By Rob Edwards
|First Published in a 1988 Issue of Anvil Magazine
Went Tellington rode for the U.S. Cavalry as a young man, and has been a successful trainer and coach of horses in international competition. He is also co-author of a book entitled, Endurance and Competitive Trail Riding.
ANVIL: Went, did you start your association with horses in the Cavalry?
WENT: No. I received a Boy Scout merit badge in horses as a young boy.
ANVIL: So where did your career guide you with horses from there?
WENT: I didn't have anything to do with horses for a few years. I went to Harvard, played football and boxed, and was also in the ROTC. They had a field artillery unit, and I found myself riding horses again. I quickly discovered polo and began to practice that as much as I could and wound up on the military's polo team in Boston. I played polo for two winters in 1935 and 1936. Then I changed schools and went to Norwich University, which was the official military school for the New England states.
ANVIL: In those days were military schools designated as cavalry schools or infantry schools?
WENT: Norwich was a cavalry school. The only other military school of that type was the Virginia Military Institute, which was an artillery school -- cavalry and artillery were the only two schools; there were no infantry or other schools and the only reason we had Norwich and V.M.I. was because George Washington, when he was first president, wanted to promote West Point as an all-American military institution. The New England states and Virginia were doubtful still about the confederacy of the states and they elected to have their own military in case they needed it. So we maintained V,M,I. and Norwich up until after World War II. General George Marshall, the top military person, was a graduate of V.M.I., and we had several generals who came from Norwich. I went from Norwich, which gave me sufficient credentials to become an officer on the staff at West Point. I was the first non-West Point graduate who ever taught as a regular officer at West Point.
ANVIL: And what parallel did horses have with you in this career progression?
WENT: Well, this situation was a very interesting dichotomy. I was a young man, perfectly happy to fight for my country and actually feeling very patriotic, but not necessarily feeling like an extreme risk taker. The cavalry was the most elite arm of the Army. It was where you went if you could get there -- the top of the heap. I remember going to cavalry school in the fall of 1937 and riding various forms of exercise on horseback -- specifically, jumping over stone walls in Vermont. Burlap sacks of sand and other items were hidden in those walls, and part of the exercise was to stab those sacks with a saber as we jumped over the wall. In the evening we would occasionally go to the movies and see a "March of Time" newsreel. I would watch Hitler's big tanks going into the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, and stare right straight down the barrel of a 90-mm cannon along those Christie tracks. I sat in that movie seat thinking, "Do they really expect me to use my saber there?" So I quickly became more or less interested in tanks. But as a tank person I was considered a rebel in the military, and would not have been promoted. The men who could promote you were the older officers who were great horse people such as General Patton. So I decided to become the very best horse person that I could possibly be so that I could be promoted. And as I got promoted, I backed farther and farther away from tanks. I got promoted quite rapidly to a major. As a major, I had less likelihood of having to use the horse against the tank.
ANVIL: Didn't you compete in the Olympics on horseback?
WENT: There were no horses in the Olympics then that I know of. We had international competitions, but it was composed entirely of military institutions. It was the United States Cavalry against the British, Canadian, Mexican, and Argentinean Cavalries, and so forth. However, I did compete on a national level on many occasions and have won first-place medals. Today, the longest cross-country competition is only about seven or eight miles in the three-day event. The cross-country course we had in those days was 26 miles, with 52 obstacles. For instance, we had a 300-foot slide dropping steeply down into a water hazard and various other obstacles of that kind. I can show you an inscribed saber that I won in that type of competition.
ANVIL: When was this?
WENT: My first military riding was in the fall of 1935 and my last military riding was in the spring of 1940. At that time the Army was totally doing away with horses. Gordon Wright was involved in the disbanding of the Army horses.
ANVIL: Did you ever have any connection with selecting the remounts?
WENT: No, I was the aide to Colonel John F. Wail, who was head of the remount service. He was an extremely good judge of horses and was a guru for most of the big-time racing people in Kentucky, Carolina, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Practically everybody who was anybody would talk to him about horses, and I would sit there listening to him giving advice. He never gave anyone any straight advice; he'd always say, "Well, I had a friend once, and he had a problem something like yours -- and he tried this and it didn't work." Afterwards, when they'd leave, he and I would have a heart-to-heart talk and he'd tell me what he really thought. I learned a lot from him. He was president of the American Horse Racing Association and he wrote the classic book, Judging Thoroughbred Horses. I consider myself a student of his.
