Blog

5 – Madison Square Gardens, 1957

Harry had been born in the Netherlands, the son of a rich gentleman farmer. His father had a big farm with many beautiful horses. As a young boy, Harry learned to ride on champion horses. He learned to ride with the best Dutch riders. He was considered a promising prospect for the Dutch Olympic team, until World War II started. The Nazis confiscated the horses on his father’s farm and after the war everyone was poor. Harry could no longer dream of the Olympics. He and his young bride, Joanna, decided to emigrate to America. They had no money but they were young and ready to work hard. In America Harry worked as a farm hand, found occasions to ride other men’s horses, and saved his money.

The Dutch understand economics. Harry and Joanna saved their money until Harry found a job teaching riding at the school on Long Island. The young couple had saved enough money to buy a small farm. Harry was an excellent rider, maybe one of the best. But riding is a team sport. Even the best rider in the world needs a partner. Riding trophies are won by a team, an exceptional rider and an exceptional horse. Harry was looking for a gifted horse who could be his partner.

Harry hoped that he had found that horse in Sinjon, a horse with a lot of potential that belonged to one of his students. In 1957 Harry took Sinjon to the National Horse Show in Madison Square Gardens.

Some of the world’s most famous boxing matches have been held in Madison Square Gardens, but horse lovers don’t go there to see boxing matches. The New York Times called the National Horse Show “the World Series of the Horse Show Circuit”. Robert Wagner, the mayor of New York, opened the event with television cameras showing the ceremony Live on TV.

The children watched, hoping to see their father. They were proud of him. Harry worked hard on his farm and they often saw him in old work clothes cleaning the horse boxes, standing in dirty straw and horse manure, standing in muck. But when Harry took off his dirty, mucky clothes and put on his best riding clothes, the farm worker became a very handsome gentleman.

On the first day of their first big national competition, Sinjon was nervous, upset by the noise and the big crowd. On the next day he was calmer. Although it was only the second time that Sinjon had competed in a jumper class, he qualified for the evening event.

For the horse show, obstacles, called ‘jumps’, were set up in the center of the famous arena. The space was small, so the horses had to turn quickly in the corners. The spectators sat in seats that rose vertically above the arena, like a loud, noisy wall. The arena was lit from many angles by spotlights that created strange, moving shadows. Photographers’ flash bulbs popped. Sinjon was nervous but he responded when Harry touched his sides with his heels. The big bay gelding leaped forward, cantered around the arena once, then, headed for the first jump. He went over the first and second jumps, touched the third, making a bar fall, then made no more faults. Harry was happy. It wasn’t a perfect score, but Harry and Sinjon won fourth place. Sinjon had showed that he had the ability to compete against the best horses in America. Harry believed that with more experience, in another year, Sinjon could win a top prize.

Then Mr. Dineen came to see Harry. He was smiling and very happy. George Maris, a rider on the U.S. Olympic Equestrian team, had seen Sinjon and admired him. He wanted to ride him in the Olympics. It was good news for Mr. Dineen. George Maris was prepared to buy the bay. Mr. Dineen sold his horse for a good price.

It was not good news for Harry. He could not ride in the Olympics because he was not an amateur, but a professional rider. In 1957 the Olympics were only for amateurs. To be a top competitor with the best horses, a horseman is either a professional or a very rich amateur. The Olympic rule against professionals eliminated excellent riders like Harry, who worked very hard but were not rich. Harry had brought Sinjon to the show, but he went home with an empty van. They had come together, as a team. Harry went home alone.

His first National Horse Show taught Harry two important things:

As a rider he was good enough to compete with the best riders in America.

Second, if he did not own his horse, he could win the prize and lose the horse. If he wanted to compete at this level, he needed a good horse of his own, a horse that no one could take away from him.

straw – paille

manure – fumier

muck, mucky – gadou, bourbeux

upset – perturbé, déséquilbré

4 – Teddy Bear doesn’t like little jumps.

It was September 1956, and a new school year was starting. Harry took Snowman and the other horses that he used in lessons to Knox School. Now he knew that the big grey could jump fences. He could jump very high fences. He could jump high fences even in a very small field with no space to run. He could jump like a champion. If he could jump high fences, he could jump over obstacles in a jumping competition. Harry wanted to teach Snowman to jump with a rider.

First he prepared some small jumps for the big horse. He cantered Snowman in the direction of the little obstacles. But Snowman did not jump. He hit the obstacle with his legs. He made the bar fall. Harry was patient. He tried again. And again. Snowman made the bar fall again. And again.

“What’s the matter, ‘Teddy Bear?’” Harry asked. He often called the big grey horse Teddy Bear, because of his gentle personality. He didn’t understand how this horse could jump four-foot fences out of a very small field. He had jumped with a big heavy tire attached to his leg. Why couldn’t he jump in the arena? Why couldn’t he jump with a rider? It was a mystery.

Every day Harry continued trying to teach Snowman to jump over small obstacles. Snowman continued making the poles fall. Harry was patient. He knew this horse could jump if he wanted to.

