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Saddle up: ‘The Hawaiian Horse’ explores all things equine

March 17, 2017 - 1:15am

WAIMEA — Dr. Billy Bergin and his son, Dr. Brady Bergin, are two of Hawaii Island’s most respected veterinarians. Earlier this month, they released their first book together, “The Hawaiian Horse,” that takes readers on a journey from the animal’s prehistoric origins to their arrival to Hawaii, and beyond.

As Parker Ranch’s chief veterinarian from 1970-1995 and one of the founders of Veterinary Associates, Inc., Billy brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the book — his fifth to date. Brady, who owns Aina Hou Animal Hospital in Kamuela and is currently an associate professor at the University of Minnesota, and a clinical administrator at West Metro Equine Practice, brings a different perspective.

“You can’t talk about horses without talking about their health,” Billy said. “I practiced on this island for 49 years, but a tremendous amount has happened in veterinary medicine in terms of scientific advancement, so we needed help from people who are very current in medicine, such Brady and Dr. Wood.”

Horses, which first arrived in Hawaii in 1803, have played a key role in the island’s agriculture and ranching history.

“The book illuminates the contributions of the horse to transportation, freight service and agronomy in ranching, sugar, pineapple, taro, rice and coffee production in Hawaii,” Billy said. “It shows the evolution of the equine species — horse, mule and donkey — as beasts of burden, for recreational pleasure, or as highly regarded competitive mounts.”

Billy first considered writing the book 10 years ago. He gives full credit to Patrick Ching.

“He is very important in Hawaiian art circles and quite a horseman and rodeo hand. He approached me with the idea,” Billy said.

“The Hawaiian Horse” is dedicated to Morgan Brown — the son of the man that the Buster Brown pu’u in Waimea is named after.

“Morgan did so much in improving Hawaii’s livestock by his strict adherence to promoting blood lines, superior horse and cattle,” Billy said. “Nobody exemplified following animal health guidelines like he did. He was a real champion of that and the most progressive rancher of his time.”

In addition to Brady and Billy, the book has two contributing authors, Dr. Lisa Wood from Veterinary Associates, with a section on foaling guidelines, and Valerie van der Veer, whose 11-page section focuses on the armed forces and rodeo.

A more recent feat included in the book is Brady’s donkey community service project, which saw hundreds of Waikoloa Nightingales given a loving new home.

“Taking 600 wild donkeys down to less than 50 last year, under controlled circumstances, was a remarkable feat. It went viral, reaching the broad American community, teaching graduating seniors that they owe something to their community,” Billy said “He also did DNA analysis on 75 wild horses and 35 donkeys that is highly technical, which created data on the Hawaiian horses that hadn’t existed before.”

Another chapter focuses on two legendary horsewomen — Amy Rich and Haku Baldwin.

“Brady and I honored two ladies in Hawaii’s horse history,” Billy said. “Amy and Haku paralleled each other almost in time. Amy was really Kohala-born. When she went to live in Honolulu between the wars, she saw the need for a centrally located youth horse academy. Lessons were available to every young lady, and modern polo player boys were trained by her. She went through three generations by the time she retired. She also gave soldiers a chance to ride for fun. Same with Haku. She never did anything for credit. Her academy helped train and supply horses in rodeo, racing, polo, dressage, hunting and jumping. She also did a lot of work with autistic children. There are no other ladies in Hawaii who did so much, using their philanthropy through horses to improve humankind.”

His favorite part of the book follows the evolution of cowboys.

“When you take a look at our terms and language, they are all Spanish. As American historians we have to honor Mexico,” Billy said. “The Mexicans brought us the lariat and the saddle horn but you never see that in history. We talk about the vaquero’s influence in Chapter 2.’”

To research details for the book, he referenced more than 150 sources.

“I found them all over the place and have accumulated so much since I was young,” Billy said. “My grandmother came from a horse family and was fascinated watching cowboys roping a steer in the water and never stopped photographing pa’u riders. I would spend hours looking at her photos. Once I got into vet school, there was a huge library of horse-related text and an annual sale from vets who donated them. I began to buy them and accumulated quite a library. I also did a lot of research for the Parker Ranch book.”

Writing the new book was a family affair.

“Brady’s voice is throughout the book,” Billy said. “We read each other’s chapters, and my wife, Pat, edited the book.”

“To see it in print and our names together, it’s something I will always cherish,” Brady added.

Through the process, Billy learned a few things himself.

“I don’t think I’ve ever completely understood the evolution of the species. In North America, we want to believe all horses were developed here. But before the Ice Age, the horse was the size of a domestic cat and multi-footed and began to evolve into a larger animal,” he said.

The new book will be showcased at four local events on March 25 and 29, with Billy and Brady as special guests. The first will be at Parker Ranch Store from 9 a.m.-noon next Saturday. Later that day they can be found at Basically Books in Hilo from 1-3 p.m. and Lyman House from 3-5 p.m. The following week, they will be at Waimea Midweek Market at Pukalani Stables from 9 a.m.-noon on March 29.

“The book will appeal to any horse owner because there’s so much history with horse breeding that spreads throughout the country and the world,” Brady said. “A lot of people on the mainland don’t realize how long Hawaii has had horses and their quality and lineage here. The book covers a lot of different breeds and the rich horse history.”

In addition to local stores in Waimea and Hilo, “The Hawaiian Horse” is now available on

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