edition, 1956)

Haha! Finally finished another book in my stack of things I’m halfway through reading. Sorry for the delay in posts, I started a new job and was focusing on doing well for finals, still waiting to hear if vet school is going to offer me a spot as an alternate this year.

So I picked up Horses and Horsemanship at a used bookstore here in Corvallis looking for a simple review of different breeds and styles of riding. I’ve mentioned before that I wasn’t raised to be a horse person, but I do like horses, and plan on working with them and the people who own them in the future.

I realized after I bought the book that it was published in the 50’s, so much of the medicine and training techniques were well out of date. Rather than go out and buy the most recent addition, I thought it would be fun reading the perspective’s from that time period, and that the history, breed descriptions, and event descriptions would be pretty much the same (been right so far).

Most interesting was the history section, which was fascinating in that it included the various European and Arabian developments of the horse and their use in agriculture and sport. It also included the authors unique views from 1956, in which he foresaw a renaissance of the horse for sport use as it was replaced by automobiles and tractors. I myself was amazed that the tipping point of more tractors than horses for agricultural use occurred only shortly after WWI, my own mother who grew up on a dairy mentioned to me that it was about that time that her father got his tractor. His predictions turned out to be correct, as we have seen growth in the numbers of horses in the US since the 60’s, with no additional use in agriculture.

The book was fun to read, and extremely beneficial to someone like me who needed a quick overview of common horse breeds, history, and descriptions of various racing sports. I would recommend picking up the newest edition if you’re interested in medicine and nutrition briefly covered (the genetics chapter was entertaining, as much of the information they had at the time was either incomplete, oversimplified, or proven incorrect in later years). However, it was really interesting to read about the recent history of the time, and how mechanization changed the use of the horse. I’ll leave you with a brief excerpt showing what I’m talking about.

The future of the horse and mule industry

Most people agree, horse lovers among them, that further declines in work horses and mule numbers are inevitable. But we need to take stock of our gasoline and oil supplies. Should there be another war, perhaps the retention of a goodly number of horses and mules might be in the nature of preparedness. In the final analysis, however, the dominant factors that will determine the future of the horse and mule situation are: (1) the amount of mechanization, (2) the need for the cow pony, and (3) the use of horses for recreation and sport.

Further mechanization inevitable

We new live in an atomic age. Certainly, further mechanization in this era is inevitable. Some manufacturers even go so far as to predict that it is only a matter of time when the farm horse will be driven into permanent oblivion. In the thinking of these machine enthusiasts, this time only awaits the ingenuity of man in perfecting more and better adapted machines that will operate with greater economy.

(Ensminger, 43)

Clearly, Ensminger wouldn’t even be able to fathom the world we live in today where so many people have never even seen a horse in person. I do agree that the cow pony is still unbeatable in it’s unique purpose. Though I think ATV’s provide an excellent tool as well.

Even the Army’s famous little jeep does not appear sufficiently versatile for use in roping a steer on the range. (Ensminger, 43)


Ensminger, M. E. Horses and Horsemanship. 2nd ed. Danville: Interstate Printers and, 1956. Print.

Book: Animals in Translation (Grandin)

That’s right, I’ve finally finished the book that everyone else has already read. When I first saw Temple Grandin speak at Oregon State and glanced through some of her research, I wanted to read one of her books that not everyone had read. So I picked up Animals Make Us Human. I immensely enjoyed that book, but had no idea that Animals in Translation was so popular for a reason. AMUH takes the principals discussed in the first book and uses them to analyze the quality of care you provide your household pets. Whereas Animals in Translation goes deep into the science and assumptions Grandin makes using her experiences in animal handling and Autism. She then quickly backs all of it up with an extensive review of relevant literature.

There’s a critic on the back of the book that says “there’s a wow on almost every page” and I believe them. There’s a lot of crossover between the two books, but Translation is much more science oriented and acts as a manifesto of Grandin’s observations and conclusions of the perceptive worlds (and umwelts) of animals. It reads like a great pop science book, and keeps the information from getting dull by relating it all to the author’s anecdotal evidence and personal experiences.

