Monday, March 19, 2018

Virginia Agri-tourism Conference: Bringing Visitors To Your Farm

On March 22, 2018 I will be addressing the Virginia Agri-tourism Conference in Williamsburg. In November we presented a day long session at the horse lot for the annual meeting of the Livestock Breeds Conservancy on using entertainment, education, and public service to promote nearly extinct strains of Colonial Spanish horses.

The upcoming presentation will  highlight what we do at the horse lot in our unconventional approach to attract novices to riding and horse ownership. I will spend less time on how we do things than I will on why we do things.

Agri-tourism can bring additional revenue to farmers, but even more important is what it can bring to the visitors. It can bring meaning to the lives of the visitors. Our nation has not been as divided as we now are since the Civil War. Too many techno kids live lives trapped inside a smart phone or video games. Too many parents have no idea how to connect with their kids. Too many people struggle with depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

A renaissance of rural culture and cultural education, linked with a strong effort to expose urban and suburban families to the soil can help alleviate the emptiness of the soul felt by too many people. I know how much our program changes lives. I know how few of our participants are from rural families. I know what it does for them to exchange the fleeting pleasure of technology for the time worn satisfaction of hard work, production of livestock and crops, and development of the creativity to produce art and music.

Take a look at what goes on at the Wayne C. Henderson School of Appalachian Arts. Though there is not a horse at that facility, people who truly understand our program will readily see that much of what we provide to our visitors and program participants is the same connectedness that places like the Henderson School provide.

Virginia needs to facilitate the development of more programs that bring people out of the cities and suburbs to learn to apply the best of rural values to their lives.

And the visitors are not the only ones who benefit from these programs. Connecting with urban and suburban kids and families gives country people the opportunity to better understand the common humanity that we all share.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Mid Atlantic Teen Challenge:That They Might Have Life And Have It More Aboundantly

Last night I had a wonderful surprise. Mid-Atlantic Teen Challenge is a powerfully effective program that treats substance abuse in teenage boys. I was invited to their annual banquet and when Beth and I sat down at our table I noticed that the center piece included two photos of Teen Challenge participants with our horses. I looked around at the other tables and noticed that most of the center pieces included such pictures.

It took a while but eventually I noticed large poster sized photos of the boys with the horses or walking through the new land. During the wonderful meal some of the young men in the program came up and talked about their lives and the new life that they have received while living at Teen Challenge. It was a powerful presentation. It was uplifting and inspiring. Most of all it served as a reminder of what is possible and that hands are wasted when only used for wringing or throwing them up over one's head.

It was not just a reminder of what can be done, it was a call reminding us what must be done.

As it appeared that the program was wrapping up the boys were called up front. They stood there in a long line in front of the banquet tables. The executive director of Mid Atlantic Teen Challenge then began to talk about the boys' experiences coming out to the horse lot over the years. Most of all he talked about them learning about trust with the horses. Beth and I were then called up to the front where, to my surprise, our program was honored for its impact on the boys in the program.

I was more than pleased.

What good are these little horses? Why is all of this worth the hard work to preserve them? How much money are they worth? Is there a good market for them?

Our horses help give abundant life. It's hard to convert that to money.

I hope that in future years we will develop a stronger programing partnership with teen challenge. It is often more important to find that one missing sheep than it is to be complacent about the ninety nine that one already has.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Horselot Home Coming

We are looking forward to a visit from one of our interns from several years go. I recently got a note from Christina Caro indicating that she will be coming in this summer and will be bringing several friends with her.

Our interns get exposed to a side of horsemanship that is hard to find at other equine establishments. They learn to establish relationships with horses and they learn to teach others to do so.

And some of them, like Christina, end up carrying their experience even beyond our nation's borders.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Building Fences-Tearing Down Walls

So here is what is going on at the horse lot. A volunteer crew came out from Dominion Energy and cleared land Friday. Kids from the home school program hauled ash saplings that we have cut from the new land and are using it to construct a wattle fence in the settler's farm. Cub scouts and their families came out and worked hard building brush piles and then enjoyed a demonstration of natural horsemanship training in the round pen with a beautiful Marsh Tacky mare.

Several volunteers spent the morning in line picking up free saplings that we will plant as part of our soil and water conservation and agricultural education programs. Others spent the afternoon putting those saplings in pots inside our plastic storage building which makes for a perfect greenhouse.

While the afternoon's activities were going on, our Board of Directors was meeting to plan for program development and expansion for the year. And tomorrow night music program participants will gather to learn to perform more ancient songs on American traditional instruments. We are expecting our first Colonial Spanish foal of the year to be born any moment and three of our colonial goats will be having little ones in a couple of weeks. A new family joined our riding program.

And....time has changed and with the longer days many hours will be spent in the saddle after leaving the office.

History, horses, music, hard work, permaculture, soil conservation, rare breeds preservation, animal husbandry, natural horsemanship, education, entertainment, and public service--that's what is going on at the horse lot.

 We are building fences and tearing down the walls that separate and isolate people.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Volunteerism At Mill Swamp Indian Horses

We have had more volunteer participation at Mill Swamp Indian Horses in the past year than at any previous time. The core of the volunteer work comes from program participants. This year the number of individuals in the community who are simply looking for a place to use their talent to improve the quality of the lives of others has gone through the roof. We have had a great deal of work put in by Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Church youth groups have been out and worked hard. A community volunteer group from Dominion Energy was out yesterday and put a full day of hard work into clearing the new land.

The financial support that we have received from individuals and civic organizations have allowed us to continue to grow. We are a 501 (c) 5 non profit breed conservation program. We have no paid staff.

Everything is done by volunteers.

See our website at and check out our group Mill Swamp Indian Horses face book page.

If you want to be part of something bigger than you are this is a great place to do it.