Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Change in Tone

There is another horse blog known for its tone and that tone is not one that I want to project. Today, for the third time in my life I looked at portions of that blog. I thought about the tone of my comments about conventional horse care in my last post. They were too harsh. There is no education in an insult and I hope to educate. I will work to keep my comments more positive.

By the way, this is my Corolla stallion, Trade Wind. He is a great trail horse and Secotan may have his little one this summer, making that foal the second pure Corolla born in the off site breeding program.

Being Loved to Death

Ignorance on the part of owners is at the root of most of the problems that horses face today. Too many well meaning horse owners think that obesity is a trait to be desired in horses. The horrible phrase used of halter competition horses the "Fat is the best color" embodies this ignorance. It is sad how many people think that it is cruel to refrain from feeding a fat horse "just a little can of grain."
Nearly as sad is the sight of so many horses who wear shoes "to protect their hooves" when the reality is that their hooves need to be protected from shoes. But surely nothing can be worse than the warm, comfortable stall. We punish humans by confining them in 8x12 prison cells, yet many, if not most, think that a stable is not only good for a horse, but is an absolute necessity. Every time I hear that horrible phrase, "turnout", I know that I am about to hear about a horse who is being abused by being kept confined in a stall for at least a portion of the day and allowed to be turned out to a more normal existence only for a portion of that day. For horses we call this horrid environment, full stable board. For humans we call it maximum security prison.
If you think that your horse loves his stable, just open the door and step back and see what decision he makes.
Lastly, and granted this is the hardest choice to make, but the decision to kill a horse is all too often spun into an act of love. I am not talking about horse slaughter, though it does sicken me to hear supposed horse lovers endorsing horse slaughter as a way to prevent neglect and abuse. I refer to those who demonstrate their love for horses by insisting that every horse going through a rough time should be put down to put it out of its misery. UNDERSTAND, I AM NOT REFERRING TO A PERSON WHO LOVES A HORSE THAT IS TRULY SUFFERING FROM AN INCURABLE HEALTH PROBLEM. I know of such a person who has been going through that horrible situation recently. I feel for her and there is no aspect of the horse-human relationship as painful as what she has been going through.
Instead, I refer to those who view horses as disposable and seek to prove how much they love horses, or all animals in general, by insisting that those who are infirm to the point that their infirmity is obvious be quickly, humanely killed.
Valor is a Corolla mare who was in such horrible condition that she had to be removed from the wild this spring. I do not know what her original health problem was, though I suspect that she had developed an infection from giving birth. Nursing her foal pulled her down even more. She had a heavy worm infestation which certainly resulted from the debilitation of her immune system by what ever brought her into this downward spiral. She was covered by engorged ticks as I had never seen any horse so infested. She was the most emaciated living creature that I had ever seen. She hobbled about with a hip so devoid of flesh and connective tissue that the hip did not support her. When I first saw her she did not seem to have the power to raise her head.
But she had the power to graze and if she wanted to fight to live I was not going to get in her way. Good hay, a range of wormers, minerals, and metamucil with several months of patience restored her. I have not seen her in a few months. After she regained her health she returned to the Corolla Wild Horse Fund to await adoption. Some lucky adopter will get a Corolla mare that is halter broke and tough as raw hide. I admire survivors and few horses have survived greater tests than Valor.
I knew of another Corolla whose health was not the best. He had to be removed from the wild, mainly because of his propensity to escape the sanctuary and get in the highway. A "horse lover" who saw him vehemently insisted that he be euthanized because he was "old and hungry."
That is him in the picture above, four months later. If any of you ever find me old and hungry, do not have me put down. Go get me a hot dog and some Geritol and I will be just fine.
Again, I know that there are times that the horrible decision to end equine suffering must be made and I am not criticizing those who have made that decision. I only wish that there were fewer people out there who "love" horses to death.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Horses Only Die

Confused folks. They say that I do not get to do anything else because I have to spend all my time with the horses. The reality is that I do not have to do anything else because I get to spend all of my time with the horses. I feel sorry for people who have never learned to enter a horse's world and spend time there. It is a wonderful place characterized by immutable closeness. Being part of the herd far surpasses being part of any club. My horses sometimes bite me and kick me, but the pain is so mild as to be best called discomfort. I certainly cannot be considered suffering and never approaches agony. The only pain, the only suffering, and the only agony occurs when they die. That is the only way they hurt me. Horses only die.

