Wednesday, December 31, 2014
(This is a first in a series of posts that set out the history of the Off Site Breeding program designed to help prevent the extinction of the historic Corolla horses of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.)
My mother's horse was exotic, no ordinary creature--Cracker Jack's father was an Arabian, a breed still fairly new to eastern Virginia in the early 1960's, but it was his mother who was unique. She was a mustang--a wild horse. She represented everything that drew me to the many westerns then on TV. Even more importantly, she embodied the values of our rural farm culture. A mustang was brave--self reliant--uncomplaining--able to work all day and run all night--and free.
A mustang was what every man was supposed to be and what every little boy hoped to become. There could simply be nothing better than training and riding a wild horse. Doing so was not an act of power or dominance--it was proof of having worked oneself up to a sufficient level of self reliance, courage, and resilience to be acceptable to the wild horse. By taming and training a wild horse a little boy could rise to the level of being a wild horse. It was not as much of a matter of subjugating the horse as it was proving one's self to the horse.
The question was simply whether that little boy could prove himself worthy of the trust of a wild horse. It was a world view that made perfect sense to a five year old boy.
It still makes a great deal of sense to me today.
When I was two yeas old I got my first pony, Tanka, a hackney/welsh cross. I was two and he was one. The following year I rode him in the Christmas Parade in Smithfield. Daddy had a Thoroughbred stallion, Flag. Momma's horse Cracker Jack was also a stallion. For all of my childhood I grew up with stallions. I could never understand the fear that so many horse people had of the mere mention of the word. They divided horses into three categories--mares, geldings, and stallions.
We divided horses into two categories--trained and untrained.
The only time that I have ever ridden in an arena was during local horse shows when I was quite young. Our focus was always on riding long distances and riding as much as possible in the woods. We did not trot. Trotting was viewed as something useful for a sulky horse(we also trained them to pull sulkies, carts, and wagons)but a riding horse was cantered--everywhere--until it needed to catch its breath. Then we walked. The only trotting that we did was the few steps some horses made before moving into a canter.
When I was five years old Daddy spent a summer in Tennessee at blacksmith school. For about fifty years, in addition to his job at the meat plants he had a route of horses that he trimmed. Recently KC found a horse shoe in the ditch a few miles from the horse lot. Daddy recognized it as a shoe that he had made in the late 1960's.
I started getting paid to trim hooves when I was about ten years old. I continued until deep in my forties. By the time I stopped trimming for others I realized that nearly every horse I was trimming I was doing so because other farriers could not, or would not, trim the horse. I sometimes spent half a day trimming a single horse. When I stopped trimming I was still charging the same amount that I had in high school, $20.00 per horse.
I do not remember how many horses I trained to saddle as a child and teenager. Most importantly I do not remember ever being thrown by a horse that I was training. I have no doubt that I was thrown many times. I was not , nor am I now, a gifted rider. The point is that being thrown was such a given, such a nothing event, that not once did a tossing stick in my mind. It simply as not significant enough to remember.
If I could give one thing to the kids that I teach today it would be that attitude. Modern parenting has ended that option. When I was four or five my mother's riding instruction to me were things like, "Get your hand off that damn horn and quit riding like a sissy." Or if I would give in to overblown crying or whining for attention, as do so many little ones, Momma would comfort me with statements like, "Shut up whining. Is that what you are going to do when you get big and go to Vietnam--just lay there whining while they are shooting at you?"
Such an upbringing made my adult life much easier. It made it possible for me to be the first person in my direct line to go to college. It made it possible for me, at age 27, to be the youngest elected member of a county governing board in Virginia, and at age 31, the youngest chairman of a county governing body in Virginia. It made it possible for me to realize that I could teach children to train wild horses. It made it possible for me to be able to ignore the edicts of the established horse world.
It made me believe that I could get up and do something instead laying on the ground whining about the plight of wild horses. "Doing something" for me would come to mean showing the world what these horses could do and encouraging their survival through domestic breeding.
(In the picture above Lydia and Jen are riding two formerly wild Corolla stallions. These are two of the stallions at the core of our breeding program. We currently have five Corolla stallions on site and one Shackleford stallion. We are also privileged to have El Rosio, a Bacca strain stallion and Scoundrel Days, a Grand Canyon strain stallion.)
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
This old post is about an event that happened nearly exactly six years ago. Yesterday was the first 12-29 that I have gone to court on since then. Turns out that it would have been best not to have gone. There is no symbolism in this post. What I describe is precisely what happened.
I am not as good at showing little boys how to ride as I am with little girls. With little boys who don't try hard enough I never say it out loud but I constantly wonder why Lido could use his severely disabled body to get a job done, but strong, healthy boys can't. When I look at the very accurate comments about Lido that were written by a some program participants I wish all of the participants in our program would be as selfless as he was.
He worked hard to bring people together.
