Thursday, May 16, 2019
Some things are too important for subtle hints and polite suggestions. This is one of those things. Trauma has always been with us but it is only in the recent past that we have begun to remotely understand the impact that trauma has on human health and happiness.
We are entering our seventh year of providing weekly session for those who are in the inpatient PTSD program at our local Veterans Hospital. We use horses to help participants understand the impact that severe trauma can have on one's reaction to a variety of stimuli.
In short, humans and other large mammal predators share many common body language cues and, more importantly. share a strong drive for autonomy. Severely traumatized people and prey animals who live in herds often share many common body language cues and, more importantly, share a strong need for security.
While a focal point of the sessions is communication and understanding the extreme need for security a secondary point is nearly as important-- using the horse to learn to regain the ability to trust.
Let me be blunt. For over twenty years I have been prosecuting sexual assault, molestation cases, and crimes against children. I have taken on much of the trauma that the victims relive throughout the process. My parents were among the earliest members of our local volunteer rescue squad. I understand what first responders often find when they respond to a call. We have a very small office and I work very closely with law enforcement. I know the toll that some of these cases take on them.
We offer free hands on sessions for first responders who are working their way through the trauma that their jobs bring upon them. Don't worry if you are afraid of large animals--in fact that will make the session even better. Don't worry if you don't know how to ride--there is no riding involved.
Most of all, don't get in your head that this must be some kind of touchy-feely kind of thing where we all get together and learn to cry while holding each other's hand. NO--that is not how this works.
Look at the picture above this post. That is me and my bull. Do I look touchy or feely to you?
We are located in Smithfield Virginia. We are delighted to set up a session for first responders. I have participated in many of these sessions. They matter. They matter so much that we don't charge a penny for them.
To schedule a session send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, April 21, 2019
Tornado did not touch us, though I hear that one landed down the road. Heavy rain-woods so full of water that much of the first half of a mile on the afternoon ride in the woods was in water, mud and mire.
But the trees were green and the grass was pushing through the soil--Terry's mounted Easter Egg Hunt was the biggest that we have had since its inception several years ago--plastic eggs hanging from trees-candy, horse treats, special surprises in select eggs.
Nick, the oldest animal born here--a donkey whose mother was captured wild in California--the same one ridden countless miles by Lido, who referred to him as his "very fine quine" ,out on his first mounted Easter egg hunt--He and Jenner make a great team--Kate wanted to ride a horse for the hunt--even "reserved" one--Her regular ride, Belle, a white gaited mule, could be a bit head strong--when I looked up she was bringing Belle up to the tack shed
Kate leading her along-"Uh, you know, she just really wanted to be ridden today." Grown ups hanging eggs from trees--having as much fun as the kids
New riding lesson program began today--Back in the Saddle Program--Jackie teaching skills to adults who may have not ridden for years--learning new skills, relearning old ones--building confidence
Two Spanish goat doelings went to a new home yesterday--no new Marsh Tacky Foal yet--the foal may be the first Marsh Tacky foal bred in Virginia in a century or two--families in the saddle--my wife and I and our granddaughter--all of the Thomas family-Lisa and her three daughters
Lydia brought out four guests toward the of the day--they were interested in the role that horses can play in healing emotional pain--gave rather lengthy demonstration using Joey, a beautiful pinto colored Choctaw.
And every bit of this was done without a single paid staff person. Everyone in our program is a volunteer. Read those two sentences one more time--think about what it means--programs like this bring a lot of light into dark worlds and they can be carried out anywhere there are horses and people.
And in the 13th hour that I had been out to the horse lot yesterday my granddaughter and I planted a chestnut tree.
The roots of our program began nearly 20 years ago----want to be around long enough so that one day people riding Colonial Spanish mustangs will watch that tree die of old age.
For the long haul-we are in for the very long haul.
Tuesday, April 16, 2019
- Three or four years ago I placed an old hot tub into the ground so that the top was at ground level to give the area the benefit of the of the ground heat during winter. Initially I put around 1000 pounds of horse manure in the hot tub along with 3,000 red wigglers. We added a bit of coffee grounds and some manure from several other livestock species to increase microbial diversity. Then we left it alone--no other care or feeding considerations.
- When the manure is completely transformed into soil we began top dressing areas of the pasture with it. We were adding perhaps another 1000 pounds of manure every eight to ten weeks to the old hot tub. Ninety nine percent of the manure is left alone in the pastures. Eventually the microbes in the soil, dung beetles and escaped, free ranging worms began to convert the manure to soil fast enough.
- The worm population has radiated outward from the old hot tub into adjacent paddocks and the soil in those areas is so filled with worms that on many mornings it is impossible to put your hand on the ground without covering several piles of castings. Our stallions stay in smaller pens and leave large stud piles. We have begun experimenting by simply concentrating the stud piles and putting 1000 red wigglers in them in hopes that they will colonize those paddocks.
