Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Only The Rocks Live Forever

Or at least so goes the old war cry and death song of the Plains. A meaningful life. A meaningless death. But through it all--perseverance.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ghost of Christmas Future

In 2010 we will be back on track. Most importantly, the Corolla Off Site breeding program will be in full swing. This spring I plan to breed at least three pure Corolla mares to various pure Corolla stallions. The foals will be born in the spring of 2011.

If you are new to this blog and do not know about the program please get in touch with me at The Corollas are teetering on the brink of extinction. Less than 110 remain free in the wild and there are probably less than 50 pure Corollas that have been domesticated. The foals that we produce are the safety net to prevent the extinction of the best strain of horse that I have encountered.

The foals that I produce are priceless. For that reason they have no price. They are placed at no charge to those who are serious about participating in the breeding program over the long haul. With horses placed in Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, and Maine we are off to a good start.

If you are interested in participating in this preservation effort I will be happy to discuss placing one of the upcoming foals with you. If you want to assist the Corollas in other ways, please become a member of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund. (Memberships make perfect Christmas gifts for the horse lover who has everything. For more information visit the Corolla Wild Horse Funds web site.)

We have three Corolla stallions and one Shackleford stallion available for breeding at no cost to any mare that is registered with the Horse of the Americas Registry.

The picture shown above is of Mokete, the first foal produced by the Off Site breeding program. Her owner is dedicated to the preservation of the Corolla Spanish mustangs and in a few years Mokete will be producing beautiful Corolla foals.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Lights, Camera, Action

On Tuesday, December 29, at 11:00, am a news crew from a local station,(Fox 43), will be coming out to film a light piece on our horses and, indirectly, our program. Rebecca, on her own initiative, made the contact to set up this filming. It was also her idea to do it on December 29 in order to give me both a distraction and something to look forward to on that day.

Some old men have to stumble through life without having a Rebecca to look out for them. That must be rough.

(Here is a picture of Rebecca, Croatoan, and the second neatest little boy on the planet, Liam)

Higher Calling?

I cannot really claim that it is a higher calling, but as I have gotten older I realize that I have a different calling. When I was young I was a politician and I loved every moment of it. Under no circumstances would I go back to that life now. I have been a prosecutor for over a decade but the only real satisfaction that I derive from my job is when I help a victim of molestation or child abuse through a trial. But for that, I have come to realize that there is very little that I do outside of the horse lot that will have a deep impact on anyone for the better.

Recently it became apparent that we will soon have a vacancy in a judgeship. As had happened before, within minutes of the word leaking out I was asked if I would be interested in seeking appointment to the bench. I must admit that I seriously considered doing so for at least 15 seconds.

I cannot accept any position that would take me away from my horses and my little riders for even an additional moment. There are others who would make a great judges, but I really do not think that I could find anyone better suited to take care of my horses and my little riders than me.

It is particularly ironic that when a previous judgeship came open a senior member of the bar was concerned about my courtroom attire and whether it presented the proper image for a judge (I guess he disapproved of boots and rodeo shirts in the court room.) Since that time I have made significant changes in my courtroom wardrobe as show above in this picture of my special suit that I wear to argue cases on appeal.

Monday, December 14, 2009


I got a pleasant surprise when I got back from court today. I learned that the First Place Trophy for Horses in the Christmas Parade went to Mill Swamp Indian Horses

Sunday, December 13, 2009


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Corollas on Parade

It was a bit nippy yesterday at the Smithfield Christmas Parade. I think that it got up to about forty degrees. Judging from several of the pictures it seems that my belly, like water, expands when it gets cold.

We rode six Corollas, one Shackleford,one Chincoteague, a Paint,an HOA East/West cross,and several Chinco-stangs. Wendy lead her young filly, Mokete,the first pure Corolla foal born of the off site breeding program. My wife Beth lead our four year old grandson, Aiden, on Wind in His Hair and my five year old niece rode her mustang stallion, Spotted Fox, with my father walking along side. (We had four stallions in yesterday's group) Rebecca rode Manteo, our cold black Corolla stallion. It was her first ride since having Luke on Sept 11. KC, Carly, Rylee, Sarah Lin, Aiden, Emily, and Thomas all rode in their first parade yesterday. Several parents and my two newest riders walked along side of the rest of us.

Everyone did great but I think that Rylee, Lydia, Jacob,and Brenna were probably the proudest in our group, and for good reason. Each was riding their own horse, who they had trained, in its first parade.

Our Indian Horses, most of whom were born wild, and all of whom were trained by my little riders and me, took the noise and the fanfare wonderfully. They were great mustang ambassadors.

I was proud of several things yesterday, but what I liked best was the commute to and from the parade. We rode there through the woods and along side the road.

Our horses are tough and smart. So are my riders.

Spring Planting

Of course my little riders can do more than just train wild horses! This picture is from a benefit for the local homeless shelter program that we played 12-11-09. KC is playing the guitar on stage for the first time. Carley gave her first performance on my old autoharp. I cannot claim any credit for the compliment of girls singing. They were all great singers before they ever met me. Lydia, Jemma, and Sarah Barr are joined in this picture by Emily Marble. That is Daddy on the guitar. (The instrument in my hand is a wooden three stringed banjo.)

I started playing on stage with some of my little siblings about 35 years ago. Like my own daughters, they are all grown now. Perhaps I have stumbled onto a new group of kids and young people to step up to the microphone now and then.

I enjoy teaching kids ancient mountain songs that have real meaning. I love watching them learn and grow.

Its like watching a garden grow.

Perhaps this will make a new crop of young musicians for me.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What's Your Momma's Name Child? What's Your Momma's Name?

A previous comment has me thinking about some other bits and pieces of information that I have picked up over the years. However, make no mistake, my musings will not result in any 1/2 Corollas being used in the Off Site Breeding Program which is designed to be a safety net to help prevent the extinction of these amazing little horses.

The comment pointed out that a cross between my Spanish Mustang stallion, Ta Sunka Witco and Amanda's Corolla mare, Secotan, would likely produce a great horse. I cannot disagree, but there are so few Corolla mares out there to breed that I do not want to waste a breeding of those mares to anything but a Corolla stallion. But on the other hand, Ta Sunka is everything that I could want in a horse, but for a trot that is a bit slower than I would like and at a little over 14 hands, he is taller than I prefer a horse to be. He is amazing. The grand son of the famous Choctaw Sun dance on his fathers side, and descended from Yellow Fox on his mother's side, he still is a great horse for anyone who would want to still be able to walk after riding a fifty mile day. He is smooth, comfortable, and provided there are no mares around, can be handled by a kindergartener. His father had heavy appaloosa coloring and Ta Sunka is a blood sweat with all of the other features associated with the LP gene.

