Minter Dialogue with Shelley Onderdonk and Adam Snow

Dr Shelley Onderdonk and Adam Snow are a couple who’ve spent their lives playing, rearing and taking care of sport horses. Shelley is a sport horse veterinarian, renowned among other things for being a pioneer in veterinary acupuncture. The success of her sport medicine principles is evidenced by the multitude of Best Playing Pony awards which their barn have accrued over the years, as well as by the longevity of their horses’ careers. Shelley gives lectures and seminars on her equine wellness philosophy and is the coauthor of The Anti-Cookbook. Shelley’s husband, Adam Snow, was my roommate at university. Adam played polo professionally for well over 30 years, achieving the highest rating of 10 goals in 2003. Career highlights include winning two US Open titles, competing in the Argentine Open in 1998 and 2004, winning many Best Playing Pony prizes for his horses, and twice being named Player of the Year. He was inducted into the Polo Hall of Fame in 2014. Retired from tournament polo, he now gives back to the sport via coaching, mentoring, writing, as well as announcing polo games for television. The excuse to get these two exceptional beings on my show is the new release of their brand new book, published by Trafalgar Square, “Winning with Horses: How One of the Best American Polo Players of All Time and a Sport Horse Veterinarian Balance Human Goals with Equine Needs.” I note that this is actually the second book they’ve co-written together. We discuss many of the fascinating learnings they’ve developed, living around horses, working as a team, applying a holistic approach to rearing, riding and playing polo on horses. There are many deep life lessons within.

Please send me your questions — as an audio file if you’d like — to Otherwise, below, you’ll find the show notes and, of course, you are invited to comment. If you liked the podcast, please take a moment to rate it here.

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horses, playing, years, polo, sports, book, acupuncture, shelley, adam, idea, retire, human, feel, dealing, challenge, notion, trust, live, writing, veterinarian


Minter Dial, Shelley Onderdonk, Adam Snow

Minter Dial  00:05

Hello and welcome to Minter Dialogue, episode number 532. My name is Minter Dial and I’m your host for this podcast, a proud member of the Evergreen Podcast Network. For more information or to check out other shows on this wonderful network, please go and visit evergreen So, this week’s interview is a special one. It’s with two people, which I usually don’t do, Shelley Onderdonk and Adam Snow. A couple have spent their lives playing, rearing and taking care of sport horses. Shelley’s a sport horse veterinarian, renowned amongst other things for being a pioneer in veterinary acupuncture. The success of her sport medicine principles is evidenced by the multitude of best playing pony Awards, which their barn has accrued over the years, as well as the longevity of the horses’ careers. Shelley gives lectures and seminars on equine wellness philosophy, and as the co-author of the anti-cookbook, Shelley’s husband, Adam Snow was my roommate at university. I hadn’t played poker professionally for well over 30 years, achieving the highest rating of 10 goals back in 2003. career highlights include winning two US Open titles, competing the Argentine open in 1998 and 2004, winning many best playing pony prizes for his horses and twice being named Player of the Year. He was inducted into the Polo Hall of Fame in 2014. Retired from tournament polo, he now gives back to the sport by coaching, mentoring, writing, as well as announcing polo games for television. The excuse to get these two exceptional beings on my show is the new release of the brand new book published by Trafalgar Square, “Winning with horses, how one of the best American polo players of all time, and the sport horse veterinarian balanced human goals with equine needs.” I note that this is actually the second book they’ve co-written together. We discussed many of the fascinating learnings they developed living around horses, working as a team, applying a holistic approach to rearing, writing and playing polo on horses. There are many deep life lessons with him.

You’ll find all the show notes on And if you have a moment, go over after you’ve listened to rate and review. And don’t forget, subscribe to catch all the future episodes now for the show. Well, well, well, this is a rare sighting, first of all on my podcast. I don’t know how many times I have ever had two people at the same time on my show. Two lovely long friends! Adam and Shelley, in in your own words. I’m going to start with you Shelley. Who are you?

Shelley Onderdonk  02:52

My name is Shelley Onderdonk. I am a mother of three children and a veterinarian. I live in Aiken, South Carolina. I grew up in California, but have found the city of Aiken and the state of South Carolina to be a great horse town and place where I’ve been able to pursue my dreams of working with horses.

Minter Dial  03:13

Well I love how you start with I’m a mother of three kids. It’s very personal and I like that! Mr. Snow! Adam, who are you?

Adam Snow  03:23

So, I am Adam Snow. Minter, and I roomed together at Yale for three and a half years. I have enjoyed a long career and playing polo professionally for almost 34 years. I retired from playing tournament polo last spring and Shelley and I live on our farm here in Aiken, South Carolina.