- Lastly, we have begun using old 35 gallon water tanks to grow wild night crawlers which we recover from areas around the chickens and rabbits to consume cow manure. We recently put a large batch of this mixture in a hugelkulture mound. We work to keep the nutrients in the pastures and paddocks instead of removing them or allowing them to be taken away by rainwater. The best side benefit that we get is a radical reduction in mud as the worms help the soil absorb rain water.
We have recently began to use some heavy equipment for the first time in our soil and water conservation projects and have constructed berms and small retention ponds to radically reduce runoff from the new land. Over the weekend we had two very heavy rains. We kept many thousands of gallons of water on the land instead of allowing it to become run off.
If we had a third of the horses that we have our pastures would be optimal. But a breed conservation program that seeks to preserve nearly extinct strains of Corollas, Choctaws, Marsh Tackys along with other breeds of heritage livestock must maintain a sufficiently large breeding herd to make a meaningful impact on that purpose.
So we work with what we have--and we work very hard at it. Conserving soil and water is tremendously rewarding. I do not think of our livestock as pets, but the soil has become my "pet."
Sunday, April 14, 2019
I want program participants to learn not only from my mistakes, but also from my experience as a whole. The most important team effort that we have ever had at the horse lot is the clearing of the New Land. The picture above shows what the New Land looked like after a year of clearing. A lot of people put tremendous effort into getting the nearly twenty acres cleared.
Knowing what I know now, the job would have been easier, and much faster, if our first step had been to fence in small sections of the brush and put the goats to work clearing the land.
The next step would have been to fence in smaller sections and let the hogs do their job clearing the land.
After that was done it would be time to step in with the chain saw.
But herein lies the beauty of learning. Their is no statue of limitations on applying life's lessons. An ocean of poison ivy had kept me out of a thicket of perhaps two acres on the new land. I had not studied it at all. Last week I walked through and found five volunteer pecan trees in the small grove of primarily ash trees. Our livestock will clear this area for us. I will gradually remove nearly all of the trees in the area and replace them with nut and fruit producing trees. I will leave the mimosa trees because they are legumes and they work hard to build a powerful network of nitrogen fixing bacteria under the soil.
Our Scottish Highland are great browsers and giving them access to the areas being cleared not only will bring in manure to enrich the soil but will also bring in soil building microbes from their saliva.
The resulting food forest will be a boon to wildlife and will be a spectacular classroom for programs on twenty years into the future.
We are in this for the long haul.
Friday, April 5, 2019
The first post in this series dealt with several nuts and bolts, business considerations to keep in mind when working to build a riding program. There are many resources out there that can provide more detailed information on those considerations. This post will deal with matters that are not easy to google.
What I will set out below will be of little use to most people. Some will think it odd. Some might even be offended by it. Some might think it sanctimonious or even self righteous.
It is neither. It is blunt and simply lays out my core beliefs without apology or sugar coating.
Teaching riding and natural horsemanship should not be an occupation. It should be a calling. It should not be a calling to teach spoiled little rich white girls how to win ribbons. It should be a calling to radically improve the quality of the lives of riding students and their horses.
The building of a riding program works best if done as an entirely selfless venture. An ethical system that seeks, as an ultimate goal, the complete abandonment of self interest is completely wrong headed. Disregard of self interest cannot be the goal of an ethical life. It must, instead, be the beginning--the very first step to living an ethical life.
To do so is liberating. It allows one to work very hard , seven days a week, for years on end. Most importantly, it allows one to teach by example. Kids learn best that which they see and experience consistently.
Disregarding self interest is financially liberating. Doing so frees up a tremendous amount of money that one might otherwise spend on one's self. Eventually one can even reach the point of avoiding the use of the filthiest four letter work in our language--"mine". (I generally only use that word as an accounting classification so that everyone understands that program funds were not used to acquire certain assets, e.g. the cattle are "mine" in the sense that they were not purchased with program funds.)
Disregarding self interest is physically liberating. It allows one to get work done regardless of whether one is sick or injured. This is particularly important as one gets older. Pain is a near constant companion the closer one gets to the end of the game. Being able to disregard that pain allows one to accomplish as much at age sixty as one could at age forty.
Lastly, and most ironically, disregarding self interest can be the most self rewarding thing that one can do for one's self. Instead of spending life chasing meaningless frivolities like "happiness" one can obtain a life of meaning and satisfaction.
I did not begin this pilgrimage with this understanding. I started out doing clinics on the taming of wild horses and when people saw Lido working with me they asked if I could teach their child to ride.
The experience of working horses in the round pen and teaching kids that they could do more than they ever thought possible taught me what matters in life. Seeing victims of extraordinary physical and sexual abuse jump out from the dark corner that their mind had always lived in taught me what matters in life. Seeing the impact that the horses have on those who are in the inpatient PTSD program at the local Veterans Hospital taught me what matters in life.
Ashley Edwards taught me what matters in life.
And Lydia Barr's typically profound and simple statement taught me what matters in life.
She said, "The horses are important but the people matter most."