ANVIL: What breed of horses were used in the remount?
WENT: Thoroughbreds, entirely. Of course, for the Army, they used Thoroughbred stallions over strong Western mares without concern for the background of the horse, as long as it passed the physical examination. The Morgan horses got into the Army at one time because the Army was running short on their supply of horses. They were going back up into Vermont and New York to get any horses that looked good enough to try. So the Morgan horse people tried to say that this breed was a great military horse. But actually they were strictly all we could get when we couldn't get a Thoroughbred or a Hamiltonian from Ohio -- those big, fast, trotting horses. The Army, at one time, thought they wanted horses 17 hands tall because they could look down on everybody, but they found those horses were too awkward, so they finally dropped back to 16'2" as the top size. Fifteen-one to 16'2" was the ideal size for military horses.
ANVIL: After you got out of the cavalry, you were with an intelligence operation for quite a while. Then you went on to found an equine research center in California.
WENT: Actually, I owned about 6,000 horses between the time I left West Point and the time I was involved in equine research. In Canada in 1960 there was a vast horde of geologists, engineers, and explorers on behalf of the oil business and the mineral explorations who wanted to explore the far north of Canada. A great business opportunity presented itself, as I was fully acquainted with their oil efforts and also knew something about horses. So I joined forces with a Canadian fellow in British Columbia, Tommy Wild, who had a rodeo with a fellow named John Lawless. They called it "The Wild and Lawless Rodeo." I approached Tommy and said, "We've got a chance to make a lot of money here if we could just round up a whole bunch of horses to make pack parties available -- there aren't enough hunting packers around here to amount to a hill of beans. I've got inroads to Shell Oil Company and a number of other oil companies. If we can line up these horses, we can rent them out." So we rented out horse packs -- 30 and 40 at a time -- for several years to the various oil companies to go into the Canadian far north. Tommy and I owned a ranch that had about 8,000 horses on it -- we never knew exactly how many. We'd sell any horse on the place for $35 a head. Buyers would pick all the horses they wanted, bring them by, and for $35 a head, they owned them. We had native Americans who would do the breaking and rounding up. We had big 60-foot circular areas made of logs so that they could break maybe 15 or 20 at a time. And it was always a rather gentle breaking process. We had just two things we judged: one was the feet, and it was the most important criterion. And we had to be able to tie those horses up one way or another, usually with a running W, so if they didn't want us to have one foot, we could take them down with the other one. Then we'd examine their feet. If their feet were satisfactory, they went into a group for collection. If their feet were not satisfactory, we trimmed their feet a little bit and turned them back. If their feet were too bad, we'd have to eliminate them right there; we'd put them down. Once we got past that foot examination, which was the most critical determination, then we put them through a brief test to see how they would get along with men. Were they always going to be mavericks or would they come around? We simply put a set of panniers on them. Those solid wood packs had small, short barbs in the back, aimed at the horse's side so that if the horse bucked for very long, he'd prick his sides to the point where he'd be annoyed as though he was getting stung by a bunch of bees. If he suddenly thought, "What am I doing?" and stopped bucking and realized that it wasn't hurting anymore, he would calm down and start to move slowly and gently. If he rubbed against a tree, the barb would stab him in the sides; if he didn't rub against a tree, he didn't get jabbed. And so the horse quickly learned within a couple of hours how to handle a pannier on his back. If he wouldn't learn, we'd either put that him back on the range or put him down. If he did learn, we put him on the pack string. We went through hundreds and hundreds of horses every spring and those two basic prerequisites were the only two exams we had.
ANVIL: What percentage passed the tests?
WENT: More than half. We got to where we could almost tell from the shape of the horse's face whether he was going to pass or not. If his eyes were small, we sometimes would not even bother to test him. If his eyes were large, we'd give him a chance. The lower set the eye was on the face, the more likely we thought we were going to have ourselves a real good horse. Those are opinions you develop after judging such a great number of animals. Of course, you're not always going to be right. Nature itself is going to fool you, but these intuitive judgments can save a lot of time. When you have to line up, say, 1200 horses in five days that will be satisfactory for a geologist to handle (who had never seen horse in his life), you have to do quite a job. Then, once we got a group of horses, we would tie them head to tail and take them out for ten miles over some pretty rough country. The horses would carry solid wood packs that had nothing in them, and we had those little barb gadgets on the back. If the horses got home without killing themselves, we'd hire them out.