And This is How He said Good Bye
Yesterday morning the sun was shining very brightly and the wind was howling. It was exactly the kind of weather that causes deer to get in the tightest cover they can and stay there until the weather changes or night time falls. I was alone in the pasture waiting for my little riders to come and cheer me up. There was a commotion in the pasture beside me. I looked up and saw, coming from the area where Lido died, a very large buck who, along with two does hopped into the pasture and frolicked along in front of the horses.
The herd of mares fell in behind the buck and they trotted down the fence line behind the buck who also just calmly trotted along. He stopped , looked at me and turned in a profile. Then he lowered his head and began to move towards me just like I have seen so many wild horses do in the round pen when they decide to accept you as a herd mate. I was still quite a distance (maybe 50 yards) from him when he stopped and stared at me. We just stood there looking at each other for perhaps thirty seconds. Finally he turned and he and his does hopped effortlessly over the fence.
I walked over to the spot where they disappeared into the cut over to take a look at the big buck's hoof print. It seemed odd, but I could only find one track in the bare, moist, sandy soil. I looked around the area for a few more moments and started to walk to the tack shed. As I picked my head up I noticed the herd. They were standing on full alert, ears up, nostrils open, backs hollow and looking at me in pure terror. Rolling Thunder snorted and the herd bolted, but only for a short distance before turning to look at me again.
For the next moment or two my herd of warm, loving mares stared at me as if I were something that they could not understand. They stood as if to have seen a Thunder Being.
Now I am just a plain old Methodist Sunday school teacher who is not given to any New Age practices or beliefs. If others hold such belief I respect their views, but I do not share those views. I realize that my ability to understand that which needs understanding is limited indeed. I do not understand life. How could I possibly understand death?
But I do know what I saw. I do know what I believe. I did know Lido and I know that he would have done everything possible, or even impossible to tell me good bye.
(The picture above is of Lido riding in the 2006 Christmas Parade on the fourth horse from the lead)
Monday, December 29, 2014
One aspect of our educational program this summer may be a mixed program on natural horsemanship with the Corolla horses followed by a night time living history presentation that puts the Colonial Spanish horses of the east coast in their historical context.
Guests might meet Betsy Dowdy (google her if you have not heard of her), or an early colonial horse trader who is bringing up Corolla mares and Chickasaw/Choctaw mares to breed to the famous "Spotted English Race Horse, Janus" who stood as a stallion in this region for years, or Francis Marion discussing how he used the little marsh horses to harry the British during the Revolution, or John Lawson complaining that the Indians kept their horses too fat from a heavy diet of corn or...
I am not aware of a combination program like this being done anywhere else.
It is a great way to learn. it is a great way to teach.
So few people have had any exposure to an actual Colonial Spanish Horse that most horse people have no idea how they should look. To many people, Barbwire, a Grand Canyon, has a head that brings to mind a draft horse, or even a cartoon of an old nag.
To those of us who have spent thousands of hours of riding these horses a head like this brings to mind smooth gaits and incredible stamina. Narrow chests,rafter hips, high spine and wide pin bones bring to mind a malnourished horse to those who have only seen modern breeds. Those of us who have knocked off a fifty or more mile ride on one of these horses and noted the complete lack of fatigue that the animal shows recognize that it is precisely these traits that allow the horse to cool quickly and move efficiently.
Sunday, December 28, 2014
Krista adopted a formerly wild Corolla filly, developed a Girl Scout Silver Award project promoting the preservation of these nearly extinct, historic horses, worked her for months to get her comfortable with each step in the training process, and yesterday rode her in the woods for the first time. The horse will continue to be trained slowly and will develop a great deal of muscle mass over the next year of long, slow riding.
(She was a yearling in the old picture above.)
The horse performed flawlessly. Krista has done a lot of growing up while training her horse. She is more patient. She is more mature. She has more empathy.
She is a better person than she was when she first met her horse. And that is the test of a training program. That is the test of any equine program. A program is not successful if it merely produces better horses.
It must also produce better people.
Friday, December 26, 2014
On the rarest of occasions one will find an innovation that is also an improvement. This is nearly never true in the world of tack. The bosal and mecate will never be improved upon. A well cared for antique saddle will often fit a Colonial Spanish horse better than any saddle made today.
Replacing cowboy knots with billets and latigos filled with holes certainly is not an improvement.
However, sometimes one can take modern designs and use them in tried and true manners and get a good result. The instrument in the picture above is a new design and is called a "Merlin." It came out within the last two years.
I have acquired a taste for it.
When played using the hammers, pull offs, and slides rooted in ancient African music it can sound first rate.
There are many lessons one can learn from playing music that apply to solid horsemanship. The reverse is also true.
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
The sun rarely shines this time of year. The sky is generally the color of lead. The cool season grasses left around have little color. Each winter there is a bumper crop of mud.
But it does not stay that way. Two Corollas and a Shackleford in a lush pasture of various grasses and tender weeds-- that will be how it will look in about six months. That is how it has always been--seems like it gets hard to remember how beautiful the spring is when trapped in the drabness of winter.
Time is a constant.
