Sunday, November 29, 2020

What Is The Connection Between Music and Becoming An Effective Horse Trainer /Rider?

Learning music, especially learning to play multiple instruments, builds confidence. Overcoming stage fright makes it easier to over come riding anxiety. Learning how to use presence, focus, and body language to effectively communicate with an audience makes it easier to use presence, focus, and body language to effectively communicate with horses.

Here are two of my most talented musicians out on their own busking (and becoming quite financially successful at it). They are about thirteen years old. This is also a picture of two of my most talented young horse trainers and riders.

The over lap is not a coincidence. 

Friday, November 27, 2020

How Long Must This Horrible War Go On?

How many times has that cry been uttered throughout history?

 Our war with the virus is a different kind of war but it creates some of the same problems. The neutron bomb was a nuclear bomb that was designed to kill people while leaving most buildings and infrastructure in place. The virus is like that. It only takes people away and leaves their homes and possessions intact.

I have hung with this virus right well until fairly recently. I did not expect this kind of rebound from the virus. It has thrown me greatly off course. It is one of the main reasons that I have not turned on facebook in over a month. (I can post things without having to turn it on and have made occasional posts). I have rarely checked emails and the best thing about my phone is that it rarely works.

I have not hunted in nearly twenty years. It used to be all that I lived for. The seven week long gun season, the month long bow season, and the two week long muzzle loader seasons were the only times of the year that I was fully alive. 

And I was careful, more careful than one can imagine. 

I do not exaggerate when I say that there were at least 200 times that I let a deer go past me because I was not absolutely certain that no human could be down range of where I was shooting. 

I had control over whether or not I accidently shot someone.

I do not have control over whether or not I might have the virus and be spreading it to others. My mind, when left to its own devices used to naturally drift to ways to expand and improve our program. Now my mind only drifts to whether or not our program could lead to a spread of the virus.

But we cannot stay like this forever. The vaccines will come, the virus will fade, and we cannot allow ourselves to loose the taste for living before that happens.

The kids who are skinning the ash and gum poles above are my grand children. They came out Wednesday to help me prepare the poles for drying and curing so that they can be used this summer in the construction of various native structures that symbolize the Indians who were associated with the different strains of Colonial Spanish horses that we seek to preserve and promote.

The poles are for future projects. 

Regardless of the difficulty and uncertainty of the times we can still decide to make sure that our program has a future.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Horses and Healing: Articulating an Inarticulable Hell

The virus. The isolation. The constant frustration of not being able to do what must be done. The constant awareness of the finiteness of life. 

The two minute warning. 

I am taking an intense forty hour session on forensic interviews of children who have been molested. It is all being done on the computer. Yesterday we all introduced ourselves and told how long that we have been involved in the investigation or prosecution of these cases.

Many of the participants looked to be about the ages of my two oldest daughters. I explained that I had been doing these cases for twenty two years and that up until the virus hit had been conducting weekly sessions, (weather permitting) for those in the in patient PTSD program at the local Veterans Hospital for over seven years.

As the words came out of my mouth I remembered a training that I conducted in 2005 for the Virginia Commonwealth Attorney's Conference on effective communication with children and adults with mental retardation who had been sexually assaulted. During that session, over fifteen years ago, I explained that in no office should anyone prosecute these cases for more than a year and a half without taking a significant break from them.

I have now spent over a third of my life working to understand and help heal kids who need someone to help them learn how to claw their way out of Hell. It has  destroyed any shot at a normal life, yet at the same time it has given the life that I have meaning and purpose.

So understand, I am not complaining. I am trying to explain. I said "trying" to explain. I normally can put concepts and feelings into words that can be understood by my audience be it made up of second graders or adult experts in their fields. But I cannot even explain to my wife why my hands are shaking so badly right now. I cannot explain in a way that even she can understand the rage that I felt setting in front of that computer yesterday as the lectures brought back intensely clear memories of the kids whose lives have been put in my hands as a result of the abuse they received.

"Lives in my hands" is not a figure of speech. For many of these kids their futures, if they are to have one at all,  will be greatly shaped by their interaction with me.

And it hurts so  much to know how easy it is to give kids new lives when one exposes them to natural horsemanship. It hurts to know how cheap it is to make natural horsemanship part of the recovery from PTSD while knowing that as a nation we make no investment in these programs. I hope that we can use social media and videography to reach more people in the future. 

But it is a hard row to hoe. 

Programs like ours would be simple to run but for the conflicts among adults in the program. I have never considered leaving the program because the amount of emotional energy that goes into shining light into dark worlds. Every time that I have given serious thought to stepping aside and letting others run the program it has been because of adult conflicts.

I am worn out right now and I have only had one day of this class. I am not sure exactly who I will be by the time the classes end on Friday.

There are four principle virtues --generosity, courage, honesty and resilience. Of these resilience is the most important. Resilience allows one to extend the time that the world has to benefit from  one's generosity, courage, courage and honesty.

Resilience is exhausting.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

A Crisis Of Conscience

Young riders have their own measures of success. As soon as they are comfortable cantering they want to try jumping. If jumping is possible then they want to try riding bare back. Then they want to move on to what is  the ultimate measure of success in our program in their minds.

They want to lead the rides. 

Few of them have any idea what that actually entails. They see only the status that being the lead rider seems to confer. They do not see the awesome responsibility that it carries.

I lead the rides more than 95% of the time. It is exhausting to do so. One must remain focused at every moment to make sure that all the riders behind are learning to become better riders and that their horsemanship is helping their horse to become a more confident mount. The ride leader must be alert to every sound, sight, and even smell that could cause a problem for any of the horses.

Advanced young riders who truly have the skill to lead rides recognize this are willing to lead a ride if needed, but have no desire to do so to demonstrate their power or status. 

I long ago gave up any interest in controlling the behavior of others. The pursuit of power and status is evidence of a serious character flaw. It took me years to realize it, but it is every bit as serious a character flaw as is materialism or conformism. 

Our program can only succeed if we refuse to accept the shallow values of not only the established horse world, but also of our culture as a whole. That means that the starting point of the program must be a radical rejection of self interest. 

Many years ago my uncle sold the timber from his land adjoining the horse lot. He asked Daddy to ask me if I would mind if the lumber trucks went across a section of my land. Daddy told him that he would not ask me because I was not the kind of person who would even think of saying that the trucks could not enter simply because my name was on a deed.

When the girls at the Little House have needed a truck they have always known that they never had to ask for permission to use my truck. They simply had to make sure that I would not be needing it at the time that they would need it. To do otherwise would be to suggest that I was the kind of person who would say that they could not use the truck because it was "mine".