I also am aware that some of the finest horses in the Spanish Mustang Registry trace their lineage back to Sailor, a Corolla/Shackleford, who ran with a herd of mares on the Cayuse Ranch for many years. Of course, Tom Norush, president of the Horse of the Americas Registry, developed an entire breeding program based on crossing western mustangs and those who lines went back to the beaches of North Carolina. I know that that program produced great horses. Jacob's great young horse, Uncle Harley, HOA Pleasure Trail Horse of the Year, is a result of that breeding program.

Lastly, I am rattled by a comment that Dianne W. made to me at the HOA annual meeting. She is a particularly keen thinker whose posts on the various mustang message boards are always worth reading. She opined that breeding SMR horses to Corollas would not be bringing in outside blood but would simply be replacing blood that has been lost. Without a doubt there has been a great deal of loss of genetic material in the Corolla herd. They have fewer alleles in their DNA than hardly any other group of horse that has been tested. In the past fifty years pinto coloring of any form has been all but lost on the Outer Banks. Would it be wrong to put that back in? She makes a very good point.

I am afraid to play with fire. As long as possible I want only pure Corollas in the off site breeding program. I am not even willing to take the very short leap to include any Shacklefords in the program.

That does not mean that I oppose out crossing to other Colonial Spanish Horses. I simply do not want any of the mares in our program to be bred to outsiders. We have several stallions that we will happily breed free of charge to any HOA registered mare.

I have a few 1/2 Corollas left that I bred from my non Corolla mares for sale. There are only three left. In the future I hope to breed Ta Sunka to a Shackleford mare. Should an SMR mare come into my hands I will only breed her to my Corollas and my one Shackleford stallion.

Vickie Ives of Karma Farms in Texas has a few Corollas and I expect that she will breed her Corolla stallion to other strains of Colonial Spanish Horses and I am very curious to see the result. I can already picture product of such a cross in my mind--small, tough, endless endurance, and friendlier than a milk goat.

(Here is a quick snap shot of Ta Sunka. The picture does not do him justice. For some reason I do not have hardly any shots of him on this computer. Perhaps it is because my little photographers only like to take pictures of the horses that they ride.)

Collateral Benefits II

Here are three key facts to understand:

1. By most measures I am 50-70 pounds over weight. My diet is composed largely of cheese, pork chops, sausage, steak, hamburger,vitamins and sushi.

2. I ride long hours and regularly do 5 mile cantering conditioning rides. My pastures are deep and narrow. By the time I have caught and saddled a few horses I have walked over a mile. Over the past six months or so I have begun adding Tabata Protocol exercises to my weekly schedule.

3. Yesterday the doctor reviewed all of the extensive lab work that was done during a recent physical. The numbers in each category were not just OK for an old, fat man, they would have been spectacular for a 22 year old trained athlete. The only exception was blood pressure which is kept in check by medication.

Here is the point. A lifestyle that is centered around horses is obviously an extremely healthy lifestyle. The blood work only shows what it is doing for my physical health. It cannot measure mental health, but I can say with absolute certainty that the closest that I ever come to happiness is when I am with the horses.

Of course, there is a down side to everything. Simply looking in a mirror and seeing what a wreck I have become over the last thirty years has put a damper on any truly long range planning. I figured that I would probably make it until about age 52 so I hadn't made plans that went much beyond that.

Now I have to figure out something to do for the next 30-40 years.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Great Trail Horse

"Great Trail Horse" is a term that gets thrown around a lot without much of a definition. To a great extent NATRAC competitions seek to define the term with the variety of tests that contestants are subjected to. I can't argue with anything that is done in those events.

My test is cruder, simpler, and granted, probably not as good of an assessment tool as a NATRAC course.

Good trail horses do great on the trail, but to be great a trail horse must be able to handle the challenge of proceeding where there is no trail at all. Often I take my riders through stretches of woods that I have not been through in thirty years. Yesterday I took them through a stretch that I had never been into in my life. We are in the wettest season that I have seen in my life time. Each step that the horses took in the woods sunk them into a mire, some deeper than others, but each draining the horse's energy and at times leaving them staggering as they sought firmer footing.

For the last couple of weeks I have been putting a lot of time into Persa, my little Shackleford mare. She is smaller than Holland, and so far is not as tough as he is. However, she has not had the hundreds of miles of conditioning riding that Holland has had since last spring.

She whipped the muck. She whipped the briers. She whipped her flight instinct when we jumped a herd of deer. On higher ground she trotted on in a beautiful Spanish gait that makes other breeds seem to be missing a wheel. She took the lead the entire ride and went every where that I asked her to. And her thirteen hand frame carried my 200 lbs plus body with ease and grace. She already is a great trail horse with probably less than 250 miles under her.

I put her in with Tradewind, my bay Corolla stallion. I hope that she conceived.

Easy to handle, comfortable gaits, able to carry children and adults, small enough to require about 60% of the feed necessary to maintain a large quarter horse, stylish,historic, beautiful, unbelievable endurance--yet the wild horses of Corolla stand on the brink of extinction.

Get involved with our off site breeding program. Next spring I will be breeding a few Corolla mares that are in captivity to several Corolla stallions. I do not sell these rare foals. I give them to breeders who are serious about carrying on this work.

Even if that is not in the cards for your family, if you would like to have a half Corolla foal I currently have Three Corolla and one Shackleford stallion available for breeding to outside mares. HOWEVER, those 1/2 Corollas will never be part of the breeding program. They will simply be super horses.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

On To Richmond

As plans further progress we will keep you posted, but at this point we can announce that my little riders and I will be doing a training clinic and other presentations regarding the training and preservation of the Corollas at the 2010 Virginia Equine Exposition in Richmond, VA in October. We promote these horses in every forum possible including parades, museum presentations, clinics, a documentary, magazine articles, television and the Internet.

Swimmer, the Corolla mare pictured above, has been adopted and will be part of the off site breeding program. She is pictured here at a clinic at Wild Horse Days in North Carolina last July. A quick glance at Swimmer reveals why the Corollas have been called the Horse of Kings.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Crying Oh The Dreadful Wind and Rain

I think that I am living through the wettest season in my adult life and it is beginning to tell and others around me. I hate muck and deep mud. I have a visceral feeling of frustration and resentment every time I slip in the mud and every time my boots are held in place by the suction of a pasture turned to bog.

I trace my feelings back to several years ago when it was too wet to get close to the horse lot even in a 4 wheel drive pick up. I had to carry each bale of hay, morning and night about 1/4 of a mile. Each time my foot would slip even the slightest bit pretty heavy pain shot through me because I was recovering from several broken ribs at the time. If I had not had a bit of help carrying those bales I am not sure that I could have accomplished a task as simple as feeding the horses.

My mind is my most insidious enemy. It is now December and moving ever closer to December 29. With the help of my wife, my riders and their families, and most of all my horses I have been plodding toward the end of this horrible month in at least a satisfactory manner.

