Cahir O’Sullivan, CEO of Irish Turf Club 1970s
To say that I was impressed would be a gross understatement. I was totally gobsmacked. How on earth did you manage to write such a marvelous book. Your details, the brilliance of the writing, the memories of the people with whom you met and worked with down through the years is just incredible. Above all, of course, is the way you show your love and respect for the horse which comes through with total clarity. You should be so proud but unfortunately, I cannot properly clarify the brilliance you possess. If you were a film star you would be home and dry for an Oscar.
The horse is so close to Alex Atock’s heart it is not surprising his book is written with passion, humour and at times anger. After years of working as a veterinary surgeon in general practice he became heavily involved in the welfare of the horse, be it a hard ridden show jumper on the telly attempting to climb into the night sky to clear a seven-foot wall, often with a portly rider on its back, or the ugly sight of a worn out horse with a leg wrenched off at the hock, covered in sores and flies in the back of a knackers’ truck in a meat market in the developing world.
Alex was actively involved with a number of important committees to improve horse welfare worldwide. Much was achieved. He and his devoted teams tirelessly strove to ban certain drugs and to halt the long and wearying trundle taking live horses hundreds of miles by truck to meet an inglorious end in a brutal slaughterhouse ankle-deep in blood and dung.
Alex’s influence improved harness and shoeing and tried to eliminate the merciless ill-treatment of horses through ignorance by people who used the willing animals to feed and provide for their families.
My Friend the Horse is full of wisdom and nuggets about Alex’s meetings and the people he met. Alex made friends easily but he never allowed anything to take his eye off the main feature of those endless get-togethers and the tiresome travel. It was to seek a more humane life for his beloved horses and their downtrodden relatives, the humble mule and the donkey. This book is a must for equine professionals and those who love horses and are interested in their welfare.
H.R.H. Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein President of FEI 2006-2014
I met Alex Atock when I was a teenager. At the time, he was the Head of the FEI Veterinary Department. He was a man who was then – as he is now - greatly respected. Alex was known, among other things, for his ability to troubleshoot, so it does not surprise me, reading his book, to learn that his ancestors were railway engineers and historians; people who looked to the past but used their todays to build paths to the future.
Alex was and is widely respected for his dedication, innovation and pragmatism; he is loved for his Irish twinkle. Alex never missed the chance to see the humour in any situation as he faithfully built the foundations of what is now one of the strongest and most important fibres in the modern story of horse sport: that of equine welfare.
It is not an overstatement to say that Alex Atock is a man who has contributed to the golden thread of horse sport in many different and remarkable ways. Thankfully, he has also documented the extraordinary times within which he has lived and worked; perhaps the most tumultuous period in equine history. As a witness to the direction that the thread of horse sport has taken, Alex shares with us in his book many lenses and perspectives from all over the world.
I greatly enjoyed reading the journey of Alex’s family and of Alex himself, and seeing through his eyes the good in many horses, and even more people. The chapters of this book are alive with descriptions of great people who played a part in making horse sport what it is today. We are indebted to Alex for committing to paper descriptions of the traditions and lifestyles that form the foundations of values that we should honour and celebrate far into the future. Those values are the essence of the fibres that will ensure the golden thread of horse sport endures into the future.
Thank you, Alex.
I wanted to finish the book (My Friend the Horse) before replying but my days in Saudi got a bit hectic and I did not have time till the flight home.
It was rather surreal that on completing the book I looked for a movie to watch on the airplane entertainment system and saw Lean on Pete that brings up many of the issues you addressed in your career. Although the story-line was a lot less inspiring!
I very much enjoyed the book (the movie not so much!) It provides a great perspective of all the work that goes on behind international events and the cooperation/coordination necessary to organize them, as well as the delicate balance of ensuring public opinion is supporting of a sport enjoyed by a comparative few. The extension of the Federation into the NGO arena through WHW is an example that should be followed more closely by many other Sporting and Professional bodies. Truly a win-win: enriching their own organizations while helping the less fortunate. Being at the forefront of that movement must be so gratifying.
I am delighted to have this opportunity, through you, to warmly congratulate my cousin Alex Atock on writing his autobiography in such a unique way through “My Friend the Horse”. It has been a great pleasure to learn so much about his life going from school to veterinary college and onward into full adult life and a very successful career. I confess, as the younger cousin, growing up with both parents it never occurred to me to consider the pain and sorrow that must have affected Alex when his Father died suddenly when he was only eight years old and had no siblings for companionship and fun.
The opportunity to start pony riding at a relatively young age soon gave Alex young companions, good exercise, developed further his love of animals and the teaching and relationship of a wise caring trainer who did something to make up for the loss of a father figure. This became more necessary as our Grandpa also died in our childhood.
For me, this book fills in a great deal of Alex’s early working life, marriage to Sherley and the arrival of a daughter, a farrier and 2 sons into horse travel. During this time the family moves to and from Ireland, England, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates. This balances the story without taking too long in the telling.
It is obvious as his career progresses that Alex has become not only a skilled vet but one willing to take risks for the sake of his patients. This reputation leads him into opportunities, some not easy which others might not risk but which added to his experience.
