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  • The Hawaiian Horse by Dr. Billy Bergin and Dr. Brady Bergin
  • Matthew Kainoa Wong
The Hawaiian Horse. By Dr. Billy Bergin and Dr. Brady Bergin. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2017. xviii + 364 pp. Appendices. Glossary. Bibliographic references. Illustrated. Index. $42.00 cloth

Dr. Billy Bergin and Dr. Brady Bergin’s The Hawaiian Horse narrates the history and legacy of the equine species. Their work is an important contribution to the equine field. The authors take the reader on a ride through history, recounting the origin of the equine species and the influence of the vaquero. They include an in-depth look at the worldwide transportation of livestock, equine roles in agronomy in industries of ranching, coffee, pineapple, rice, sugar and taro production in Hawai‘i, and examine mounts for recreational pleasure as well as highly competitive mounts. The authors depict people who have played important roles in the development of the horse in Hawai‘i, and they also go into detail about the usage of horses in sports. As veterinarians, Dr. Billy Bergin and Dr. Brady Bergin’s work would not be complete without including general and specific equine health issues in Hawai‘i. Each chapter [End Page 165] can be seen as a series of trails through time, creating a timeline that begins by contextualizing the origination of the equine species and ends with the future of Hawai‘i’s horse community.

The insight that the authors provide on the influence of the vaquero is very comprehensive, illustrating the arrival of the vaquero in Hawai‘i in 1833 at King Kamehameha III’s royal request. The king was probably unaware that he not only launched “a major industrial/agricultural industry but also founded the Hawaiian paniolo culture that would parallel the image and skill of the vaqueros of New Spain and America’s West” (p. 30). The authors go into further detail, pointing out how the Hawaiian paniolo [cowboy] quickly retained what was taught by the vaquero and naturally excelled in horsemanship and cattle ranching. The authors also explain how the Hawaiian paniolo ho‘ohawai‘i (Hawaiianized) what they learned by interweaving their innate instincts as Native Hawaiian seafarers. The Hawaiian paniolo fashioned their saddles after the outrigger canoe, adapting all of the major saddle parts’ names from those of the outrigger canoe. They also note that as seafarers, Hawaiian’s were very adept at braiding cords of aho (sennet), so braiding rawhide to fashion their kaula ‘ili (rawhide rope) and other equipment came naturally. “Little did the vaquero know that the product of this mentoring would be world championship ropers only seventy-five years later” (p. 32).

In the following chapters of the book, the authors illuminate the roles of the horse, donkey and mules in Hawaiian society. The Hawaiian paniolo pursued mounts with more endurance, hardiness, and easy-keeping qualities. These traits were found in the feral Hawaiian horses that were brought to Hawai‘i in 1803. These mounts had “hardened hooves of black granite that were a characteristic and a prepotent trait of feral horses that quickly became known as the Mauna Kea breed” (p. 65). The desire for the preservation of this breed led to the development of tightly controlled breeding programs throughout Hawai‘i. The donkey and mule also established “iconic status” (p. 86) in the important role they played in the history of taro and rice cultivation in Waipi‘o, Waimanu and Pololū Valleys. The horse, donkey and mule trains transported about 1,200 pounds of pa‘i‘ai (cooked, pounded taro) per trip from the valley floors, up steep and windy trails to various kauhale (villages).

The authors also shed light on various horse health issues, some general and some unique to Hawai‘i due to “Hawai‘i’s tropical climate, with its high forage moisture, high rainfall and humidity, volcanic soils of variable mineral composition, and common presence of wetlands” (p. 99). Diseases like Big Head Disease, Lampas, Glanders, dental health issues, and hoof and skin issues are prevalent in Hawai’i. Hawai‘i offers unique challenges for horses because “more than three-fourths of these animals live on fibrous, abrasive, [End Page 166] and bulky forage...


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