And now for the first time in decades I find myself wanting to own something for myself. I want an all metal resonating guitar. Worst of all, if I did purchase one I could not imagine myself giving it away to some kid down the road who might want to learn to play one but whose family could not afford to make such a purchase.

This does not bode well for the future of our program. 

Whether I purchase such a guitar myself is irrelevant. The harm of wanting to own a thing is already done. What other weaknesses might follow? Might I start thinking that we need to do things to improve the appearance of the horse lot instead of putting all of my energy into improving the reality of our program? Might I start thinking of whether a horse is "mine" instead of thinking whether or not a given rider would have a good experience riding "my" horse?  

During the pandemic I allowed my physical health to slip. When the blood work numbers came in from my last physical I began making radical changes to improve my health. I had a problem and I caught it in time.

It seems that during the pandemic I allowed my ethical health to slip. I need to make radical changes to improve my ethical health. I hope that I have caught it in time. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

I Guess I'm Back

Have been going through the most labor intensive time since I studied for the Bar Exam in 1985. Something had to give and what I gave up was checking my emails, checking facebook posts, and working on this blog.  I went a few weeks without doing any of that.

 Gave me an additional 1.5 to 3 hours a day to get other things done. All of my life I have hated a telephone. I fell in love with email because it gave me a way to communicate with people without  talking to them. 

Now I will reacquaint myself with emails. I generally review and respond to emails as soon as I wake up (generally around 3:00 am). Tomorrow morning I will resume checking emails, but I hope to stay away from facebook messages until January.

Keeping Fear Out of Your Saddle

Certain forms of equine assisted therapy use the horse and the person's reaction to the horse as a diagnostic tool with the primary goal being self understanding. For example, the person enters the round pen, seeks to interact with the horse and then discusses the feelings that resulted from the contact with the horse. If the horse evades the person it is important to understand why the horse was doing so and to examine how that evasion made the person feel.

A similar process can be applied to riding anxiety. All too often the answer to the question of "what are you afraid of when riding?" is the shallow response of "I'm afraid that I am going to fall off."

Of course, the issue is much more complex than that. No one wants to fall off but most experienced riders are not controlled by the fear of falling. Instead they have adapted strategies to control that fear.
Often, the first step in dealing with riding anxiety is to change one's priorities in a manner that can be very surprising. Riders whose top priority is to stay on the horse are much more likely to be injured than are those
whose top priority is to control the horse's speed and direction.

One of the most frightening experiences that one will ever encounter on a horse is to sit astride an uncontrolled horse who has bolted. Riders often make the situation much worse by giving up on controlling the speed and direction of the horse and resorting to simply trying to stay on. In many such cases the rider squeezes with the legs and takes the saddle in hand in a death grip. 

Such a rider is merely holding on and hoping for the best instead of focusing on bringing the animal to a safe stop. The rider who focuses on control of the horse will make sure that he is not squeezing the horse with his legs. If the rider has practiced one rein stops, using the left rein to bring the horse under control by keeping its head down and pulling its nose toward its hip, the horse can generally be brought back under control.

But there is a catch to this simple advice. When we feel an immediate physical threat our instincts prompt us to draw our bodies into a fetal position. When on horseback doing so will often result in feet being pulled from the stirrups at the same time that the head and shoulders  are pulled downward and forward. When in such a position one is at much more risk of falling off and one is in a position that makes it impossible to use the reins to control the horse.

Overcoming learned behavior that is dangerous is hard enough, but learning to overcome instinctual behavior is quite a daunting task. The only way that I have been able to do so is to be perfectly consistent in how I handle the reins and where I place my legs. Every time that I stop a horse I use a left hand, one rein stop.  After doing so for a few decades habit overcomes instinct.

If my horse bolts I do not have to decide what to do. My body instantly works to take control of the horse because each time I get on a horse my top priority is to control the horse's speed and direction.

Knowing that I can control the horse allows me to ride with less fear. Few things scare horses more than exposure to terrified people. the calmer one is around the horse the more likely the horse is to remain calm. One must also understand that being controlled in a perfectly consistent manner provides the horse with the same feeling of security that he feels in a small band of horses with the lead horse present. 

Learn to control your horse. Learn to control your anxiety in the saddle. When it comes to horse/human relation sips fear is contagious. 

So is peacefulness.


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Dorothy, I'm Afraid That We are In Kansas, Again!

But it is the Kansas of the 1850's. 

The Civil War officially began with the firing on Fort Sumpter. In reality, it began with the years of bloody civil war in Kansas as agents of what Lincoln referred to as "The Slave Power" fought abolitionists over whether slavery was to be allowed in the state. 

Nearly two years ago it occurred to me that the incredible divisiveness that I saw in the nation could lead to massive violence. I set the the thought aside as being merely one of thousands of scary thoughts that  that take brief possession of my thoughts. 

Two weeks from today an election will occur and it is impossible to imagine that we will be closer as a people after that day than we are now.

But healing is what we must do and in order to heal we will need to change hearts more than minds. We will need to strengthen institutions that draw us together, not merely as Americans, but as human beings. 

Only the handful of people who have seen such programs in action will understand what I suggest, but one of the most important steps that we can take for long term healing is to create more programs that draw young people from every race and economic back ground back to the soil. 

Descartes was correct on the individual level when he declared, "I think, therefore I am", but on a collective level it is equally important that we understand as humans, "We farm, therefore we are." 

When we reach back into the finest traditions of the past and apply the African concept of sankofa (bringing forward the very best of the old ways and placing them in our present and our future) we create common ground. We create healing. We create understanding. We create empathy.

We will need to build a nation in which every youth program becomes a diverse youth program. Never separate but equal, always unified and equal. and always seeking to bring about learning experiences that draw us back to our shared human experience of being one with the soil--the soil  from which we all  came and from which we will all return. 

When I was younger I practiced and promoted natural horsemanship to benefit horses. Ashley Edwards taught  me that people benefit more from the practice of natural horsemanship than do horses. The PTSD patients that I have worked with in the round pen for years taught me that the benefits of natural horsemanship can heal the deepest pain that humans experience. 

Sankofa, understanding the best of who we were in order to become better than we are, can be a vital tool of healing. And I fear that this nation  we will need every tool possible to heal. Readers might not understand how teaching vermiculture, heritage livestock preservation, roots music, soil and water conservation, history, folk skills, and animal husbandry can be part of bringing a nation back together. I do not blame those readers. It is a difficult point for people, especially those who are generations from the soil, to understand. 