Minter Dial  03:48

So you just said you retired from polo paying competitive Polo? What was that like?

Adam Snow  03:58

So it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might have been. It just felt like the right time I had had a hip replacement November 2021. And had a couple of tumbles the next season I tried to play and felt like the Polo gods were trying to tell me something and I had always planned to retire before I turned 60. So, I’m still very much involved in the sport playing coaching league programs announcing writing. But I decided to step away from the Polo in the trenches.

Minter Dial  04:33

Well, I suppose I’m wondering because I I’ve interviewed many athletes on my show over the years. And typically, the idea of leaving a sport is sort of identity. It’s an identity. I’m a I’m a professional rugby player, I’m a professional football player, and typically you retire at a younger age, not meaning to be ageist or anything but retiring from polo at this age. Maybe there’s all So an element of the age factor that really obviously helps to indicate you need to stop playing professionally. Totally.

Adam Snow  05:07

I feel calm and comfortable and ready for this next phase. But there’s a funny story out of college where, you know, I was playing other sports. My mom talked to Shelley and said, I’m worried about Adam, now that he stopped playing sports finding the next adrenaline boost. And what did I do? I found the one sport that I could pursue long term and kept going for those adrenaline kicks. But now I’m happy to move into another stage of my career. Taking a course on coaching and sports administration doing a lot of different things. And not missing tournament polo, honestly.

Minter Dial  05:51

Nice. Well, I do want to start with this piece about you’re playing other sports because I arrived at university in our flat or place up on the sixth floor up in Silliman college. And I got in there this guy who was freshman Ivy League player of the year, at lacrosse! And he says that’s not my best sport. Oh, really? Oh, well, I play ice hockey. You’re captain of the hockey team. And then that’s not even your best sport. Hello! I’m just wondering… my curiosity level is how: lacrosse, hockey, and polo? What’s the story in your head? After all these years about how they intertwine; which one helped each other the most?

Adam Snow  06:41

Yeah, I mean, they definitely helped each other. A lot of people describe polo as hockey on horseback. I’m in a little bit of a disagreement with the USPA right now who has promoted kids to not go to college and pursue polo professionally, and I feel like I never could have made it to 10 goals without my college experience. And that is not only sports, but partly the different sports as well as the people skills and the learning that we did through those four years that’s helped me immeasurably dealing with amateur patrons, planning out things. And eventually with the horse element as well. So, the sports have all combined, they’ve all helped my polo career. And I used to follow balls around even when I was a little kid, we had a dog named Fasulo, who lived his life with a ball in his mouth and Shelley says I’m like Fasulo.

Minter Dial  07:48

Which is, which isn’t so different to how my wife talks about me running after yellow balls, usually my case. So, surely, there’s a question I need to ask you, which relates to the relationship of women or girls with horses. My daughter, when she was younger, had this fascination for the horse. And we would go to stables and it seemed to be so many more girls interested in horses than boys. And I was wondering if this idea of horse crazy, it seemed like it was constantly a girl story. And was wondering to what extent that’s the truth. That’s just my observation.

Shelley Onderdonk  08:35

I believe there is a lot of truth to that. It’s probably more than an observation, I think it’s probably could be backed up with pretty firm numbers. And I do think that for a significant number of girls, it is something that they go through when they’re young, perhaps pre pubertal. That is a more than a fascination. It’s really falling in love with an animal. And it’s also falling in love with the idea, I believe, of what a horse can provide for you, which is a sense of freedom. Then there’s people like me who don’t go out of it, who you know, it’s not a phase. And there are also a lot of women who in their middle-aged years come back to it. Interestingly enough, you know, they might have had a little bit of a career experience or they might have had a family; and then somehow in their 40s or their 50s even they start riding again and are equally smitten as when they were 10 years old. So, it has a little bit of a phasic quality for some. There’s undoubtedly a little bit of a gender bias in that experience, which is not to say that boys don’t like horses, but the ratio is going to be, you know, 10 to 1.

Minter Dial  10:05

Sort of like ballet. The word you used is freedom, which is kind of interesting. For me, I kind of equated that with power. You know, like, as opposed to a dog or cats and other domestic animals, which with we can have relationships with, I’m in my head goes to, well, boys or men, like cars for freedom. That’s the sort of that’s what I equate with it. Of course, it’s powerful as well. But the notion of freedom with a horse is sort of a natural freedom.

Shelley Onderdonk  10:39

Yeah, I used to have dreams as a young girl galloping a horse, you know, across a huge landscape, you know, like on a ridge? and stuff. Yeah.

Minter Dial  10:50

Love it. So, one of the one of the things I really enjoyed in reading your book “Winning with horses” is this notion of a reservoir of trust. I think it’s so relevant in our lives today in general, you know, amongst human beings, creating a reservoir of trust. How do you go about doing that with a horse? So Shelley?

