The Sunday Review: Horses Came First Second and Last

I don’t usually get a lot of time to read; not only am I a slow reader but it can take me years to get through a simply 200 page book. No joke. I don’t often sit down long enough to open a book…and if I do I’m writing, editing photos, or watching Netflix. It’s such a vast difference from my childhood when my mom would walk in to catch me reading the Black Stallion books by my nightlight.

During this COVID-19 situation a local equestrian group has arranged a virtual equestrian book club. I decided to challenge myself and join. The book chosen by the group was “Horses Came First, Second, and Last: My Unapologetic Road to Eventing Gold” by Jack Le Goff.

I know this seems odd…a second book review within a week of eachother. (See Quarant-Reading from last Thursday). I suppose you could say something ignited my reading side.

Names in the equine world elude me. I always want to be a better, quieter, more centered rider and always focused on the lessons given by my instructors. Monty Roberts was the single name I followed from childhood; I had read his book “The Man Who Listens to Horses” at a very young age and had always worked on producing “join up” with my project ponies even before I owned horses. Beyond Monty I never paid much attention to “the greats” growing up. It wasn’t until I started attending the clinics at Equine Affaire that I started to pay attention.

I had no idea who Jack Le Goff was until I bought the book. Maybe you scoff at my ignorance and that’s fair; I am slowly starting to learn about other horsemen…slowly learning the names of the greats that built the different sports.

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JUST A QUICK OVERVIEW

If you are in the shoes I was a month ago and unfamiliar with Jack Le Goff, a brief google search will tell you that he’s a French born equestrian. He rode for the Cadre Noir and competed in the Olympic Games in 1960 and 1964. He became a coach and continued to coach Olympic teams. He finally ended up in the United States to develop the eventing team from 1970-1984. He also coached the Canadian team for the 1992 Olympics. He was a coach, judge, and chair for the FEI (Federation Equestrie Internationale).

Jack Le Goff coached many top Olympic teams and had a major impact on eventing as we know it today. In 1983 he was honored as Horseman of the Year by American Horse Shows Association. He etered the United States Evening Association’s Hall of Fame in 1999. The Chronicle of the Horse named him among the top 50 most influential horsemen of the twentieth century.


THE BOOK:

“Horses Came First, Second,And Last” is Jack’s Memoir recounting his life and the evolution of the sport of eventing. Jack’s father was a military man and horseman. Jack recounted the years his father spent in the military, in war, and finally becoming the Director of he French Equestrian Center where Jack learned dressage.

After his father’s untimely death Jack follows in his fathers footsteps by joining the military and fulfilling a dream his father left uncompleted….joining the Cadre Noir. I read eagerly through these pages and they made me realize just how easy we have it in this day and age.

The students rode eight horses a day for a total of eight hours or more. For the first three months, six of those eight hours were without stirrups, so the breeches were more often red with blood tha nany other color.”

It’s no wonder that Jack became a great rider knowing the hours he spent training and developing a deep quiet seat.

The book is compiled into periods of his life. The Learning Years…from his childhood and through the military. His time spent in war. His competitions and experiences in the Rome (1960) and Tokyo (1964) Olympics. The Coaching Years…from leaving the military to become a coach and his coaching years for the United States. Considering Jack Le Goff served as a coach from 1965-1992 this time period consumes most of the book. The FEI Years…a brief section of Jack’s life recounting of his time as a chair for the FEI. The Le Goff Philosophy…this sections gives us a glimpse into how Jack views the different factors of the eventing world. From the different skills, to the riders, to the conditioning of the horses. The final section of “Horses Came First Second and Last” is The Past Present and Future, where Jack discusses what his views are for the future and what needs to happen for success. His insights on discipline are particularly notable.

Each major section is broken down into smaller chapters that are nice and “bite-sized.” I struggle with books that have long drawn out chapters.


MY FAVORITE PARTS:

  • I am not a fan of history…but the history in this book was absolutely fascinating. To learn about his father, about their time during the war. The development of eventing from past all the way to present and learning about the role he played.

MY LEAST FAVORITE PARTS

  • I really wanted more of what’s inside his brain. His philosophy was such a short part of this book.
  • Some of the recounting of the events were so short…and he had a tendency to list who won every competition. It was important but I lost interest a bit with every list.

Final Word:

Anyone can pick up “Horses Came First,Second, and Last” by Jack Le Goff and enjoy it. To appreciate it in its entirety, however, one would be better off with a working knowledge of horses. Our book group had a non-horse person in it and despite having to learn a couple of basic terms she very much enjoyed what was presented. Jack left his philosophy section in a way that makes his book timeless. As equitation and horsemanship “norms” change he managed to keep his points concise; his philosophies presented can transcend generations this way.

I developed a much deeper appreciation for the sport of eventing. I enjoyed learning about Jack’s life and his passion was evident in every page. This book inspired me and made me want to do better than I’ve been doing. To push myself to be even better for my horses.

If you find yourself looking for a good book I highly recommend “Horses Came First Second and Last ” by Jack Le Goff.

2 Comments

  1. Oh my crickey stop with all the great reads, haha. I am a fidgety reader I don’t sit well for long hours reading a great book, my joints seize up. lol. I love the sound of this one & my core is hurting with just the little you shared on it, I think even the horses would have been tougher in those days. I have a little library room in my house & this one & the last you recommended will be added. Thanks for sharing & have a equinely awesome rest of the week.

    Liked by 1 person

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