Saturday, February 11, 2017

Pasture Health Indicators

There remains a fortune to be made from those who are willing to settle for a second rate product provided that it is expensive and "is the way everyone does it."

In evaluating the health of a horse pasture we generally look at a very few factors--weed content, bare soil and mud, and fertilizer needs. The established agribusiness world had the answers for those problems: weeds--purchase expensive, dangerous chemicals, bare soil and mud---purchase expensive seed,and, of course, fertilizer needs---purchase extremely expensive fertilizer.

In each case there are better ways to deal with the problem. The first step is in understanding that one rarely has a pasture problem without having a soil problem. If you want to see better grass above ground create an environment that produces more worms, fungi, and bacteria below ground. That means breaking up soil compaction, eliminating chemical poisons from the horse lot,and getting soil nutrients in, and on, the soil.

Killdeer inhabit healthy soils here in Tidewater. They have to. Healthy soils produce a lot of bugs and worms. There was a time when my pastures were over run with killdeer. In recent years they have become less common. That is an indicator of poor soil health and a sign that I have work to do.

We recently purchased nearly twenty acres of what was once pasture that has grown up in pine, mimosa, ash, and sweet gum. It has been nearly twenty years since it was lush pasture of fescue, alfalfa and clover. The mimosas took over perhaps as much as four acres of that land. They died out as the gums and ashes grew taller and shaded them to death. Perhaps a hundred remained.

The land was flush with rabbits, year after year. The ground vegetation around the mimosa trees was particularly vibrant and always carried the look of being heavily fertilized. The land is high in that area and the soil is sandy.

It always felt strange to walk among those mimosas. The ground was soft, light, and spongy. The strangest things were the wood cocks. Wood cocks are not plentiful in our area, especially in high sandy areas. The mimosa forest was a nursery for wood cocks, producing by far the greatest density of wood cooks that I have ever seen in Tidewater.

I often wondered about the cause of that population density.

I did not know that mimosas were legumes. I did not know that for all of those years they were fixing nitrogen in the soil. I never thought about the tremendous amount of nutrients that enter the soil as their leaves decay. Those conditions created perfect incubators for beneficial microbes and worms flourished as they consumed the microbes and it was this worm plantation that fed so many wood cocks.

The wood cocks have let me know where the best soil is on the new land. Now my job, over the remainder of my lifetime, is to use permaculture techniques to make the remainder of the land to be used as pasture as healthy as the former mimosa groves.

These techniques require less money than modern chemical farming. With that savings goes the requirement of more work. For anyone who has more time than money the preferred alternative is obvious.

But for anyone who cares about passing on a better environment to our great grandchildren, the preferred alternative is equally obvious.

Friday, February 10, 2017

If You Want To Preserve Heritage Livestock and Horses You Must

...learn some important lessons and it is best to understand them from the beginning.

1. Don't expect others to share your interest in the animals. Don't expect society at large to care that you are working to preserve something that you consider vital for future generations. Don't expect them to understand why what you are doing matters. Focus 100% of your energy in finding the handful of people who care and understand and give those people the opportunity to learn and to develop the same interest in the animals that you have.

2. Don't expect to get rich off of your hard work. In fact, you should expect to loose a fortune. If you are thinking about doing this to get rich, look elsewhere. This is a calling, a service to future generations, not a way to pad one's bank account.

3. Don't expect to be immortal. You are going to die and when you do it is important to know that you have created a fire in others to take up where you left off, both in the broader sense of willingness to carry on  the fight for preservation but in the the narrow sense of knowing, with certainty, who is going to feed the animals the morning after the funeral.

4. Don't begin this endeavor if you are a restless soul whose life has involved drifting from one thing to the next. It is easy to acquire a herd on a whim. it is nearly impossible to sell a herd on a whim.

5. Don't take on this task if you do not know who you are. If you crave the approval of everyone around you take on another venture. This is not a task for those who the wind blows from here to there. It is not even a task for those who are willing to sail into the wind. This is a job for people who realize that there will be times when they will simply have to cause the wind to blow all by themselves.

6. Don't take on this task if you think that you matter more than the preservation of the animals. If you are looking for fame, recognition and appreciation for your efforts at preservation your ego will cause you to be nothing but an impediment to preservationists who are trying to get the job done for the right reasons.

7. Don't be afraid to highlight the differences between the animals that you seek to preserve and other animals, but don't be a schismatic trouble maker who is as driven to prove the inferiority of other strains as you are to demonstrate the virtues of your strain of livestock or poultry.

8. Don't be divisive. There are only a handful of serious preservationists in this nation. They already have enough to do without having to work to put out the fires that you would create among them.

9. Don't be blind to math. No one should understand the importance of numbers more than a rare breeds preservationist. We need to increase our numbers, work together and become part of larger groups. Any fool can split off and go fail on their own. It takes wisdom to build coalitions and to work with others.

10. Don't get on social media when you are angry, misinformed or half informed. The computer is both our greatest tool to promote preservation and the greatest threat that we have to cooperative preservation.