Over the next few years it will be our job to demonstrate how it does so and to network with other programs to achieve sankofa.  

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Spin Off Lessons: The Side Effects of Our Program

You learn to work. You learn to be proud of your work. You learn that you are not a weather man and that weather is irrelevant when there is work to be done. You learn to push yourself and you learn to enjoy investing time in a project that is bigger than are you.

We are turning about 15 acres of mature mixed woods forest into a pine and oak dominated silvopasture that will radically increase the forage and the living space that we will have for our livestock.

It was raining yesterday. We had a great turnout of program volunteers to cut down the small trees, all of the holly, all of the sourwood, nearly all of the gum and maple and all of the wild blueberry shrubs--leaving the largest pines and the oaks that produce acorns for the deer and squirrels. The limbs are being stacked into a brush pile that will likley be nearly 1/2 mile long when completed. This makes great habitat for quail and rabbits.

Some of the best poles will be taken from the woods, debarked, dried , treated with water repellant and used to build a riding ring. (We are looking seriously at getting into American Indian Horse Registry style shows in 2021)

The picture above is of most of the last hold outs that kept working through. The clearing that they are standing in was a fairly thick forest when the sun came up. Four or five chainsaws, a dozen or more hard working volunteers, and the only heavy equipment in use out there is me.

And we will be back at it again this weekend.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Casting Call: A Key to A Horse's Natural Health

This is a picture of health, and a picture that too few people ever see. This is an overnight buildup of castings from red wiggler worms in one of the pastures close to our vermiculture operation. 

The casting are as potent a soil amendment and organic growth agent as I know of. Our original vermicomposter is an old hot tub that is buried level with the ground so that it does not freeze in the winter.  Over the years we have added many tons of horse manure to fork fulls of old hay. We brought additional microbes in to the mixture by adding much smaller amounts of hog, rabbit, poultry, goat, cow and sheep manure.  We roll out round bales of hay over the pastures and that provides seed, a carbon cover to the soil,  and organic matter to the soil--all while the horses eat hay.

The largest vermicomoposter contains red wiggler composting worms. Over the years many thousands of them have left the container and became feral. The closer the pastures are to the composter the more dense they are in worms. The worms aerate and fertilize the soil. They also attract scores of one of my favorite wild birds, killdeer. 

It is not just a matter of what we put into the soil. Equally important is what we do not put in the soil . There has not been any herbicide or pesticide on the soil in twenty years and there has been no commercial fertilizer on the soil in about ten years.

The super potent soil produces super nutritious grass, forbs, and weeds--everything that a horse needs to thrive.  It takes years of staying away from poison building up a solid microbial base to achieve this state. We are beginning the process on the new pastures that we are developing. and within a decade we will likely have nearly fifty acres of dark, living soil  supporting the nearly extinct Colonial Spanish horse strains that we work to preserve and promote.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Being Able To Be Part Of A Very Big Deal

Last night was one of the most significant nights at the horse lot in over 15 years of programs. And I got to be there.  

 Jenner's family joined our program not quite two years ago.  Jenner quickly became attached to Nick, a Large Standard, older donkey.  I told his mother that, though they were hard to find, there was a larger size donkey known as Mammoths that would be able to carry Jenner's weight with ease. 

In short order she had located two neutered males , half brothers, one of Poitou  stock and the other , smaller but with more conventional hair. Jenner worked hard training the pair with the help of his mother and his father often gave a hand in the work.

But it was Jenner's job and their success was Jenner's success. Jenner had planned and trained hard in hopes of running the donkeys in a local introductory, short, endurance ride. The virus took that ride away from us.

The donkeys were becoming such a popular part of our program that Jenner's mother acquired a pair of full Mammoth jennies. They are sisters, both sweet, one easier to catch than the other.

The ten mile endurance ride was cancelled but we did the next best thing. We did an onsite session of over 6 miles. Jenner was not alone. His mother joined in on Joey, a spectacular Choctaw horse. His father rode Ta Sunka Witco, last year's National Pleasure Trail Horse of the Year for the Horse of the Americas registry. His youngest sister joined in on Trouble, a wonderful little high percentage Book Cliff horse and his middle sister rode Holland, our super fast Shackleford horse. His grand parents were there to see us off.

Lydia set aside wedding preparations and lead the ride on her horse, Owl Prophet.  Ella who recently had her first fall from the saddle and mounted right back up there, rode Quien Es? a Chincoteague/BLM cross. Her sister Audrey is doing great work training one of my Red Feather's last three wild offspring and took her out for ride. Ariyanna rode Lilly, the Grand Canyon/Choctaw mare that she has trained. She and the horse did great. Kate rode the love of her life, Belle, a white mule. Terry rode Nick an older donkey with a smooth stride and a relaxed mind.   I rode the taller of the two donkeys that Jenner has trained and he rode the shorter one. Abigail looked elegant on Daisey the big Mammoth jenny out for her first challenging ride.

And it was donkeys...and it was horses...and it was donkeys and horses trained by skilled, dedicated young riders and trainers...and it was Jenner putting a big one in the win column...and it was family

                                           ........and it was a very big deal.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Breeding The Colonial Spanish Mule

This project all began because during the 90's I lost fifty four pounds. After a decade of walking ten miles a day, five days a weeks with ten or fifteen pound dumbbells held high in each hand, my back was functional enough so that I thought that I could begin riding again. Momma had adopted two wild BLM donkeys. One of them was bred when she was captured and she gave birth to Nick, who still is part of our program. I thought that if I could breed Nick to a wild mustang I could get a mule that I could shuffle along on woods paths at least enough to be reminiscent of riding as a younger person. Nick was picky in his choice of consorts and refused to breed a horse. Instead he produced many offspring with other donkeys. As our riding program grew Nick was gelded and was the main mount for my brother Lido and my daughters.
Nearly twenty years later things are coming full circle. Janie is the beautiful Colonial Spanish mare shown above. She is of significant Choctaw and Grand Canyon lineage. She is the easiest moving horse that I have ever ridden. She came here as a gift from Lothlorien Farm in Texas.

The beautiful red donkey, named Jack, who is shown at the top of the page, belongs to Halie and I am borrowing him to breed to Janie.  If he is successful in breeding her I will also breed him to Snow On Her.

I hope to get a solid transitional equine to ride in my seventies before I graduate on to spending my eighties in the saddle on one of the program's mammoth jennies.

(Now who says that I don't put enough long term planning into our program?)

