A conversation with Karen Haglof


    We spoke with Karen Haglof about the musculature of horses, why horses are not machines, why horses no longer fight in war and why horses can be our teachers.

    I think horses are the most majestically beautiful and otherworldly creatures ever seen in nature. They can be both wise and fearful, companionable and unpredictable.


    Morgan Enos

    You stepped away from music for some time to earn your medical degree and work in the hematology/oncology department at NYU. How did this come about? Was it just your natural curiosity that led you away from the stage and studio and into understanding our mysterious natural processes?

    Karen Haglof

    Answering that backwards, I was drawn to our mysterious natural (and less natural) processes from an early age, thinking in grade school I might be a scientist or veterinarian. But then science and math got beat out of me for a while; such was junior high in those days. It took a long time to get back to that interest, partly driven by being a pragmatic type and needing to make a living and realizing music, although fabulous and fun, was not going to be a viable living for me in my thirties — and the restaurant career I had was not the career I chose, but took on out of the need to pay rent. Not that I don’t also enjoy knowing I can still make eggs and pancakes better than pretty much anyone.

    So, I went back to finish college in my thirties, and then realized medicine might fit my nature. I like nerdy topics, and as it turns out, I like trying to explain blood components to people. So, medicine feels like the right place for me to be, and I am very proud to be an NYU doc. After years of immersion in medicine, however, I needed to reclaim some outside interests, and music came back — first gradually, and then with a vengeance. Now, I can’t believe I stopped playing music, but it is very different now, as I work on my own material now, which I never really done before.


    Your new album Palomino Steady Rocking is purely about horses. Between the mythology, their biology and their real-world applications throughout history, so many aspects of horses are staggering and majestic from a human standpoint. What do you have to say about the musculature or other physical components of the horse?

    I think horses are the most majestically beautiful and otherworldly creatures ever seen in nature. They can be confounding; both wise and fearful, companionable and unpredictable. They have tremendous personalities and inspire joy, but can put you face-to-face with your insecurities and fears in trying to be a good riding partner and leader for them. Purely from a physical standpoint, I love their soft muzzles and flaring nostrils and the rippling shoulder muscles and shape of their legs and stamping hooves. Nothing looks as great as a galloping horse.


    Just from your own imagination or prior historical understanding, quickly describe to me why you believe horses are no longer used in battle.

    Modern-day battle has become less about face-to-face, hand-to-hand or having a horse under you to put themselves up in defense while you try to bash an enemy in close contact. Battle now seems more about surgical strikes and drone-directed specific attacks and less running with the cavalry across the plains.

    I bet the living upkeep in fuel and care is more than that of modern war machinery. I don’t know that for sure, having not done any calculations on the matter. But, I think there are still horse warriors in tribal wars in remote areas.

    Even on a well-broke horse, you have to keep in mind it is not a machine and will react as its brain tells it to. Riding is not a passive endeavor.


    Please describe the last breakfast you ate in as much detail as possible.

    The last breakfast I ate was this morning in my office and is unfortunately the same nearly every day in the office. A deli fruit and yogurt/ice smoothie, mainly strawberries and bananas, no kiwi as I am allergic, about a 12oz drink slurped through a straw while going over paperwork and planning my work day. This morning, it arrived on my desk at about 8:15 and I worked on it until 9:30ish. I will add that some days, I have a second breakfast of eggs over hard on a toasted roll with butter and ketchup at around 10:30, but that did not happen this morning.


    Is there hope for the planet and our geopolitical systems?

    I am an odd combination of optimist and cynic about human nature and motivation. In these matters, I always think yes, but probably not.


    When was the last time you breathed fresh air?

    Sunday, July 22, 2018, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, walking the tarmac to board a flight back to NYC from summer horse riding break.

    I was standing next to a dark red polo pony and watching it tear grass and munch it down right next to my feet, and feeling awe akin to joy.


    I’ve never ridden horses. Is there much actual physical danger involved in riding a well-broke horse? What psychological rewards do you experience while riding?

    There can be danger. No horse is 100% bomb-proof. They have their own brains, and as they are descended from prey animals, their first reaction to uncertainty is to startle and run away. Some horses are more edgy this way. Horses can be quirky about these things, and an unfamiliar rock can create panic. Even on a well-broke horse, you have to keep in mind it is not a machine and will react as its brain tells it to, so riding is not a passive endeavor.

    I have been booted off well-broke horses because I wasn’t paying good enough attention, to my chagrin — as in “Ode to Bon Jovi” on the EP. That is not to scare you into thinking that gentle trail riding is overly dangerous if you are properly aware! And I’ve seen more uneventful trail rides than not. I am pretty safety-conscious, and I always wear a helmet. The psychological rewards can include conquering fear if you have had a bad horse experience and trying to move past it. There is satisfaction and accomplishment in mastering riding techniques and feeling bonded with your horse. I feel exhilarated and alive after riding out in nature, and that is reward enough.


    Have you ever visited a location that seemed utterly untouched by humans, or lacked evidence humans had even been near it?

    The Boundary Waters National Park in northern Minnesota around 1970. I was on a canoe trip with a bunch of other early teens, two in a canoe, paddling front and back. It was quiet and green, all pine forests and moose and deer and loons, Canada across the lakes. Our little group of eight in four canoes, gliding through clear lakes that you could scoop water out of to drink at any point. Camping and portaging to the next lake over a short stretch of woods and never running into another group for days. However, these areas were interspersed with non-park lakes full of other canoers and motorboats, and in the larger lakes, pretty big boats, so civilization loomed.


    Finally, please describe the first moment of unfettered joy you remember experiencing as a child.

    Unfettered. Thinking to very early days, it might be when my dad took us kids when I was probably 5, to watch a polo match in St. Paul, Minnesota. During the breaks, I was standing next to a dark red polo pony and watching it tear grass and munch it down right next to my feet, and feeling awe akin to joy. But that might come to mind just because I’m thinking a lot about horses these days.

    Thank you.


    Conversation: 231
    Curated by: Morgan Enos
    Conducted by: Email
    Published: December 5, 2018
    Total questions: 9
    Word count: 1206
    Reading time: Four minutes
    Hyperlinks: 2




    About the subject

    Karen Haglof is a musician and doctor who formerly performed in Band of Susans. She practices in the herpatology/oncology department at NYU.

    About the curator

    Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.

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