As well constructed as the arguments in the book are however, Grandin makes a lot of assumptions. I’m inclined to agree with pretty much all of them, but many times she attacks the certainty of scientists who believe animals can’t do things. I agree more progress has been made assuming possibilities instead of negatives, but I’m sometimes uncomfortable with how certain she believes her own conclusions are. You can’t call out other people for not having satisfactorily proven their conclusions, and then state yours with the same conviction. That being said, she does make all of her statements with a careful amount of humility, and always follows them with something along the lines of “this hasn’t been examined/proven yet, but I believe we will soon see studies that support it”. She’s especially careful when the supporting research is conflicting, and makes suggestions on how future studies could get more consistent data.

I love her examination of brain structure to explain the differences, and similarities, of animals to humans. Using Autism in terms of frontal lobe function seems like an appropriate model for the animal brain, and her hyper specificity theories seem to align perfectly with animal behaviors concerning fear. The black box manages to provide evidence to support most of her theories, and gives them weight across multiple disciplines. The chapters concerning fear were especially interesting, and I’m curious if I can run experiments on my roommates using hard-wired phobias, though they’ve probably already been exposed to them all.

What I really want to do now, is find a book that disputes some of Grandin’s theories. I’m afraid that the arguments she makes are so charismatic and I’m so prepared to agree that I don’t analyze them rigorously enough. I’d like to see writing from someone with a similar amount of education and experience, but with different views, so I can make my own judgments. As of now I’m pretty sure I agree with Grandin on all fronts, but until I receive a conflicting argument I can’t rely on that impression.

Temple Grandin and Dr. James Males at Oregon State University

Like I said, the book was fantastic, and if you’re at all interested in animals, behavior, or just pop science, you need to pick it up. I highly recommend reading animals in translation first. I’ve got one more Grandin book on my shelf I want to read, Humane Livestock Handling, which includes some of her systems that are used in slaughtering facilities across the nation and how to operate them. I’m excited to dig into it, but for now it’s going to sit on the shelf while I read something different. I’ve been reading behavior and cattle literature a lot lately, so I’m looking for something a little different before I start another book in that vein.

Book: Domestic Animal Behavior for Veterinarians and Animal Scientists – Katherine A. Houpt

After a year-and-a-half of on and off reading, I’ve finally finished Domestic Animal Behavior for Veterinarians and Animal Scientists, 4th edition. It’s only about 400 pages, but it’s technically a textbook, and by no means light reading. I got through it by taking it a couple pages at a time, which allowed me to process the information and apply it to things I was learning and reading elsewhere.

It was a great resource for me, as someone who has few experiences working with production animals, to learn common behaviors and methods of correction for domestic species I was less familiar with. I’m sure a lot of it is common knowledge to someone who grew up around cattle, horses, sheep, and swine. But for someone like me who hasn’t spent years observing those animals, the book provided a lot of observations that I haven’t been able to see myself. Grazing and sexual behaviors were particularly interesting to me, and were covered well.

One of my favorite parts of the book was its depth. Each chapter is specific to one behavior aspect (e.g. “Communication”, “Aggression and Social Structure”, “Circadian Rhythms and Sleep”, and “Food and Water Intake”), then breaks it down by species, and then further breaks it down based on problems specific to that species, finally discussing relevant studies. I actually spent quite a few lunch breaks at the clinic last summer reading this book and asking the veterinarians questions.

The language and voice of the book tends to be pretty abstract, but occasionally makes suggestions to scientists studying/raising the species being discussed. The arguments are very compelling when they are immediately preceded by an experiment summary that supports them. The book also does a great job of identifying gaps in the reviewed literature, and asks great questions about continuity. It often seems to be giving a big hint or nudge to animal researchers to explore a specific topic.

Overall, I highly recommend this textbook for anyone interested in behavior or may want to learn more about domestic species. It covers a ton of the physiology and pharmacology behind the decisions animals make, and is a great example of technical but achievable language that animal science/veterinary students should be familiar with. I’ll definitely be keeping it as a desk reference and referring to it whenever starting a project with a new species.