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Managing Horses, People, and Dreams

Maintaining a meaningful and growing riding program requires more than solid equine management. It requires dealing with humans in a way that encourages them to learn, grow, and participate without hurting the program.Failing to do so will lead to the collapse of the best intended programs.

The toddler believes that everything in life revolves around them.  The preschooler believes that everything that he wants should be provided to him. The teenager believes that he knows more than the adults around them. The young adult believes that life is fundamentally fair. The young professional believes that the solution to problems is found in proper planning and protocol development. 

Some reach wisdom at a young age. For others, wisdom takes root about the same age that arthritis begins to take hold. Wisdom evades the vast majority of people and would do so even if those people could live to be a hundred years old.

Lincoln once observed that some people claim to be able to control events but that he freely admitted that he was controlled by events. Lincoln carefully planned, and spent his adult life developing, his values.  He wasted not a moment of his time developing the minutiae of how such values  were to be put into action. He was governed by his values, not by a set of social expectations. (Though likely an exaggeration, he said that he never combed his hair but simply ran his fingers though his coarse mane to push it into rough shape. With few exceptions, very few great men displayed well coiffed hair. In fact, Grant's moral superiority over Lee is readily apparent simply from examining how much time Lee put into looking superior.)

The first step in achieving any useful degree of wisdom is in understanding both the importance of reality and the absolute insignificance of appearances. 

A business model is of no use to one seeking to have a program with values in line with ours. We are not a business. Making a profit is not even a remote consideration for us.  We have over sixty horses who consume 10-14 thousand pounds of hay a week. Our monthly feed bill is generally around five thousand dollars. We breed, conserve and promote several strains of Colonial Spanish horses and other heritage livestock. Prior to the virus we provided weekly programming for patients in the local Veteran's Hospital's PTSD prgram and had done so for seven years--at no cost to participants. We teach kids to learn to play a range of historic musical instruments with weekly sessions learning Americana, roots, blues, gospel, bluegrass and old time music--at no charge to participants. We practice and teach microbial pasture development, soil and water conservation and wild life habitat enhancement. We use horses to help severely traumatized people claw their way out of Hell.

And we do all of this with absolutely no paid staff. Everything that is done is done by volunteers.

This program depends on a human resources management system that is not easy for a casual viewer of our program to understand.Program management depends on helping every participant  grow to understand that they are part of something that matters, something that is a powerful vehicle to help horse and people. 

We have a set of rules, but we are a set of values. 

We have teenagers who are proud to have the opportunity to help new riders tack up in 90 degree heat. 

That is what we have to offer--a chance to work very hard, with no material compensation, with the goal of improving the lives of others. 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Training Donkeys to Saddle: Speak Less and Say More

Were I to begin my life with equines again, I  might not begin that life with horses. I might use donkeys instead. Donkeys are misunderstood and profoundly underestimated as trail riding partners.

Donkeys do not learn the same way that horses do and they cannot be successfully taught using the same techniques used with horses. Both animals have a fight or flight response to perceived dangers, but while horses tend to flee at all threats unless cornered, a donkey is more likely to freeze and confront the danger.

That is why donkeys are used to protect livestock from coyotes. Most horses simply try to out run predators, but donkeys will often stand and fight. Coyotes are no match for the powerful kicks and bone crushing bites of donkeys who are protecting "their" flock of  goats or sheep.

Donkeys also have a much higher tolerance of pain than do horses. While humane, negative pressure is often at the center of horse training, donkeys can simply ignore that pressure. Donkeys respond wonderfully to rewards.

Clicker training helps donkeys understand what the trainer is asking them to do. Using a clicker to sound off the moment that the donkey responds correctly guides the donkey into the next step of training.

This can lead to having donkeys that are remarkably light to ride. One of my students obtained a young donkey and trained it on her own. She rode bareback and taught the donkey go over jumps. The most amazing part of what she taught her donkey was how it used its "bridle."

There actually was no bridle. The donkey simply opened its mouth and she put a soft rope between its teeth. The rope was not tied in place or connected to the donkey in any way. The donkey held the "rein" in place for the entire ride.

My little brother, Lido, was born with cerebral palsy. This made it difficult for him to mount up by himself. He taught his donkey to stand by a gate as he climbed up and jumped on.
 Mammoth donkeys are large enough to carry adults and large kids. Unfortunately they are very rare. We obtained two Mammoth jennies and we have two males that are a bit smaller. They are becoming a wonderful part of our program and gain more fans each week.

Perhaps because they have less of a flight response to predators, donkeys seem able to form quicker and deeper bonds with humans than do horses. Horses respond to love. Donkeys thrive on love. And I have never met anyone who loved donkeys more than Jenner. In the picture above he is teaching a donkey to walk over a teeter totter. A donkey must have perfect trust in the person that asks them to do such a task in order to be able to walk on such a shifting surface.

Jenner gets wonderful results from the donkeys that he works with because he works so hard to communicate with them. He spends countless hours just being with the donkeys, talking to them, petting them, leading them, and showing them that they can trust him.

There is no substitute for spending time with the equines that one is training. Jenner has learned something important about communication with the donkeys during all of the hours that he spends with them. He has learned that there is a time for "small talk" and a time for "business talk."

When he is not in the saddle Jenner carries on long conversations with the donkeys, but when he is in the saddle and it is time for "business talk" he has learned that the fewer words said the better the response that the donkey gives. While riding, long conversations are replaced with short instructions. "Step".  "Whoa", "Trot", "Canter" are cues that the donkeys can understand and respond to.

But the important part here is that they are so responsive to the one word cues partly because of  all of the long conversations that he has with them when they are spending time together in the pasture. I am not suggesting that the donkeys understand the words that he uses during these conversations. I am emphatically saying that they understand his tone, and that tone conveys love.

And love gets results.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Watch Them Grow

A critic of our program once complained that I treated our horses as if they were "super horses" and expected too much of them. The critic had never ridden a Colonial Spanish horse, yet felt fully qualified to define what expectations of them would be proper.

I continue to be amazed at those who will happily explain the height, weight, and conformation that makes it possible for a horse to carry a rider fifty miles at a time without having ever ridden a horse even twenty miles at a time.

Horses often rise, or fall, precisely to the level of expectation that they are given.

The same is true for kids. Confidence is gained by achieving successes and by experiencing and over coming failures.  

I love hearing one thing said about my riders that I first heard over a decade ago--"Your kids don't act like the brats that I see in other riding programs."