Shelley Onderdonk  11:13

It’s very methodical, and it very much depends on the situation and the individuals involved. I would say, for example, with horses that we have bred on our farm, so we call that a home bred, it comes pretty easily because you are around that fool from the day that it’s born, you are spending time with it over months and years, before you would ever even think about, you know, trying to put a smile on it or ride it. Whereas a horse that you might get in from a different situation, they come with baggage, and so there’s going to be sometimes a little bit more difficult or a longer process for that horse to trust you. But it is a process on an everything that you do with a horse from, you know, catching it in its field to spending time with it, perhaps at Liberty in a round pen, to eventually riding it. And the horse starts to understand that your language with them, which is back to this idea of a conversation that you’re having can be predictable, and is not going to ever over face them. Or, I mean, you might have to be firm with them sometimes, but that is different than being unpredictable or frightening. Or you know, where they feel. I mean, there’s just like any animal, any mammal there, they want security, most of all, and comfort.

Minter Dial  13:07

One of the things that I was understanding is this notion of being predictable. And being consistent is something that horses will pick up on. That’s a fair statement.

Shelley Onderdonk  13:20

Yes, it is. And but the other thing that they really pick up on and I mentioned this in the bubble a little bit as well is your base, emotional state. So, that reservoir trust also just has to do with having your heart rate, you know, under control having the tension in your body under control because they’re very, very sensitive to those physiological factors.

Adam Snow  13:52

If you think about it, these 1000-pound creatures, and a little mosquito will land on their butt and their whole body will quiver, and they’re sensitive about our demeanor as well. And another thing about creating that trust as we get through some challenges together with your partner. And so, they’re sort of stages of evolution of this trust. And sometimes I say, you know, when something surprises a young horse that I’m riding, and maybe they cut him too, but we get through it, okay, I feel like I’ve developed another level of trust that even when, when there’s a difficult situation, you know, they’re going to be able to trust me and I can trust them that we’re not going to, you know, get in a wreck. So that just like human beings, getting through the challenges is another way of developing trust.

Shelley Onderdonk  14:46

It’s not unlike a relationship with a human where, you know, you kind of have a lot of water passing under the bridge. And if all of that is, I mean even despite challenges, if you know that trust isn’t broken, the relationship builds, whereas when the trust is broken, it can be really hard to repair.

Minter Dial  15:08

So, I want to just dig in on the challenge piece, because the challenge for the human being going into a polo match is basically to win the match, presumably, score goals get a lead in the chuckers. And then the way we break it down. But basically, the idea is rather abstract as far as the horse is concerned, in my opinion, or at least that’s the way I imagined it. How do you do you share the notion of the challenge?

Shelley Onderdonk  15:37

Well, it’s got one Yeah, you go ahead.

Adam Snow  15:40

So, we were talking about freedom. And I think the freedom, which what I’m looking for going into a match is I basically can play with my eyes. And trust that me and my horse are going to move accordingly; freedom comes through preparation. So, the preparation that we do back in the barn, over years, and there’s challenges during that time, which we get through is what gives us the freedom to compete freely in competition, whether it’s on the polo field, or in an event course, or a different kind of equestrian competition.

Shelley Onderdonk  16:25

Yeah, and I like the idea of it’s from, you know, child rearing of optimal frustration, where you have to push just enough so that you’re challenging. And so any, any, I mean, it’s not wouldn’t be true for a, a horse, it’s just used for pleasure or trail riding or something like that. But any competition horse that is trying to continually improve, because even the very best in the world are still continually trying to improve. There’s this point where you’re just always at that optimal frustration, you don’t want to under challenge, and be boring, and eat. And so that would be true for polo ponies, or for event horses, or any any horse that is, you know, going to the Olympics, competing at an international level and anything, there’s always that little room for improvement.

Minter Dial  17:23

One of the things that I was mentioning before we started recording about how I talked with Hervé Franceschi, about his conversations with horses as they pick up as you were saying, Adam about little things that you’re feeling. And yet in the book, you talk about the four things that drive the motivation of horses, and one of them safety, comfort, play, and food. And I sort of feel that that also is rather useful for us as human beings to remind us about what’s important in life. But the idea of this communication with a horse who move if you’re not sure with yourself, will the horse pick that up? Adam, what do you think?