A Work to Be Done

Kids need horses. "Surplus" horses need homes. When we train kids in natural horsemanship we put the two together. The need for a national steering committee to promote the teaching of natural horsemanship to kids could not be clearer.
Registries, trainers, writers, and equine organizations need to set aside their perceived individual self interests to work together to promote a program that is in the interest of all horses and kids.
The sky is the limit. The kids in the photograph above worked with me during the summer of 2007 to start several colts, wild horse, and even a donkey. Through their work we trained eight equines to the degree that each was ridden on trails through the woods by the end of the summer. This was accomplished without a single buck with a rider on board. Not only was no one bucked off, no horse bucked with a rider.
Now for the point that the horse industry needs to understand. Only one of these kids came from a horse owning family. However, of the kids pictured seven are now horse owners.
Kids need horses. "Surplus" horses need homes. THE HORSE INDUSTRY NEEDS TO SELL HORSES. Teaching natural horsemanship to kids solves all three problems and continuing with business as usual insures that not one of these problems will be solved.

Friday, November 28, 2008

If I Could Write a Book...

Oh yeah, I did. Last weekend I prepared to take a Corolla stallion to show off at a horse expo and do a book signing. To my surprise, I discovered that I had sold all but one of the ones that I had at home. The book, entitled, "And a Little Child Shall Lead Them: Learning from Wild Horses and Small Children", has been very well received by readers. I plan to order another printing tonight, but one can order a copy now by hitting the link on our web site,
I guess that all books have a story behind them, but this one came into being in a bit of an unusual way. For years I have been asked at my clinics if I had a book available. I never found the time to write a book, but I did have some essays and articles that I had not yet published that could form the core of a book. Though instructional, those essays tended to be lighted hearted and humorous. I slowly pecked along at building a book around those writings.
Then I found out my mother was dieing. I began to write at a furious pace. I wanted to have the manuscript together for her to read. I finished the draft just before she died. She was too weak to read any of it. My wife offered to read some of it to her but by then the pain medicine made it too difficult for her to concentrate enough to have it read to her.
She never got to hear a word of it. After the funeral I looked over my short manuscript and realized how little it said about what was special about the relationship that I try to teach my little riders to have with their horses. I wrote much more. I expected to weave the new portions seamlessly into the manuscript, but it did not flow as I expected.
Before the final copy went off to the publisher I realized the problem. Nothing that I wrote after my mother died was light hearted or humorous. Nor was it depressing. It simply said what I felt about--about kids, about horses, and about the elusive pursuit of happiness that my life had been. It is more honest than men usually are with themselves and, like my mustangs,it was just what I wanted, whether anyone else liked it or not.
If I wrote it today there are a few things that I would change. Some felt that I was too hard on the "established horse world." I was not hard enough, particularly on horse snobs. Another flaw was my insistence that stallions should not be gelded. I now recognize the value of geldings. At the time I wrote the book my bias in favor of stallions was misplaced.
Though it may sound a bit brash, I have always considered false modesty but be just another form of dishonesty. With that said, this is a good book.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Kid Stuff

