Friday, August 29, 2008

Grown Ups Mount Up Too

Originally I did not plan to teach kids to ride and I certainly never intended to teach riding to adults. It has been said that I do not teach kids to ride, I simply teach them to have the confidence to ride and I do not disagree. Perhaps more importantly, I teach kids to have the confidence to fall off and get back on. Motivating kids is one of the easiest tasks that I ever taken on. I knew that the same methods that I used to motivate my little riders could never work with adults.

The only thing that has saved me in this regard is that many adults do not need to be given motivation to ride as much as they need to simply be given an opportunity to ride. My first adult rider was barely an adult. At age 21, Rebbecca looked younger than some of my teen riders. She had ridden a bit as a kid, but more importantly, she had years of experience as a gymnast. She was fearless and resolute about learning natural horsemanship. At first she only rode on the regular schedule, but soon began to take a strong interest in training colts and wild horses. Within a few months this young newly wed was coming out to the horse lot before sunrise to break colts before I had to head into the office. As her understanding of horses increased, so did her riding skills. She now is an integral part of every thing we do and has been described as my right hand. I cannot disagree.

One Saturday afternoon I was working a colt in the round pen when a a lady about my age pulled up and asked about riding. Debbie was a soft spoken women who exuded kindness. She began riding with a group of intermediate riders who were all children and pretty quickly moved into the group of more experienced "Hard Riders" who take much more challenging rides on Sunday afternoons. She was working toward a goal that fascinated me. She was planning to take a fall vacation on a working ranch out west where she would really be doing some hard riding. She achieved that goal and continues to impress me with her soft touch with the horses.

Terry was a pleasant surprise. She also is about my age. Terry is a serious athlete and has remained in top physical condition. During her very first session she demonstrated as much skill in the saddle as I expect to find after a rider has been with us for a few months. Terry was my first adult rider to purchase one of my colts. Quien Es? was a bit of a nervous BLM/Chincoteague filly. My little riders and I got her started and Terry quickly put so many miles on the little mare that she became a reliable trail horse. After Terry had been riding for many months her young son became a rider and has done a great job of putting miles on Trade Wind. Her friend Theresa has recently began riding and, like Terry, she is picking it up as if she had been around horses all of her life.

Wendy had an unusual goal when she came to our horse lot. She did not want to ride but she wanted to understand horses. She and I worked with colts and wild horses for several months. Though she had made it clear that she would never want to mount up, within a short while she took her first ride on Nick, our incredibly athletic BLM stock donkey. She now serves on the county equine advisory board which works to promote our local horse industry, owns two donkeys, a haflinger, a Gypsy mare and foal, and a beautiful little mare that she got from me. She has taken to driving more than riding and horses are now a major part of her life.

My adult riders each love horses every bit as much as do my little riders. Nearly all of them have had some exposure to horses at some point in their lives and most had a childhood love of horses, whether or not they owned a horse. JK is unique in that regard. I doubt if she had ever given horses a second thought in all of her young life. JK comes from a different world than I have ever known. She is poised, elegant, and well, glamorous. Her sun glasses cost more than some of my horses did. She is an athlete and had the same wide eyed look that many of the little girls show when they approach my horses. She was drawn to horses from the first time she mounted up. She actually gets giddy on the days we are able to ride. She owns an amazing young Corolla named Sampson. She loves her horse the same way that a ten year old girl loves her horse. A few nights ago we rode even though we were experiencing our first rain in quite a while in this drought stricken area. She has about an hour and a half drive to get home from the horse lot. Still, after the ride she sat in the lot watching the foals eat as darkness fell. JK travels around the world, often spends weekends socializing in New York, yet finds supreme beauty in a dusty pasture filled with mustangs. How can anyone believe that there is not something magical about how horses give our lives meaning?