Adam Snow  18:09

I think the answer is yes. But I’m going to use Shelley as an example, when she’s doing acupuncture on these horses, she needs to be in the right frame of mind and, you know, a sense of positivity stepping into their stall. And I believe I’m right that you won’t go in unless you feel that because it’s that important to your work. The same becomes true when we’re riding or playing the horses. Most of the wrecks that I’ve gotten in writing singles is when I’m in a rush. And I’ve learned over the years that you know, just trying to sneak a ride in 10 minutes when I need to run off and do errands is not the smartest thing to do particularly with a horse I don’t trust completely. So, it is hugely important. What state of mind we’re in when we’re interacting with the horses.

Minter Dial  19:05

And is that actually does that change according to the horse? Or is it specifically you have you before the horse

Shelley Onderdonk  19:16

It’s mostly me being in the right frame of mind because if I’m in the right frame of mind, then whatever the horse presents, and there’ll be many different types of horses I can adapt to and work with. But if I come in, and I’m like, rigid, and I’m like, “Oh, this is where I’m going to do it” and I’m feeling stressed or time pressure or something like that. It often doesn’t go too well. But I just don’t do that more.

Minter Dial  19:44

So you write about how horses read you like a book somehow. This is this notion of knowing yourself. You’re doing this with horses. Now I’m going to ask you as a couple to what extent this works with you too. Whether, because when you’re doing it with the horse is one thing. Now, and you’ve been talking about this, you’ve been writing about it, this process of dealing with horses and winning with horses. And then now the horses are no longer there, you’re together to what extent does this knowledge of horses in the communication, self-knowledge actually comes back into the couple? So, Shelley, how about you start with that?

Shelley Onderdonk  20:24

That’s a hard one.

Minter Dial  20:27

I didn’t promise all easy.

Shelley Onderdonk  20:33

I would love to say that it’s really helpful. I’m not sure it is. I do think, however, that the skills that I have learned in working with horses have increased my patience, have increased my trying to assess things and not speak, you know, too quickly. And so yes, some sort of basic communication ideas, which you practice all the time with horses, I think do sort of tend to integrate themselves into your brain.

Minter Dial  21:18

Like the will the snow, like for example, you’re, you have something you’re angry about or upset with that happens, then you go into the conversation and to what extent you check in with yourself, just before you go to see the horse, to what extent you might check in with yourself before you expose the issue.

Shelley Onderdonk  21:39

Mm hmm. I should do it more.

Minter Dial  21:43

Adam, what about you? What about your feeling?

Adam Snow  21:45

Honestly, I think that I’m probably more conscious of it, before I start working with a horse than I am, when I walk into the house, and talk to Shelley. But I’m glad you brought that up. Because it’s something that we should be thinking about dealing with each other. And in, you know, a mindful, present way. Men are the same way we want to be dealing with the horses that we’re working with on a daily basis. And maybe it has something to do with not taking this other being for granted. Which were less likely to do in the barn, then we are in the house,

Minter Dial  22:27

right? Well, because they can kick you in the chin in a much harder way. No the horse, I mean, but just to play fair, you know, I wrote a book on empathy. And so I’m quite knowledgeable about empathy, but does that mean that I’m always empathic? Hell no. So, so the idea of writing doesn’t mean you’re, you know, you embody at all it’s, so this is why I just wanted to bring this out. Because for me, I’m always trying to bring back into our daily lives, what you’re doing. So, this is the first time I’ve had, I mean, it’s the second time, the first time I’ve had any polo, any polo horses and this type of environment on my podcast, which is usually about business. So, I like to bring it back into the contexts of dealing with human beings. I mean, obviously, you don’t just deal with horses, as you were saying, Adam, your team’s? Shelley?

Shelley Onderdonk  23:32

Yeah, I mean, I certainly have to deal with people as well. Um, I do think that I am better I went, I mean, I’ll be completely honest, that one of the reasons that I wanted to be a veterinarian is because I really wanted to deal primarily with animals. Most people who want to be a veterinarian are that way. And so then realizing that, oh, I have to run my own business. My clients are actually humans, not just my patients are horses, but it’s art. And so that was sort of that’s that was, you know, that’s the tough part for me. But the great thing about horse people is that if they see you truly caring for their horse, generally everything else is okay. They sort of overlook if you don’t have, you know, the best people skills, people skills, although I think I’ve gotten a lot better over the years.

Minter Dial  24:24

Well, it’s the like, being a pediatric doctor, you’re dealing with kids, you want to take care of the kids, but you got the parents.

Shelley Onderdonk  24:31

Yeah, exactly. same analogy.

Minter Dial  24:35

But you guys are a horse people. One of the things I really enjoyed Shelley, when you explained to Adam, when we were trying to help Adam to understand horses, or to get into a state of mind [I’m trying to find my notes where I said it] about getting to the ball first. I think that was the that was the advice that you gave to Adam? How did you come up with that? Because this notion of being natural, instinctive, it’s what I felt of what the advice you were giving to Adam.

