Tuesday, May 24, 2022

New Sessions For Young People --Lessons From The Round Pen: Building Resilience and Confidence

We are just beginning to scratch the surface in terms of how horses can help us to become emotionally stronger and happier. As we understand more about how anxiety develops and how resilience can keep it in check, we are in a better position to use our knowledge of natural horsemanship to make that happen. 

 Beginning at 6:00 pm, Thursday, May,26 we will have our next session on this vitally important topic. The sessions last an hour and are directed at teens, parents and professionals who work with young people. They will be held at Mill Swamp Indian Horses, 9299 Moonlight Road, Smithfield, VA.

 There is no charge to attend. To Register please send an email to

Sunday, May 22, 2022

We Can Choose Which World We Live In

It was hot yesterday, the first hot day of spring. By the time the sun came up I had worked out and walked about two more miles. I headed out to the horse lot and rounded up horses for my beginner riding lessons.

 This was her second time out. The first time she came out she told me that she always dreamed about riding a horse, but she never thought that it would actually happen. Turns out that that day was the day of our mounted Easter egg hunt. Kids always loved that event. She loved it more than the others.

Yesterday, we tacked up and she mounted up. She never ceased to smile from the moment we started to ride. I walked along in front and for the first time noticed how hot it was. I also noticed that my feet were beginning to bother me. 

 She immediately told me everything that she noticed. "It is so beautiful here from the ground, but it is more beautiful way up here on a horse...The breeze is so nice up here on this horse...everything in the woods is so pretty.... Today is wonderful fun...", She chattered as much as she smiled.

She would not let me stay in a world of heat and tired feet. She tugged me into her world of beauty and cool breezes. 

If I had resisted, I could have stayed in my world of heat and tired feet. But my kids teach me to do better. They teach me that when a door to happiness opens, I should walk through it. 

Even if I walk there through the heat, on tired feet. 

And as it turns out, everything in the woods was so pretty. And she was right, I had wonderful fun.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

It Is All in the 'Spectin'

This is Harley, an East/West Cross Colonial Spanish Horse from Tom Norush's breeding program, when was quite young in 2008. Jacob, his young rider and owner is seen here mounting up for the first time that Harley had a rider. Jacob rode him so long and hard, that Harley was our first National Champion Pleasure Trail horse of the year. 

With the passage of time he has taken to being a horse who feels that patience is much more important than speed. Audrey and I are planning a special ride and I suggested that she run him in her string on the ride.

She was concerned that he might slow us down. So this morning we gave him a check up. I got on Joey, our fasted Distance horse and told Audrey to keep up. We ran five miles in 28 minutes. 

When we reached the fourth mile I looked to my left to see him tearing out in an effort to pass Joey.  When he was given the opportunity to excel, along with an expectation that he would excel, he excelled.  

In a related event, last night we had a visitor out for our training clinic and he mentioned how "confident" our riders are.  That is not an unusual reaction. The first thing that people notice is that our horses and livestock are beautiful. The next thing that they notice is that the young people to not act like children. 

They are responsible, mature, dedicated, and yes, confident. 

Those attributes come from several sources. The most important is that young riders have wonderful role models when they look to our young adults and teen riders. 

Closely related is the fact that we teach responsibility and hard work. Kids, like horses, rise to the level to which they re asked to rise. It is a two part equation.

It is all in the 'spectin' . 

I ex-pect the kids to think and I re-spect their thoughts. Often when a kid comes to me with an idea and says "I think that we should have a program that does ..." the response that they generally get is  "present me with a plan, let me know what it will cost, and where we can get the needed supplies. " If a kid follows through we then work to see if the project can happen. Sometimes the best programs that we have come entirely from an idea that a young person brings to us.

Our kids are riders. Our kids are trainers. Our kids are researchers. Our kids are workers. Our kids are students. Our kids are teachers. 

Much is expected of our kids and they do not let me down.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Your Vision On The Trail

We pay attention to our hands, legs, seat, and heels, but too few trail riders pay attention to their use of their eyes when riding on the trail.

If you want to learn more about vision, perception, and balance study the work of Dr. Andrew Huberman. If you are new to using the concept of visual focus to assist both in accurate perception of your environment and in relaxation during movement, you can start by noticing how your horse responds to the way that you respond  to what you are seeing while riding.

When I initiate a turn to either side, I first focus all of my attention on a spot the size of my thumbnail in the direction in which I want the horse to go. I look with the exact same intensity as if I were aiming a rifle at that spot. The intensity of my focus is such that I nearly completely loose the perception of anything except for that spot, until the horse begins its turn. When going through difficult terrain I look, with much less focus, about 10 yards ahead of me. Doing so helps the horse bring more attention to its footing. 

In difficult terrain I do not look at the area that is but a few inches from the horse's front feet. If I do that my horses tense up and loose much of their impulsion. 

When the horse is moving well my vision is diffuse so as to absorb the movements around me. Looking ahead, in the direction in which I want to go, without intensely focusing on a small spot, helps me notice potential dangers along the trail. In that mode I am more relaxed and my horse follows suit. 

Please understand that I am not suggesting that I could hop on a horse that did not know me and realistically expect it to respond to my body's response to how I employ my vision. But the horses that I ride as a regular course of action, especially if they are rarely ridden by others, are nearly as affected by my use of my vision as they are by my use of leg cues. 

Friday, May 13, 2022

Finding Meaning In an Equine Lifestyle

Woke up in time to work out for about an hour--go pick up Audrey and ride with Audrey, Tim, Sam, and Terry for a brisk five mile session before going to the office. As the work day winded to a close hustled out to the horse lot where Tam had brought a guest out, an experienced rider who had never ridden a Colonial Spanish horse (Tam fixed that problem!) Sushi supper with Tam and her guest--hustle back to the horse lot to meet a young lady from Kentucky who is doing a study on the wild horses of the Atlantic Islands. 

 They got detained a bit and were running behind schedule--As six pm rolled around we prepared for our final session on natural horsemanship and emotional health. In the mean time we moved a wild BLM mare into the round pen. She had not been handled in a while and eventually she let me slip a rope over her head and brush her and deworm her. She was terrified and hyper reactive. After about 1/2 an hour she settled in so sweetly that I put a pad and saddle on her and lunged her until time for class.

 My wife, Beth and granddaughter arrived.  In the final session of this series on horses and mental health we wrapped things up by reviewing prey animal world view, communication, and moved into what Stoicism and cognitive behavioral therapy teaches about the impact of our thoughts, our words, our actions and our relationships with time. These messages were hammered home with repeated illustrations of how our relationships with horses can give us insight into each of these dynamics. 

 Toward the end of the session our guests from Kentucky arrived. Audrey and I showed them around with special attention to distinguishing the differences between our strains of Colonial Spanish horses--Banker (Corolla and Shackleford), Choctaw, Marsh Tacky,  high percentage Grand Canyon, Galiceno, and what are sometimes called Brislawn horses. The young lady had done her homework. She knew a lot about the horses before she got here, but as darkness was beginning to fall I learned that she had never ridden a Colonial Spanish horse, much less a formerly wild Corolla. Certainly could not have her leaving the horse lot with such a void in her life experiences. We saddled up Samson, our only Corolla who exhibits a strong running-walk gait. She went from being a student of these extraordinary horses to being a rider of them.

 If one's life is empty, go fill it. Bringing horsemanship into the lives of others is the best way to bring meaning into one's life that I have found.