However, earlier this week I was about to feed up in the darkness, in ankle deep mud and driving rain. For a fleeting moment it flashed through my mind that I needed to pick up Lido to help me feed up like he had done when it was so muddy and my ribs were broken. I had actually positioned my hand on the steering wheel to turn to go pick him up.

Of course, then I remembered that he was dead and had been so since December 29. I do not know why such pain is called heart ache. My heart felt fine but I instantly felt a blow to my midsection and a queasy feeling that has been around for a week now. Maybe because of that queasy feeling I was not paying enough attention to avoiding the holes and ruts and I hit a hole-rut combination too hard and too fast on the way out. My vehicle left the ground and slammed down hard on four wheels. Right beside the spot where Lido died.

Since that time two riders' vehicles have gotten stuck in the path only a few feet from there.

Of course, no repair work can be done on the path until it is dry. Riders will have to park at the Little House and walk up to the tack shed. They do not have to worry about jumping across the swamp to get there.

They can walk across the beautiful bridge constructed by Boy Scouts and my riders as Chaz Hornbaker's Eagle Scout project. As the plaque on the bridge states, the bridge is the Patrick Lido Edwards, "If I Can Do it Then Why Can't You?" bridge.

When the path dries I will begin to repair it. Until then we will all walk across Lido's bridge.

United States Equine Rescue League

I am very happy to announce that a portion of the proceeds of my book "And A Little Child Shall lead Them: Learning From Wild Horses and Small Children," is being directly contributed to USERL. I am very impressed with the work of this organization. Whether one buys a book or not, this is a great organization in which to make a donation.

In order to have a portion of the sales donated to USERL it is necessary to roder the book through USERL or directly from me, at (Books ordered through Barnes and Noble, etc will slip through the cracks with out me knowing of the sale.)

The book is much more than a horse training manual. It makes it clear what having relationships with horses can do for those horses and for the people who handle them.

The horse above is a Virginia Range stock mustang named Annie. I believe that this is a picture of the first mounting of the horse. The rider is a dedicated USERL volunteer who had limited riding experience and who is over the age of 21. She credits the book, especially the sections on my little brother Lido (Patrick), and the time that she has spent watching my little riders ride and train with giving her the information and the confidence to take on the gentling and training of her mustang.

Night Riders

I might have stumbled into an important learning tool. As all users of the wii fit program know, balance can be improved by doing movements with the eyes closed. We have recently expanded our night riding program and I am noticing improvements in leaps and bounds in the riders' ability to ride balanced in the saddle.

The most obvious gains are in intermediate students with limited riding experience. However, I am surprised to see how much my balance has improved since I began night riding. Not long ago the rider behind me told me that she thought something looked wrong with my saddle. This was after we had cantered and trotted about 3/4 mile. We had even jumped a small ditch. I really did not think that there was any problem with the saddle but I stopped just to check and discovered that my billet had worn through and the girth was now only attached on one side.

As I continue these rides I may very well have a new teaching tool that will strengthen our program. I have already discovered that if a novice learns how to control a horse in the round pen and learns all of the proper cues to use in riding, that rider can develop the muscle memory to become an intermediate rider simply by trotting through the woods without a break for about an hour.

Of course, all of these techniques only improve a rider's physical ability and each are dependant on the rider having the confidence to take that next step in learning. Teaching confidence is the hardest part. Year's ago my father made the off hand comment that I did not teach kids how to ride. He said that riding was like swimming, we all are born knowing how to do it. The only thing, he said, that I did with my little riders was to give them enough confidence in themselves to go ahead and allow their bodies to do what they all ready knew how to do.

There is a bit of an oversimplification in that view, but only a bit.

"Heels lower than toes, toes in front of knees, hands lower than belly buttons, sitting on your pockets and ....trot." That is our unabridged instructional manual. The slouched, lackadaisical look that we have in the saddle in despised in the show ring. Seems that the only ones who approve of this posture are the horses and little kids who ride them 50 miles in one day.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Reining In Riders

Taming wild horses is not the most difficult thing that we do. Teaching natural horsemanship to kids is not the most difficult thing that we do. Riding safely in wet and rough terrain is not the most difficult thing that we do.

Motivating and managing kids is the most difficult thing that we do. Teaching kids to deal with fear is a tall wall to climb and cannot be done without supportive parents. If a parent says or does anything to reinforce the child's fear I have no card that can trump that. The horrible reality is if that fear results in a child who wants to ride quitting the ground work is laid for the child to develop or exacerbate one of America's most horrible mental health epidemics, anxiety disorder. (More about this complex issue in future posts).

A more irritating but less severe problem is dealing with the self centeredness and absolute lack of judgement that is a natural part of being a teenager. It is particularly ironic that 15 year olds need closer supervision than 8 year olds. I may have done some of these teens a disservice by being too tolerant of poor behavior and attitudes.

Here is the dilemma. I can make the program more enjoyable for myself and for other participants by simply expelling kids whose attitudes are detrimental to the program. However, I understand the tremendous therapeutic value of horses for those with difficulties in their lives. My pastures are not just play pens for perfect kids. They are places of growing and healing and to a great extent a healthy man is not in need of a doctor.

The bottom line is that I will not toss kids out of the program simply because they create problems but I will require kids, more so than I have ever done, to work on their problems and to use their time in the horse lot to improve themselves. Of course, for this effort to be effective I will have to have 100% support from the parents of my riders.

Our program is going to change significantly for the better in 2010. I hope that all of my little riders want to be part of those improvements.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I Caught a White Whale

I rode Red Feather in the woods. He had been ridden in the woods a handful of times before, but never by me. He was the most athletic and the most violent horse with whom I had ever shared a round pen. He kicked and bit me more than all the other horses in my life time, put together. It had been 11 months since he had hurt me badly and in that eleven months we have become quite close. He prefers my company to that of other horses and I prefer his company to all but a few other humans.

We understand each other. He is me. When he was young he was truly wild and free. He made his own rules, as did I. When I was young I was the youngest head of a municipal government in Virginia. He was strong. When I was 14 I bench pressed 250 pounds. He was the master of his herd and I was the oldest son, of the oldest son, of the oldest son, of an only son. He lost the tip of his ear fighting as a stallion in the wild. I have had several broken bones, leg, pelvis, collar bone, and ribs but I have never worn a cast. He was perfectly willing to run over anything that got in his way. At age twelve I was the slowest member of my baseball team but had the most stolen bases, because if the ball is dropped after the runner is tagged out the runner is safe. (If, at the conclusion of the collision the fielder lies motionless on the ground, chances are he dropped the ball.)

But now we are both gentle and sweet natured. We have both learned to keep our emotions in check and we both have a strong preference for cordiality over confrontation. He has given me his most precious gift--his trust. I am working to return the favor by giving him a lighter payload. Next year when we do fifty miles together I plan for there to be about 25 pounds less of me on him.