Shelley Onderdonk  25:13

I think that that that anecdote that you’re referring to is when he was writing a young horse. And sometimes when, like, in any activity, you can get too much in your head. Yeah, you know, you’re overthinking things. And then your body starts doing things that are really odd. You know, like, there’s intense in different places, and whatever. So, my, I think that what you’re referring to is I just wanted him to just relax, and forget about the horse for a moment and just pretend like he’s playing polo again. Because then his whole demeanor changed,

Adam Snow  25:54

She said, then you have a mallet in your hand, and you’re just trying to make some plays in the round pen on that three-year-old. And that was brilliant, because it put me back in the place where I really am comfortable and confident. And now I’m riding the horse with the mallet pretending I’m making some plays on the ball. And, and I’m training the horse, through this confidence and in my comfort with these movements, and this general aspiration of getting to the ball and making a play on the ball. And ultimately, keeping in mind what your strengths are is important in the training and developmental stages.

Minter Dial  26:43

It felt for me, Adam, like it was the shortcut to get into flow.

Adam Snow  26:52

That’s totally accurate.

Minter Dial  26:54

And wouldn’t it be great if we always had a shortcut like that? I mean, it felt like it when I was reading the book, it felt like, ah, that’s the key for you to just forget the bullshit. Make it simple and feel in it? Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Adam Snow  27:14

You need to do a lot of work on that zone that your own personal flow, so that you can get access to it, so you can access it. Right when she said that, I was like, I got that, you know, that feels good. You know, and that is accessing that flow. Because of the hundreds or 1000s of hours that I have followed that all around. And now I’m doing the same thing on a three-year-old, but in a more quiet, gentle or manner.

Minter Dial  27:49

So, it’s not something that I picked up in the book. But do you have that same sort of process when you actually, when you were playing competitively, it’s just something that sort of dropped kicked you into the mode? Because obviously, you had such an ability, but you also have different horses in each of the checkers, right? You don’t? You’re constantly as so much dynamism in a match. But how do you get into a flow? And you have six different horses? I think it’s six checkers, right?

Adam Snow  28:17

Yeah, I mean, I’m you just trust these skills and you trust breathing? Yeah, that was the first thing I thought I breathe. That when you were asking that question, I mean, I’m thinking about things. So, fundamental as keep the air flowing in and out and in my eyes on the ball. And that’s how I enter games in the Argentine open with those two points, performance cues written on a note card and my back, but that is also good writing to is to breathe, and, you know, look where you want to go. Probably good. Good cycling, good soccer, good many, many sports and maybe even in a business meeting. I’m always trying to look where I want to go not where I don’t want to go.

Minter Dial  29:13

So, business meaning breathing, I breathing I think is great. I know personally, I’ve always struggled to be a good breather. It sounds bizarre, but I would hold my breath in it before hitting a shot. Whereas I should sort of be exhaling as I hit the shot. Let it go, but I hold it in. And it’s it sounds ridiculous, but that’s very important.

Adam Snow  29:39

I don’t think we can achieve this all the time. But it’s a good thing to kind of come back to

Shelley Onderdonk  29:44

Yeah. Achieve a temperature at a time you’re good. It’s even more than that.

Adam Snow  29:51

But it’s like when you’re dating and you’re like, wait a sec, I’m not supposed to be thinking about anything. But it’s we’re human. We do think about things And we can think about that as good news. Because after we pass beyond that thought we have a moment of stillness, which is what we’re aspiring to. And it’s almost like that on the playing field is finding the quiet in the in the melee through breath and your contact with the horse and your eyes.

Minter Dial  30:23

Well, and I have to submit that this is because we overcomplicate things we over and overthinking it. And surely, so, one of the so one of the things that I really enjoyed about when you’re writing about your experience as a veterinarian, is you’re not your average veterinarian, you really should have looked at it on a holistic basis. And so, I wanted to provoke and think in in the veterinarian world, do two people think of somebody sometimes you’re like, you’re out there, you’re like, a little bit woowoo? Or is this more common? Your ability to add acupuncture and, and the different ways of almost therapy for horses?

Shelley Onderdonk  31:07

So in 2023, I’m completely mainstream. Oh, yeah. In 1998, when I took my acupuncture course, I was considered to be at the forefront. And some people would have said who, but shortly after I took my course, like in the early 2000s, a DVM, PhD started churning out research on acupuncture, then got a position at a veterinary school, and then they opened up a master’s program in Chinese veterinary medicine, and it is just completely accepted now. I would say,

Minter Dial  31:55

I mean, feels like, still human beings are not accepting acupuncture yet.