Today I will go to the Little House and will likely mount up at some point--just like I am in this picture of me behind the Little House on my pony Tanka from about fifty years ago.
Monday, December 22, 2014
Vice President of Weed Control
War Admiral, my Baylis line Spanish Goat, is a voracious eater. He is joined by a younger Baylis, Sea Biscuit and my San Clemente Island buck, Spicer. The impact that they have had on pasture weeds is incredible. They hit weed seeds and flowers hard and it is really starting to pay off. Eventually I plan to increase my Spanish goat herd and add in other lines of colonial livestock as the educational component of our program expands.
The parallels between Spanish goats and Spanish mustangs are striking. Both are heartier and tougher than modern breeds. Both convert low quality pasture and browse to food better than modern breeds. Both were absolutely essential to the development of this nation. Both have been scorned by proponents of progress. Both are extremely close to extinction in their pure forms.
Like my Corollas, my Spanish goats are warm, intelligent, and affectionate. They work hard.
Sunday, December 21, 2014
Each day still has 24 hours in it. Next week I turn 55 and I have a lot of things left to accomplish. I have a lot of significant writing to do--programs to develop, scripts to write, planting schedules to develop, and magazine articles to write.
Might even write another book.
These are things that require time to write but also time to think and time to research. This year I must focus on living more efficiently and getting much more work out of a given day. That means I have to cut down on less significant activities. We reach many people through this blog and face book and I will not be abandoning either, but I will radically reduce my attention to them over the next six months.
I am not given to naturally looking forward to the future. Being hopeful and optimistic has never been something that I have been comfortable pretending to be. Experience simply has not born out the validity of such feelings.
But right now I am more looking forward to our future than I have ever been. Ashely will be working with me this semester on everything what I need done--horse training, hill work, planting, environmental enhancements, training program development for professionals who deal with children who have been abused, writing, and more important than most could ever understand--helping me think. Talking to Ashley is like putting leaven to my thoughts. She immediately sharpens my pre-ideas and helps turn them into action. She will be working directly for me and will not be an employee of our non profit--The Gwaltney Frontier Farm. Our non-profit will benefit from everything she does without having to put out a penny. I am not a business man, but that seems like a good deal for us.
I like concepts that move quickly into action and Ashley helps make that happen. This morning was quite an odd sensation. My norm is to wake around 1:30 to 2:30 clear my mind and think about things that I need to be doing at the horse lot and trying to figure out when i can get those things done. Prioritizing a list of things that are all top priorities.
This morning I woke up at 3:30 and found myself smiling thinking about how good 2015 will be at the horse lot.
I am still smiling.
Few ironies run deeper than the fear that those who have never been exposed to my horses have of them. They fear them because many of them were wild.
Others are mustangs.
Several of them are stallions.
Should not the fact that most of these horses are trained and ridden by kids say more about their sweet and gentle natures than do the silly stereotypes taught by the established horse world?
For the first few years that I trained horses my little brother, Lido, was the first person to get on all of the wild horses and colts that we started. He did so though he was only about ten years old, had cerebral palsy and had a right hand and leg that were of nearly no use to him.
Lido, without letting anyone know, slipped an old Appaloosa mare back to the tack shed late one night and bred her to Tradewind, one of my Corolla stallions. Several months later he told Daddy what he had done but Daddy assumed that it was a joke.
The colt was born several months after Lido died. Legacy is a very impressive colt. He will likely be gaited and will definitely be beautiful. That is his owner, Samantha, there with him in the picture above.
Yesterday was a big day for Legacy, Samantha,.....and me. I took Legacy into the old round pen that Lido and I used to use and put him through all of the despooking and calming exercises that we always used. He took everything well. It was the first time that I put any intensive work into the colt, though Samantha's mother has been doing a great job of introducing him to learning.
Yesterday the introductions were completed. I paid back the favor to Lido. I gave Lido's colt his first mounting the same way that way he provided so many of my colts with their first mounting. He did great as I got on and eventually let him take a few steps with me. He will continue to be trained slowly and patiently---the way that we used to do it.
Samantha was not so sure that she wanted to mount up. However, we proceeded--slowly and patiently--and before the sun set Samantha had also sat on her horse. She went home happy. Legacy went back to the pasture contented and I went home with a feeling that I had nearly forgotten--satisfaction.
I encourage my little riders to study every thing that they can get their hands on concerning natural horsemanship. I encourage them to go see every great clinician that they can meet and to learn all that they can from them. I encourage them to apply everything that they can learn from every great clinician.
I discourage them from falling into the trap of believing that any particular clinician has all of the answers and that all other methods are wrong.
That false belief is an insult to Lido, and to Legacy.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
The Importance of a Good Set of Wheels
When Lido was about 12 or 13 he and I were watching RFD-TV when a commercial for a manure spreader came on.
'Dat's what Ah want," he said emphatically.
I asked him what in the world he would do with a shiny, new manure spreader.
"Ah take my guwl friend widen on it," he advised, surprised that I did not realize how impressed a young teen girl would be at a ride on a brand new manure spreader.