Thursday, March 23, 2017

Making Colonial Spanish Horse Preservation Work

The brunt of the work of breed conservation that we have done over the years is embodied in the Corolla offsite breeding program that we began. This effort, which seeks to place Corollas in the hands of families that will agree to breed a small number of foals and seek to place them in the hands of other breeders who will do the same, has been successful on a small scale.

Of course, we are a 501 (c) 5 non profit breed conservation program so strategic decisions may be made with a focus on effectiveness instead of profit. At the same time, funds are limited so strategies for preventing the extinction of the Corollas cannot be made without considering our long term viability as an organization.

In looking at the future of our  program I have several factors to consider. I have to look at our assets:

The diversity of our Colonial Spanish horse strains that we seek to preserve and promote. Although our primary emphasis is on the Corollas, we also work to preserve and promote Choctaws, Grand Canyons, Marsh Tacky's, and Galicenos, 

Our unique physical environment.  We demonstrate the effectiveness of natural horse care. We demonstrate proper use of the round pen. Our obstacle course that we use to build horse and rider confidence, the Amusement Park, is a tremendous asset. The colonial livestock that wander around the horse lot put our horses in their proper historical setting. All of this  sits alongside our replica 1650's era settler's farm.

Our capacity to provide entertaining educational programs. Our round pen demos are first rate and often have large segments of them presented by people who not only are too young to drive, but only recently became too old to order off of the children's menu. We have done living history programs and have had many speakers come in and present extraordinary programs for our riders. As we get more into use of permaculture techniques we have an interesting environmental story to tell. Lastly, our unique music program that teaches ancient songs being played on ancient, and often homemade, instruments allows us to do programs that not only are tremendous fun, but provide significant cultural education.

Our capacity to produce foals for Corolla preservation is unique in the nation. We have assembled a sufficient foundation herd of Corollas along with closely related strains for strain crossing which will provide genetic diversity to breed for many generations to come.  The result will be larger Corollas--not tall and without type--but taller than they are in the wild. Doing so will reduce a significant part of the resistance to these horses--the belief that they are too small to be ridden by adult.

 Go to our website and make a contribution today. We are a 501 (c) 5 non-profit breed conservation program and as such contributions are not tax deductible. We are in our ninth  day of our month long social media fundraising effort. Feel free to share this with everyone that you know who cares about horses and people.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Croatoan: My First Ride On A Corolla In The Woods

Croatoan had to be removed from the wild because he was consistently leaving the safer areas of Corova and heading out into the paved road area of Corolla where he stood a great chance of getting killed by an automobile. He was an older horse when he came to us, likely well over ten years old. When captured he was a bit thin and his prominent pin bones made him look even thinner.

Although he was an older stallion, he gentled quickly. He came to us when the weather was cold and by fall he was being ridden by intermediate riders. He was 13.2 (tall for a wild Corolla)and peaked out around 800 pounds.

He was gaited.

I had been around horses all of my life, but I do not believe that I had ever been on a gaited horse. I had watched Tennessee Walkers glide and I had watched Paso Finos smoothly tap dance their way across arenas. The gaitedness of the Corollas and Shacklefords is not as obvious to the eye as are the gaits of modern gaited horses. Instead of trotting with a motion that keeps two feet on the ground at all times, the Corollas will delay, often only by a fraction of a second, the lifting of a hind leg. This "single footing" means that one hoof is on the ground at all times. Being Colonial Spanish horses, they have tremendous reach with the back legs, often over striding the front.

After he was completely responsive to his bosal and strong and healthy I took him out for his first long ride in the woods. I planned to keep it very slow to give him a chance to learn to balance a rider while being distracted, and stimulated by all the sights and sounds around him.

Of course, he was an older horse, and while he was in good shape he had not been conditioned by the many miles of being ridden in the woods that the other horses along on the ride had enjoyed. In addition, he was carrying a significant load on his back as I eased into the saddle.

We set out on a sunny Saturday morning. I had about ten riders behind me, all but one riding horses that we had trained here ourselves. We walked for about the first mile and three quarters. Then I asked him to trot.

I was not prepared for what I felt. He moved out from under me with such power and grace that I seemed to be floating through the woods. The faster he moved, the smoother he became.  As I settled in and relaxed I realized that we were not cantering. Nor were we trotting. We were like a sail boat on still waters with a good breeze.

I had never felt like that in a saddle. I felt like I could do this for a hundred miles. More importantly, he seemed like he could do this for a hundred miles. Further and faster--never asking him to speed up after the initial request to trot--he chose the speed. And the speed he chose was quite fast.

And then the biggest shock occurred. I looked behind me to see all of the other horses cantering to keep up.

And they were failing to do so. We were pulling away from the younger, well trained and often ridden horses that followed us.