Shelley Onderdonk  32:02

Yeah, that that’s one advantage of sometimes of being in the veterinary world is, there’s a little bit more, because there’s less regulation. You know, we don’t have so many things breathing down our back, there’s a little bit more room for experimentation. And so you know, the first stem cell transplants were done on horses. And you know, there’s lots of things that are, it’s ripe for innovation. And ethically, people think it’s okay to do it experimentally, on a horse where they wouldn’t, or they would be illegal to do that on a human. So, we are the beneficiaries of that, I believe in some realms and other realms, maybe not so great, but certainly for Regenerative Medicine. And for Integrative Medicine, like with acupuncture. The veterinary world has benefited greatly.

Adam Snow  32:58

And you mentioned humans, but think about the diagnostic advantages of dealing with an animal that can’t tell you where they hurt. And that’s really, really interesting to see how some pressure points show up and correlate to, you know, pain and a right ankle or whatever it may be.

Minter Dial  33:19

So there’s like, I wouldn’t we look at a human being there’s heat spots, you can sort of sometimes feel the heat of an infection or something. So, part of what you’re doing is also trying to understand where the problems are, obviously, you can’t sort of say, where do you hurt? They live, but it makes it a little bit more obvious. But do you also have to sort of feel the animal you’re I mean, not just obviously the through the muscles, but Do you also think about the heat coming off?

Shelley Onderdonk  33:49

Yeah, I mean, that’s part of what I do is a physical examination is so much more thorough than what either a normal bat for certainly than a human physician would ever do. Because your hands are on the animal. And you also as far as horses since I do a lot of sport horses, you have to develop a really good eye as far as watching the horses move as well. And so, the diagnostic skills are of a different type and you know, much more just at a deeper level.

Minter Dial  34:36

Something I picked up, and this is relevant for me when I get my massages, is when I have someone give me a massage, usually therapeutic massage, they’ll keep a hand on me, even if they’re sort of getting something. The way I equated with that, what you do is you say when you didn’t want to leave their space. Does that also mean leave a hand on them or just being in the space is enough.

Shelley Onderdonk  35:05

So, it’s interesting. I think, as with humans, too, like we can feel often energy if the hand is just hovering right over your space. So, and it’s also with horses more of an intention, like it just happened to me. other day, I was treating a horse and I was finished. And I was walking away back to my truck to get my book that I, you know, I write my things down in, and the horse followed me. And I felt so bad because I was like, Oh, I forgot to like, do my proper, like, I usually face them, and put my hand on their head, and I’ll take my first few steps backwards to kind of just let them know, like, No, you’re staying there. I’m leaving now. And although she’s a really good example of I forgot. So, he followed me, you know? Um, and I mean, I realized he was following me after just a couple steps, you know, so it’s not like he walked across the yard or anything. But anyways. So, that’s just but yes, it’s very much the same idea. But I consider it sort of, I mean, I do think that there is a physiological part of it, but I really feel like it’s more just like a courtesy. You know, it’s acknowledging that the horse is allowing you into their space. And they deserve to know, you know, that I’m kind of there, or I’m not there.

Minter Dial  36:39

In, we’re talking about a relationship with horses, a lot of my conversations typically, route most recently, or relationships with machines. And in the world of the lie operating with AI, there’s a term we, we talk about anthropomorphizing machines, making them rendering them human. What part of the conversation for you as well, to what extent are you trying to not think of the horse as a human? Or how do you how do you not think of them as human because they have such human eyes?

Adam Snow  37:22

One of the things that we wrote about in the book is that German term umwelt. You remember that? It’s a German philosopher who came up with this term. And every creature has its own sensory bubble of perception. And, you know, a tick is scenting for mammalian blood and probably isn’t aware of other sensory input or doesn’t care about it. And we as humans think we know everything, but we don’t. But we do have the ability to consider things from another creature’s perspective. And Shelley, and I feel like considering a horses umwelt is hugely important in our relationship with them. I’ve actually come to find that rather than anthropomorphizing the horses. I feel like some of their sensitivities and preferences are our preferences. So, I’m like, we’re more like horses in that we like social, we like to know we have safety, we like to know we have food. And some of their priorities aren’t that different from our own priorities. Now they are, you know, in the wild prey animals. So, a lot of natural horsemanship is dealing with the flight and fright response. Maybe the humans don’t have that hanging over our heads. But I don’t think I’m at risk of anthropomorphizing them. I think I’m taking lessons from them that can be applied to me as a human being.

Minter Dial  39:02

And well, we ought to also another area that you talk about in the book, which got my attention was about drugs. Of course, I start with humans and the pharmaceutical industry and the way antibiotics are kind of everywhere. It seems surely you lead with this idea of trying to avoid too many drugs, or at least give it as late as possible when it came to antibiotics. No steroids! Use prevention as best as possible. Is that something that you bring into your personal lives as well? Or is that just limited to the way you deal with horses?

