Book Review: Spike, A True Story

*This post is an unsolicited review. This book was bought by me for my own pleasure and all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

 

I am what my husband calls, “A book nerd”. I proudly accept that there is truth in that statement. I read minimum 2 books per week and can often be found reading my Kindle App on my iPhone or iPad, or seldomly my hardcovers. My husband laments the practice because he would rather have my attention.  I predominantly immerse myself in fiction, but since I always strive to learn and grow l throw in non-fiction occasionally. But the topic has to be something on which I am passionate. 

 

Through Instagram and the immense power of social media, I started following the blog, Brunette in Breeches by Alyssa Knee. Alyssa is an equestrian in Australia and she writes primarily about her rescue horse Spike who has a congenital condition called lordosis, or “swayback”. Less than 1% of horse population are affected. Lordosis is a very rare, genetic condition caused by recessive genes in both the dam and the sire.   Saddlebreds are the breed most affected although it can be found in any breed.  

Picture credit: Instagram @ _brunetteinbreeches

 

Alyssa and Spike have a very close relationship and she began a Facebook page that in 2015 grew to a blog to educate people about his condition. I began following Brunette in Breeches and  was very intrigued when she recently released her first book, aptly named Spike, A True Story.  So as any book lover interested in horses would- I ordered it!

Spike_Mailbox.jpg

 

In her book, Alyssa details how she first meets her Warmblood x Thoroughbred horse, Spike. She writes in the first person,  and what follows is a heartwarming yet informative story told in a very personal way. She takes us back to the very beginning of how Spike came into her life. She introduces him as a "normal" horse, hesitating at new things like a rickety bridge or acting silly in the paddock. She evokes Spike's personality rather than his deformity. (As a mother of a special needs child, this really touched me personally.)

 

Of course, his lordosis has had a profound effect on Alyssa. She has spent years researching Spike's genealogy and his congenital condition. With a spinal deformity one would think that there would be a disabling effect. But quite the contrary.  Physically the thoracic vertebrae are wedge-shaped and half-formed but the spine still follows a smooth curve. Thus, it does not affect soundness. The prevalent concern is saddle fit, and yes swayback horses can be ridden safely and without injury. 

 

The one fact which stood out the most to me was that Lordosis doesn’t have any particular influence on the horse’s health or soundness and that despite the spinal deformity the affected horse can still function as though they are normally conformed.
— Alyssa Knee

 

What was of great interest to me was the interaction with the equine bodyworkers.  Obviously as a Certified Equine Sports Massage Therapist (ESMT) this would hit home. On pp 33-34 Alyssa describes how her horse reacted negatively to the session:

 

Spike, unfortunately, didn’t agree that massages were of any benefit to him. In fact, he really didn’t agree. He spent most of the hour-long appointment showing his disgust in the fact that he had to tolerate being massaged by this woman by trying to bite her on the shoulder.
— Alyssa Knee

 

It is not uncommon for a horse to react to bodywork with an attempted nip or kick, although this is what I consider a “bold reaction". Usually this denotes a significant amount of tension or discomfort, not uncommon for a first massage or after rigorous training. Unfortunately when there is a lot of tension, the horse reacts negatively at first. Soon though, they learn that the discomfort is temporary and they achieve release. This is why Danelle and I always go slower and take more time when first meeting and working on our clients. We want them to associate us with positive touch, not discomfort. I understand Alyssa’s reticence to have bodywork done again, but owners should know that sometimes it takes a few sessions for your animal to build trust with the bodyworker and see lasting improvements. The goal is prevention of muscle spasms and injury and this takes time. Not only do regular sessions improve the horse physically, but a positive relationship is created between bodyworker and animal. 

 

Alternatively, I was dismayed to read about the equine body worker submitting her opinion in a forum that she could “repair” and “correct” his problem on pp 50-52. Lordosis is rare and I have not yet worked on a horse with this condition. I am not privy to the details of the exchange, only what is in the book, however I commiserate with Alyssa. Professional equine bodyworkers can help alleviate pain and reduce tension but we cannot repair or cure. We are not veterinarians. Further, this person’s opinion was very decidedly given for never having met or worked with Spike previously, or apparently having knowledge of lordosis.

 

I am a big believer in animal rescue and it is important to note that those animals with deformities are often overlooked or set aside. Both my dogs, Gonzo and Beau, were saved from kill shelters in the southern United States. My business partner, Danelle, rescues elderly animals, her latest is a grouchy jack russell terrier mix with three legs. I have profound respect for Alyssa to not only rescue horses but to learn from them, and strive to educate others. It's a beautiful thing that Spike's condition did NOT factor in her decision to take him and that they have built such a close bond. 

He’s still the same lovable, quirky, funny horse who loves his food way too much and works way too little.
— Alyssa Knee
 
At the end of the day, this journey has been bigger than the negative comments, and there are many people out there (including you!) who now know about Lordosis and how it affects horses like Spike.
— Alyssa Knee

Spike sounds like he has such amazing personality and he has kept his humility amongst his celebrity.  Reading Spike and Alyssa’s story has prompted me to learn more about lordosis and I urge you to follow along on her blog, Brunette (& Baby) in Breeches. You can buy her book through her website or on Amazon

 

 

DO YOU HAVE AN ANIMAL WITH A DEFORMITY OR SPECIAL NEEDS? What is your favorite thing about them?

 

Heather Wallace is a Certified Equine Sports Massage Therapist (ESMT), Certified Canine Massage Therapist (CCMT), and Aromatherapist. The best thing that she can imagine is having a career improving the quality of life for horses and dogs alike. She and her business partner, Danelle Stukas, are the co-owners of Bridle & Bone Wellness LLC based in Monmouth County, New Jersey.