There is only one answer to the supply problem facing the horse world. We must create more riders who will increase the demand for 'surplus" horses. We believe that the best way to create more riders is to teach natural horsemanship to children. When I began teaching elementary school students the importance of advance and retreat, intense visual focus and desensitization, many people thought that the effort was bound to fail and likely to result only in injuries. Even worse, others thought that our successes could only be explained because I "had a special way with horses and children." I am not being modest when I insist that what we do is not brain surgery and anyone who knows natural horsemanship and understands kids can easily replicate our successes.
Now we will be spreading the word a little bit wider. We are working with others who care about kids and horses to develop a national steering committee to promote the teaching of natural horsemanship to young people. It can be done. It can be done safely. It can be done successfully. It IS being done in the picture above this post.
Ashley, age 13 at the time, demonstrating desensitization on a wild Corolla stallion at a clinic we did in October of 2007.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


In February of 2007 Rebecca and I joined with inspectors from the Horse of the Americas Registry and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancey, to study the Corolla and Shackleford herds in order to determine whether they were of straight Spanish heritage to the degree that they could be accepted into the HOA. (Please see the HOA home page for the great report of that inspection that was written by Vickie Ives)
While slipping through the wooded area among the Corollas Rebecca spotted a pair of young wild pigs. We followed close by hoping to get a good photo. I have been around hogs all of my life and I knew that the sow would not be far away. My senses were about as tuned in as they get. I expected to see an angry old sow at any moment.
We did not see a sow. Instead we walked up on this young bachelor stallion. It was cold and windy and he was sunning himself in an opening in the live oaks. The wind was so strong that he neither heard nor smelled us until we were right up on him. He snorted,, tossed his mane and trotted off. He was the best looking young stallion that we saw in the wild. I would have loved to have had him in the breeding program, but I was glad that he was there in the wild. Perhaps by the spring he would pick up a few mares. Surely within a year or two he would have his own band of mares and would leave his genetic imprint all over the herd. My hopes were misplaced.
A year ago today he was shot to death. Though there is a substantial reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer, the death remains unsolved.
I will never understand why anyone would choose to extinguish this magnificent creature, but I hope this picture helps others understand why we are working so hard to save them, both in the wild and under saddle.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Among the first complete sentences that my grandson spoke was , "I want to wide a hoss." Here he is on Wind in His Hair, the Chincoteague patriarch of my first two seasons of breeding. Two weeks ago a slight illness kept him from going on his first ride in the woods with me. It will happen soon. I started riding at his age and, when just a few months older than he is here I rode my first pony, Tonka, in the local Christmas parade. I was three and Tonka was two.


Kristi Craver took this great picture of another one of my wild stallions, Manteo, at the annual meeting of the Horse of the Americas Registry. His young rider, Leah, has become a solid horsewomen. She put a lot of effort into training her colt, Washikie, a Chincoteague/Appaloosa cross and he is becoming a fine young trail horse. If memory serves, Leah has only been riding a little over a year.
Manteo is my best built stallion, though smaller than Croatoan. At times he demonstrates a paso-like gait, but even when simply trotting he is smooth as glass. So far his foals seem more animated and curious than those from Croatoan. He struts. If one could breed a fighting rooster to a good mustang mare, one would get another Manteo.


Here is Ashley with Croatoan, a 13.2 Corolla stallion who is the father of Mokete, and a few 1/2 Corolla colts. He is half of the answer to the question, "But aren't they too small for adults to ride?" My 232 pound frame is the other half of the answer. I trotted on Croatoan for over 20 miles one morning. He was not the worse for wear, only experiencing some irritation from the girth.
He is available for breeding on the same conditions as my other Banker stallions.


Bet you figured out that I just found out how to put pictures on this thing. This is Wanchese, a young Shackleford stallion being held by Ashley, the best kid rider that I have ever seen. We have a pair of Shacklefords, Wanchese and a little bay mare, Persa. Some of the most beautiful Banker horses of the 20th century resulted from crosses between Shacklefords and Corollas. One of the most prolific lines in the Spanish Mustang Registry goes back to such breeding.
Even by my standards, Wanchese is small, about 12.2 or maybe 12.3. Like the Corollas, he was super willing and his training has consisted of simply pointing him in the right direction. Within minutes of delivering him to my place, Ashley was on his back and in short order he was being ridden in the woods. Those who have ridden him rank him as an even smoother ride than Sampson, JK's great young Corolla.
My stallions are available for breeding free to any HOA registered horse and for a fee to mares outside the HOA Registry.

