Sunday, December 18, 2022

A New Chapter For Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views

For fourteen years this blog has chronicled the work that we do in our program. During the earliest years we were simply a for profit operation that never put a profit ahead of a person. We became a breed conservation non-profit and eventually we formed a 501 (c) 3 educational non-profit, The Gwaltney Frontier Farm Educational Foundation. We grew in our scope and in our scale. The virus slowed our growth but did not kill us. 

 My daughter, Amanda, has had the blog printed in hard cover each year and the bound copies are even more important than our permanent cyber print. Several people have read the entire blog, all of the years, all of the posts, all of the pictures--can take a while to do that, but it took quite a while to write them. It took fourteen years to live them. 

 I soon turn 63 and as I age I recognize the importance of reaching more people with the simple message of what our program does and how they can build one like it. Just as we are moving into a post truth culture, I fear that we are moving into a post literacy culture. Intellectual weakness can be simply dismissed with the excuse of "TLDR".

In January we will continue this blog, but as a video blog to be seen on you tube. The links to each vlog post will be on our face book page and will be easy to see and to share.

The printed version could not be ending on a better note. 

Yesterday was our Christmas ride and social event at the horse lot. There were many individual accomplishments and family ties strengthened as generations were drawn together. So very much good went on yesterday that I will not even consider cataloguing all of them. But there were two things that make waking up worth the effort. 

A young man, who had once vowed to never do so, mounted up.  Some lucky few of you reading this understand what a big deal this is. Some even luckier, even fewer, of you have had the opportunity to share this experience with a young person. 

And those very lucky, very few, people will understand why I am so happy to end the written history of this blog with this story.

She is big enough to walk around athletically and old enough so that I understand several words from each sentence that she excitedly says. I was not quite able to understand as she told me who she was dressed as for the event (She was the "Spirit of Christmas."). Her oldest sister lead her on the trail that was so beautifully lined with Christmas decorations. Half way through, the little Corolla mare spooked and the Spirit of Christmas hit the ground. She got up and her big sister told me that she was fine and we moved out again. We had a lot of riders and walkers on this special ride. I walked up front and when I got back to the tack shed I saw the little Corolla mare being lead in without a rider. I am sure that I looked a bit concerned.

Her big sister quickly told me, "She's fine. She wanted to get back on and she just got cold on the ride."

About a hundred yards behind I saw her coming in. She was bundled in the arms of the father of two of my riders. He had carried her in for the last portion of the ride. He sat her on the ground and the Spirit of Christmas came over to see me. She wanted to let me know that she was fine and that she was not afraid to get back on. 

She looked up and told me, "It's just that I got cold. That's all."

Friday, September 23, 2022

Applying Philosophy To Natural Horsemanship

“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not.” ~ (Epictetus). 

 We are about to begin the training and retraining of nearly a dozen horses and donkeys. It is a very exciting time for our program. It has been several years since I have introduced so many program participants to their first experience of training a horse from being completely unrideable to being a safe trail horse.

 This time we are truly going to begin at the beginning. Before ever stepping into the round pen program participants will be urged to deeply understand Epictetus' principal contribution to the understanding of human endeavors. We will learn to divide the challenges that we face with each horse into those things that are in our control and those things that are not in our control. Things in which we have no control over (e.g. whether a horse has a naturally calm temperament or is super reactive) are things that we will waste absolutely no mental energy over. Things that we have control over (e.g. how we can best calm and train a super reactive horse) will be the entire focus of our work.

 And here is the part that is hard for many people to understand. We will take responsibility for correctly doing the things over which we have control. We will not allow fear to get in the way of doing our job. We will not seek out excuses for dangerous behavior on the part of young horses. We will not seek to find some past event to blame for the horse' difficulty. Such blame leads to an excuse to not train the horse.

 We will learn to not apologize for giving the horse direction and correction. We will learn that whether we choose to be the leader that our horse needs us to be is entirely in our control. We will not pretend that allowing a horse to kick, bite, or run over us, is somehow a virtue. We will not pretend that we are unable to teach a horse that which it must learn because the horse has experienced some imagined abuse in the past.

  We will not allow cowardice to masquerade as compassion. 

We will learn that it is always in our control whether we express anger or frustration. We will learn that we control our actions. We will not seek to find ways to justify ineffective, abusive behavior. 