That's right--and not because conformity to meaningless rules has been hammered into their heads, but because they have been given the chance to do things that neither they, nor anyone else in their lives, thought they could do.

An eight year old completing  a 40 mile ride when it was 22 degrees when we set out that morning--adolescents taking responsibility to gently tame and train wild horses--shy, nervous kids learning to do an entire round pen demonstration and training program on their own as an audience of strangers looked on--young people learning to provide proper hoof care for horses--kids teaching on Thursday what they learned on Tuesday--kids learning to teach themselves to play music and perform like professionals--teenagers learning that not everyone has had a life as safe as they have had and learning to help others overcome years of pain and trauma--kids who learn to make helping others become their top priority in life...

That is what we teach. That is what we learn.

Putting the interests of others above self interest--courage, resilience, generosity, and honesty--

and becoming role models for those younger than they are without a hint of arrogance, condescension, or self righteousness--

And that is what our riders learn.

And they can look at Abigail, Lydia, and Chris and see what they can grow into. And they can watch as Mandy, Curie, Ariyanna, Emma, and Audrey continue to grow.

And they can see what success looks like.

. You can help us keep this program going and growing throughout the pandemic. Make a contribution. Gwaltney Frontier Farm, Inc, is a 501 (c)5 breed conservation program that administers all of the programs at Mill Swamp Indian Horses. Contributions to a 501 (c) 5 breed conservation program are not tax deductible. However, the Gwaltney Frontier Farm Educational Foundation is a 501 (c) 3 educational foundation that helps fund our educational programs and helps pay for the physical infrastructure where we conduct our educational and instructional programs. Contributions to Gwaltney Frontier Farm Educational Foundation may be made by check mailed to 16 Dashiel Drive, Smithfield Virginia, 23430.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Volunteers Who Put Their Hearts Into Our Program

People often wonder how we can run all of the programs that we do, for all of the people that we do and care for as many horses as we do---all with no paid staff. It is because we have many volunteers who are as enthusiastic about this program as the participants are. Lydia was eleven years old when she learned to ride in our program. That was over a decade ago. Now she is an integral part of everything we do. Her is what she wrote about our program three years ago.

"My name is Lydia Barr. I ride,volunteer, and train horses, as well as keep my horse out at Mill Swamp Indian Horses.

I started riding and working with horses out there when I was 11yrs old. I was home schooled and my parents were looking for a way to include outdoor work and activities into my schooling as well as an outlet for my delight and curiosity about animals. The freedom to have a whole day of being challenged in an outdoor class room is a rare opportunity and Mill Swamp Indian Horses was the perfect match for me. I am the 5th out of 7 children so it was always a tricky thing for my Mom to work out the schedule for all of us each year. But Mill Swamp was the perfect fit. I was able to count my involvement as extra credits in physical education, community service, and leadership skills. While also gaining confidence, self control and emotional awareness that comes from learning to communicate with horses, other animals, and all the other people who ride and work out there. 

I am now 22 yrs old and my job is professionally training horses several days a week. Because of the rare and incredible opportunity to learn and gain experience training wild horses with Steve, I was able to push myself and develop my natural talent with animals. But through all the different programs at the horselot that focus on using horses for healing and better relationships with people, I have learned and grown up with a deep desire to use my skills and strengths to meet and build up everyone I come in contact with. 

The power of the horse lot comes from it's simplicity and honesty. It doesn't have straight fences and rolling green pastures. There is mud and baling twine fixes. But there is no pretense. We offer what we have to anyone who can come. People from all different backgrounds and stories are able to come and find community because the horses offer comfort and peace.Through the horses I have learned patience, gentleness, courage, compassion, and how to reach out and connect with other people. But it has also been through the people who have opened themselves up to the revealing vulnerability of working with the horses that have taught me some of the most important things about what I want to be, who I want to look like, and where I want to go. 

Steve Edwards, Mill Swamp Indian Horses, and the Gwaltney Frontier Farm have changed my life. Not from something damaged into something healed, or from darkness into light, but simply a deeper understanding, a wider perspective, a more gracious standard, and solid self awareness."

. You can help us keep this program going and growing throughout the pandemic. Make a contribution. Gwaltney Frontier Farm, Inc, is a 501 (c)5 breed conservation program that administers all of the programs at Mill Swamp Indian Horses. Contributions to a 501 (c) 5 breed conservation program are not tax deductible. However, the Gwaltney Frontier Farm Educational Foundation is a 501 (c) 3 educational foundation that helps fund our educational programs and helps pay for the physical infrastructure where we conduct our educational and instructional programs. Contributions to Gwaltney Frontier Farm Educational Foundation may be made by check mailed to 16 Dashiel Drive, Smithfield Virginia, 23430.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Doing Our Part In September

The strangest summer of my lifetime is coming to an end. The pandemic has cost our nation over 180,000 lives. Millions of Americans are unemployed. Educational opportunities across the nation have been turned upside down. Our non-profit program has suffered no deaths. We never had employees. Everything that we do is done by volunteers. However, our educational opportunities have been severely limited by the virus.

I recognize that many individuals and organizations have lost much more than we have, but we have lost enough to put us in a serious financial shortfall. for the month of September I am going to try to use this blog and social media to help us catch up and continue to grow.

I will be explaining different aspects of our program in these posts and will discuss how much it costs to keep different parts of the program going. Here is how you can help:

1. Share each post as they come out on our group facebook page.

2. For program members who do not use facebook I will be emailing each post directly to you. Send them on to friends, family and acquaintances along with a personal note letting them know how helpful a contribution would be during the month of September.

3. Make a contribution. Gwaltney Frontier Farm, Inc, is a 501 (c)5 breed conservation program that administers all of the programs at Mill Swamp Indian Horses. Contributions to a 501 (c) 5 breed conservation program are not tax deductible. However, the Gwaltney Frontier Farm Educational Foundation is a 501 (c) 3 educational foundation that helps fund our educational programs and helps pay for the physical infrastructure where we conduct our educational and instructional programs. Contributions to Gwaltney Frontier Farm Educational Foundation may be made by check mailed to 16 Dashiel Drive, Smithfield Virginia, 23430.

Be prepared to help out on this. Our programming is innovative and its breadth is unique. We touch lives. We save horses, history, and humans, all the while working to conserve and enhance the environment around us. And we have never turned anyone away for inability to pay program fees.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Picture From Life's Other Side: What's Keeping Our Program Growing During the Pandemic

Everything that we do is done by volunteers and the work of every volunteer is vitally important. Many of us have particular talents that our program can put to use. The needs of our program change from season to season.