On Learning Levels

When she was five, Sarah Lin and I were riding down the drive at a slow walk.

"Your horses' ancestors came from Spain and my ancestors came from China. They are very far apart, on different continents," she told me as we ambled along.

"That's right Sarah Lin. Now let's make a right turn with our right rein and our right leg," I responded.

"oh no. I can't do that. I only know my continents. I do not know my rights and lefts," she quickly explained

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On Courage

Sarah Lin began to canter when she was either 5 or 6. I cannot remember which. She never showed any fear during our short bursts of cantering, even when she came perilously close to hitting the ground. None of my other very little riders had her confidence. I finally asked her why she was not afraid to canter.

She told me that she had begun to watch Scooby Doo on TV alone, with no adults in the room and it made her brave.

I am not sure that this technique would work for others, but I cannot argue with success.

A great new book

For the past several years when asked to recommend a first book for someone just beginning to learn natural horsemanship I have never hesitated to recommend "The Revolution in Horsemanship." It still is a great book and should be required reading for those who are just learning to practice natural horsemanship. However, for the new horse owner and for the long time horse owner who is seeking to be freed from the bounds of "common knowledge", I cannot think of anything better than Joe Camp's "Soul of a Horse: Life's Lessons from the Herd."
Joe's book intertwines two important themes, natural horsemanship and natural horse care. Best of all, he shows how he learned both as a beginning horseman. In fact, this is the first mainstream book that I have come across that endorses natural horse care in such clear terms.
Woven into the narrative of his personal experiences in seeking to understand the horse's mind, is a series of fictional vignettes about wild horses. In those sections he gives a brief discussion of the Shacklefords, a wild herd of mustangs on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. While his historical information may be a bit suspect, the enduring truths about the nature of the horse and the possibility of developing a real relationship with a horse are not.
Put this book very high on your Christmas list.

Time Management

I am often asked how I find time to be a prosecutor, horse trainer, riding instructor, and occasional writer. Toward that end I offer the following tips to horse people who feel the need to find more time in the day.

1. Wherever you live, last night "shots rang out...a gruesome discovery was made and... the winds were variable with a big change in the weather on the way." With that knowledge in hand, you will never have to spend time watching the local news on TV.

2. Whenever possible combine childrearing and horse training. Teenager break curfew? Run him in the round pen with the colt that you are working. (Remember that a teen's bones may not be fully developed so do not force him into hard roll backs.)

3. Do not waste time waiting on the microwave. Gnaw that frozen burrito! You can do it. Beavers gnaw down trees and they only have four teeth!

4. Do not waste time putting on makeup. Grow a beard instead of wasting time shaving. Ladies, I know that some of you may not want to grow a beard but remember that it will hide the fact that you are no longer wearing makeup.

5. If you find yourself stolling through a park in a big city and encounter a disheveled man sitting on a park bench carrying on a spirited conversation with Napoleon and both Karl and Groucho Marx, do not join in on the conversation. Simply move on.
Employ the same strategy when you meet someone who owns a 17 hand horse.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mind Games

Nothing builds the strength of a young horse and the confidense of a young rider as much as hours of trotting through varied terrain. The Forty Six mile ride really bore this out as every rider who had spent the summer training that way finished the ride with no difficulty.

Now we are moving more into training the minds of both the young horses and their riders with a winter of training in a training course that we have developed in a 4 acre pasture. Like everything else that I do with my horses, we are designing this course in as economical a manner as possible.

The course will include the following: an L shaped alley through which horses must be backed, logs to cross over, a tarp to ride through, a trailer to enter, a huge tractor tire to ride through, a gate to open, ride through and close with out dismounting, a sand pit for sliding stops, a wooden bridge to navigate, a car tire to drag with a rope,a string of poles to bend, and sand moguls and mud holes to traverse.