 We will learn philosophy as we learn natural horsemanship. We will learn the incredibly hard lesson that when it comes to building solid relationships with horses what we can learn from Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus, is just as important as what we can learn from Brannaman, Anderson, and Dorrence.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

The Slow, Steady Work of Promoting Colonial Spanish Horses

After nearly twenty years of working to prevent the extinction of the rarest strains of distinctly American horses one can notice that a pattern of promotional ideas are floated on social media and tend to show back up in a few years as new preservationists become involved in the effort. I am not going to list these ideas because I do not want to create the impression that I am critical of those who make a well meaning effort to preserve and promote these extraordinary horses. 

 Many of the efforts share one thing in common. They look to modern breed horse owners as not only the market, but the only hope for the salvation of the first great horses of America. It is hard to "convert" members of the established horse world and expect them to walk away from that which they have been taught since the first time they purchased boots. They have learned too much fiction for me to be able to replace it with fact. 

 I believe that the hope of these horses is not the current horse owner, but instead is the novice. A novice who dedicates himself hard to learning natural horsemanship for six months will have a much better understanding of the horse's mind than  a  causal horse owner can pick up in six years. 

Tim sits astride Manny, a complicated Choctaw horse who was not comfortable with a rider trying to mount up. Tim turned Manny into a great trail horse and rode over a thousand miles in a year.
Not just any year, He rode over 1000 miles his first year of being a rider. He and his wife Samantha have now acquired land and Choctaw horses for their own conservation program.  

At the close of the day yesterday we had a youth church group come out for an introduction to riding. How many such young people might end up owning a Colonial Spanish horse at some point in their life because they had the opportunity to be one of only a handful of people in this world who have had the privilege of riding a Colonial Spanish horse? Who knows!

But I do know this. Every child that I put on a Colonial Spanish horse has a chance to be this generation's next Bryant Rickman, Vickie Ives, or Stephanie Hayes.  I also know that whatever potential a child might have to grow up and become a significant preservationist will not happen unless someone teaches that child to ride a Colonial Spanish horse. 

Friday, September 9, 2022

Riding For Your Life

It is a two-sided question with but one answer. How can one best insure one's ability to ride deep into our life span? How can we make riding part of something that extends that life span? The answer is to do everything that we can to take care of our health span. 

Riding can be a very important part of extending one's health span. It builds strength, power, endurance and balance. Equally important is the understanding that activities that build strength, power, endurance, and balance make riding easier, more comfortable and much more enjoyable.

 Of course, it is much easier for a horse to carry a fit rider than one whose body is but the wreckage of a sedentary lifestyle. And I am not talking about weight. Regardless of the amount of weight on the horse's back, the ease in which the horse carries the rider depends on the rider's skill, endurance, power, strength and balance.

 Over the past year we have conducted a wide range of free educational programs that are open to the public. In October we will host a session on exercise programs for horse and human designed to extend the years of riding together for both horse and rider. Keep your eyes open for the date.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

A Fall And Winter Of Teaching, Learning , and Practicing Natural Horsemanship

There has never been a more exciting time to join our program. We will be training several spectacular horses to saddle, including the stunning Corolla stallion, The Black Drink and Quannah Parker, the son of Croatoan, and a modern Appaloosa mare. Bow season starts in three weeks and during hunting season we will spend a great deal of time learning riding basics and learning to gently and humanely train horses to saddle.

We have room for several more riding students. Our rate is only $160.00 per month per family. There are few experiences more meaningful than learning to communicate with a horse on the horse's terms. Some of these horses will be more challenging to teach than will the others. I hope to have our you tube channel filled with video of people and horses learning together.

We will also be training a donkey to help us remove trees from the woods and we will be expanding our livestock for 2022-2023. We will be teaching and practicing soil and water conservation and will be working on wildlife habitat development. Our music program will be performing more now that the virus is breaking. We have just completed a very successful summer of endurance riding conditioning and conducted an in house endurance event in which many of our riders rode over forty miles and two of our riders came in for the 50th mile. One of those horses was a nearly extinct Caspian and his rider, Kate Patterson, rode him exquisitely.

There are very few educational opportunities like this available to young people.  And we have been doing this for over 15 years. And we have been doing this with no paid staff. Everything that we do is done by volunteers.We are a non-profit breed conservation program located outside Smithfield, Virginia. 

If you would like to join us please send me an email at