Nature, Nurture and Horses by Paul Belasik is a new book that follows four horses from their birth through their breaking-in, through the first year of training—a span of almost four years.
Trafalgar Square Books had a chance to catch up with author Paul Belasik this week, and they asked him to share a little about his new book as well as answers to other burning questions:
Trafalgar Square Books (TSB): Can you tell us what precipitated the writing of Nature, Nurture and Horses?
Paul Belasik (PB): I have been a long-time proponent of the principles of classical dressage. To me they are timeless, very practical and pragmatic. Today you see people touting how they can break in a young horse in matter of days. I wanted to present a candid but relatively detailed account of a classical breaking in system. I also wanted to take the reader through a cycle of a year in a horse person’s life—maybe try to give a feel of what goes on in between the glamour of horse shows and clinics, the stuff magazines love to cover. I guess I wanted people not to forget what it takes on a daily basis, the rhythms that are not necessarily that glamorous but might be more real….a better reason for choosing such a life.
TSB: In your new book, readers follow along as you raise and train four young horses, three of which have gone on to new homes with new owners since the writing of the book. You have bred and trained horses for many years, but it is evident from your book that quite distinct attachments and relationships are formed with the horses along the way. Do you find it difficult when it comes time to let your “children” fly the nest?
PB: Since you brought up the analogy of children, I would say watching these young horses move on might be like when your own child has grown up, and he or she brings home a girlfriend/boyfriend/fiancé, you might not necessarily agree with his or her choice, but you have to let go. We all need the freedom to make our own mistakes and successes.
TSB: What do you see in the future for the modern pursuit of dressage, and what is your role in that future?
PB: The future is in the past, otherwise one ignorantly makes mistakes that already have been made and corrected. One of my jobs is to keep reminding young riders of the history of dressage, that they are part of it, and to respect it, to learn from it, and maybe one day let me watch them surpass it.
TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse and a book, what breed of horse would it be and which book would you choose?
PB: An Andalusian, for soundness and intelligence, and Don Quixote: I would continue the madness of battling windmills. Whether or not anyone is watching, you have to find some principles to believe in and be true to them and yourself.
TSB: What’s in your refrigerator at all times?
PB: Ice. All people who lead active lives with horses need ice for injuries, and for scotch, to help anesthetize the pain when you have to watch your own video of learning to ride through some new challenge.
TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
PB: Watch the Dalai Lama with his practical, joyful laughter. What does he do with all the suffering? Don’t mistake it for simplicity. Take his advice, practice, and keep practicing. It is not to ignore suffering, it is to encompass it and go on joyfully.
TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember sitting on a horse.
PB: My grandfather worked for Purina Mills—obviously these days the company figures prominently in the horse world. Each summer they had a company picnic and pony rides. What I remember most is that one of the ponies stepped on my brother’s foot…it seemed to be a big deal.
TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember falling off a horse.
PB: I went to work on a farm when I was twelve. The farm was owned by a good horseman, Charles “Chick” Lynd. I had a huge crush on his daughter and for whatever lapse in his usually perfect judgment, he let me go riding double with her on her mare, Lazy Mary. That summer, their cousin—another Paul—also worked there. Mrs. Lynd—before the era of recycling—sorted all the trash. It was Paul’s turn to take out the cans and glass. He dumped it into an empty 55-gallon drum when we were around the corner. Peggy stayed on; I did not. Mrs. Lynd put some liniment on my wrist. I think the theory back then was: If you encounter more pain, you forget the first pain.
TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?
PB: A good work ethic. We’re all going to have trouble. Only people who know how to work hard will have the strength to work through problems with each other: emotional, psychological, and physical. It is always easier to quit.
TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?
PB: The same thing. All horsemen know this. It isn’t about pretty friends, rich friends, influential friends. It is who shows up for work in the morning. It is funny how we know this about horses, but often have a different standard for people.
TSB: What is your idea of the perfect meal?
PB: I have a friend who is a very good chef; he is also a horseman. Every once in a while he will make a meal at my farm. I buy the best wine I can afford and invite some good storytellers and some young people. We eat and talk and it can get outrageous. And if the oldtimers do their job, it is like a campfire. You can feel the future is secure in the wide eyes of the next generation.
TSB: What is your idea of the perfect vacation?
PB: I am a sucker for Hawaii.
TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?
PB: How about two: For a horseman it would be L’Hotte. He had to deal with two teachers of monstrous egos, and when I read things he said, to me they are more sublime than his teachers’ words. His writing is laced with equestrian genius. The other would be James Joyce. When you read what he suffered through and now the magnitude of his critical acclaim, being Irish, I’d love to go drinking with him.
TSB: Is there a horseman you worked with or for who taught you something that stayed with you all your life?
PB: Yes. One of my first jobs after college was working for George “Frolic” Weymouth, whose mother was a DuPont. It was the summer Frolic was opening the Brandywine River Museum. Among other things, Frolic is an extraordinary whip and “carriage-ing” enthusiast. I have been on the carriage with him crossing a boulder-strewn river in the middle of the night and have seen him do amazing things day after day. Frolic was born of some privilege but he loves to punch holes in pomposity. I remember at the time people would ask him about being on the Equestrian Driving Team, but Frolic would have none of it. He taught all of us who worked for him—and he lives it—that if what you are doing isn’t fun you made some Mephistophelian deal for your soul.
TSB: What is your motto?
PB: You can learn something every day if you try.