Harry was also training another gelding, Sinjon, a beautiful thoroughbred. He had been a racehorse. He was beautiful to look at but he was difficult to ride. Harry took Sinjon to shows and he won prizes with Sinjon, but the thoroughbred was not Harry’s horse. He didn’t belong to Harry. He belonged to a girl at the school. But his student could not ride Sinjon. The young horse was too difficult.  Harry was teaching the horse to jump like a champion and he was teaching the horse’s owner to ride like a champion. Harry was a good teacher.

One day Harry set up the obstacles for Sinjon. He set up high obstacles. Sinjon could jump high. He rode the thoroughbred into the arena and cantered towards the first obstacle. It was four feet high. Sinjon was listening to Harry. The handsome horse jumped. He jumped high. He carried Harry around the arena and together they jumped over all the obstacles. Harry was happy. It was a good lesson. He took Sinjon back to his box. He brushed him and gave him food and fresh water. “Good boy,” he said. “You did a good job.”

Then Harry took Snowman out of his box. He put his old saddle on the big grey gelding and rode him into the arena.  One of the gardeners was watching. The man laughed at Harry.

“Are you going to jump those big obstacles on that plow horse?” he said.

Harry frowned. He had planned to change the bars. He had intended to put them down for Snowman. He didn’t expect the big grey to jump the same obstacles as Sinjon. But he didn’t want people to call Snowman a plow horse. He had been a plow horse once, but now he was a lesson horse, a horse for riding, a very good horse for girls who wanted to learn to ride.

He remembered that Snowman had jumped four-foot fences with a tire tied to his leg. Harry didn’t get off to change the bars. He didn’t put the bars down. He asked Snowman to canter and rode at the first jump.

The big grey responded. He seemed to wake up. He cantered towards the jump, picked up his feet … and flew into the sky. Harry and Snowman were in the air, flying high over the four-foot jump.

“Ha!” exclaimed Harry. “You can do it! You can jump! Boy, can you jump!” He shook his head. He laughed. “Now I understand! You don’t like little jumps. You like big jumps!”

So Harry had a new student, a new horse to train. Teddy Bear was not the most beautiful horse in the barn, but he was calm and friendly and obedient. He liked to work, he liked to practice and he loved to fly over big jumps.

Harry was training other horses for jumping competitions. There was Sinjon, who could beat everyone on a good day. But he often had bad days and he was difficult to ride. Wayward Wind was a chestnut mare, a beautiful little horse, but she did not have as much potential as Sinjon. Night Arrest was a young filly. She was talented but difficult, hard to ride. They were not Harry’s horses. They belonged to some of his students at Knox School. Harry trained them and during the summer he rode them in shows and competitions. Sometimes he won ribbons and sometimes he won prize money. It was his job. Harry was a professional rider. He was not rich, but he was doing what he loved to do. Every day he worked with the horses, fed them, cared for them and rode them.

Sinjon’s owner was Mr. Dineen. His daughter went to Knox School. In the summer of 1957 he came to see Harry.

“Sinjon looks good,” he said.

“Yes,“ Harry agreed. “He’s calmer and he eats better. He has put on weight and muscle. He weighs more and he’s stronger. He has won several prizes. I want to take him to the National Horse Show, in Madison Square Gardens.”

“That’s a big show,” said Mr. Dineen. “It will be on television. Is Sinjon good enough?”

“I think so,” said Harry. “I think he has potential. If you want to invest some money, I think he can win something.”

Pole – barreau rond

Thoroughbred – de pure race

Belong – apartenir

Frown – faire la grimace, froncer les sourcils

Chestnut – alezan

Weight – poids

Weigh – peser

The Escape Artist

Time passed. Snowman was always quiet and calm. He was a good lesson horse for beginners, but he refused to jump. Harry wanted to teach him to jump. He used very small obstacles, but Snowman did not jump. He just stepped over the little obstacles. Or he walked into them and made the obstacles fall. Harry was a good teacher, but he could not teach Snowman to jump.

Harry was a businessman. Horses were his business. He could not keep a horse because he liked him. He needed a horse who could jump. His students wanted to jump. They wanted to jump over obstacles and win trophies. They wanted to ride a champion jumper.

And Harry needed a champion for himself. A rider and his horse are a team. Harry was an excellent rider. He needed an excellent horse. Harry wanted to win competitions. He wanted to find a champion, a horse who could be a champion.

Harry was sad. One day he said to Joanna, “I am going to sell Snowman. He can’t jump. He won’t jump. I need a horse who can jump. The girls at the school want to jump. Horses are expensive. I can’t keep a horse that doesn’t do his job. I’m not rich. Snowman is good for beginners, but after three months the girls at the school are not beginners. They are ready to jump, but Snowman won’t jump.”

“The children like Snowman,” said Joanna. “They will cry if you sell him.”

“My father had many horses,” said Harry. “All the horses worked. A rich man can have a horse that doesn’t work. I’m not a rich man. I can’t keep Snowman. I need a jumper. But I will find him a good home. I will find people who will be kind to him.”