ANVIL: And did you shoe them at that point?
WENT: No, we never did shoe a horse, but we trimmed their feet carefully. They were always traveling on soft ground and they didn't go very far. The geology outfit, maybe for the first ten days, might go twenty miles a day. Once they got to where they were doing the geological study, the horse would sometimes stand around for a week. Our man who accompanied the group had some nippers and a file, that's about all the farrier tools he carried.
ANVIL: What kind of horses were these?
WENT: Whatever we had. We bought about 20 to 50 stallions, depending on price and availability, off the bush tracks of Canada and Northern United States. These were stallions that were still sound and looked good, but were getting slow for one reason or another. We'd buy them for $50 to $150, just slightly above the prices for the meat plant, take them back to the ranch and turn them loose.
ANVIL: When you were examining the feet of the potential pack horses, what were you specifically looking for?
WENT: I was looking for even wear. A horse that doesn't travel very well may wear his feet down hard on the heel or on the toes, or harder on one side or the other. Sometimes the horse would get a type of coonfoot, it's called, that you could correct if you wanted to take the time. But, when you're handling 1200 horses a week, you don't take time to correct a coonfoot. We eliminated the horse whose feet tended to crack or break up in any way at all. Every horse, before he went out, was trimmed and evened up. Even though the horses were not shod, the foot care was conducted by farrier craftsmen.
ANVIL: Were these horses willing to have their feet handled just in that short period of time that you had to familiarize them with humans?
WENT: Yes. Once one foot was up, if this horse was giving the farrier a lot of static, then another guy would go around and put separate hobbles around the ankles of the other three legs with rings in them and a rope. We could then stand back and control the horse. If he didn't want to let his foot up, we'd drop him on his knees. Then we'd let him back again and try his foot again. We could pull the horse's back foot right up to his belly and hold it there. Most horses, once you get one foot up and let it down, will let you do the other three. We had a team of three guys -- one was holding the ropes, one was holding the foot, and one was trimming.
ANVIL: Where did your experience with horses go from there?
WENT: Well, at that point, I met Linda Hood (now Linda Tellington-Jones). We went to Puerto Rico together, and we didn't have horses for a little while. Then we came back to Southern California and met one of the board members of Mercedes-Benz Automobile Company, and he thought Linda and I would make a fine team to run a Thoroughbred breeding farm. So we ran the Hemet Thoroughbred Farm, which was the seventh largest in California. We had about 90 broodmares and two stallions.
ANVIL: Did you have Arabs as well as Thoroughbreds?
WENT: The Arabs we had were because of Linda's interest in the breed and our joint interest in endurance riding, because it was a place for Linda to make a name for herself. In endurance riding she could beat everybody in the country, and did so, in less than a year. We picked endurance riding not because we were that interested in it; it just looked like a good place to make a winning entrance.
ANVIL: So then from Hemet where did you move?
WENT: We went to Northern California and founded the Pacific Coast Equestrian Research Farm.
ANVIL: You researched not only equine nutrition and husbandry, but you also experimented with different kinds of iron for horseshoes.
WENT: Yes, and we experimented with many things, including gate latches and twitches. We were on the State Department's visitors' list at that time, so we were also consultants on harvesting the crops in foreign countries, not only for horses, but for any large animals. Then we became interested in nutrition in depth. For instance, if I couldn't ship a horse by air and had to ship a horse on a small boat, I'd probably find some good high-class Philippine hemp rope. I'd unbraid the rope and let the horse chew on that rope a little bit and eat pitted dates, and he'd get across the ocean better than he would any other way.
ANVIL: On dates and hemp rope? Why was that?
WENT: Well, it doesn't bother their digestive system very much. The old Spaniards knew that. The Spanish horses that came over here all made their way across the Atlantic, and they always put the horses on the fastest possible boats in the best weather. The horse was on the boat maybe 40 days. You can't keep hay on the ocean, the saltwater will ruin it, and you can't keep grain very long. But the British Army, the American Army, the Arabs, and the old Spanish conquistadors all knew that if a horse had to go through an ocean ordeal, you let him have about two pounds of hemp and seedless dates.
ANVIL: You were one of the first people to use apple cider vinegar in the horse's feed for fly control.