I freely admit that at first there were many times that I either thought that I would never be able to ride him or that when I did he would mangle me the same way he did the saddles that he had bucked from his body. (He once attacked a blanket that he had bucked off). Now I have no such concerns. I was him when we were both young and now he is me, calm, peaceful, and absolutely in control because he is perfectly willing to give up control.

Ahab died pursuing his white whale. My white whale and I are set to live happily ever after. Ahab should have learned to relax.

I rode Red Feather in the woods.

(This shot is of one of the first times that Red Feather allowed anything to touch his back.)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

And It Pleased God To Place Before Us a Greatte Repast, Indeed a Feast

Having landed upon the shore of the river called by us James, for our beloved King, and called by the Indians, Powhatan, for thier King, came a gaggle of Gentlemen,explorers, adventurers,and many of the lower sort of their landes. Some from the lands to the north, called by the natives there as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New York. Some from the land of enchantment to the east, a land inhabited by the people of Chin, known to us as China. Others from lands to the west--strange,unknown places called in legends by exotic names such as the kingdom of Nebraska, a land called Iowa, and a mysterious land known only as Missourie--(a land that doth be of such strangeness that even the natives there spell it correctly not).

And there on the 25th day of November, in the year of our Lord, 2009 came said people to the land once know by the natives as Tsennacomacah, four miles west from the village once known as Mokete, a village visited by Capt. John Smith in the year of our Lord, 1608, from whence village he traded for much Indian Corn and took by stealth and force of arms, the young nephew of the Werowance (chief) of the people of Warrosquoyack.

In commemration of the feasting of our predecessors and in thankfullness to God who has blessed us with plenty; the explorers and adventurers from all such lands, both of the better and lesser sort, gathered yesterday at the principal site of Mill Swamp Indian Horses to dine on deer, rabbbit, quail, fish, oysters, clams, duck, along with a bit of the flesh of cattle, kine, and that of a young pork.

Said guests brought assorted dishes of vegetables and sweet dainties and bread made of the corn of the Indians. Young Masters KC and Christian, along with young maiden, Carley having spent the day constructing cooking racks of young saplings and roasting fish, fowl, and game the entire day;a great feast was had by all.

After the darkness had fallen upon us Maid Emily lead the younger riders into the pastures, all free of light, whereupon each took mount on a Spanish Horse and rode deep into the woods, often trotting for miles on end with out a break.

In the darkness the only sound was often the splash of gaited hooves in the swamp and mire of that which was once but a small part of Tsennacomacah. And how long had it been since the sound of Spanish hooves pierced the darkness of these swamps--was it three hundred years ago, or was it only yesterday?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Missing The Point

Many visitors are surprised at how warm and affectionate our horses are, especially those who once lived wild. What they do not understand, (and I do not blame them for missing the point), is that they are warm and affectionate because, not in spite of the fact, they were once wild.

Perhaps to best understand one should simply slowly walk across a pasture of modern milk goats. Chances are they will fall in and follow you around even if you are a complete stranger. They do so instinctively because it is a behavior that they are genetically programmed to do. Over thousands of years the goats that did not have a drive to follow human direction followed their wonder lust and ambled away from the flock. They took their hobo genes with them, leaving those who were driven to follow human direction to reproduce their genes in the domestic flock. After a few centuries, following human direction for these domestic goats became as natural as grazing.

Prey animal behavior, as demonstrated in herd animals, requires that the animal at least be sociable enough to learn how to read the signals of other herd members that could save its life in the event of a predator attack. Psychos, and obnoxious, anti-social jerks did not fit well in the herd's social structure and over the years their behavior lead to disproportionate incidences of isolation or early death through predation. Sociable animals who work to fit in and bond with each other lead longer lives, produced more off spring and passed on that genetic need to bond.

Owners of Spanish Mustang Registry horses, most of which are several generations from the wild often point to their horse's strong desire to attach themselves to humans as a special feature of the SMR horse. It is not. It is more pronounced in the SMR horse because, though he was not born in the wild, his genetics were shaped much more by the years in the wilderness that his ancestors spent than they are by the relatively few minutes his ancestors have spent in the domestication.

In fact, after one properly gentles a horse that was raised in the wild, be they BLM, Chincoteague, Corolla, Shackleford, or any other long term feral herd, one will find that that horse has a much stronger need for human contact and affection than do most modern horses.

The catch is that too few people know how to properly tame and gentle wild horses. When more people get to see the end result perhaps more people will be willing to accept the challenge of becoming a true horseman.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Burying a Colt

People, especially men, do not understand why so much of the work at my horse lot is done by hand, usually my hand. I am often asked what kind of excavator I will be using for a certain project and when I tell them,"a shovel" people wait for the punch line. What kind of power saw did you use to cut down those mimosa trees? A tool called lopper which is like a hedge trimmer.

Sometimes people tell me that what I am planning to do is impossible to do with a shovel. But I have seen things that they have not seen. In all of these years I have only lost one foal to natural causes. A big strong, healthy weanling developed pneumonia of an undetermined cause and died despite treatment.

I had to go to town and planned to bury him when I got back. Instead, upon my return I could only see a huge hole in the ground that was so deep that the person shoveling out sand at lightning speed was out of my sight.

I walked up to the hole, thanked Lido and told him that the hole was big enough. Lido dug that hole with a shovel, using the left side of his body. Cerebral palsy made the right side of nearly no value to him.

As the plaque says on the bridge dedicated to Lido, "If I can do it then why can't you?'

Saturday, November 14, 2009

She Did It

Today Emily took Lucy, our hinny, into the woods for pretty much the entire afternoon without incident. Every gait, every stop, every turn was as if she had been doing it all her life. She took the mud, the water, and even took the lead ahead of the other horses.

She is already what Lido would call a very fine 'quine.

There were other huge accomplishments today but that will be the subject of a later post.

Friday, November 13, 2009

When Others Replace Us

"Will we be missed when others replace us
working in the field that in spring time we sowed?
No for the sowers will pass from their labors,
only remembered for what they have done."

This verse from an old Pentecostal hymn and the picture above it sum up everything that I am trying to accomplish with my little riders. The established horse world cannot accept that kids can be taught natural horsemanship, can learn to ride the wind, and can train wild horses and colts, thereby drawing an entirely new group into horse ownership and providing an ethical answer to the problem of "unwanted" horses. They cannot accept this but, as much as they would like to, they cannot deny what my little riders are doing.

Emily was a 15 or 16 year old absolute novice when I met her. She is now a college freshman who just finished putting the final touches on a mustang mare that had given me great difficulty. She can train wild horses and she can teach kids and I have no doubt that she will do both for the rest of her life, regardless of what path her professional life might take her on. She will make what we are sowing grow.