A doctor came to see Harry. “Can you help me?” he asked. “I’m looking for a good, calm horse. My son wants to ride, but he doesn’t want to jump. He wants a quiet horse to ride in the country. And I want to ride sometimes.”

“I have a good horse for you,” said Harry. “Snowman is quiet and calm. He likes people and he never gets excited. I’ll sell him for a hundred and sixty dollars.”

The doctor and his son looked at the big grey horse. “Is it a boy or a girl?” asked the boy.

Harry laughed. “Snowman is a gelding. He is male, but he had an operation when he was very young. He was castrated. He will never be a stallion.”

The doctor and his son rode Snowman. They liked him. The doctor gave Harry one hundred and sixty dollars. The Dutchman was happy. He had paid eighty dollars for the horse and now he had doubled his money. He had twice as much money.

The doctor and his son took Snowman to their home. They lived five miles away from Joanna and Harry’s farm.

Harry put another horse in Snowman’s box. He missed hearing Snowman greet him in the morning. But he liked the kind doctor and his son. He knew they would be good to their new horse.

A few mornings later, Harry got up in the morning, drank his coffee and went to the barn. There he had a surprise. Snowman was standing in front of the barn, with a halter on his head and a rope on the ground. The horse greeted him with a friendly nicker.

“What are you doing here?” Harry asked. He put Snowman in an empty box and called the doctor. “I have your horse,” he said. “Don’t worry. He isn’t lost. Maybe your fence needs repairing. I’ll bring him back to you.”

Later Harry put Snowman in the trailer and drove to the doctor’s farm. They put the horse in the field and checked the fence.

“My fence is in good condition,” said the doctor. “It doesn’t need repairing. The horse jumped over it.”

Harry laughed. “Snowman can’t jump. He can’t jump over an obstacle that is one foot high. He can’t jump over a fence that is four feet high. It’s impossible.”

The doctor shook his head. “It’s a mystery,” he said.

“Maybe the gate wasn’t closed.”

“The gate was closed,” said the doctor. “I closed the gate. I closed it myself.”

“Maybe he opened the gate,” said Harry. “He’s a smart horse. Maybe he knows how to open the gate.”

The doctor shook his head. “Maybe. I’ll put a lock on the gate. I’ll lock the gate.”

So the doctor put a lock on the gate. At night he put Snowman in the field and he locked the gate.

The next morning Harry woke up very early. He drank his coffee and he went to the barn. He heard a horse nicker. It was Snowman. The big grey gelding was standing in the yard. He was happy to see Harry.

Harry was surprised. He was puzzled. How did Snowman get out of the field? The gate was locked. The fence was four feet high.

“Did you jump?” asked Harry. “I know you can’t jump. It’s a mystery.”

Again, he took Snowman back to the doctor, who was not happy.

“Put him in a small field at night,” said Harry. A horse needs a big field to run and jump over a big fence. In a small field he can’t run, so he can’t jump high.”

That night the doctor put the big grey gelding in a very small field. He put a lock on the gate.

The next morning Snowman was back at Harry’s barn. The doctor was unhappy.

“Ok,” said Harry. “It really is a mystery. I don’t understand how he gets out. Attach a big tire to his leg. He can’t jump if he has a heavy tire tied to his leg.”

That night the doctor tied a big, heavy tire to Snowman’s leg. He put Snowman in a very small field. He locked the gate. He locked the gate himself.

Early next morning Snowman was standing in front of Harry’s barn. He had a tire tied to his leg. The doctor was unhappy. He was angry. “This horse is an escape artist!” he shouted. “He damaged my neighbor’s potato field. My neighbor is angry with me. You didn’t tell me the horse was an escape artist.”

Harry shook his head. “I didn’t know he could jump,” he said. “I didn’t know he could jump four-foot fences. I don’t understand. How can he jump with a tire tied to his leg? I will give you your money back.”

“It’s a deal,” said the doctor. “I don’t need an escape artist.”

“I didn’t know he was an escape artist,” said Harry. “I guess he knows what he wants. He wants to stay here.”

So, Harry gave the doctor one hundred and sixty dollars back and he put Snowman back in the barn. Snowman was back home. The children were happy to see him again and the big grey gelding was happy to be back at the farm Harry and Joanna called Hollandia.

Kind = gentil, bienveillant

Gelding = hongre

Five miles = huit kilomètres

Halter = licol

Fence = barrière

Nicker = a gentle, friendly “hennissment”

Puzzled = perplexe

Tire = pneu

A New Home

Harry got into his old car. He drove through Pennsylvania and he drove through the state of New York. Then he drove through New York City. It was February and when Harry arrived on Long Island, it was snowing. Harry and Joanna, his wife, had a small farm on Long Island, near the school where Harry worked. They had three children. Joseph was six years old and took his role as oldest son very seriously, so everyone called him “Chief”. Harriet was four and Marty was three.