WENT: In Canada, the heaviest part of our payload going into the north was liquid vinegar. Whenever we finally got into the regions of the big flies that really bother the horses, we started feeding about an eighth of a cup of vinegar a day. That would change the composition of his blood enough so if the flies would land on him, they wouldn't bother him, and the horse wouldn't develop sores on his sides from the flies.
ANVIL: Would you advocate vinegar as something to add to the water of the domestic horse?
WENT: Sure, if you have a fly problem. You have to find out how much is adequate for a minimum dosage. You can feed up to about a quarter of a cup. A big problem for show horse people who trailered their horses hundreds of miles to a show is to find that the horse wouldn't drink the local water. Then the horse wouldn't urinate, he wouldn't eliminate, and if he won't eliminate, he gets in a bind and his brain starts drifting away on him -- and consequently, you lose the high-jumping contest or race that you know you could have won. If you add apple cider vinegar to the water at home, the horse will be accustomed to any water in another location. A tablespoon will do.
ANVIL: You did extensive research as to how horses like to travel. What did you find?
WENT: I found that the last thing that one should do is force a horse into a hauling unit. That will set his mind up for a couple of days so that he's resentful and isn't going to do anything quite right for awhile. So spend a little time educating that horse to get into a hauling unit, long before your trip, so that he goes in gracefully with no upset -- that's very critical. A lot of people like to load a horse with a ramp, but if you think about it and if you watch any horse on a ramp, it's a relatively hollow experience for him. It doesn't feel as sound as the ground and, as a consequence, he's going to raise his head in suspicion. When he raises his head, there's a longer distance in inches between his toes and his ears. As a result, it's physically harder to get him in a trailer. So take the ramp away and let him step solidly onto the floor of the trailer -- it's more like the ground. When he does that, and because he has to lift his leg up at least twelve inches, he now lowers his head to compensate for that movement because a horse won't pull his leg up and lift his head up at the same time. So, when he steps up, he has to put his head down. Thus, he gets compacted smaller when he steps in and out. We quickly decided that ramps were not a good thing under any conditions. A lot of people worry about backing a horse out of a trailer with no ramp, but the horse remembers that step up and he'll feel his way out very carefully. One of the things we did to ensure that the horse didn't hurt himself was to put a piece of light, two-inch round aluminum plate along the underside of the step-up. We learned that if a horse has a solid partition in the trailer, he can start scrambling against that solid partition. The more he scrambles, the more noise he makes, and the more panicked he gets. So I opted for just pole partitions between horses for that reason. Rather than have a single pole, we measured carefully and did a lot of equine physiological studies and devised a three-pole partition. If the horse did try to kick, he had to bump his hip up against that pole, and there was a piece of iron that hit him in the right place, like hitting the funny bone in your elbow. He only did it once. So we designed a three-pole partition at a specific height that will handle anything from a pony to a hunter. We then built extensions that were a sliding arrangement with iron poles that would slide out to fit, and that made it possible to accommodate any size horse under any conditions. And that also made it possible to get the partition unpinned if the horse did get into difficulty and was lying halfway down. We could always get that partition out, as long as we had that telescoping design. We also developed the control of air in the trailer so we could carry horses at any temperature from 110 to 125 degrees in the sun to sub-zero weather.
ANVIL: And did you find that horses like to ride in the trailer any particular way?
WENT: Backwards. We went to the Al Marah Breeding Farm in Poolsville, Maryland, that belonged to Bazy Tankersley, and we had selected two horses to bring to California for endurance competitions. One was a very wiry mare named "Rainbow." She wasn't very big, but she had a certain wiry quality that we liked. At that time we had a conventional, four-horse trailer in which all the horses faced forward. We heard a terrible scramble in the trailer and we stopped. And there was Rainbow! She was in the back stall. Somehow or other, she had gotten up on her back feet, turned around, and was looking out the back door. So we let her out of the trailer, petted her, and put her in the trailer facing forward. This brings up another point. We quickly learned not to tie a horse in a trailer. If we tied the horse's halter to the usual securing device in the manger, and something did happen: the horse could literally hang himself while you were trying to do something. So we never tied our horses in the horse trailer while traveling. We would perhaps lead them in with a halter and lead rope, but we'd throw the rope over the horse's neck or back. And that's how Rainbow happened to turn around. We hadn't gone two miles after the first incident and that horse had scrambled and turned around again. So I said, "If that darned fool horse wants to ride backwards the rest of the way to California, let her ride that way." She came to California backwards all the way. That incident started me thinking. So then we built a trailer where you could put a horse forward or backwards. In a study we conducted, a number of horses' responses were compared in different trailering environments. As an example, we carried two horses -- "A" and "B," from California to Vermont. We'd carry "A" on the right, facing forward, and "B" on the left, facing aft, and we'd travel to Albuquerque and put them out for the night.- The next morning we'd turn them around. In the meantime, we had registered their pulse and respiration. And the horse that was riding backwards always had better pulse and respiration, and invariably was significantly better physically and mentally.