This training will require horsemanship skills that none of my riders have..yet. By summer they all will have mastered these skills.

By that time my riders will be bomb proof. They will be able to handle a variety of horses in less than ideal circumstances. I wish that just some of the time and effort that parents put into finding the mythical "bomb proof" horse would be spent in teaching skills to kids that make them more capable of safely handling horses.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Half Breeds

Brent has been a rodeo cowboy and a working cowboy. He understands what makes some horses more athletic than others. Brent owns Young Joseph, an American Indian Horse award winner for 2007. Joseph is a Chincoteague/BLM cross. At the time I was breeding these crosses I was only interested in creating spectacular horses. I had no interest in any particular type of mustang and certainly had no interest in any particular mustang registry. This was a few years before I was able to adopt the first Corolla stallion from the wild from the Corolla Wild Horse Fund. Of course, Joseph's breeding well predated our efforts to set up off site breeding centers for the Corollas.
The Chincoteague/BLM crosses have turned out to be super horses. They are strong, have great stamina, and most importantly, they are gentle, intelligent and affectionate.
Last week Brent suggested that I breed Young Joseph's mother to Ta Sunka Witco, my Spanish Mustang stallion who is the grand son of the famous Choctaw Sundance. My knee jerk reaction to the suggestion was to reject it. After all, the colt would not be a pure bred and would not be HOA eligible. However, the colt would be eligible for the American Indian Horse Registry.
My final consideration was that the colt would still be viewed by many as simply a "grade" horse. The reality is that all he could ever be is...a spectacular horse, perhaps even greater than Young Joseph. But of course we are talking about horse breeding and reality is irrelevant to the established horse world, perception is all that matters.
I am more interested in reality than perception and I expect that down the road I will make that cross and I have no doubt that the resulting colt will be the perfect horse for the family, competitive trail riding, and perhaps endurance.
I have bred two of my Corolla stallions to a few mustang mares and one Appaloosa. It is ironic that the Appaloosa colt will look more like the original Nez Perce horses than do modern Appaloosas, who too often look like well dressed Quarter Horses or Thoroughbreds. These few half breeds will never be used in the off site breeding program no matter how spectacular they become, but they will serve as stepping stones to help the public understand what a rare treasure a Corolla Spanish Mustang is.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Devil Made Stables

The Devil made stables because he could not get horses to smoke cigarettes. My wild horses are much more comfortable out in the open than they are couped up in a stable that allows no escape from their enemies, both real and imagined. In that regard my wild horses feel exactly.... the same way your domestic horses do. Horses learn to tolerate being closed up in a stable just as we learn to drive through hours of heavy traffic each day. My herd is proof of the advantages of natural horse care. We have over 50 horses in our herds with total vet bills being less than that of many people who own only a pair of horses.

The irony is that the very things that make them so healthy and happy are the things that too many owners think constitute near abuse. My horses do not go lame because they never wear shoes and they are allowed to move in spacious pastures. My horses rarely colic because they live nearly exclusively on grass hay and grass. They digest the long stems of the hay so well because they drink from water holes in the ground which are loaded with the same bacteria and micro flora that exists in their cecum. Those that are under saddle receive several hours of hard riding a week. As a result, the worst enemy to the health of a horse, obesity, is rarely seen in my herd. There are no respiratory problems in my horses because few of them have ever stepped in a stable in their lives. Skin infections are rare because my horses are never washed with detergent products or any type of soap that kills the flora that naturally protects their skins.

No stables, no shoes, no supplements but for mineral blocks, no sparkling "clean" water, no expensive grains or "concentrate" feeds, and no part of the horse business makes big money from my herd.

If those businesses could figure out a way to charge big money for natural horse care stables and shoes would be recognized for the abusive things that they can become. Of course, until natural horse care becomes more widely accepted it will be the horses who continue to suffer. Nearly as bad, the young potential riders who can not afford conventional horse care will remain forever shut out of the horse world.