During the pandemic, we have less going on than we ever have, yet the number of program participants continues to grow. That is entirely the result of Sherry Brickhouse Leonard's spectacular photography with Everydaylife Photography.  Sherry's pictures bring to life everything that we do at the horse lot. Sherry's pictures serve as compelling invitations to come out and join us--to work--to-learn- to ride and to grow.

Could you imagine being a photographer and being assigned to take pictures that show why the horse lot is a great place to raise one's family?  Pretty big task. I never asked Sherry to do that, but that is exactly what her pictures  have done over the years.

They really are worth a thousand words--even a thousand of my very best words.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Second Best Way To Preserve And Promote Colonial Spanish Horses

The horses that this nation was built on are entirely too close to extinction for comfort. Comparatively speaking few people have even seen one, much less ridden one. They are easy keepers with great hooves, smooth gaits, gentle temperaments--in short, the perfect family horse. Though one might never guess from looking at equine magazines the largest horse market is not for show horses, it is for family weekend and trial horses and we have the horse that fits that bill.

The second best way to preserve and promote these horses is to give people who used to ride a chance to ride them. Empty nesters, with kids all grown are looking for something special to put back in their lives. Those who once rode as young people have a thousand unspoken thoughts that keep them out of the saddle today. Thoughts like, " I'm too old", "I am too over weight", "I could not even get up there by myself", " I'll get hurt", "I don't have time to ride".....

Our smaller horses are easier to mount, less likely to cause injury from a fall than tall horses, have smooth gaits and can carry much more weight than the silly 20% rule that gives one more excuse to stay out of the saddle.

And here is the best part. You will be in significant pain for your first few rides, but it will come back to you.Your body will begin to flow with the horse the way that it once did. Your balance will renew itself. Your core muscles will strengthen.

Just because you have not been in a saddle for the last twenty does not mean that you cannot be happy in a saddle for the next twenty years.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Don't Let The Virus Ruin Your Life With Horses

"We see our friends are weeping with the badges on their door
We see their homes in mourning for the loved ones come no more
You can say just what you please, death rides on every breeze
Look how this world has made us change

Just look how this world has made a change (made a change)
Just look how this world has made a change (made a change)
You can see every day how the people pass away
Look how this world has made us  change"   

                                                                    This World Has Made A Change
                                                                     A.P. Carter

The isolation, the fear, the loss of routine, the confusion generated by contradictory information, and the weaponizing of  social media by those who seek to divide our nation now has us all walking in a world of emotions that none of us are prepared for.

So many of the impacts are obvious. Fear makes one more accepting of conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories generate more fear. Social media guides the fearful towards more conspiracy theories.

Physical health declines as stress reduces sleep, results in binge eating, and makes it that much harder get exercise. The new twenty pounds that so many of us have put on are obvious.

But other impacts are not so obvious. We worry about our loved ones--sometimes the worry is acute--more often chronic, until it becomes the back ground noise of our life.

And that is where the most insidious threat creeps in.  We have always associated affection with love, too many of us have come to associate worrying with loving. 

"Be careful--I'm worried about you!" has all too often replaced, "Have fun--I love you!"

This horrible conflation of of worry and love can disrupt, if not entirely derail, one's relationship with one's horses. It seems that kids are every bit as susceptible to this problem as adults.

Do you eagerly check out your horse to immediately see if he is "ok" when you get to the pasture? Do you start tensing up as you approach the pasture and do you get a jolt of momentary,  satisfying relief when you don't see a health problem?  Does your horse seem to have more health problems, especially small ones that are difficult to diagnose, than he did last year? Are you riding less because you just  "don't want to push him right now"? Are you spending more time researching equine health issues than you did last year? Are you feeding your horse more than you did last year? Have both you and your horse put on significant weight since the virus hit?

Last year when I arrived at the horse lot I was swarmed by kids asking what horse they should ride. Now as soon as I get out of the vehicle I am swarmed by kids who tell me that a horse or two has a kick mark or a bite mark and maybe we should not ride him for a week.

Worry is not love. Worry is not an effective tool in equine health care.

I have never "worried" a horse well. I have "worried" myself sick.

And nothing good ever came of it.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Building Great Pastures Without Chemical Fertilizers and Poisons

 Our earth worms and the microbial life that feeds them are the most important volunteers in our program. They are the building blocks of our program. The health of our livestock depends on them. They produce lush, healthy forage for our animals--and they do it all without poisoning the soil like modern chemicals and fertilizers.

Last year we began clearing Jacob's Woods, a mixed forest woodlot of about 15 acres. I only got about five acres clear. In a 1/2 acre section of that area I concentrated horses for a couple of weeks and rolled out round bales there to feed them.

This is the result. We planted no seed. We added no lime. We used no fertilizer.  Just outside the view of these pictures the same land contains no grass.

The biome in the woods was very high in fungus without sufficient bacteria to create a good home for grasses. Horse manure, horse hooves, and horse saliva brought in the bacteria that we

This winter we have to clear the remainder of the land and roll hay over it. The result will be 15 more acres of forage for our livestock along with improved habitat for quail and rabbits who use the brush piles for cover. the uptick in quail population has shocked me.

This is going to be a paradise for animals, domesticated and wild.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Terry and Sparrow Hawk

Patience, trust and willingness to take control of the horse and the situation are  really paying off for Terry and Sparrow Hawk.

This morning she rode him on a pony line for well over a mile. Next time the pony line comes off and he will be ready to take her a few thousand  miles over the next decade.

Few things inspire me more than to see training working.

Always do the math. Train with 51% control and 49% affection.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

How Long Has This Been Going On?

"She looked up at what she thought was the dirtiest grown up she had ever seen. From the brow of his Australian hat to the tip of his boots the only part of him that was not covered in dust was covered in mud composed of dust and sweat.

"What's wrong little girl? Don't I look like a lawyer to you?," he growled out in his most Wildfred Grimley like voice.

"No sir, she said, "You look like someone who makes horses be nice for little girls." ( Intro to "And a Little Child Shall Lead Them")

You know what is better than putting a kid on a horse for the first time? It's putting a kid on a horse that was once wild for the first time.

You know what is better than that? Putting a kid on a horse that was once wild, for the first time, that that kid helped train.

You know what is best of all? Putting a kid on a horse, that was once wild, for the first time, that that kid helped train, and now owns.

Here is the first kid that I put on a horse that she trained that was once wild that she owned.
And it has been quite a while.

It was years before this picture was taken and this picture was taken over ten years ago. And now Emily is grown with wonderful kids of her own.