Several of my riders' parents have become either regular riders or participants on many rides. Liz, Ann, Bill,and Kaye regularly ride with their kids and have each become a vital part of what we do. Soon Lisa will join her children on the trails and I suspect that Judy will be doing the same. The adults in our program are more than just riders. Each understands that we are trying to do something important, both for the kids and for the horses. There is no way that I could hold this operation together without their help. It is a wonderful thing to know that I can count on each of them for assistance any time that it is needed. My coat and tie world is not a pretty world. There is nothing pretty about prosecuting violent criminals, drug dealers and child molesters. Without a doubt, it is a world of pain.
Fortunately, it is not my only world. My adult riders help make the horse lot the place of special refuge that it has become.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

To Become Better People

We do not use natural horsemanship only because it gives us better horses. We use natural horsemanship because it makes us better people. Natural horsemanship teaches patience. It teaches gentleness. It teaches lightness. Most importantly, it teaches empathy. The basic principle of natural horsemanship is to simply communicate with the horse in a manner that the horse can understand. We focus on understanding the horse's body language, psychology, and social organization. In short, we seek to understand how the horse feels. They learn something that so few horse people ever learn: that a horse should never be punished for acting like a horse.

It works. Everywhere we go my little riders are complimented not only for their first rate horsemanship, but also for their maturity and compassion. Their parents are the first to notice the improvements in the rider's degree of responsibility in every aspect of their lives. They notice the increase in confidence.

My riders learn the importance of remaining in control of their emotions. They quickly see that demonstrating fear creates fear in the horse. They learn the pointlessness of anger and the destructive nature of retaliation.

These lessons are not learned in conventional "riding lessons" that focus on teaching children how to win ribbons in horse shows. That is one more way that the "established horse world" fails to serve kids and horses.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Manteo is in his third year. He was captured because he had to have a stifle release. His leg had been locked out straight for about months before he could be captured. He came to our horse lot December 19, 2006 and was our first Corolla. He was shaggy and only 12.2 hands. Since then he has grown nearly three inches.

He is ridden several hours every weekend and behaves remarkably well on the trial, even when riding with mares who are in heat. This spring and summer several of his foals were born from various non-Corolla mares. His father is one of the more well known wild Corollas, Cyclops,a tall, one eyed stallion.

Yesterday we did a 19 mile ride. Most of the ride was a a trot with a bit of cantering and limited walking. When he took the lead his ears were forward, eyes open and head up. He looked like a horse in a painting of a Conquistador.

Best of all, he looked and acted the same at mile one and mile fifteen. Equally important, his gaits are so smooth that his rider looked no more exhausted than did he.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

HOA Annual meeting

The Horse of the Americas Annual Meeting will be held at Rainbows End Farm in Suffolk, Virginia October 10,11. and 12. On Saturday October 11 my little riders and I will be doing a clinic demonstrating how we gentle wild horses and start colts. We also plan to have several Corolla Spanish Mustangs present at the meeting. The meeting is open to the public and there is not charge to attend. One need not own a Colonial Spanish Horse nor be a member of the HOA to attend.

We hope to have several different strains of Spanish Colonials present including the extremely rare Cracker Horses and Marsh Tackies. This will be a great opportunity to meet America's most historic horses along with some of the most dedicated horseman in the nation. For more information see the web site of the Horse of the America's registry.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Too Few Riders

Today's poor horse market has lead many to the conclusion that there simply are too many horses available. Some otherwise decent, though misguided, breeders even call for fewer restriction on horse slaughter. The horse industry cannot bleed itself into a better market. The problem is not that we have too many horses, but instead that we have too few riders. Anyone who really cares about horses, or kids, should support efforts to put more kids on horses.
We need to look at the financial obstacles that reduce horse ownership. Natural horse care not only radically reduces the cost of maintaining horses, it gives us healthier, happier horses. Natural horse care will one day be America's next revolution in horsemanship.
A very small percentage of horse owners are regularly involved in any aspect of the competitive horse world and we should not shape our instructional goals to simply produce ribbon winners. Instead, we need to teach real horsemanship to young riders. They need to understand how to start colts and every other aspect of natural horsemanship. Much effort is put into the futile search for the perfectly safe, bomb proof horse, yet we put no effort into producing bomb proof kids.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

On Being a Mill Swamp Rider

It is a special thing to be a Mill Swamp Rider. My riders are not seeking to win ribbons with the techniques that they learn with us. They are seeking to become real horseman. We do not try to ride in proper show style. Instead we ride in a manner that is most comfortable for the horse and rider. Heels lower than toes, toes in front of knees, sit on your pockets,use only one rein stops, and in all things seek lightness. Remove the pressure when the horse begins to start to consider thinking about possibly complying with the cue. And make that a quick release.