Shelley Onderdonk  39:43

It’s definitely part of my personal life as well. Yes. Which is not to say that I am at all anti medicine or anti science. I’m very much pro science and pro medicine. I just believe that Really good. Science means looking at the whole picture and really analyzing the pros and cons and having a long-term focus. So, and then, of course, you mentioned prevention is the most important thing. So, you know, public health is really an important area.

Minter Dial  40:30

But we could bring a little bit more of that into our human medical sphere, this idea of prevention. My therapist, called Matt, and I go see him even when I have no issues. And for the Chinese, of course, it’s obviously their path. And acupuncture leads into that somehow, it feels like we could do so much more in our human medical state, especially in the West, to think more about prevention, less drugs, Adam?

Adam Snow  40:59

Absolutely. And I mean, when I was in season and Shelley was traveling with me, she would check the horses after every game once a week, whether they’re sound or not. And I think most players are only calling a veterinarian when there’s a lameness or specific issue to be dealt with, or they’re trying to get a performance enhancing boost. Which I have a had much success with, largely due to Shelley’s influence that probably prioritizing the long-term health of the horse I think, is the way to go. I think it’s win wins because you have longer career for the horse and you’re not risking things like putting steroids in a joint where I tell one story about losing a horse because of an injection with septic and that’s something we’re doing on our farm now is trying to go as natural as possible when faced with you know, invasive versus natural decisions. Right now, I’m playing my horses barefoot for example, which is a little bit cutting edge. But we’ve both learned to trim our horses barefoot. We have nice sandy soil in Aiken, and so far, knock on wood they’re holding up great playing barefoot, which is obviously the way they are out and out in the natural prairie.

Minter Dial  42:26

Well, for listeners, I raised my eyebrows because I was wondering if you were playing barefoot in the stirrups. Know what you’re talking! It was about the horse!

Adam Snow  42:38

I’m not quite like that. “Au naturel.” Yeah.

Minter Dial  42:44

Sort of lost area of intrigue is generally horse racing. Like the pharmaceutical industry, it can have a bad taint. We talk about performance enhancement. And there’s a whole lot of bad press as far as I understand it, bad press with regard to the way horses are treated, they can’t speak back and the story of Seabiscuit comes to mind because I fell in love with the story of Seabiscuit. It was a great way to get into understanding. So, I was wondering what your experience was and how what did you retain from that story? Is that something that you carry with the positive bent?

Adam Snow  43:30

So, I read Seabiscuit it was quite a while ago. I remember he was a retired polo pony. But I think that our book is coming out at a good time when racing is facing a lot of time in the spotlight for some of its dubious horse care practices. And I think that there will be changes made. But one thing that Shelley says in the book is we were asked a question in a newspaper interview about what do horses get out of competing in a polo match or eventing on the event course and one could even say racing in the Kentucky Derby or in a lower level race. And Shelley’s response I really liked I can’t remember it verbatim, but it’s that you can’t tell me that feeding a horse well training it properly. And allowing it to compete or perform at a high level of something that is in its wheelhouse at an appropriate level does not make the horse feel good. And I think she is right in that context. And I would defend competing horses with an ethical attitude. The problem with racing in my opinion In our opinion is they’re racing them a year younger than they should be. In the United States, they’re racing two-year-olds when their bones are not fully formed. And there’s a real problem that surely can get into more detail about the responsibility for what happens after their racing careers.

Shelley Onderdonk  45:20

And, yeah, horse welfare really needs to be a birth to death. overlook, you know, and we get caught up because, oh, there’s a three or four-year-old racehorse that dies on the track. Well, for that one incident, there’s 1000 horses, probably that are, you know, sort of abused maltreated sent to the slaughterhouse, or, or whatever.

Adam Snow  45:48

So they’re after their utility. There’s a

Shelley Onderdonk  45:49

lot of welfare issues around all horse sports, there’s no question about that. And this idea of social license of what the public perceives to be acceptable for the use of horses is getting narrower and narrower. And so, all equestrian sports are reckoning with us. But I really, I really do feel like I am a big supporter of horse sports, if they’re done well, they need to be regulated, they need to be not money driven. And they need to have the horse welfare first and foremost, and a lot of that has to do with the entire lifespan of the horse. And on our way of thinking about it. A lot of that has to do with trying to keep things as natural as possible for horses and horses need to have, at some points in their life, they really need to have access to large pastures and pasture mates and be able to live what for them is a semblance of a normal, natural life. With periods obviously have perhaps intense competitions. Kind of sprinkled in

Minter Dial  47:18

there. Well, as you say, in your book that it seems like the overriding message was performance can come with welfare.

