Book Review: Don Dodge – The Way It Was

The thing about Don Dodge is that there are lots of things about Don Dodge. He has to be one of the most accomplished horsemen of our times, and certainly one of the most complex. His book was one of the more fascinating reads I’ve had in a long time.

From Iowa farm boy to inductee in three equestrian halls of fame is no small leap. The life packed in between the pages of his book is enough to fill the days of several men. Husband to six wives; outstanding stepfather and mentor to dozens of kids; cattle buyer; fashionable dresser; ladies’ man; ex-gambler and drunk; party animal; speaker of indescribably vulgar language; trainer of hunter/jumpers, polo ponies, racehorses, and stock horses; respected and sought-after horse-show judge; winner of innumerable trophies and titles; rider of too many horses to mention; cultured gentleman; and poet. And these terms only begin to characterize the multifaceted, multitalented Silver Fox, as he’s called.

Defining the legendary Dodge is no small task, but noted author and biographer Gala Nettles does the man justice. She starts at the beginning, and weaves a surprising (and still ongoing) tale, using her impressions and Dodge’s quotes, as well as the memories of Dodge’s friends, former wives, and stepchildren. She fleshes out his life in the context of what was happening in the country at the time, which gives a historical reference point for each time frame in Dodge’s world.

But in addition to Nettles’ engaging text, we learn even more about the colorful man through his poems, which begin each of the 31 chapters. The deep well that is Dodge’s soul is open for all to see. You can’t help but understand the man a little better when you read his stirring words. He claims never to have been in love, although he has been in “respect” for the women in each of his marriages. But who’s the woman he’s talking to in “Too Late,” “Birds,” and the two titled “Where?”

Dodge’s contribution to the Western performance horse world is far-reaching. He gave us such equine greats as Skipper W, Poco Lena, Poco Tivio, Fizzabar, Peppy San, and Peponita. He shaped much of the cutting and reined cow horse industries as we know them. He designed the popular Don Dodge snaffle and the Mona Lisa bit. Today, he still works with youth competitors and starts colts at his training facility in Arizona.

Dodge, 86, once said: “You have to think like a horse if you’re going to be a horse trainer.” Doesn’t that sound familiar? Today’s roving clinicians don’t have anything on this horseman. The 264-page book is hardbound and chock-full of photos from Don’s life, including pictures of some of his great horses. You can order the book directly from the publisher, LMH Publishing Company, (800) 729-2234; FAX (409) 348-5839 for $34.95, plus $5 s/h.

Reviewed by Kathy Kadash-Swan, editor-at-large for Horse & Rider magazine.

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