And she is not the only one of my riders that I can count on to carry on the work. Both of her younger sisters will be first rate trainers and teachers. Lydia is not old enough to drive but she is already being paid to train horses. Another young rider is teaching a younger neighbor ride. Another young rider has adopted a Corolla mare and has her in the off site breeding program. Another has a great blog promoting the protection of the Corollas in the wild.

I may not harvest the crop but I am very proud to have planted the seed.

(The picture above is of Emily working cattle in Alaska.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hybrid Vigor?

Well, not exactly. But I think that I am seeing something analogous to it in the few foals that resulted from breeding Corolla stallions to mustang and one modern mare. Hybrid vigor is the result of crossing two species and often creating off spring that are superior to either parent in several attributes. for example, the mule, produced by crossing a male donkey and a female horse is pound for pound stronger than either parent, often lives longer, and has fewer health problems. The mule, of course, is sterile.

The Corollas have been isolated for so long that their DNA contains fewer alleles than modern breeds. However, they are still horses and the offspring produced by breeding a Corolla stallion to a mare of another breed is not a hybrid and is not sterile.

That being said, all of the 1/2 Corollas produced from these crosses (who are now about 15-17 months old) are significantly larger than previous foals that those same mares had produced. For example, a thirteen hand Corolla stallion bred to a 13 hand mare of Chincoteage and mustang extraction is now taller than her parents and much heavier than her mother although she will not turn two until next summer.

These crosses will never be part of the Corolla off site breeding program but I expect them to be superior horses because of their lineage.

The real test will come next year. Persa, a Shackleford mare, has never had a foal though she had been with a stallion before I obtained her. She may be sterile. I hope not. In the early fall I kept her with Tradewind, a beautiful Corolla stallion. The Corollas and the Shacklefords are the only Colonial Spanish horses left in the wild on the east coast. The live on opposite ends of the Outer Banks of North Carolina and have for centuries. Perhaps the same phenomenon of larger foals will result from this cross.

We will see next summer.

(Her is a picture of Persa from a few months ago.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Not All Horses Are Supple Enough to Learn to Flex

Liam, a second generation bronc stomper, has been unable to teach this young horse horizontal flexion. He tried clicker training but failed using that technique because he ate all of the horse's treats right off of the bat.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

And Waiting In the On Deck Circle....

In the last month we have started three horses that had never been ridden without a single buck. We are starting horses so easily that it does not seem realistic. Rain in The Face, Crazy Bear, and Roxie are all being ridden in the round pen as if they have been under saddle for years. Ice is being ridden in the woods.

Coming up soon we will complete the starting of Lucy, our rare young hinny who is seen in the picture above. She is also seen regularly in the nightmares of all of the Mrs. Drysdales of the world who wake up shrieking in horror from dreaming that they find themselves competing in a high level dressage competition--on Lucy.

The Best Horse Treat

The best treat that any horse can hope for is to have a rider who rides with sufficient skill for the horse to be able to comfortably traverse difficult terrain at speeds that are occasionally challenging. The style of riding that our riders learn is not pretty by show standards but it maximizes comfort for both horse and rider. The formula is simple--Heels lower than toes, toes in front of knees, sitting on our pockets, reins completely limp and held loosely in the tips of our fingers, arms relaxed with hands at belt level and spine fully rounded. The look that we are going for is that of an exhausted old cowboy with tuberculosis who chain smokes unfiltered cigarettes. If horses judged horse shows this posture would win the blue ribbon every time.

There is one very important step that that riders can take that makes rinding an even more pleasurable experience for both the horse and rider. Perhaps the best treat that one can give a horse is to fully condition yourself for riding. A conditioned rider flows with the horse and is infinitely more comfortable for the horse to carry than a rider whose muscles are not strong enough to support himself in the saddle with ease.

The best conditioning exercise for the rider is simply to ride and to ride hard. As noted in a previous post, I lost 17 pounds this summer simply from adding a five mile canter into my routine each morning before heading to the office. Most of us are not able to spend the many hours in the saddle each day required to maximize our level of conditioning. Supplemental exercise is beneficial.

What I am going to set out below is a routine that is working miracles for me. Of course, no one should begin this or any exercise program without your doctor's approval.

The Tabata Protocol has been a magic pill for me. I have never come across an exercise system that can produce such dramatic results in such a short period of time. The reason that you may not have heard of the Tabata Protocol is the same reason that so few people understand the advantages of natural horse care. Big business has not figured out a way to make money from either one so they remain secrets to all but the handful of those who stumble on the health benefits of each.

For detailed information one can simply put the term "Tabata Protocol" in a search engine and do a bit of research. The key point is to not confuse Tabata with traditional interval training. The Tabata principle is simple and can be applied to a range of exercises. Simply put, warm up on an aerobic exercise for five minutes. Then for 20 seconds perform the selected exercise at absolutely full capacity. Yes, that means as hard and as fast, using proper form, as you can. Rest 10 seconds and then do another 20 second set. This rotation continues for 4 minutes and then one does 5 minutes of cool down. That is it. Fourteen minutes a day to completely transform your body.

The catch is that the 20 second sessions are among the most difficult and intense 20 seconds that one will encounter in life. For that reason it is very important to check with your doctor before attempting the Tabata Protocol. (Unfortunately, your doctor will probably urge you to simply take a brisk walk 20 minutes a day. That is much better than no exercise at all and will likely not tax the body to hard.)

Tabata can be done with just about any exercise which makes it perfect for the strengthening of the muscles specifically involved in good riding. Here is my routine. Once again, discuss this with a doctor before trying it out yourself.
I warm up with either five minutes of step aerobics, slow jogging on the treadmill, or incline walking on the treadmill. My four minute Tabata sessions include:

Sunday: Squats with moderate weights
Monday: Deadlifts with Heavier weights
Tuesday: Situps on an inflatable ball
Wednesday: Pushups
Thursday: Using a machine called a glider
Friday: Treadmill with 20 second sessions of running faster interspersed with 10 seconds of walking
Saturday:45-60 minutes of fast walking.(No Tabata)

Each day includes some stretching or yoga and abdominal planks.

For as many days as possible each week, this schedule is followed up with the best part of all--1/2 hour or more of fast trotting or cantering through the woods. (Hunting season complicates this portion of the routine during this time of the year.)

How effective is this routine which emphasizes all of the muscle groups used in riding? Simply put, I turn fifty next month and I am a better rider than I was when I was a teenage athlete who rode nearly every day.

Most importantly, the horses have a much easier time carrying me than they did even six months ago when I lacked the strength to truly flow with the horse.