How could I hope for anything more in a horse? How could I possibly let these horses go extinct? Their future in the wild seems quite bleak--little more than a hundred left with only one line of matrimonial dna and signs of genetic collapse already appearing.

And we bred him to Baton Rouge a formerly wild Corolla mare. Mokete, their foal, was the first foal produced in what became our offsite breeding program.  He lived a long and happy life with us and passed on a few years ago. Today his lines still run through our program. His last daughter, Bloody Knife, is nearly two years old and loving her life in North Carolina.

I believe that today is his grandson, Ponchos, second birthday.

He lives on in Kay Kerr's award winning children's book, "Corolla's Sand Horse Beach: Croatoan's Memoirs."

And every day that I go out to the horse lot I am reminded of that feeling that first came to me as I sailed along on Croaotan--a sense of responsibility--I can't let these horses go extinct.

And neither can you.

Go to our website and make a contribution today. We are a 501 (c) 5 non-profit breed conservation program and as such contributions are not tax deductible. We are in our eighth day of our month long social media fundraising effort. Feel free to share this with everyone that you know who cares about horses and people.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Off Site Corolla Breeding Program: Keeping Hope Alive

The Banker strain of Colonial Spanish Horse is nearly extinct. These historic horses descend from those brought to the southeast by the earliest Spanish explorers in the 1500's. Life on the Outer Banks of North Carolina isolated them from the influence of other breeds. In the 18th century "Chickasaw Horses",(a term for Spanish horses who were bred by the Indians of the southeast) were introduced to the area along with a smaller version of the Banker,called the "Seminole Pony".

In the early 20th Century over five thousand wild Bankers ran free on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Today only two herds remain, the Corollas and the Shacklefords, totaling less than three hundred wild horses in all.

Mill Swamp Indian Horses is a program of Gwaltney Frontier Farm, Inc, a 501 (c) 5 breed conservation nonprofit organization in Smithfield Virginia. We are all volunteers with no paid staff. See our website at and take a look at our Mill Swamp Indian Horses group face book page for more information on our program.

One of our most important goals is to promote the development of additional off site breeding facilities for these historic horses. The development program is simple. If one acquires a colt from our program one agrees that he is never to be gelded and will be made available for breeding at no cost to other mares in the offsite breeding program. If one obtains a filly from our program one agrees to seek, over the lifetime of the horse, to produce at least four foals from a stallion in the program and to seek to place any foals that they do not keep with another breeder who will agree to the same terms for that foal.

Under the appropriate circumstances we might even be able to donate adult horses to someone interested in setting up an offsite breeding program. All off spring produced by the program are to be registered with the Horse of The Americas Registry.

The Corollas have been reduced in number to the degree that they face genetic collapse and sterility. For that reason we are bringing genetics back into these horses that have been lost over the years. No modern breeds of horses are used in the program. To build our breeding foundation we breed Corollas to other Bankers from the Island of Shackleford. We are also beginning to breed Choctaws to the Corollas. Eventually I want to bring in some Marsh Tacky lines. Stepping outside the box a bit, we are also bringing in a line of Grand Canyon Colonial Spanish Horses that descend from Barbed Wire who is shown in the top picture. He is phenotypically more similar to Bankers than any other Colonial Spanish Horse strain that I have seen.

The off spring of these horses provide the foundation stock who are then bred to pure Corollas. Out crosses are kept to a minimum as the program develops.

Over the years we have placed horses in the breeding program in a handful of other sites. We now have sufficient diversity in our breeding foundation to work to aggressively expand the program. Last summer we produced a beautiful colt and a flashy filly. Both are now owned by pople who will use them to preserve the strain for years to come.

Last spring and fall we made the following crosses:
1. Two Corolla/Choctaw crosses with two different Corolla stallions
2. Two Grand Canyon/Corolla crosses.
3. One Shackeleford/Corolla cross.

So in 2017 we will likely have at least five foals produced for the program. Don't make this a last minute, hasty decision. Begin to consider no whether you would like to reserve one of these foals and begin to develop a small scale, affordable program to help prevent the extinction of the Corollas.

You will not get rich doing this. You likely will not break even. But you will be part of the effort to save a line of extraordinary horses.

Contact us at for more information.

And you can be part of this effort. Go to our website and make a contribution today. We are a 501 (c) 5 non-profit breed conservation program and as such contributions are not tax deductible. We are in our seventh day of our month long social media fundraising effort. Feel free to share this with everyone that you know who cares about horses and people.

Monday, March 20, 2017

What Difference Do These Horses Make?

This came from one of our newer program participants.