ANVIL: Do you feel that has something to do with the horse being able to use his hindquarters when the trailer stops?
WENT: Yes, that definitely is one part of it. You can't accelerate a heavy load as fast as you can stop it. So, if the horse is facing forward and you start up at any speed, the worst you can do is pull his head out of the manger if he happens to be eating. If, on the other hand, you want to stop quickly and he's eating, you pound his nose into the manger. His weight comes forward and his chest bangs up against the barrier. When you turn him around, if you have that same emergency circumstance, he can easily stand a whale of a whack on the rump. So from the standpoint of the horse's sense of security, he relaxes a lot more by riding backwards. We also learned that horses had a better handle on lights at night when riding backwards. If a horse is riding forward and a car comes up behind and the trailer is even remotely open, the headlights will throw shadows in the trailer in front of his face, and that has a tendency to upset the horse. They'll get used to it, but it's still a little upsetting, especially if you're in city traffic with a lot of noise. Let him turn around where he can see out; that's a better way for him to travel.
ANVIL: Why do you suppose nobody has ever built horse trailers like that?
WENT: It's too expensive. There are a lot of wonderful things we can build in this country; yet we don't do it because when a person goes to buy something, he wants to get the most for his money. People don't realize that what they're buying is not the most, but it looks like the most. It costs about 25 percent more to build the kind of trailer that I'm talking about.
ANVIL: So do you suppose the best thing to do is buy a four-horse, open-sided trailer and just turn them loose back there.
WENT: That would beat a lot of alternatives. I'll tell you this -- the great horses in this country, the big racing Thoroughbreds, almost always ride backwards.
ANVIL: So among the research at the Pacific Coast Equestrian Research Farm, you became involved in certain metals for horseshoes. Would you explain your findings?
WENT: It became apparent to me that the property of elasticity in metal was a critical property. If you have a high-speed metal in contact with a horse's foot, it translates a very high pitch zinging to the horse's nervous system, which is disturbing to him. We can't tell you he doesn't like it, and he has grown so accustomed to it that he probably just lives with it. With a low-speed metal, the zinging isn't of such high velocity, and the horse doesn't seem to resent it quite so much. But such a very malleable metal wears out too fast. The kind of horseshoe that I propose for an endurance ride probably wouldn't go more than 300 miles, because it would wear out. But the normal horseshoe will probably go 1500 miles. The good horseshoe, as far as I'm concerned, will only go 300 miles and they cost more. So, again, you're up against the cost factor.
ANVIL: So your blacksmith made horseshoes out of 5/8 rebar and that ended up being the best?
WENT: Yes, and then we went through all the business of borium on the bottoms and various configurations of shoes and locations of nail holes and clips -- you name it. And we finally decided that for endurance riding purposes, we would file the toe so it would be rounded and the horse couldn't possibly dig his feet in. We filed the heel so that he couldn't catch something on it so if he stepped on a rock, he wouldn't hook on it -- he'd slide off it.
ANVIL: There seems to be a couple of theories with contemporary endurance riders. One is the 'grab' theory with the borium, and the other one is the slide theory.
WENT: I'm an advocate of the slide theory, and I've used a lot of borium. I've tried it with a great variety of things, and I've tried it with actual calk shoes. I have determined to my entire satisfaction that the slide shoe is the best. But I still would say every farrier has his own opinion.
ANVIL: Would you advocate the use of pads?
WENT: No, I wouldn't. If you have a horse that's a good horse and you ride him in a specific discipline and you think he needs some protection of the sole for that particular purpose, then go ahead and put pads on -- but not as a regular thing. The pad has a tendency to build up some heat in the foot or to occasionally to trap something in there which can cause a bruise that can last quite awhile. But the heat factor through the pads has always been of some concern, especially if it's packed in silicone.