It was still snowing that evening when the truck from the slaughterhouse arrived with only one horse, the big grey horse. He walked down the ramp from the truck with difficulty. It had been a long ride. It had been an anxious ride with many frightened horses, then all alone. He was very tired, very dirty and very hungry. Nobody fed horses on their way to the slaughterhouse. The horse stood in the falling snow and looked at the de Leyer family. He looked at the children and the three little children looked at him.

“Look!” called little Harriet. “He’s a snowman!

“Snowman!” shouted Chief. “The new horse is a snowman! We’ll name him Snowman.”

Before his mother could stop him, little Marty ran forward and put his arms around the big horse’s leg.

“Marty!” cried Joanna, frightened. The strange horse could kick Marty. Joanna was afraid.

“Snowman!” repeated Marty, hugging the horse’s leg.

The horse Snowman did not kick the little boy who was hugging his leg. He put his big head down and touched the boy’s blond hair with his soft nose. Then he looked at Chief and closed one eye.

“He winked at me!” exclaimed Chef. “Did you see that? Did you see him wink at me?”

“Yes,” said Harry. “I think he winked at me when I first saw him in the truck to the slaughterhouse. I think he likes us. Let’s put him in the box and give him something to eat. I bet he’d like to have some supper.” He smiled at Joanna. “He was a good deal,” he said. “He only cost eighty dollars.”

Joanna smiled. “You are a good Dutchman,” she said. “You know how to count and you know a good deal.”

The next morning Harry fed the big grey horse again. Snowman ate all the hay and oats, then looked around for more. Harry had a new brush for the new horse. Every horse had its own brush. A new horse could have a skin disease and Harry didn’t want one sick horse to contaminate the others. He wrote “Snowman” on the brush and began to clean him. He scraped off the dry mud and massaged the horse’s coat to loosen the dust next to the skin.

Snowman had marks where he had worn a plough harness. The harness had been too little. It had left scars on his skin. Harry put medicine on the marks. There were cuts on his knees. Harry put medicine on the cuts. Then he brushed and brushed and brushed. He combed the horse’s tail and thick mane. It took a long time, but Snowman stood quietly. He liked to be brushed.

Harry took Snowman to the pasture. Snowman walked into the pasture, then looked around. He looked at the trees and the grass and he looked at Harry. Then he winked and started to eat. Harry smiled. With good grass and good hay, Snowman would soon be a different horse.

In the evening Harry brought the big grey horse back into the barn. He gave him extra oats and hay to eat. The horse was hungry and thin. You could see his bones under his skin. He was “skin and bones”. But Harry took good care of his new horse. He brushed his coat again. He combed his long white tail and mane. Snowman was quiet and calm. Chef helped to brush the tail. He liked Snowman and Snowman liked the children. He liked his new home.

Every morning Harry gave oats and hay to the horses in the barn. When Snowman saw Harry coming to the barn in the morning, he greeted him with three soft nickers.

Harry put new shoes on Snowman. One day, when he took him to the pasture, Snowman put his head up and began to trot. It was spring and the sun was shining. The big grey horse smelled the air and began to run, his head up, his mane and tail flying. Harry smiled. The horse was in good condition now. His coat shone in the sun and he was almost fat. Harry liked to see a happy horse running in the wind.

“I think he likes being at Hollandia,” said Chef. “I think he likes us.”

“But he’s not on holiday,” said Harry. “Every horse on the farm must work. Our horses are not pets. Snowman was tired and hungry. Now he is strong and healthy. You can’t see his bones now. He is getting fat. Now he must learn to work.”

Snowman had pulled a plough. He was a plough horse. His chest had the marks of the plough harness. All his life he would carry those scars. Harry thought Snowman had never had a saddle on his back. He had never carried a rider. Harry had to teach him how to accept a rider. He was a big, strong horse. What would he do when Harry sat on his back for the first time?

It was time for Snowman’s first lesson. Harry put him in the little corral. He showed the big grey horse the saddle. He let him smell it. He touched the horse’s side with the saddle. He talked to Snowman. “It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s just a saddle. It doesn’t hurt. See? I’m putting it on your back, okay? The saddle is not too heavy. You’re a strong horse. You have a strong back. It’s easy, isn’t it? A big strong horse like you can carry a little saddle, can’t you?”

Snowman was a little surprised at first, when he felt the saddle on his back. His head went up but his ears pointed at Harry, listening to his voice. Slowly, he relaxed and his head went down. He stood quietly, listening to Harry, waiting.

Harry attached the saddle. He continued talking to Snowman. He went on talking to the horse. He put his hands on the saddle. He pushed down. The horse stood quietly.

“You’re a good horse,” said Harry. “You are a good, kind horse. I’m going to get on your back. I’m going to sit on you. Be good, Snowman. You know I won’t hurt you.”

The horse stood quietly. Harry put one foot in the stirrup. Slowly he stood up over the horse, balanced on the foot in the stirrup. Then he passed his other leg over the horse’s back and sat down in the saddle very gently.

