|Mark M. Dean at home.|
“Daily work, troubles, ankle bitters all disappear
as I put my foot in the stirrup and my heartbeat becomes one.”
Writing & Riding: An Interview with Mark M. Dean
by Gina McKnight
Archived from the November 2020 issue of Florida Equine Magazine
No duplication without permission.
Mark Dean is a horseman, author, lyricist, and poet. I’ve known Mark for several years and enjoy his whimsical stories and personality. He is an intentional horseman who lives in southeastern Ohio on a small horse farm nestled into the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Mark has had the pleasure of living in ten states stretching from Rhode Island to Texas while also having lived and traveled abroad. His 20 years of military service involved twelve family moves which gave him keen insight into the importance of bonding through stories, songs, and poems. Mark struggled with childhood dyslexia and desires to pay back all those that helped him develop his imagination through reading. He is an avid horseman and enjoys riding the trails of southeastern Ohio!
GM: Horses can be good muses, providing spiritual insight into the things we can't see. As an author, how has horsemanship inspired your creativity and writing career?
MD: That's a fantastic question. Quite frankly, I am inspired by the unspoken communication and the instant bond, or chemistry that develops. Having horses on our farm growing up, I could always sense or "feel" our horse’s thoughts. I've watched my kids go through this. That true moment when you connect effortlessly with your horse like you are reading each other's minds. At a younger age, when I dare say things were a bit more simple, without the mental and electronic clutter, the connection happened immediately. Now, it takes a bit more effort to shake off the day and reconnect.
Several years ago, we went to a local farm to buy a mare. There were several in the pasture we had our eye on, when my ten year old climbed over the fence, walked directly over to a beautiful two year old black and white paint, and began to nuzzle with her. She literally stayed within three paces of him the rest of the day. The bond was immediate and intense. She was his, and he was hers. No questions asked, no words spoken.
This moment in time reopened a window that I didn't know I had shut and let me see back inside the relationship. It was sweet feed for my artistic appetite and the poems and short stories began to flow. Horses listen without a word spoken and the spirit and natural majesty they exhibit when they don't know your watching is amazing. Seriously, how many times have you been watching your horse, perhaps after riding, when they canter out to the herd or across the pasture, doing a flying lead change, perfect roll back, and then settle in with their buddies? You're left standing there thinking "I just tried to make him do that? Why wouldn't he do that for me?" Truly inspiring.
GM: A true horseman, I am sure your horses have amazing characters. I have met at least one of your horses, Gus, who is an old fellow, but a good horse to have in your stable. What other horses do you currently stable?
MD: Well, we currently have three geldings eating our future retirement as fast as they can, turning grass and grain into steaming mountains of work. Our oldest partner, and, in our experience, one of the easiest keepers known to man, is 28 years young "Gus" a.k.a. "The Pirate". A handsome, 15 Hand, Red Roan, Foundation Breed, one-eyed, cattle herding machine. He came to us from the stockyards in Oklahoma and still has more gears and tools in his bag than we can find. Sweet as can be but a bit adverse to work now as the years turn unless it involves a messy tail end and a set of horns. If we had a rocking chair big enough to hold him, I'm certain he'd be sitting between my wife and me on the porch watching the sun slowly set each night. But truly, one of the most genuine friends you could ask for.
Our middle child is 16 years old "Yogi", thickly muscled, 14.5 hand Dun Quarter Horse, who, if you let him, would eat his weight in grain. He's as steady as can be on any southeastern Ohio piece of dirt you choose to call a trail and will gobble up any hill or creek you put in front of him. Beautiful burnt-butter color sporting a chocolate brown racing stripe, with big eyes that will turn a lady’s head. Very well natured, who, like all of us middle kids, wonders why he can't be in charge.
|At the Dean's country ranch.|
Last, but certainly not least, is 12 year old "Hoodie", rounding out our 3/4 horse herd (see what I did there?). We found him up at a farm in Holmes County, Ohio, and as the tale goes, was part of a ranching operation in North Carolina as a young cow-pony. Hoodie is the sly one in the crew. Well mannered, smooth as can be under saddle, and very, very light to the touch. That is if he lets you catch him. Much like myself when asked to go to a party or social gathering, I fuss and fuss about going but have a fantastic time when I get there. That's Hoodie... He'll be a bit testy when you climb up in your rig, but after you ride the hair off him and go to put him up, well, he'll look back at you with that question in his eyes... "Really? We're done? Is that all you got?"
GM: Your herd sounds fun and willing to participate. Where do you like to ride in southeastern Ohio? Are there any riding facilities or trails that you recommend?
MD: We're very fortunate in this regard. Nestled back in the rolling hills of Appalachia, we enjoy riding on the many acres surrounding our home. We are extremely lucky to have equine friendly neighbors, who invite us to beat down the grass and mud on their many hills, hollers, and creeks. In our direct area, we enjoy Strouds Run State Park, Zaleski State Forest, and Lake Snowden. We've also had memorable rides within four hours of the barn in Cass, West Virginia (Shalimar Farms), Malabar State Park in Lucas, Ohio ("Shawshank Redemption" fame), and tromping on the "Rails to Trails" system starting near Parkersburg, West Virginia. I would highly recommend checking out these locations. The riding in southeast Ohio provides quite a few opportunities for both novice and advanced riders with many welcoming, well-kept camping facilities for those who have a mind to stay awhile.
GM: As an author, you have several books under your belt. Hands Over Time is one of your intriguing books and just released in 2nd edition. What is the premise and who is your audience?
MD: The book is focused on the adult demographic, although it can most certainly appeal to the young adult crowd as well. The premise of “Hands” is the focus on the numerous experiences we have with our hands and how those are linked to our emotions. All 30 short stories are very different in content but have the common element of the journey’s we experience through our hands. The fun part is all the thoughts are internal and in most cases, you don’t know who is telling the story or how it’ll end.
GM: You are also a children's literature author. What books have you written and what can we expect from you in the future?
MD: Ah yes, the children’s books. I truly love writing for kids. My first published work was The Adventures of Coal and Andy; Charlie the Catfish. This work is the first in a trilogy where two young cousins are spurred on to their own outdoor adventures by their “PawPaw”. Good clean fun. My second work is also the first in a trilogy. Doggy Deck Day follows a young boy and his dog through their country experience chasing skunks, eating pickled parsnips, and running through a newly tarred road while chasing a rabbit. My latest book, Fancy Flowers by Faye, is a young girl’s experience in her grandmother’s flower shop where she learns all about different flowers. I am currently working on another children’s book, Habits Rabbits, to be released in 2021.
GM: Wow! You are a busy guy. Writing and riding… so, back to horsemanship. What does horsemanship mean to you?
MD: Pick, scoop, toss repeat… When I have the time, I’m going to write about the Zen nature of horsemanship and how it’s become a very deep part of me. Riding, in particular, is one of the only activities I have experienced where I can only think of the “Now” as I am doing it. Daily work, troubles, ankle bitters all disappear as I put my foot in the stirrup and my heartbeat becomes one.
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