Adam Snow  47:26

Yes, exactly. Yes. And the other thing

Minter Dial  47:29

That feels like what comes out of our conversation here is this notion of long-term-ness. You talk about a cradle-to-grave sort of approach. And just ringing back to the way we live our lives, it seems there’s so much more short term-ness, get it all there. And then you know, like, you’re, you’re a professional athlete, that’s the only thing that counts. And then when you retire, you’re screwed. You have no more identity. If you have a longer-term approach to prevention, it’s part of life cycle. You get so much more out of it.

Adam Snow  48:08

And I guess that’s our hope with this book, because we’re talking about our philosophy. And if we can help some horses and help some riders through them reading it, becoming acquainted with it, it’s another win-win.

Minter Dial  48:24

So just to finish, then. You guys are in Aiken, South Carolina. You have your own horses. People who are listening to this who know about horses, who have horses, can they come and get a class from you? Read the book, of course. But do you have other ways of helping others to understand your approach? How do you get the word out there?

Shelley Onderdonk  48:50

Yeah, our website is We have organized clinics in the past we don’t have any on the docket in the immediate future, but we would be open to doing that.

Minter Dial  49:03

And for the future, you have more horses, polo horses? What are you trying to groom for the future?

Adam Snow  49:17

As far as the horses that I am playing, I’m the beneficiary of the 10 years that we breed at horses and that I have really a great string of horses, six of which were hundreds out of the best mares that I played that were winning the US Open, best playing pony prizes and stuff, and I’m getting to play their offspring which we trained together. It’s a real luxury we kind of said these ones are too special to sell and they’re going to retire with me, as I continue to enjoy playing them and exhibitions and coaching League and programs and areas in spring and fall here on the farm and in the area and acre. Although I am playing a Yale alumni game against UVA on September 9 in Long Island!

Minter Dial  50:10

Go blue, go blue. And are you going to be riding your own horses?

Adam Snow  50:17

I’m not going to be riding my own horses, other than one that I donated to Yale. We donated, I don’t know, eight years ago, Wind River is going to make an appearance. So, he was bred on this farm. And we donated into Yale, we had too many homebred geldings, we donated him. Yeah, so I’m gonna be playing one that was raised here.

Minter Dial  50:43

Brilliant. I also noted how you loved naming horses is another privilege you have. So, Shelley, and Adam, thank you so much for coming on. The name of your book is “Winning with Horses.” What’s the best way to get the book? And is it going to be available in other countries?

Shelley Onderdonk  51:01

Yes, so it’s on Amazon. It’s also on from our publisher. And please do leave a review for us if you purchase it from Amazon and really appreciate that. And it will be available in the UK, and I believe Australia and New Zealand in September…

Minter Dial  51:20


Shelley Onderdonk  51:22

via Quiller who is the publisher, but I think on Amazon as well.

Minter Dial  51:29

Sure. Such as Lovely. Hey guys, Big kisses. Thanks for coming on the show. Thanks for having listened to this episode of the Minter Dialogue podcast. If you liked the show, if you’d like to support me, please consider a donation on You can also subscribe on your favorite podcast service and as ever, rating and reviews are the real currency for podcasts. You’ll find the show notes with over 2000 and more blog posts on Check out my documentary film and four books including my last one, “You Lead, How being yourself makes you a better leader.” And to finish here’s a song I wrote Stephanie Singer, “A Convinced Man.”

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Music credit: The jingle at the beginning of the show is courtesy of my friend, Pierre Journel, author of the Guitar Channel. And, the new sign-off music is “A Convinced Man,” a song I co-wrote and recorded with Stephanie Singer back in the late 1980s (please excuse the quality of the sound!).

Minter Dial

Minter Dial is an international professional speaker, author & consultant on Leadership, Branding and Transformation. After a successful international career at L’Oréal, Minter Dial returned to his entrepreneurial roots and has spent the last twelve years helping senior management teams and Boards to adapt to the new exigencies of the digitally enhanced marketplace. He has worked with world-class organisations to help activate their brand strategies, and figure out how best to integrate new technologies, digital tools, devices and platforms. Above all, Minter works to catalyse a change in mindset and dial up transformation. Minter received his BA in Trilingual Literature from Yale University (1987) and gained his MBA at INSEAD, Fontainebleau (1993). He’s author of four award-winning books, including Heartificial Empathy, Putting Heart into Business and Artificial Intelligence (2nd edition) (2023); You Lead, How Being Yourself Makes You A Better Leader (Kogan Page 2021); co-author of Futureproof, How To Get Your Business Ready For The Next Disruption (Pearson 2017); and author of The Last Ring Home (Myndset Press 2016), a book and documentary film, both of which have won awards and critical acclaim.

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