ANVIL: Some years ago when I was shoeing a particular horse for you, you had us observe this horse's hoofprints on a dusty road. What things were you looking for?
WENT: You want the horse to move as rhythmically as possible. We lived on the beach at Hazard Canyon where we could take horses in partially wet sand and move them for miles at any gait we wanted to and then measure those hoofprints and photograph them. Some of our best horses had, for instance, a continuous short stride on one side compared to the other, and they'd let that side ride through the air for a minute, and put their feet down closer together. When we were observing that horse, we were looking for any possibility that the horse was tending to toe in or toe out. You can look at the horse's foot and the wear on the old shoe and various things that determine these deviations to some extent, but you can get more confirmation on a dusty road. For instance, you can tell that the right foot is always coming down a little bit pigeon- toed, especially if it's a back foot. Front feet will compensate every day, all day, and twice on Sundays, but if you have that kind of trouble in the back foot, the back foot will never show you the problem, but the front foot will respond to it. You'll get the resulting problem in the front foot, when it's really a back foot problem. I will watch for toe-out, toe-in, short stride, long stride, sliding stride -- any one of these abnormal characteristics. And it will certainly show up in the prints in the sand. Why? Maybe it's his natural way of going; if it is, let him do it. If it isn't his natural way of going, then perhaps he has developed some compensatory movement for something going on somewhere else, maybe in the saddle or in the back legs. You have to analyze. Don't just jump to some conclusion. When I'm looking at a horse, I never instantly say, "Oh, yes, that's the right front leg." I never just go to the right front leg and look at it. I always do the same thing every time. I start with the left front, left rear, right rear, right front and go continuously around, every time, without exception, no matter what the problem is.
ANVIL: What philosophy have you developed regarding the use of horses with problems?
WENT: If you run into problems, don't get paranoid about it. Consult with your farrier and your veterinarian, and so forth, but do not jump to any artificial solutions. Just keep riding him. I've seen horses ride out of more pain and seem to be all right and not hurt, many more times than I have seen them seriously hurt. A lot of athletic horses may have a little 'hitch in his get-along,' as they say.
ANVIL: In your book, Endurance and Competitive Trail Riding, you allude to diet as relating to a good, well-developed, balanced foot. What type of tests did you do?
WENT: As a horseshoers yourself, I'm sure that you've seen that some horse's feet seem to get chalky, and when you trim the foot, it falls away much like chalk. At other times, the horse's cutting from the hoof will be nice and hard and horny and be pretty solid. We used to test this at the research farm. I had a device -- a vertical, one-meter long, half-inch glass tube and a steel ball. Then I had a measuring meter stick beside the rod. Before the farrier shod this horse, I'd ask him to trim a cutting which was as even as he could do it. I'd just cut a nice little square out of it and fasten it under this vertical glass tube. Then I would take the steel ball and drop it on top of the hoof material. If it was good hoof material, that ball would bounce way back up. If it wasn't, the ball would only bounce slightly. So we tested hundreds of horses' feet that way -- the same horse maybe ten or twelve times -- to obtain knowledge of the dietary effect on feet. I learned that an ingredient, which is commonly in gelatin or sea kelp, helps promote healthy feet. Any sea kelp won't do; it has to be sea kelp that's captured shortly after a rain. And it has to grow in sixty feet of water -- not fifty, not ninety. Legally, sea kelp harvesters can only reach down under the water five feet to scoop it out. Well, that five feet of sea kelp is waving back and forth in the ocean with the movement of the water and the waves every day, so that when it's in only saltwater, that sea kelp is being buoyed up pretty well. But after a rain, that first four or five feet of water in the ocean is going to be different in density because the fresh water has been combined with the saltwater and the sea kelp won't float as high as it will with only saltwater. So now, because of its weight, the sea kelp will fall down a little bit so you only get the top of it, plus the fact that fresh water has the effect of rinsing the sea kelp a little bit so you don't get such a salty substance when you start dehydrating it.
ANVIL: So the sea kelp had a definite benefit to the horses' feet?
WENT: Yes, and also if you have to, buy some plain Knox gelatin. In my opinion, if I have a horse whose feet are not generally fairly good, I'm going to get another horse. I'm not out to save the breed, I'm out to use it.