During the summer of 2007 my little riders and I started eight horses, including two wild stallions, and a donkey to the degree that they could be regularly ridden safely in the woods. All this was accomplished without having a single horse buck with a rider aboard.

Many of my riders purchase colts from our herd and at age two the rider and I train the horse to saddle. Not all of my riders are children. About 1/4 are adults. We put a lot of miles on our horses. We ride several nights a week during the summer, all morning on Saturdays, and all afternoon on Sunday's. On Saturday afternoons we start colts and train horses. Several of my more talented students are taking an art class at our facility with Kay Kerr with an eye toward producing equine art of sufficient quality to donate to the Corolla Wild Horse Fund for sale in the gift shop.

We have conducted clinics in three states demonstrating our methods of colt starting and have even produced a DVD on the subject. During the summer some of my little riders spend over 15 hours a week in the saddle. Our fee schedule provides for the same cost whether riding one hour per week or fifteen hours.

More about the philosophy of our riding and training program later.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Relaxing Ride over the weekend

*By Rebecca*

It's moments like these that I forget the demands of the everyday. I can relax on my short Corolla stallion, totally free from responsibilities. Swerving around and ducking under branches while cantering behind cute kids grabbing branches above brings me back to my previous carefree childhood. Of course, I love my life now, but there's something about spending a Saturday with horses and kids that puts a smile on my face. I get to forget about the dishes, about the mess I must clean up at home, I can forget about the computer emails to catch up on. I get to forget about comments that people leave on our blog that hurts feelings and upsets children.
This blog is not to upset anyone. It's here to share Mill Swamp's vision and goals. Can we breed Quarter Horses, teach cutting, pole bending, keyhole, and barrel racing? In addition to that can we raise million-dollar Arabians while also teaching hunter-jumping and dressage, oh and cross country endurance rides? Can we do all that AND save Corolla horses and every wild herd out there? Absolutely not. No one can. But certainly we can do one small part that matters. Breed those Corolla Spanish Horses for love and obedience, and comfort and strength in riding. That alone produces great conformation. Let's not forget that good conformation can mean one thing for dressage judges and a completely different thing for endurance riders. So why is this such a point of dissention? Please be constructive in your comments. If not for Steve, for his little riders who read this.

The Stone that the Builder Rejected

Foals are removed from the wild Corolla herd to manage herd size. Adults are only removed for their own protection. For example, Croatoan would leave the protection of the Four Wheel Drive area and wander into an area that exposed him to highway traffic, Manteo had to have stifle release surgery, Secotan's new born foal needed veterinary care, and Valor was in poor health. Trade wind appeared to have little chance at a comfortable life when he was removed. His front right foot was abscessed and his founder , coupled with the abscess, caused him to walk on the side of the hoof. When first observed walking he was believed to have a broken leg. The abscess was treated by the vet and he was placed at a foster farm where he received good care but had to be sedated and laid down to trim him feet.

This spring he came to us, a stunning but still limping stallion. I moved him around the round pen so that he would receive some exercise. I read Pete Ramey's great book on hoof care and decided to try those techniques on Trade Wind. First I had to gentle him enough so I could pick up his feet. It took all of Memorial Day, from sun up to supper, with a brief lunch break to do so, but I trimmed his front feet. The next morning he was moving much better. He still favored the front right foot when it was on the inside as he trotted around the round pen.

In July I mounted him for the first time. A few days later he was ridden in the woods with another Corolla stallion. With in two weeks he was being ridden regularly. I have continued with the Ramey techniques and most of all I have continued working him on hard packed soil and stretches of gravel.

He does a paso-like gait that he prefers to the canter. He does it every bit as fast as the horses around him are cantering. Best of all, he shows absolutely no soreness after a hard riding session. I expect him to have a fully grown foot by the first of the year. At that point I expect him to cease favoring the hoof under any condition. However, now that it is clear that working him causes him no pain, I do not really care if his foot gets up to 100%. He is at 98% right now and even at that level he is a first rate trail horse.