I am about like these two wild Corolla stallions in the picture above. I am getting in fighting shape.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Harley is five. Jacob is fourteen. Daddy is seventy four. Some of the trees in the background are older than Daddy but most are not. Daddy has lived his entire life within a 20 mile radius of the horse lot. Poppa, my great grandfather, broke wild western mustangs (then called Texas Broncs) at a farm about 2.5 miles from the horse lot. That was about 100 years ago. My white first ancestors came to this part of Virginia in 1635. I cannot imagine that since that time there has been a moment when I did not at least have one ancestor living within a twenty mile radius of the horse lot.

Now, as I said, Harley is only five. He came out of Tom Norush's breeding program which for years focused on crossing western Spanish mustangs with those descended from the Spanish mustangs of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Harley's eastern ancestors likely came to the Outer Banks in the 1500's and by 1720 Spanish mustangs would have been found among the English settlers here in Isle of Wight. Not too much of a stretch to imagine that he might have had relatives among those horses.

Harley, like my pure Corollas has deep roots in our history and in our land. They traveled over our roads. The pulled our wagons. They pulled our nicer carts to church and they pulled our hearses to the cemetery. They pulled our plows and they carried us to war. They are family.

The Corollas have roots in the southeast that go back nearly 100 years before Jamestown. Our generation has no right to be the one that allows the extinction of these amazing little horses.

Vickie Ives--The E Interview

What drew you to mustangs?

My first was a BLM that we rescued from a horrible starvation case in Pittsburg, TX. I was the first trained large animal investigator on the scene and called in the Feds when I saw their BLM brand. 33 horses were dead on the ground. We moved another 100+ to Black Beauty Ranch in Brownsboro, TX to rehab. Titus Unlearning came to me from that group, given to me by the BLM for my work in helping to rescue that herd. “Ty” is still alive today at coming 29 years old and is still sound to ride! He was our first NATRC National Champion and was ridden by my oldest daughter Victoria when she was just starting her career with horses at junior high age.
Ty made me want “the real thing” so my second was Choctaw Sun Dance—he went on to become the most decorated CS Horse in his day. With starters like Ty and Dance, I was quickly hooked!

What do you look for in a Colonial Spanish Horse?

Correct CS conformation (I usually prefer the light or Southwestern type personally) with good Spanish type motion and plenty of extension, superior hooves, then temperament. I look for large intelligent eyes, a curious nature, desire to be with people—then color is fun, too! But I try to match the horse with the job and the rider. What I’d look for as an endurance prospect for a seasoned competitor sure might not be the same horse I’d pick for a first-time CS buyer who wanted a pony hunter and pleasure trail mount.

What about the criticism that most Spanish Colonial Horses are too small for adult rides? (How big is Rowdy Yates?)

Rowdy is 13’ 3” and weighs about 820 in distance riding condition. Most of the standard suggested height measurements and weights for horse size compared to rider size are just so much “hogwash” when Colonial Spanish Horses are the subject. Rowdy carried me nearly 1000 miles in Open division competitions in NATRC. With my weight plus my tack and other stuff, he usually carried 220 pounds or so--or over 25% of his own body weight.

Talk a little about NATRC. How many miles have you put into competitive trail riding?

I have something over 3,000 miles in NATRC competitions. Would have to check with NATRC to be perfectly accurate. Still competing and have a new stallion to start this year. What fun! NATRC is a great way to begin distance riding—and at the end of every ride, you get a scorecard for both rider and horse so you can see what the judges marked you down for at each judging point. NATRC is a great way to learn this sport and also just to learn good horsemanship and safe horse camping. Our horses excel at it. See for more info on competitive trail.

With so many strains of Colonial Spanish Horses recognized by the HOA, which ones are your favorite and why?

Wow—such a hard question as I have loved horses from several strains and have some new strains (new to me, anyway) now that I have only had for a short while. I am especially fond of the little Grand Canyons for our younger riders and my new Corollas will be great kid horses, too, I firmly believe. Anyone who saw Steve Edward’s young riders perform at the HOA meeting in VA saw dramatic proof of how wonderful the Banker Ponies are. But the Gilbert Jones horses have long been a favorite of mine, esp. the Choctaw and Huasteca strains carried by Choctaw Sun Dance. His offspring continue to make my living for me—none are more trainable, and their striking colors make them favorites for so many Mustangers.

Let me say that as much as I love all our strains, I believe that the best horses are created when the best are bred to the best, regardless of strain. I like to put Brislawn on Jones, for example—many of Rowdy’s best known sons and daughters are out of Choctaw Sun Dance mares. At Karma Farms we breed superior CS Horses, and if we add new bloodlines, we use the best horses of the type we needed to fill a particular niche. CS Horses are rare enough in my book. I respect and admire the breeders of pure strains, but I am not one of them. For example, when we bred a good Cap Yates to a good Northern Rancher as we did when we bred Buck’s Girl to Rowdy Yates, we got Meet Virginia, Tomlyn’s champion mare who is as nice a horse as I’ve ever seen.

Both for herd inspections and individual inspections what does the HOA look for in determining whether to accept a horse or a herd into the registry?

See conformation info on the HOA website. Yet the answer to this question should include not only conformation, but also history and DNA studies of herds. We prefer to use ALBC list of approved CS horse strains but have added some before ALBC and others later at ALBC’s suggestion.

Tell us about Choctaw Sundance. What traits made him special and how well did he stamp those traits on his offspring? Tell us the same about Rowdy Yates.

Dance was a sheer genius, and after all these years of working with this breed, I have met some very wise and wonderful horses, but none that were his equal in sheer understanding of what was needed in a given situation. He was my best friend and soul mate. His sons and daughters, and now grandsons and granddaughters, carry on his legacy of brains, ability and a rainbow of color. His extended trot was once clocked by a car on the road beside as we trotted beside it on the road shoulder—17 mph! He could jump anything he could put his head over. He could stand on his hind feet and walk along the bottom board on his pen with his front feet hooked over the top board—amazing! He knew about 30 different verbal commands and a number of hand and body cues when he was doing his trick routine. He is still the backbone of the Karma Farms breeding program.
Rowdy is quite another cat—our friendship took a while to develop as he was nervous of handling, a stout bucker and very unsure that life under saddle was worthwhile. But once we were bonded and on the trail, no horse I ever rode was tougher, smoother or more determined to give his all. Where Dance was lazy, Rowdy was a fireball. Mr. Yates has the best hooves I ever saw on a horse and did many of his rides barefooted with ease. His natural P&R’s needed little conditioning. He could run a hole in the wind. Anyone could ride Dance, but Rowdy never cared for anyone on his back except me and a very few others. Someone at our first trip to Breyerfest said that it was a shame that Rowdy didn’t become a Breyer model earlier in his life. I laughingly responded that it was a good thing that he hadn’t because when he was young, he’d have never put up with hundreds of kids wanting to pet him. Rowdy is a horse that is all business, very serious most of the time, but Dance had a sense of humor a mile wide, and pretty much loved everyone he ever met.

100 years from now do you think the Spanish Colonial Horse will still be around and if so do you expect the numbers to increase or are we destined to remain on the edge of extinction?