Throughout Alex’s career, he has been willing to accept many challenges which opened doors of opportunity to which he applies his own native wit, powers of observation as well as intelligence. One might think; it’s well for him he earns his living through his hobby. There were many unsuccessful experiences in his developing years of competitive riding, lacking the ownership of his own horse. He took the knocks and learned through them. Likewise, his children had to learn through hard work and taking opportunities as they came and where ever they were. I found the writer’s sense of humor and compact descriptions made this an easy read and yet a good career guide for family reading even if there is no interest in the main subject other than having pets in the home.
Few of us have a career that runs to meet our ambitions without hiccups or disappointments. The reader might overlook the devastating blow to Alex when Brucellosis threatened to bring his career to a stop. Fortunately, he had been observing all that went on in the horse world from his veterinary practices, natural interest in horse welfare, racing, show jumping and traveling to follow his equine hobbies. He was, therefore, ready to turn his career in another direction and use knowledge to work for horse welfare in a variety of organizations accepting more and more challenges as they were presented. This was not just luck but the result of diligence, persistence, wide experience and his own personality. Not all were easy positions to fulfill; making horse owners and trainers change habits of a lifetime regarding horse health, correct ways to travel horses and the emerging doping practices. Honesty, courtesy, and patience paid off. Another downside was living for periods away from home not always in a pleasant environment. The family, however, placed in the world at times, remain close mentally and emotionally.
In conclusion I would regard “My Friend the Horse” as a book for animal-loving families particularly where maturing children are wanting a pony and need to learn it’s not all fun and that it can be hard work with some disappointments, but patience and effort should pay off.
Fran Jurga, Writer and Editor
Equine welfare and the global monitoring of horse diseases are critical areas of concern in the horse world. But 45 years ago, when Irish veterinarian Alex Atock began his first job in regulatory veterinary medicine as a racing official, he would not have guessed that one day his lifelong affection for horses would impact how horse sports are conducted worldwide, and that his stalwart advocacy for their welfare would improve their treatment near and far.
As a pioneer of international equine health regulation and welfare for organizations such as the Federation Equestre Internationale, World Horse Welfare, the Irish Turf Club and the UAE Equestrian and Racing Federation, Alex Atock initiated programs and wrote policies still endorsed and followed by regulatory veterinarians and stewards around the world.
Atock’s role made him the top-ranking advocate for the horse on the global stage. His assignments from his employers and the racing or veterinary associations he served ranged from determining how disease outbreaks affect the movement of horses around the world, and how traveling horses may put others at risk, to affecting improvement of conditions for the sport of endurance in the United Arab Emirates, establishing the first horse inspections at international equestrian events, strategizing the welfare effects of summer heat at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and many welfare and safety aspects of sports conduct that are now taken for granted.
Now retired, Atock has put away his passport, and picked up a pen.
Atock’s professional memoir, My Friend the Horse, is published at a time when horse sports and racing are under both public and internal pressure to protect horses, while making sports more accessible or spectator-friendly. Many matters related to medication and welfare of horses remain to be resolved, and Atock’s insight into how some current issues began or were addressed in the past is important for the record of sport.
Equally compelling are his views and experiences in the monitoring and control of equine disease, which affects how, when and if racing and competition horses can move between countries and, eventually, be allowed to return home.
This charmingly-offhanded account of equestrian sport history through the eyes of an advocacy-minded veterinarian probably understates the impact of decisions made and actions taken on his watch, such as the FEI’s inauguration of horse inspections at the Moscow Olympics in 1980, followed by inspections at the World Jumping Championship in Dublin in 1982. The resulting furore turned many against the FEI and Alex Atock. Fast forward to today, when mandatory horse inspections are popular with spectators, and are even spectacles of fashion on the eventing scene.
Two chapters discuss the medication testing processes in racing and equestrian sports and controversies that surround them. Of interest for Atock is the use of phenylbutazone (“bute”) and the evolution of regulating it both in Irish racing and in international equestrian sports.
Alex Atock assisted the FEI in facing problems like “rollkur” in dressage, cross-country jumping injury and death in eventing, and over-strenuous travel and competition schedules for showjumpers. His book voices his personal concerns about endurance in the Middle East, and lists some of the paradoxes facing the regulation of that sport.
In a day when so many have strong opinions on what constitutes equine welfare on the track or in sport, this book pulls back the curtain to reveal how, when, and why decisions were made in the past to ensure that the horse is protected. “The regulators of the sport can never be complacent,” Atock wrote in 1994. “The root metaphor must be the symbiotic unity of man and horse, mutually interdependent, rising to heights which neither could achieve alone.”
David Pincus, SHEEPCOTE EQUESTRIAN SERVICES
I have read the book cover to cover and enjoyed it immensely.
Many of the characters and events he refers to touched my journey as well, particularly that Alex has connections to Herefordshire.
The book is informative and gives a good insight to the workings of organisations we are all connected to.
This book belies its cover, which is a little jocund perhaps, since within its pages lie gems of horsemanship and a man's life. The countries this book runs through as Alex Atock performs his duties as veterinarian and the stories he relates are a marvel, he has an eye for detail and doesn't forget much either. The book is peppered with names distinguished and otherwise of those who have appeared over the years in many disciplines of horsemanship, dressage, racing, carriage driving, showjumping.
You name it, Alex Atock has met them, from Royalty to the grooms and treats them all in his own modest inimitable way. It's a fascinating book, anyone with a heart for the horse and wishing to expand their knowledge of its international implications, this is the one for you.