He is one of the more attractive Corolla stallions that I have seen and will be one of the foundations of the off site breeding program.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


Mokete is the first Corolla born of our off site breeding program. Her mother is under 13 hands and her father is 13.2. She is on a track to be much bigger than her father. At birth she was about 1/3 bigger than any of the wild Corolla foals that I have seen. I have another foal that was born in the wild in Feb. of 2008. She and her mother had to be removed from the wild when she was less than a week old. From that time both mare and foal have had first rate nutrition, yet Pomioc remains a normal size for a still wild foal. Sampson and Porter were captured as weanlings because they had each received injuries that required vet care. Both have been quite well fed and cared for. Sampson is tall. He is now over 14 hands. Porter is getting taller in recent months and will likely top out at just under 14.
When the Corollas actually lived in Corolla where they had access to better forage, some were much larger than those now found in the area of Corova, a site adjacent to Corolla where the horses were driven in the 90's in order to keep them from being killed in the highway. One foal is too few to build a hypothesis on but I am open to the possibility that good pre natal nutrition will produce a bigger adult than will poor prenatal nutrition and good post natal nutrition.
Another surprise is the size of my 1/2 Corolla foals. They are all much larger than were any of the foals produced in previous years even when bred to a stallion two hands taller than Croatoan. The real question will be whether a cross between a Corolla and a Shackleford will also result in off spring larger than either parent. Perhaps I will know that in two years.
Unfortunately, it may be easier to breed larger Corolla horses than it is to convince many adult riders that a 13.2 , 750 is large enough to carry them all day long. ( see our web site under the tab, I ride Ponies for a full discussion of this issue.)

Friday, August 8, 2008

Corolla Spanish Mustang Capabilities

Croatoan is a wild stallion captured in March of 2007. He is about 12 years old. He was remarkably easy to train to saddle. He was ridden in the 2007 Christmas Parade by a 10 year old rider. His fast trot is more pleasant to ride than the canter of many modern horses that I have ridden. He is 13.2 hands and carries my 230 lbs frame with no difficulty. I rode him 25 miles the last Friday in July, with about 18 of those miles trotting. He has produced some beautiful colts this summer.
Sampson came to us when he was in his second year. He was 13.2 hands and has grown a full hand in the past year. He has a super slow lope that he falls into as the other horses trot or gait. He is handling long trail rides better than any of the horses. All of our Corollas and Shacklefords are now under saddle except for two, Secotan and Red Feather. Red Feather is the only Corolla that I have seen that has been difficult to train. Trade Wind, a five year old stallion, gaits at a very fast speed. His peculiar gait is more Paso-like than the others. Manteo, the little black stallion is ridden many miles each week by young riders.
Wanchese is a Shackleford stallion that we obtained last spring. His athleticism stands out even as he grazes. All four of these stallions are so gentle and well trained that they are ridden weekly in long rides with several mares.
On July 4, 2008 we carried two Corolla stallions and two geldings down to Duck, N.C. for the Parade. Only Croatoan had ever seen a parade before. Their behavior was perfect.
They are not sprinters. They are tireless, healthy, have remarkable hooves, and have the personality of milk goats. Throw in the fact that their gaits are as smooth as glass and these nearly extinct horses are everything that I am looking for in a horse.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Unique Foals

Over the past thirty years a few Bankers were bred to Spanish Mustangs from across the plains. The resulting Spanish Colonial Horse was often referred to as an East-West cross. There are not any more pure Banker stallions in the Spanish Mustang Registry, but many SMR horses trace their lineage back to Sailor, a Banker from Currituck (Corolla). I understand that there is one pure Banker mare alive that holds SMR registration. In 2007 the Horse of the AmericasRegistry, American Indian horse Registry, and representatives of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy inspected the two remaining isolated wild herds on the Outer Banks and confirmed that they were indeed Spanish Colonial Horses. (The inspection report can be found on the HOA Web site).
Proponents of the East-West Crosses have said that the calm, trainable, affectionate nature of the Bankers was passed on to the foals when they were bred to western mustangs. Last summer I bred my Corolla stallion, Croatoan, to a few western mustangs and a beautiful Appaloosa mare. The result has been phenomenal. I have a few stunning colts available that should be excellent trail, endurance, and family horses. These foals are not part of the off site Corolla breeding program. Only pure Corollas are used for that program. The half Corollas are available for sale at weaning for $900.00. $100.00 of each sale will be donated to the Corolla Wild Horse Fund. These foals are eligible for registry with the American Indian Horse Registry.