Surprised, Snowman raised his head. His muscles tensed. He was worried. But the man continued talking to him. Harry went on talking softly. Snowman relaxed. This was a good man. He was his friend. He could sit on his back if he wanted to.

Harry made a little sound with his mouth. It sounded like the sound the farmer made when he wanted Snowman to go forward. The grey took a step forward, then another one. Soon Harry and Snowman were walking around the arena, like two old friends.

In just a few days Harry was able to teach Snowman to walk and trot with a rider on his back. Harry was a good teacher and Snowman was a quiet, attentive student. He also learned to canter. A canter is a slow gallop. Snowman was not a race horse. He was to be a riding horse. Race horses gallop. Riding horses don’t gallop. They canter. Snowman was a big horse with long legs. He could canter very nicely.

Harry was happy with his student. “You’re a good horse, Snowman. You will make a good lesson horse. The girls at Knox School will like you.”

School began in September. Harry took Snowman to the school. Harry worked for the school. He taught the girls of Knox School to ride horses. Knox School was expensive. Many girls of Knox School were rich. Some had a horse at home. Some of the girls were champion riders. Some of the girls were beginners.

If the girls were beginners, Harry put them on Snowman. He was a good horse for beginners. He was quiet and calm. Some girls were afraid of the other horses, but they were not afraid of Snowman. He was a very good lesson horse.

Many girls wanted their horse to jump over obstacles. They wanted to learn to jump on a horse. All horses can jump, but it is difficult to jump with a rider. Harry wanted to teach Snowman to jump with a rider.

First he put poles on the ground. He got on Snowman and asked him to walk over the poles. But the big grey did not pick up his feet. He walked on the poles. He knocked the poles. He stumbled. Harry stopped. He got off Snowman and he put the poles back in their places. Then he tried again.

Again the big grey horse ignored the poles. He hit them with his big feet. He did not look at them. He did not care about them.

Harry put the poles back in their places again. He tried again. He was patient. After many trials, the big plow horse learned not to walk on the poles. Harry taught him to trot over the poles. It took many lessons, but Harry was patient.

When Harry came to the United States, he didn’t speak English very well. He and Joanna and the children spoke Dutch at home. When Harry talked to his horses, he talked to them in Dutch. Sometimes the girls at Knox School taught Harry new words in English. Sometimes the new words they taught him were bad words, but Harry did not know the words were bad. The girls thought it was funny when Harry said bad words in English. But Miss Wood, the headmistress of Knox School, did not think it was funny.

Through : à travers, (go through = traverser)

Ramp : passerelle

Slaughterhouse: abattoir

Snowman : bonhomme de neige

Hugging : enlaçant avec les bras

Kick : donner un coup de pied

I bet : je paris

Hay and oats : du foin et de l’avoine

Scraped off : to scrape = racler, to scrape off = enlever en raclant

Scars : cicatrices

To comb : peigner

Mane : crinière

Nickers : “bonjour” en langue des chevaux

Coat : robe

Saddle : la selle

Stirrup : étrier

Canter : “petit gallop”

Stumble : trébucher

Poles : barreaux ronds

Trials : essais

The Horse That Knew What He Wanted

There was a horse. There was a small white horse. He was small and young. He was with his mother in a pasture. The horse and his mother were in a pasture in western Pennsylvania. There were children who played with the horse. The children loved the small white horse. Who were the children? We don’t know. It’s a story that only the horse knew. It’s a mystery.

The small white horse grew. He grew and grew. He became a big grey horse. He was strong. He was a strong horse and he was a calm horse. He learned to work. He learned to work hard. He worked in the fields. The children brushed the horse. There was a man who fed the horse and worked with the horse. The children loved the big grey horse and he loved the children. He was happy.

Something happened one day. What happened? We don’t know. It’s a story that only the horse knew. It’s a mystery. Something bad happened. For many days the big grey horse was not in his pasture. For days no one fed him. For many days no one brushed him. For many days he was hungry and sad. There were no children to love him and brush him and feed him..

Someone put the big grey horse in a truck. Who put him in the truck? We don’t know. It’s a story that no one told. There were other horses in the truck. The truck traveled up and down hills and the horses were frightened. It was cold and it was snowing. After a long time, the truck stopped. A man put a halter on the big grey horse. He looked at the horse. The horse was tired and hungry. He was not clean. He was dirty. He was not a horse for riding and jumping. He was a horse for working in fields. The man shook his head. “Poor horse,” he said.

The man put the horse in a box with other horses. They were not friendly horses. They were frightened horses. The box was in a big barn. It was an auction barn. There were many horses in the auction barn.

There were big horses and little horses. There were young horses and old horses. There were ponies and big working horses. There were many beautiful horses. The big grey horse was not beautiful. He was hungry and tired and very, very dirty. His ribs were thin. You could see his ribs.