ANVIL: In your book you mentioned that the hind feet are influenced by the orientation of the pastern bone relative to the coffin bone and that they are not round like the front feet. Is that due to the propulsion system of the horse?
WENT: Darned if I know. I just made the observation. You and I know that the hind foot has a more or less oblong appearance and I think that probably has quite a lot to do with the amount of weight that comes down on that shoe and the amount of driving force that's exerted. You don't drive much off your front feet, you drive off your hind feet because you have all your muscles back there and you do most of your controlling with the front feet.
ANVIL: In determining different shoeing methods for any contest, would you use rim shoes where you thought you might need a little more traction?
WENT: Yes, definitely. I might use a great variety of shoes and a great variety of shoeing jobs. If I thought there was an awful lot of downhill work, I'd certainly be thinking hard about choosing the shoes. If it was more or less level or equally up and down, I'd think another way. I'd shoe for the contest. I also study the character and composition of the ground very carefully.
ANVIL: In determining what the individual balance on a horse ideally would be, would you advocate that it be barefoot for awhile to assume its own balance?
WENT: Yes, I certainly would. When you're starting a horse and he doesn't have any great challenge to his feet, I'd probably ride that horse barefoot for a year. If I had any problem with that foot -- excessive wear or anything else -- I'd just simply turn that horse out. Every time I nail a shoe on a horse, it has to be a pretty good horse and be able to prove itself. You couldn't get me to use a corrective shoe or an artificial device. It's a waste of time. For an average backyard horse that's fine, but for an international-level horse, everything has to be perfect. The difference between an Olympic winner and an ordinary high school runner is only a couple of tenths of a second. That's where it is.
ANVIL: You mention in your book that you think wide-web shoes are quite desirable. I noticed, in picking up a lot of feet on the Tevis Cup Ride horses this year, that there was a lot of concave stock used. They were relatively narrow, but they had a deep fullering all around.
WENT: When I talk about wide shoes, all of them are handmade. We even experimented with where the nail holes were placed for this particular purpose. A wide-web is great for certain kinds of rides, but not for every ride. A wide-web is good for the Tevis Cup Ride. And I would see that the nails were just a hair forward of conventional nails.
ANVIL: And why would you do that?
WENT: Because I want to give that big heel all the opportunity to expand as the horse gets more and more experience in endurance. His feet will work better and they are going to expand more. If you take a horse that hasn't done this very much, he's going to have limited movement. If I let that horse run a mile everyday for a year, that heel is really going to give it hell. That's why I say, "Ride the horse,just ride him, and give him lots of opportunity to do his thing, and he will."
ANVIL: One trick you mention in the book is that you would polish the inside of the shoe.
WENT: We'd get a fine sandpaper and work over the bottom of the foot. Then we'd take a grinder and polish the inside of the shoe so it had a really smooth surface. This is on the heel, not around the toe, so the heel could slide over that iron very easily. From the last nail hole back we'd polish the shoe right down, so those heels never had any trouble sliding back and forth over that iron. I mean, this is the degree of refinement that we go to when we're trying to really win. To me, one of the keys to winning is not to fret about some little thing. Don't let the horse have any sense that you're worried. Before every contest, our horses were exposed to coarse, slow-to-rapid musical sounds, like gypsy music. I have an accordion, and I wouldn't think of putting a horse in a big competition unless I could play the accordion to him the night before. It's all part of that symbiotic rhythm.
ANVIL: You mentioned earlier about the natural rhythm of a horse, and I think that ties in with what you were talking about with playing the music. And you mentioned that there was sort of a three-way rhythm. Could you elaborate on that?
WENT: With a horse, the first thing you do is get that rhythm established so that the animal will like to see you coming. Once you establish that communication, the horse will pretty much let you do anything you want to. But until you've taken the time to form that connection, you can't get any form of rhythm out of him. I generally pick mares because I found out that geldings don't respond to the rhythms of nature as well as stallions or mares. Stallions are too much of a problem. They get to be too macho, and get all shook up. And when I take a chance on a mare, I always pick the contest that's fairly close to the moon. Mares respond to a full moon; in my opinion, there's no doubt about it. It's a deep, rich rhythm. When I'm galloping a horse in a plowed field and I start going across the furrows instead of with the furrows, pretty shortly that horse is going to start breathing hard and he's going to have to breathe in rhythm when his feet come down. Again, he's developing a rhythm. There are people who will never gallop a horse uphill. Well, I'm going to tell you that if you gallop a horse on a mild up slope for half a mile, he will quickly learn to breathe in rhythm with his feet coming down. Once he learns at a gallop, you back him up to the trot. Keep that rhythm going. After just one or two workouts, his breathing and heartbeat will come into rhythm with the movement of his legs. Athletic horses are quick to learn, but that's fundamental rhythm: the rhythm of motion, the movement of the heart, and intake of the lungs.