"I feel moved to give my testimony, and trust me, as an empath, when I feel, I feel deeply! I reached out to Steve after reading an article about him and Ashley that also moved me in a very emotional way. I intended to thank him for what he did for her, explain how it touched my heart and why, and ask if there were any volunteer opportunities. I ended up writing him a lengthy email painting a picture of my own abuse from my stepfather beginning at age 3, after my father died, and how it had led to my own struggle with Depression, Anxiety and Complex PTSD. I also told him of my very traumatic experience 20 years ago, working with horses as a barn manager, and trainer apprentice for a man I trusted, who later sexually assaulted me. Because of my great love of the horses and the fact that I then was only there alone on weekends, I stayed on, until I got thrown on labor day 1998, and broke my ankle. I wanted to let him know, short of pleading, how very much it would mean to me to have a new opportunity to be around these beautiful creatures and get a fresh start.

I have only been out 3 times, but there are no words to express the life-sustaining hope, strength, and inner peace it has given me. I have been inundated with more stressful situations than I can effectively handle since October, and it rendered me incapacitated and struggling to get out of bed.

I brought my 14 yr old daughter with me the first day, who also battles Anxiety. We watched as the veterans worked with the horses, and then the troubled boys. We listened as he taught. We helped gather logs to build the fence. The next time I brought my boyfriend, and along with a group of home-schooled children, we learned so much about the animals, their origins, the farm, what he's doing and why. It was the way he spoke with such passion that captivated our attention, and it made me sad to think of how much my daughter is being robbed of the things that really matter in public school. Before we left he talked about horse behavior and why they act the way they do. I almost cried when I heard him say that horses don't care about anything besides security, and are looking to be lead. I had a revelation about my own relationship with my daughter...  I had spent most of my life giving my power away, and have done so with her Dad, I had no confidence in myself or in leading her. She is just like the horses; fearful because she does not feel secure, sensing I am an incompetent leader, and it makes her angry. It has been an astonishing revelation! I knew then that I was going to forget everything I had been taught about horses and start over, and would apply what I learned to make me the strong leader my daughter needs me to be.

As I made the hour long drive on my 3rd trip, I thought about how coming here was the best therapy I'd ever had, and how it had given me new life; something I very much looked forward to every Friday. I never imagined I would be so lucky to go on my first trail ride! I felt like a giddy little child on a carousel, so intense and heartfelt my joy! It almost felt too wonderful for me. I haven't yet been able to express what I learned that day. Somehow, without words, I know it transformed me. It was truly one of the greatest gifts I'd ever been given.

Steve's generosity of spirit is huge, and I am delighted to have this opportunity to volunteer at this amazing place. Even more astounding is how deeply he touches everyone's lives who have the good fortune to be lead here. The benefits reaped cannot be measured in monetary value. My heart is full enough to burst."

 And you can be part of this effort. Go to our website and make a contribution today. We are a 501 (c) 5 non-profit breed conservation program and as such contributions are not tax deductible. We are in our sixth day of our month long social media fundraising effort. Feel free to share this with everyone that you know who cares about horses and people.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Education and Entertainment To Preserve Nearly Extinct Horses

In this special series of posts we are taking the time to explain our complex approach to conserving Colonial Spanish horse strains, primarily the Corollas from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, but also the Choctaws, Marsh Tackys, Grand Canyons and Shacklefords. So far we have talked about the off site breeding program, our PTSD program with the Hampton Veterans Hospital and our programming with Rivermont School.

And that is just the beginning of this discussion. The conventional prescription to try to save rare historic horses is to have them compete against modern breeds in horse shows and other competitive events. Regardless of the success of the Colonial Spanish Horses in these endeavors, that strategy by itself has produced limited results.

We believe that the best way to preserve these horses is to teach people to ride them. They can't ride them if they have never seen them and we work hard to attract people who are new to the horse world out to see these horses. We build a picture frame around the horses to put them in their proper historical context. We not only have the horses of early colonial Virginia, we have the goats, pigs, and even some chickens from that era.

And....we replicated a 1650's era farm site, complete with home, smokehouse, heirloom seed garden, tobacco barn, and a corn crib.

We use this setting to do occasional living history programs to show what life was like here in the early years and to help visitors understand how these Spanish horses fit into early colonial English America.

We want our visitors to understand that if their ancestors lived in the Southeast during the early to mid-Colonial era these were the horses they rode. These were the horses that pulled in their fish nets. These were the horses that pulled their wagons and plows. These were the horses that were ridden hard through the night to get a doctor for a sick child. And when it was all over, these were the horses that brought their simple caskets to the little church cemeteries.

These horses have been here for nearly five hundred years. We do not have the right to cause their extinction.

That is what everything else here revolves around--preserving these horses while working to improve the lives of those around us..

And you can be part of this effort. Go to our website and make a contribution today. We are a 501 (c) 5 non-profit breed conservation program and as such contributions are not tax deductible. We are in our fifth day of our month long social media fundraising effort. Feel free to share this with everyone that you know who cares about horses and people.