I do not profess to know what the future holds for the rest of the world, but I am certain that Emily's future will include putting many kids on horses for their first time.

Monday, August 17, 2020

When Cultures Collide

Some things just stick out in your mind. In the tenth grade a student complained in French class concerning the way a sentence was framed in the text book.

"No one talks that way!", she said in an exasperated tone. The teacher gently responded, "You have to remember that not everyone lives in Smithfield."  The implications of that statement were among the most important parts of my high school education.

It was not long after that that I saw a copy of the Richmond Afro. I had never before seen a Black newspaper.  Up to that point I genuinely did not understand that there could be different racial and cultural perspectives on things that I had simply been taught were facts.

It was at about this time that I stopped thinking as a child.

Years of studying religion at William and Mary made it easier to understand different cultural perspectives. My years of working at Jamestown and studying the culture of the the people of Tsennacomacah who were ruled by the Powhatan helped me understand that different cultures could be completely divergent on such things as whether time ran in a straight line  or was circular.

Years ago I took a young man hunting with me who was from Fairfax, the Virginia county that perhaps most exemplifies suburbanism. As we went around the edge of a field, he saw tonnes of old farm equipment, appliances, and perhaps thirty years of material acquisition rusting and peeking out through the sand in what had been a deep, ugly erosion scar on the steep slope of the hill.

He was shocked. "That looks like a mini-junkyard."

I told him about how farmers during the Depression learned the importance of soil conservation as they watched the Dust Bowl envelop the West. I explained that for the first time farmers set in and fought erosion with every thing in their arsenal.   I got excited as I discussed it, as I usually do. I find it to be the most ironic environmental good news that one could find--using junk to save the soil.

I explained to him how it worked and worked fast to heal the soil. I explained to him what had been happening as corrosive gullies destroyed small acreage fields. I explained to him how, by working very hard, these farmers had defeated a destructive force of nature.

He did not share my enthusiasm. "Yeah, but it looks bad. Something ought to be done about it,' he explained to me, using small words so that I could understand

It is not fair for me to expect modern suburbanites and those who have been away from the soil for generations to understand the vast cultural differences between their culture and mine. My culture has its roots in post Civil War small farms. Modern suburbanite culture traces its roots to the 1950's during a time when order, appearances, and adherence to rules and regulations lead to homogeneous suburbs.

The ultimate fruit of modern suburbanite culture is the homeowners association and its role in determining and enforcing standards of appearance for the neighborhood. Farmers never had home owner's associations. We can barely stomach zoning laws (unless they protect us from having a housing development built in the community).

It would be easy to assume, without giving it a thought, that as a highly educated professional living and educated in America, eating suburban food and watching many of the same TV shows, that my core values would be in line with that of mainstream suburban values.

But that is not how it works.

My Welsh ancestors settled within 10 miles of the horse lot in 1635. To my knowledge, from then until now, I have only had one male ancestor in my direct line who never was a farmer. My culture is fading fast. When I was a child  at least 25% of the natives here still pronounced their words in keeping with their Elizabethan and African roots. I do not know of anyone with an advanced degree in my generation that still does so..but me. As I child I grew up surrounded by farms and farmers. Now I am still surrounded by farms, but the number of farmers who work that land has dwindled to just a handful--still a lot of land to be worked but worked by only a few people.

We are now a small minority that is quickly being swallowed up by the dominant culture. Such is simply the way that societies work. I have resigned myself, when off of the horse lot, to making adjustments  to this culture. The population of my county has doubled in my life time. People routinely move  into the county and pronounce the names of their roads (we never had "streets", we always made due with "roads") and communities different than they have been pronounced for the last three hundred years. It is a bit entertaining to watch as they try so earnestly to help me understand that we have been pronouncing these words wrong all along.

White suburbanite culture has never lacked confidence in its belief that its values were not only the best values, they were in fact the only values, that were worth understanding. Daddy is one of the last people living around here who actually plowed  horses in the field as a very young child.  He was a farrier for fifty years. He trained endless numbers of horses, ponies and mules to saddle and to plow, and to pull buggies and sulkys. But that was never enough to stop people, who might have a string of horse training dvds that they purchased to help them train their first horse,  from explaining to Daddy that he must not have developed "relationships" with his horses as well as they are doing with their first horse.

I am convinced that in order for our program to succeed it must be governed by the best aspects of my cultural roots. Any other option will lead to making the appearance of the place a matter of highest priority. That will cut the heart out of what we do.  I am very much in favor of man made beauty as long as it is functional. Our shelter around the round pen will be a great example of functional beauty. It will be unique and it will serve as an educational opportunity to teach about native vines.

For several hundred years we grew up believing that the solution to problems was to work, to work hard, and to earn what ever might temporally pass through our hands. As far as I know I do not own any stock, bonds, or have any investments. I have never bought a lottery ticket. We were not raised to admire wealth. The best thing that was ever to be said about a person in the community who acquired significant farm land was that he "earned every penny that he ever had."   On the other end of the spectrum, one of the worst things to say of a wealthy person was that he "never worked a day in his life."

I have to admit that the idea of stopping work to tidy up is a most peculiar concept to me.

I cannot get any satisfaction from  how the surface of land looks if I know that beneath the surface the soil has been compacted, polluted, overgrazed and abused. Allowing erosion and  loss of soil to occur is something that I find abhorrent. I believe that it reflects poorly on our program and poorly on me. Erosion is controlled wonderfully by simply  tossing large handfuls of hay string in eroded spots where the water cascades during thunderstorms. The string slows the water enough to allow the dirt in it to settle to the bottom and the deep ugly gash fills itself.

Modern suburban culture cannot understand why I would be so very ashamed of myself if I replaced my missing tooth.

I knew an old farmer in our community who would trade in his car for another one as the need developed. He was a very hard working man and spent his money well. The sales man pushed hard for him to take a more prestigious model car than the one that he wanted. Finely the old farmer agreed to try out the luxury car.

After a short while he brought the car back to the dealership.  

The price was not the problem. He explained to the sales man that he just was "not the kind of man to have a car like that." The salesman was confused. I suspect that what he thought was that the old farmer did not believe that he was good enough to be seen in a luxury car.  Modest though he was, the farmer, if pressed would have had to explain that the problem was that he was too good of a man to be seen driving around in a luxury car.

Friday, August 14, 2020

A Corolla Summer

Last summer we bred several Choctaw mares to a stunning Choctaw stallion. We also produced a beautiful Corolla filly from Baton Rouge and Pancho.