There were many people in the big barn. The people were looking at the horses. The people were looking for horses to buy. The people wanted to buy horses. Some people were looking for ponies. Some people were looking for working horses. Some people were looking for horses for riding and horses for jumping. Some people were looking for a champion. No one was looking for a big grey horse that was dirty and tired and very hungry.

The people had money. They bought ponies. They bought riding horses. They bought working horses and jumping horses. Some people had a lot of money. They bought beautiful horses. They wanted to buy champions.

No one bought the big grey horse. He looked too sad and too tired. He didn’t look like a champion. He looked hungry.

It was night. The people went home with their new horses. They were happy. All the people went home, but there was a man who did not go home. He had a big truck. He didn’t want a riding horse or a jumping horse. He didn’t want a champion or a working horse. He wanted horses for his factory. The man had a big factory. His factory made food for dogs. He bought all the old horses, all the tired horses. He made dog food with horses that were not beautiful.

The man bought all the horses that no one wanted. No one wanted the big grey horse. The man bought the tired, dirty horse. He put all the tired, dirty, hungry horses in his truck. They were not beautiful. They were not champions. They were sad, frightened horses. They were going to die in the dog food factory. The men in the dog food factory were going to kill them. The tired, dirty, hungry horses were going to be killed in the dog food factory. The big grey horse was going to be killed. The truck driver looked at the horses in his truck. He was sad. “Poor horses,” he said.

An old car stopped beside the big barn. A young man got out. He was young and handsome and he had blond hair. His name was Harry de Leyer. Harry was Dutch. He came from The Netherlands. He had come to the barn to buy a horse, but he was not happy. He was too late. He was too late to buy a horse. He looked at the big barn. All the people had gone home. All the horses had gone. The auction was finished. The auction barn was empty. The only horses were the sad, frightened horses in the big truck. The only horses were the horses that were going to the dog food factory. Harry was very disappointed.

“My car stopped on the road,” he told the truck driver. “I had to change a tire in the snow. Now I’m late. I’m too late. The auction is finished.”

“Bad luck,” said the driver.

“I have come a long way,” said Harry. “And it’s a long way back to my home in New York. Could I look at the horses in your truck? Maybe there’s a horse I can use.”

The truck driver shook his head. “No,” he said. “No one wants these horses,” he said. “These are not champion horses. These are tired old horses. They are going to be killed at the factory. They are dog food.”

“I need a lesson horse,” said Harry. “I need a good healthy horse. I need a quiet horse for lessons. I teach girls to ride. I don’t need a champion. I don’t need a beautiful horse. I need a calm lesson horse.”

“These horses are not calm,” said the driver. “They are frightened and nervous. Listen. But you can look at them.”

Harry looked at the horses. They were not happy. They didn’t like the truck. They didn’t like being put in a strange truck with strange horses. Their ears were back. They were frightened and angry. Their tails moved quickly. Their feet tapped the floor and made a lot of noise. Their eyes were white.

Then Harry saw the big grey horse. He was not frightened. He was quiet and calm. He looked at Harry. His eyes were not white with fear. His eyes were calm. He looked at Harry and he closed one eye. He winked at Harry.

“I want to see the big grey horse,” said Harry.

“He’s not a lesson horse,” said the driver. “He’s a working horse, a plough horse. See the marks on his chest. He has harness marks. He pulled a heavy plough. He worked on a farm. He’s a working farm horse, a plough horse. He’s not a horse for rich girls who need riding lessons.”

Harry looked at the big grey horse. He saw a strong horse with a big chest, a horse with good legs. He saw a calm horse who was not frightened. He looked at the big grey horse’s eyes. The horse looked at Harry. This was a horse who liked people. This was not a stupid horse. This was a horse who knew what he wanted.

“I can teach him,” said Harry. “I’m a riding instructor. I teach rich girls to ride horses and I can teach this horse to carry girls on his back. How much do you want for him?”

“The factory paid sixty dollars each for these horses that no one wants. Give me seventy dollars and for ten dollars more I’ll take him to your home. It’s not far from the factory.”

Harry looked at the horse again. He was thin, but other horses on the wagon were much thinner. Harry thought he looked like a healthy horse who had had some bad times. What had happened to the horse? No one knew. It was a mystery. But the horse still liked people, so Harry thought he had not been abused. Harry thought he deserved a second chance.

“Here’s eighty dollars,” he said, and gave the money to the driver. Then he smiled. Harry liked a bargain. Eighty dollars for a strong horse with good legs, a calm horse that liked people, was a bargain. Harry shook hands with the truck driver. It was a deal.

Vocabulary

a pasture – un pré (päturage)

a barn – un étable/ une grange

to brush – brosser

to feed, fed – nourrir

hills – collines

a halter – un licol

fields – champs

barn – grange, bâtiment d’écurie

auction – vente aux enchères

ribs – côtes

tire – pneu

healthy – en bonne santé

disappointed – déçu

to wink – faire un clin d’oeil

to plough – tirer une charrue

a plough – une charrue

a plough horse – un cheval de trait

a chest – une poitrine

to deserve – mériter

a bargain – une bonne affaire

a deal – un marché conclu

How to Acquire Language

I want to explain the difference between the way I teach and the methods that many other language teachers use. You should know that I have been teaching English as a Foreign Language since 1967 and in over fifty years I have been trained in and have used many different strategies, both as a teacher and as a student of other languages. My current practice is based on my observations, my personal experience and the latest research. One of my guiding lights is Dr. Stephen Krashen. Since the 1970’s he has been articulating the difference between Learning a language and Acquiring a language.