Have a goal that matters to you without being centered on you. It is best if that goal can be achieved in dark anonymity.

My goal is simple.

If 500 years from now some of the dust that a little girl brushes from the mane of her Colonial Spanish horse, of whatever strain, contains just a minute bit of my ashes, then it will all have been worth it.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Wild Horse Redemption

Yesterday I saw the documentary,"Wild Horse Redemption." It depicts the relationship that develops between prison inmates and the wild horses that they are training. Go pick it up from netflix or any other available venue.

Look at the impact that natural horsemanship has on improving the quality of the lives of the inmates. Now imagine its impact on people who have been severely traumatized. Think about what it can do for those with PTSD. Consider what it can do for those who are lonely and have suffered loss in their lives. How about those with depression and anxiety disorder? What kind of direction can it provide for teens who are merely suffering the angst of being a teenager?

And now think about how much it can improve the lives of those who are already experiencing happy, well balanced lives. Think hard about that.

Now you can understand why we have so many volunteers that work so hard in our program. What we do is not brain surgery and it can, and should, be replicated all over the country.

Now you can understand why a riding program operator would come from six hundred miles away just to spend a week to learn how we do things.

Natural horsemanship creates better horses, but more importantly it creates better people.

Saddles For Colonial Spanish Horses

Two points here--first--saddle fit. I am often asked which saddles I recommend for Colonial Spanish horses. People are hoping that I can recommend a brand name that will solve all of their saddle problems. They generally are not pleased with my answer.

The first question is "What is your saddle problem?"--do you even have a saddle problem? Many new owners of these horses already start out feeling nervous and guilty. All of their experienced horse friends have told them that their new horse is only a pony any way and that it is cruel to ride such a small creature. To compensate they seek out the magical saddle that perfectly fits their horse. Couple that pressure with well researched marketing techniques that appeal to the subliminal guilt that so many people feel over the act of riding (dominating) a horse and a market of hand wringing serial saddle buyers is created.

Nothing special about this--we live in a world of $300.00 little league baseball bats made for parents who "really care about their child's success on the field."

The reality is that most of our horses have not fallen prey to the modern breeding and horse care practices that produce flat backed, obese horses with spinal gutters. That means that we need narrower saddles.

Often one finds the best saddle for our horses to be those made fifty to one hundred years ago. At that time there was a clear difference between what a horse and a beach ball were supposed to look like. Well made narrow saddles were easy to find back then. The best fitting saddle that I have for one of my Corolla stallions, Tradewind, is over one hundred years old.

Ironically these ancient treasures can often be found at yard sale prices. It takes a good eye to note the difference between dry, cracked leather that can be restored and deteriorated leather that must be replaced.

Take a look at these two saddles shown above. Ha! fooled you-there is only one saddle there. Jackie put several hours of work into restoring the leather to create this highly functional work of art.

The end result--a restored saddle that fits many of our horses very well.

Second  point--and I am not as sure of this one yet--but it seems that practicing natural horsemanship has a completely unexpected side effect, at least with adults. I am seeing it too often for it to be a coincidence.

Building relationships with horses seems to unleash creative energies in adults. I have seen it in too many different forms to dismiss the connection--hide tanning, painting, music, construction of musical instruments, tack design and creation, writing, song writing and tool making are some of the forms that this creative energy has taken among my adult riders.

I shall leave an explanation of this transformational  aspect of practicing natural horsemanship to others

Monday, February 6, 2017

Chickasaw, Choctaws, Corollas and The Quarter Horse

It should come as no surprise that we find it impossible to agree on historical events when, as a species, we find it completely impossible to agree on current events.Over fifty years ago a registry was developed for the Chickasaw horse. The horse in the top picture was a foundation stallion for that organization.

The original Chickasaw horse probably shared its over all looks with Choctaw, Cherokee and other tribal horses of the Southeast. I suspect that  white settlers along the Tidewater regions of the southeast made no tribal distinctions when they labeled these horses. From the limited written record it appears that "Chickasaw" was a widely used term for the Colonial Spanish Horses owned by various tribes.

Regardless of the actual provenience of these horses, they certainly were a key component in the development of what eventually became known as the Quarter Horse. However, I strongly doubt that they looked as much like modern quarter horses as does the stallion pictured above.

Swimmer, shown in the bottom piture, is a pure Corolla mare. She is the tallest wild mare I have ever personally seen. In her great book, "Wild Horse Dilemma", Bonnie Gruenberg cites her as an example of the "Chickasaw" type lineage that was brought into the Outer Banks during the late Colonial and early Federal period.

I have to agree. The stallion shown shows a radically different phenotype than other known Colonial Spanish horses of the southeast. I currently have her in a pasture with two Marsh Tacky mares. One would be hard pressed to pick the Corolla out among the three of them. She could pass equally well for a Choctaw.

(Duane White sent me a link to the article in an old Western Horseman magazine that contained this great picture of the stallion. I love receiving old articles and pictures like this. When you come across one send it over.)