Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Saving The Sand Horses: The Beginning

(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.)


Dianne W. said...

I grew up in the Midwest, as did my Father. I can remember him telling us, as children, that riding horses canter and driving horses trot. We were allows to trot while riding, but were not allowed to canter while driving, probably for safety reasons.

Bernadette Barber said...

Please keep writing, I love your posts and share them.

Anonymous said...

Been a long time since I took that is one of my favorites...that was a miserably cold day. -Rowan