ANVIL: Now tell me about your famous horse. What was so good about Bint Gulida?
WENT: Well, she was some horse! She was a very well-built animal. She had a fantastic barrel, her girth was about 3" greater than her chest measurements. She had, as W. R. Brown would say, "a roomy middle," and she was very well let down. Her knees and hocks were pretty close to the ground, so she had short cannon bones and good, clean, long muscles in the forearms and in the gaskin area. So she had a powerful upper body, and her forearms moved a very light load below the knees. And it was of good leverage because it was closer to the ground. With a horse whose knees are too high, you've got poor leverage and not as much muscle to move a lot more weight. So structurally that was a good thing about her. She was an extremely well-balanced horse fore and aft. She didn't have too long or too short a neck. She had one of the loosest gullets of any animal I've ever touched. You could manipulate her gullet even when she was nervous, and it was always a shakeable gullet. She had a big spread between the jaws so she had no trouble breathing. And she had a well-set tail. A horse whose anus is too far forward is not a good prospect. It's more important even than a slope of the shoulder. The slope of the shoulder is a critical thing, however. The line of her shoulder was perpendicular to the slope of her ilium --just ideal. All those things were great physical attributes. She had only been handled enough to halter break her and have her feet taken care of. She never spent even ten minutes under a roof in her life. She went out summer or winter, no matter what -- storms and everything else. She never failed us with her mind, and her favorite companion was a Great Dane dog.
ANVIL: Bint Gulida was an Arabian mare. What was her lineage?
WENT: She was a W. R. Brown type that had been chosen by Carl Raswan, who was the guru of Arabian horses for decades. W.R. Brown formed the Arabian Horse Registry in 1908 and had some wonderful horses and did promotional racing with the United States Army from the Third Cavalry Regimental Headquarters outside of Burlington, Vermont, to the Washington Monument. W. R. Brown's good gelding, Crabbet, won this 300 mile race every time. Bint Gulida was the granddaughter of Gulastra, Brown's most famous stallion. I took all that into consideration, but I picked her as a specimen on her own. She was an Egyptian-Arabian horse with the highest possible qualities. However, I wouldn't pick an Egyptian-Arabian just because it was an Egyptian-Arabian.
ANVIL: So what became of her?
WENT: We bred her. I have always believed that a great horse will never make a good sire or dam directly; it's their brothers and sisters or their grandchildren that make good sires and dams. I never expected a great son or daughter of a great horse directly. That has proven to be generally true. If Bint Gulida had had a sister, I would have ideally bred the sister, because great athletic mares don't make very good mothers.
ANVIL: Any parting words of wisdom?
WENT: I would like to think that people who own a horse, for whatever purpose or discipline they have it, would actively participate in whatever that purpose involves. If it's just looking at it, well that's fine -- nothing wrong with a horse that doesn't do anything, if that's what you enjoy. If you bought the horse to jump, show, rope, barrel race or any other thing, well, do it -- just do it. Don't worry about it. If you have some problem down the road, stop and think about it. Don't start to blame yourself instantly and don't get all shook up. Give it some thought, give the horse a chance, call in some authorities if you want, but resist temptation to involve any form of artificial assistance -- any form. If the horse doesn't perform, then you have that big question: Is it my fault or the horse's fault? If you say, "It's my fault," then go learn from somebody until you know what to do. If you say, "No, I know what I'm doing," then trade horses and start again with another animal. Those should be positive, thoughtful decisions. A person might have to go through five or ten horses before they get what they really want, but have courage enough to do it. I would never keep a horse for more than six months to a year if it hadn't already demonstrated it had a high likelihood of succeeding at what I wanted it to do. I wouldn't hurry it. Take your time, but once you have an animal, take care of it. And, most important, remember to make intelligent decisions about its environment, care, and career.
ANVIL: Went, you are truly a rare, classical horseman and we thank you for sharing your opinions.