This is the question that has kept me from getting the back to you sooner, Steve. It is intuitive and reaches pretty deeply into whom I am and what my life has been about.

If in 100 years these horses AREN’T still here proving the heart and soul of the Colonial Spanish Horse as well as their historical forbearers, it will be our fault. That is, it will be the fault of the breeders. We have to do more than preserve these horses; we have to promote them, ride them, get them in front of the public and SHOW the world what a real horse looks like. If we let petty b. s.--politics, egos, prejudice, past grievances, past mistakes, even arguments over things as irrelevant as color—if we let any of this kind of stuff stand in the way of our learning to work together to promote all the strains, all the breeders, then maybe our ponies won’t be here.

I can’t believe that can happen even though I see the continued partitioning of the gene pool into more registry Stud Books when we should be working to build one correct and precise one for the entire breed. We have to wake up, shake hands and quit the bickering and in-fighting.

We need to go to work together to create meaningful competitions, exhibitions, award programs and whatever else it takes to catch the eye of new people. To sell more CS horses so that breeders dare produce more, we have to seriously expand our market. We have to do things that intrigue people with a breed that carries some of the oldest equine mtDNA lines in the world and yet still can thrill the heart of a modern rider. If we can do that job, we can sell our horses, and if we have a good market, there will be new breeders interested in preserving America’s First Horse.

Being sure that these horses are around for generations yet unborn is what I am about. Getting us all to work together to do that is what HOA is about. Can I get an “Amen”?

Of your long rides, which have been the most memorable and why?

Well, of course the ride across South Australia and Texas is the most famous, and my book Saltbush and Sagebrush sums it up pretty well. It was called the Jubilee Overlanders Ride in honor of the 150th birthday of South Australia and Texas. We rode about 1200 miles on two widely disconnected continents, from Port Augusta, South Australia to Birdsville, New South Wales, then flew to Texas and rode from San Antonio to Presidio. We rode horses from the Mungarani Station in Australia and my own horses in Texas. In those days I only had a few Colonial Spanish Horses and none old enough to use long distance except Dance. We couldn’t see how it would be a good idea to camp out on the roadside with a stallion and 10 or 12 other horses so Dance had to stay home. In Texas, I mostly rode Rhiannon Everwin, my modern Indian Horse mare; Titus Unlearning, my first Mustang, the hero of my book Little Big Horse; and SF Numero Dos, my little Spanish mule bred by Nanci Falley, AIHR President and owner of Rancho San Francisco.

You have developed a program to teach natural horsemanship to kids. Tell us about your program and whether you think such programs can be successfully copied across the country.

You bet they can—in fact, I have copied a lot of what Steve does with the really little ones since I’ve seen him work with them at Mill Swamp and read his book. So from Virginia to Texas, we are copying your programs already. *grin* Listen, I’ve been teaching “natural horsemanship” to kids for years with great success, although I usually refer to it as “unnatural horsemanship”. Our Tejas Indian Horse Club has a number of young riders who I’ve coached to train their own horses this year including Noah Halupa who won his girl Sombera in the HOA essay contest—and rode her to two national Championships at the 2009 AIHR/HOA National Show. Jason and Noah have proven that kids taught by folks who love and respect our horses can do wonders.

Our horses are superior animals for bonding with kids and taking remarkable care of them, too. Young riders just need careful, clear (and sometimes entertaining) instruction and lots of desire to do it-- plus the right horse. Not every CS Horse is a candidate for this kind of training. Not every kid has the patience and fortitude for CS horse training either. But there is nothing like the look on the face of a young rider sitting on a horse he or she has trained themselves. That makes it all worthwhile.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Caterpillar Can Fly (Eventually)

Buds turn into blossoms. Caterpillars turn into butterflies. And little girls who work very hard turn into first rate riders. Jordan worked hard this summer. While other kids were still in bed she was out conditioning her horse, Mia, and herself for the Big Ride. She and Mia worked until each was able to handle a canter comfortably for five miles at a clip without a hint of exhaustion. She trained harder over the summer than did any of my little girls. She exercised and by the time for the big ride she could do more pushups than her big brother.

She and Mia did 50 miles beautifully on the first day and cruised along for 25 more miles the next day.

Eventually caterpillers fly and eventually some little girls soar.

Jordan soars.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Great e Interview Coming Up

This week I will feature an interview with one of the most popular and hardest working mustang preservationists on the scene today. Vickie Ives has been featured on Animal Planet and the History Channel. She is a writer, a breeder, and most importantly a thinker.

Vik understands that divisiveness between the various mustang organizations is one of the biggest threats to the future of Colonial Spanish Horses. She builds bridges, not walls.

The picture above is of Trade Wind, a formally wild Corolla Stallion. He is registered with the HOA because of the efforts of Vickie, and Tom and Doug Norush to identify and recognize the few Colonial Spanish Horses left in the wild.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Keep Going:The Art of Perserverance

Joseph Marshall III is a great writer. In earlier books he has given poignant insights into just who Crazy Horse was. But the world is full of great writers. He is more than that. Joseph Marshall is an important writer. His importance comes out in his great little book,Keep Going, which is the best work that I have ever read.

The book has nothing to do with horse training and yet it has everything that one must have to be a great horse trainer. The book is simply about the importance of not giving up. Indeed it shows what an art perseverance is. The Lakota parables wonderfully illustrate why one should never give up on a horse or on one's self.

Go get this book.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Which Side Are You On?

Mustang people are constantly advised as to what steps they should take to gain the respect of the established horse world. Though I have no interest in gaining the respect of such people, I am open to giving them the opportunity to gain my respect.

Once again a story of a mustang at risk of going to a potential slaughter auction came up on the HOA message board. Within hours mustang people from across the nation were working together to save the horse and to thereby preserve the mare's bloodline. The HOA even has a special fund, the "Lido Fund", to defray the cost of such operations.

On the other hand, some of the largest breed registries openly endorse horse slaughter as a humane solution to the problem of the unwanted horse. (A problem that exists entirely because the established horse world has worked so hard to put the price of horse ownership and conventional horse care beyond the means of working families.)

If the established horse world wants to gain my respect it should follow the lead of the HOA and begin to be concerned about horses instead of dollars.

In the mean time, perhaps it should simply adopt more honest marketing slogans. The HOA slogan, "America's First Horse", is accurate and says it all. Some of the other breed registries would be more honest about their views of the ultimate value of all horses if they simply adopted the old slogan of the beef industry.

"It's what's for dinner!"

One Should Never Wear a Riding Helmet

... while washing one's hair. Otherwise put on a helmet. Death by head trauma will unfairly give mustangs a bad name.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Brenna and Medicine iron

I raised him. Brenna trained him. Brenna rode him 48 miles in one day last month. He is 1/2 BLM mustang and 1/2 Chincoteague. Brenna is one of my best riders and has fallen off more than any of the other riders. There is a reason for that. She rides the roughest young horses and she ....gets back on.