In the News

The next issue of Virginia Sportsman will include a feature with some great pictures of some of the little riders and the horses that we have trained. The issue will be out in mid September. Mokete, the first pure Corolla born of the Corolla off site breeding, was featured in the regional press with a picture of her at about a week old. This week I learned that the American Indian Horse Registry has honored me with the Keeper of the Flame Award for our efforts to preserve and promote the Corollas. For more information on the off site breeding program see our web site at

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

True Horse Professionals

Tim Ware is one of my favorite modern horse care experts. I highly recommend his book. I strongly disagree with his belief that a horse's safe carrying capacity is only 15% of its body weight. Ware is a friendly,yet soft spoken man. I emailed him asking why he believed in such a low weight limit. He very calmly explained that it was not important to him that I agree with him, and went on to explain his position. I was struck by the wisdom of his response (though I still strongly disagree with his 15% rule). I have taken that view to heart.

It certainly is not important to me for "the established horse world" to agree with me. It is of much less concern that "true horse professionals" share my views. In fact, the older I get the more I find that I am only interested in gaining the respect and affection of horses.

I am not writing this to obtain the approval of an established horse world that approves of horse slaughter, sacrifices the legs of young race horses for the entertainment of gamblers, and encourages kids to buy "better" horses so they can "compete at a higher level."

I am not concerned that my views on the unimportance of what ever the fad of the day is for "proper " equine conformation may repel true horse professionals from mustangs.

Though not concerned, I am a bit perplexed as to why I would be found to be "disgusting." Before court today I showered, shaved, put in my new teeth, and even kicked the dust off of my boots. Impressive yes, disgusting, certainly not (well every now and then maybe.)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Some pictures

Medicine Dog, BLM mustang.

Manteo - first Corolla stallion at MSIH.

Emily, Steve's neice on Croatoan, a stallion from Corolla.

Mokete, first Corolla baby born in the Breeding program.

Corolla speed training for an upcoming clinic.

Our Breeding Goals

In recent years we have spear headed the effort to raise the endangered Corolla Spanish Mustangs in captivity in order to stave off extinction. Prior to doing so I had taken on several BLM mustangs which I bred to a great little Chincoteague, Wind in His Hair. The resulting cross produced a series of incredible horses, small, tough, athletic and affectionate. Two years ago I bred some of those same mares to a Spanish mustang stallion and I produced some beautiful athletes, but they lack the warmth and affection of the 1/2 Chincoteagues.

Recently I have found exactly what I am looking for in a horse in the Corolla Spanish Mustangs. They are the easiest horses to train that I have handled. Most are gaited, but I do not know exactly which gait it is that they display, some are Paso-like, others seem to single foot. They love attention and are great with children.

I am not a stickler for conformation. I am a stickler for affection, willingness to learn, and obedience. Another blog, which I have only read once, emphasizes perceived flaws in a horse's
conformation. I do not see what can be learned by looking at a picture of a horse. What matters never shows up in pictures because what really matters is on the inside.

We will continue to promote and breed Corollas. In doing so I will breed for several characteristics. I want a smoth gaited horse who is smart and affectionate. I want a horse who is glad to see me. I also want a horse who understands how you feel when your mother dies.

Without these characteristics it does not matter to me if a horse is a Triple Crown winner, national reining champion, Olympic jumper, or Tevis cup record holder. Without these characteristics, that horse is merely a shadow of what it could be be.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Why have another horse blog out there?

We come with a point of view that is rarely expressed either in the mainline equine publications or on most horse message boards. I have no interest in pleasing only the incredibly small portion of horse owners who belong to the competitive horse world. Though they are but a fraction of all owners, they consume a disproportionate amount of equibusiness products. As a result, the market caters to those owners. I have one of the largest equine operations in my area yet cost for non feed related items for my horses is nearly nothing. Why would any agribusiness firm be interested in touting the way my horses live? Why would any of the major publications have any such interest if their advertisers do not? Why let the truth get in the way of profit?
The truth is that horses need grass or hay, water, and movement. They did not evolve to eat sugar. They did not evolve to live in stables. They did not evolve drinking the sparklingly clear water that is seen on beer commercials. Horses that live naturally are physically, and equally important, emotionally healthy. They are happier than the pampered horses confined to live in the horse hell of a stable with "limited turnout." And they are affordable. One of the greatest sins of the established horse world is that it has created the myth that horse ownership is beyond the means of working people.