To understand the difference, you need to know that our mind has two different ways of functioning. Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize, wrote a book called Thinking: Fast and Slow. Slow thinking is what we do with our conscious mind. It is what we do when we study, when we memorize, when we struggle to understand how something functions, when we try to solve problems. Slow thinking requires effort and burns calories. Fast thinking is automatic and effortless. Remember when you were learning to drive a car (or ride a bicycle). You had to think about your hands and feet, about when to shift gears and which pedal to use and when to signal a turn. After a few years you could drive a car or ride a bike without thinking about the mechanics; you could drive a car while you were planning what to prepare for supper. Driving had become automatic and effortless. That is the difference between slow thinking and fast thinking.

I recently read a story in a book by Patrick Rothfuss called The Wise Man’s Fear which illustrates the two systems. A professor is teaching some of the best students in the university. He shows them a rock and gives them paper and says “In fifteen minutes I will toss this stone. I will stand here, facing thus. I will throw it underhand with about three grip of force behind it. I want you to calculate in what manner it will move through the air so that you can have your hand in the proper place to catch it when the time comes.”

After allowing the students to work on their own for five minutes, he encourages them to work in groups. When the time is up the students confess that they don’t have the answer.

The teacher opens the door and sees a young boy walking by. He calls him. When the boy enters the room, the teacher cries, “Catch!” and tosses the stone to the boy.

“Startled, the boy snatched it out of the air.”

Then the teacher faces the students and says, “In each of us there is a mind we use for all our waking deeds. But there is another mind as well, a sleeping mind. It is so powerful that the sleeping mind of an eight-year-old can accomplish in one second what the waking minds of seven members of the Arcanum could not in fifteen minutes.”

Traditional methods and many “communicative” methods are directed at the waking, conscious mind or “slow thinking”. Any teacher who asks their students to memorize vocabulary, grammar or conjugations expects you to use “slow thinking”. The strategies which I use are directed at the sleeping mind or “fast thinking”.

The question is, how to we reach the “sleeping mind”? How do we acquire language that is spontaneous and automatic without memorizing grammar rules and verb conjugations? Well, how did you acquire your native language? You did not acquire it through studying verbs and memorizing vocabulary. You acquired language by listening to your mother and the people around you.

Dr. Krashen has said that language is acquired through Compelling Comprehensible Input. When you are a very small child, everything your mother says is compelling because she is the most important being in your world. And mothers automatically, instinctively try to be comprehensible. When we don’t understand they repeat, demonstrate and gesture until we do understand.

That Compelling Comprehensible Input is an effective way of acquiring language is becoming very evident today with internet and Netflix. I’m sure you know someone who has acquired a language by listening to their favorite series. My own granddaughter, who took Spanish in school, acquired English by listening to Pirates of the Caribbean and High School Musical, then Gossip Girl. Later, when she did take English in school, she had a near perfect score.

Compelling Comprehensible Input can also be written, which means language can be acquired by reading a good book without ever memorizing a verb conjugation. The more you read, the better your grammar will be.The more you listen, the better your pronunciation will be.

Many teachers require production, both oral and written. The real reason for this is their need to give grades. Some teachers say that students have to speak and have to practice writing. Yet there are many proven cases of people who have acquired language only through listening, without ever practicing. Production, whether oral or written, is a test. It shows us where the student is, the level that they have attained. Speaking and writing in school may be needed for grades, but they are NOT necessary for acquisition. Speaking and writing are not input, but output. Dr. Krashen calls such tests “weighing the pig”. It can be interesting, even necessary, to weigh the pig in order to measure its growth. But weighing the pig does not make it any fatter. It does not matter whether you weigh the pig every day, every week or every month. The pig will not weigh more because you weighed it more often. Students who enjoy speaking may feel more confident, but they are not acquiring language by speaking. The quiet student who never speaks but listens attentively is acquiring just as much, perhaps more.

You may have heard that I don’t teach grammar. It is never on my lesson plan. But if you have a question about grammar, I will be happy to answer it. I have learned that students always remember the answer to their own question, so I never refuse to answer a question. But I don’t waste my time and yours by answering questions that no one has asked.

So, as I see it, my job is to furnish you with compelling, comprehensible input, both written and oral. And your job is very simple. Your job is to let me know what interests you and what does not and your job is to let me know when I am not being comprehensible. Together we can make sure that you receive the compelling, comprehensible input that you need to acquire language.

Do you want to learn a new language?

During the week of July 20th to July 24th, The Agen Workshop has organized the following on-line language classes:

Elementary Spanish for primary school learners with Jason Fritze.