This summer we are breeding Stitch, the big Bay Corolla stallion shown above, to Long Knife. And Manteo, one of our black Corolla stallions, to Matokoa, one of the two last wild daughters of my Red Feather.

We will likely do a cross strain breeding to Polished Steel, Croatoan's last wild daughter.

I hope that next August will bring three more Corolla foals into the Corolla offsite breeding program.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Be Quiet And Listen

The things that we don't hear greatly outnumber the things that we hear. Last Saturday I went on a field trip for my Master Naturalist class. We went up to Chippoaks State Park for a session on birds.

The first thing that we did was listen for birds and then seek to locate them by sound. I realized something shocking. As much time as I spend in the woods, the only birds that I hear/notice are crows, owls, hawks, whippoorwills, and quail.

As we stood there silently I noticed, as if hearing them for the first time, a chorus of little birds of a variety of species.  Over the years my mind drowned out those sounds and replaced them with the sound of everything else going on in my life.

I have found a similar situation with trees and plants. As I began cutting in Jacob's Woods I noticed some small trees that I had never seen before. They tended to grow at an angle instead of growing up right. The wood had a pleasant fruity smell.

I wondered what the tree was and how this species could have  somehow ended up on my land. After I noticed the first few of them I came to realize that there were hundreds of these trees in the 17 acres that make up Jacob's Woods. I have been riding past them for nearly twenty years. I had hunted in those woods for 25 years before that.

I had never noticed those trees.

Then I started finding them in every hardwood forest that I rode through. They not only were not rare, they were prolific.

And I had never noticed them before.

Which brings us to a special gift that riding donkeys can give us. A donkey walks fast enough  so that one feels the wonderful sensation of movement, but trots and canters slow enough to allow for complete observation of the sights and sounds that fill the woods. On a horse, especially if I am riding in the lead of a group of riding students, I must pay extreme attention to any threat, real or imagined, that could spook any of the horses on the ride. I have to focus on the trail to make sure that the footing is sound.

I do not have to be concerned about a donkey spooking. I can pay much less attention to the soundness of the footing. I can see things in the woods that I do not see on a horse. I can hear things in the woods that I do not hear on a horse.

It bothers me to know that Colonial Spanish Horses are so rare that only a fraction of a percent of horse owners ever get to see one, much less ride one. The number of people who ever get the chance to ride a large, well trained donkey is infinitesimal.

I have a lot of work to do this morning, but my plans are changing as I write. Before I go into the office this morning, I think that this would be a great time to go quietly ride donkeys with my granddaughter and be quiet and listen as we slip silently through the woods.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

A League Of Her Own

Our Choctaw foals have taken up much of the discussion for the past several weeks, but we also had a pure Corolla filly born to Baton Rouge. She might end up bringing some very important traits to our program. Her grand father was Cyclops, the one eyed dominant stallion who maintained a large harem in the wild for many years. Her full uncle is Samson. She carries his marking.

To one degree or another all of the Banker horses are gaited. Most shuffle or single foot. Samson has the running walk of a Tennessee Walker and a peculiar canter like gait. Samson is also taller than most wild born Corollas. His body type is leaner than the average Corolla.

The only other Corolla that I know of that has that body type is Abigail's horse, Little Hawk. Neither Samson or Little Hawk remain stallions. For the future of the strain, I hope that Sankofa will preserve all of Samson's great traits.

Getting Back That Which We Have Lost

Those who are new to our program would have a hard time imagining it, but our settler's farm in may ways was once the center point, and springboard, for many of our educational programs. Initially it was constructed to serve as a picture frame to go around the Corolla Breed Conservation program.

 People are thrown for a bit of a loop when they learn that Spanish horses were the horses of early colonial Virginia, that we still have wild horses of that breed on the Outer Banks, and that this was once the frontier on the very edge of the fledgling British Empire. The buildings that made up the settler's farm put all of those things in perspective.The settler's farm lead to the expansion of breed conservation program into other breeds of heritage livestock. The smokehouse was fully functional.

The settler's farm with its simple benches for visitors served as an important point on our tours of the horse lot for both family size groups of visitors and much larger groups. Living history programs were conducted there along with discussions of the culture of the people of Tsennacomaca who were ruled by the Powhatan, who was the father of Pocahontas.

Jackie has maintained a spectacular garden of colonial plants but otherwise the area has fallen from use as the buildings aged.

It is not going to stay that way. As the virus leaves us construction of a new settlers home will be a top priority. Perhaps the following year we will add a smoke house.

In any event, we will be restoring what was once the most important part of the horse lot and we will restore our educational programs to what they once were.....

and then, of, course, we will expand them to much more than they have ever been.

Life is not static. When growth ends, decay begins.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Building a Team For Preservation

The conservation and promotion of heritage breeds of livestock works best when networking produces solid team work. The Choctaws are an incredibly rare strain of Colonial Spanish horse. Our preservation efforts for Corollas and Shacklefords lead us to meet Monique Henry whose love of the Choctaw horses brought the  first three Choctaws to our program. I have long been an admirer of Dr. Phil Sponenberg and his work lead me to first learn of the  Breeds Conservancy. Jeanette Berenger of the Conservancy assisted us in obtaining our Marsh Tackys.

Last spring I contacted Dr. Sponenberg concerning borrowing a Choctaw stallion to breed to our Choctaw and high percentage Choctaw mares. He put me in contact with Mary McConnell who loaned us one of her Choctaw stallions, Big Muddy Miracle, last August. We produced five foals from him with the last one being born two days ago.

Several weeks ago I received and email from Laurel Sherrie in California. She is one of the leaders in the efforts to preserve and promote San Clemente Island goats.  She had traced down living members of the New Hampshire strain of these goats and it turns out that my main San Clemente doe was of that strain. Since I have had her she has produced three little ones. One of them is a beautiful buck. We sold the buck to a San Clemente breeder and I offered to exchange the doe and her young female off-spring for two San Clemente does of a different strain. Getting goats too and from California from here in Virginia is not a simple matter. A team of breeders and enthusiasts worked together to shuttle the goats across the continent.

Yesterday two goats were delivered to our program and three left. That took a lot of team work and cooperation.

And in some ways this picture is the most important one of them all. This is Ututtompkin, a week old Scottish Highland calf born to Seven Leagues and Anne Bonny. Due to the work of dedicated preservationists and with the support of the Livestock Conservancy The Scottish Highland cattle have reached sufficient numbers so that they are no longer on the conservation watch list.

A very bright light at the end of a very long tunnel.