Intermediate Spanish for heritage learners and middle school students with Jason Fritze.

Mixed level French with Sabrina Sebban-Janczak and Daniel Kline Logsdon-Dubois

Beginners English with Tamara Galvan

Reading a Novel in English with Sule Yilmaz

Beginners Mandarin with Annick Chen

Beginners Arabic with Fadi Abughoush

 

The Spanish classes with Jason Fritze are designed for younger students and will last one hour a day for five days.

The other classes will also be given during five days. Each day there will be an hour’s session followed by a half hour break followed by an second hour long session.

If you wish to sign up for these classes as a student, go to Www.fluencyfast.com/agen

If you have already registered for the on-line conference as a teacher, you may observe all the classes without any additional charge.

During the week of July 27th- July 31st we are offering :

Beginners French with Alice Ayel.

Beginners German with Kathrin Shechtman.

Alice and Kathrin will be using the Story-Listening method.  The sessions will last 30 minutes with an additional 30 minutes for feedback and questions from observers. They are open to everyone who has registered for the On-Line Agen Workshop 2020.

 

For Newsletter Recipients

Although you are already registered for the “live” conference which will be held in 2021, we invite you to fill out this form so that you will receive the necessary codes which will allow you to access the live sessions and the language labs of the on-line conference of 2020. Since members of your family may attend the Language Labs free of charge, for our planning we need to know which labs they wish to participate in.

Registration for the On-Line Agen Workshop 2020 - newsletter recipients

The Ninth of May – Mayi

The Ninth of May

Europe celebrates the 8th of May as the end of World War II. In a small town in Cameroon the Batanga tribe celebrates the Ninth of May, the day that marks their return from exile at the end of World War I, more than a hundred years ago.

When World War I began, Kamerun was a German colony. The colony was named after the abundant fresh water shrimp, called camarao by the early Portuguese explorers, to be found in its rivers. The Germans had built a big port at Douala and an administrative capital at Yaoundé. Along the southern coast there was a small town called Kribi with a lighthouse, a church and a prison. The Batanga of Kribi were fishermen, living in villages under the tall coconut trees. They went to sea in dugout canoes and sometimes brought back sharks as big or bigger than their canoes. They were proud people who had converted to Christianity early. Some of them were educated and there was even a pastor who had studied in the United States. They looked down on the neighbouring, “pagan” tribes. They were not interested in working in the German coffee plantations because they could satisfy all their needs by fishing. Finding them difficult to govern, the German authorities had had their traditional chief hanged.

One day two large ships flying British flags anchored outside the port of Kribi. They were too large to dock, but began bombarding the German buildings and were preparing to ferry soldiers to shore. The world war had come to Kribi. The German force was too small to resist and decided to retreat into the interior, towards Ebolowa.

When the British marines landed, they were greeted with open arms by the local population, who saw them as liberators. Unfortunately, the Germans had been able to summon more soldiers and were soon returning to retake the town, considering it too strategic to abandon. Kribi controlled the only road that led into southern Kamerun.

Realizing that they were not numerous enough to hold their position against the German reinforcements, the British decided to retreat. When the Batangas learned that their hated masters were returning there was a general panic. Their chief had already been hanged. Everyone was convinced that the German soldiers would massacre the entire population for having welcomed the British to their town so enthusiastically. They pleaded with the British naval officer, Captain Taylor, to let them board the ships. He agreed to carry them to the western part of Cameroon where they would be safe from German reprisals.

The fishermen had their own canoes and were able to paddle their families out to the British ships. Those who didn’t have a canoe swam. Louis Ngandé was about eleven years old and he told of going to the ship astraddle a broken piece of an old canoe, all he could find. The Batanga were using anything that floated to get them to safety. Today when they tell the story, they sing in English, “Taylor, wait for me.” The tradition is that all the Batangas, men, women and children, re-enact the scene every ninth of May, singing “Taylor, wait for me”, as they wade into the sea. They say that if you bathe in the sea on that day, you will not drown during the year.

There are many oral traditions dating from the day the Batangas left their home and were carried into exile. They tell about the pastor who refused to go with the others who were being herded by the sailors into the hold. “I’m a pastor!” he said indignantly in excellent English. Captain Taylor replied, “Today, even if you were Jesus Christ, you would go into the hold.”
The Batanga refugees were taken to what is now West Cameroon and put into a camp. They were in a strange land, surrounded by people who did not speak their language and there was not enough food. They suffered and some died, far from their homeland.

At the end of the war Kamerun was divided into West Cameroon, which became a British colony, and East Cameroun, which became a French colony. Transportation was organized for the Batangas once the Germans had permanently left the area. On the ninth of May, 1916, they landed on the beach they had been forced to abandon. Ever since they celebrate their homecoming each year with a parade, dances, banquets, festivities and an “opera” where they enact the scenes of their exile, remembering many dialogs that their grandparents or great-grandparents told them about word for word, preserving the event in the memory of new generations.