Medicine Iron is tough. Brenna is tougher.

Jaded Little Riders?

I am afraid so. It never occurred to me that receiving too much acclaim and achieving too much could cause a problem for the program, but I am afraid that it has. Perhaps some are taking such acclaim and opportunities for granted. Achievements that would have stunned riders a few years ago now do not even merit a yawn. Jacob, Amanda and Sarah Lin, all recognized by the HOA, Harley being named Pleasure Trail Horse of the Year by the HOA, completion of 20, 38, and 50 mile rides in a day, Holland running five miles in 20:41, being featured in a DVD,being the highlight of an out of state July 4 parade, converting horses from unridden to green trail horses with just a few days of training,receiving the Carol Stone Award from the HOA and the Keeper of the Flame Award from the AIHR, appearing in magazine articles, participating in nighttime woods rides, training the rarest and likely oldest distinct genetic strain of American horses, learning information on the cutting edge of natural horse care, natural horsemanship and natural hoof care--are all becoming a bit blase I fear.

The irony is that all of our adult riders participate in child-like glee. Perhaps one must simply first reach the age of 40 before one can find any pleasure in fixing a fence.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Most Insidious Threat

As we work to save the wild horses of Corolla both in the wild and domestically one guiding principle must prevail. We must work diligently to stave off the natural human drive to take the wildness out of wild things. We can domesticate these horses but we should never try to improve them.

We are not capable of doing so and the history of modern horse breeding bears that out. Modern horse breeding has been but the pursuit of the latest fad in conformation, over specialization, and worst of all, creation of a whole class of horses that fail to meet the ideal breeding standard.

One should cringe at hearing that horses should only be bred that will "improve the breed." Such arrogance is difficult for me to fathom. What is the peculiar hubris of man that alone among the species he seeks to fix whatever mistakes that he believes God made at creation? Indeed, where were you Job when I created the seas?

Perfectionism is the most insidious threat that rare breeds face. Efforts by breeders to struggle to improve, develop, and perfect the breed have never worked. Sure, we can produce race horses that run faster than the natural horse, but the downside is that that race horse runs very slow indeed on its broken legs which resulted from our efforts to breed the perfectly fast horse. It is a shame that we could not breed a body that could take the stress of being perfectly fast,but we are perfectly incapable of doing so.

We must never seek to breed the best of the Corollas to the best of the Corollas. We simply are incapable of seeing what is the best. Someone once asked me did I not agree that a horse as violent as Red Feather should not be kept out of our breeding pool. Unfortunately Red Feather has now been gelded. Before being gelded he produced several little ones, all of which that I know of are as gentle as kittens.

The stallion pictured above has been living for about twenty years in an environment and on forage that modern horses could not last a season on. That is his pedigree. That is, by itself, the reason that his bloodline is worth preserving. Instead of trying to breed the perfect horse we should only seek to breed the persevering horse.

I have ridden mustangs over forty miles in a day but I have never been able to find a saddle that fit a pedigree.

When breeding for perfect traits one should remember that one of Franklin Roosevelt's sons grew up to be a Republican.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Surreal Conversations

Until yesterday the most surreal conversations that I ever have found myself involved in all occurred at the tack shed while we were saddling up. Several times each year I find myself with a panicked horse in hand who, if I made the slightest misstep, could seriously injure me. On more than one occasion during such moments,(even once when the horse was not making contact with the ground) a rider will look at me and ask me to come and check to make sure that their girth is OK.

Yesterday topped that, but in a pleasant, though no less surreal setting. As a special prosecutor in another jurisdiction I found myself involved in one of the more contentious cases that I had had in a long time. After the judge made his final ruling, he looked around to make sure that all of the parties were out of the courtroom, and quickly called the other attorneys and court personnel up to the bench. He then rather excitedly asked me to "tell them a story about Lido."

This shot above is of an equine with beautiful Spanish features woven into a mule's body. It is not unusual that this mule should carry such obvious Spanish genes. He lives on the Dominican Republic where the Spanish set up large breeding farms in the 1500's. A regal mule, what could be more surreal?


Set out below are the unscientific, anecdotal observations of a set of correlations concerning horses and their owners. I feel fully qualified to opine on such matters because I am an utterly unscientific observer of anecdotal data.

There is a strong correlation between:

the high cost of a horse with the likelihood of that horse to be lame.
the ugliness of a women with her obsession with having a horse with "perfect" conformation.
the absurd, pretentious, lengthiness of an owner's name with having a horse with an absurd, pretentious, lengthy name.
the utter ignorance of a horse owner with the high volume in which the owner displays that ignorance for all to hear.
the bland conformity of a horse owner with the likelihood that that owner will own a quarter horse.
a women's knowledge of, and desire to follow all of the "rules" of proper horse care, with my delight that I did not end up married to her.

Still Waiting

.."Pain that never forgets falls drop by drop on our hearts,even in our sleep,until, though against our will, through the awesome grace of God, comes wisdom."--Aeschylus, 525-456 B.C.

It is now just one week shy of ten months and I find myself not a bit wiser.

Busted Dreams and Broken Promises

We can always find time to do that which we truly want and we can always find excuses for not doing that which we do not.

At our first meeting Red Feather promised that he would be forever wild and he has found time to do so. I have not yet fully trained him and I am running out of excuses for failing to do so.

Perhaps I should seek the assistance of some of my little riders. They never seem to run out of excuses.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Shortening of Fall Days

(If Cliches Were Honest)

Bright,vibrant fall leaves
are but the color of death.

Brown woods floor covered with leaves
Are but the color of decay.

Clouds the color of gun smoke.
Dusk the color of lead.

All tend to remind one that
"It is always darkest"...always

Sunday, October 18, 2009

'Um Uh Bolunteer"

That is what Lido said at about age 10 when I facetiously asked for a volunteer to be the first to mount a very wild mustang during our first clinic. I was surprised at his offer and he was surprised at how hard she was able to buck. His ride was brief, but by mounting up he demonstrated to the audience that skill without guts is worthless.

Amanda is a volunteer. She is pictured above with her wild Corolla mare, Secotan. She trained Secotan to ride and has put enough miles on her in her first season to win the Buckeroo award from the HOA. She road Secotan fifty miles on September 26 and followed up with 25 more miles the next day.

Secotan was not a simple horse to tame. For what ever reason the horse did not like me and Amanda had to do all of the gentling of this nervous mare. Secotan would buck and she put Amanda on the ground a few times, once at the beginning of a 46 mile ride.

Over the past two years she has become a skillful rider and trainer. Yesterday she got on a young stallion, Rain in the Face, within an hour of him receiving his first blanket and saddle. He never bucked. She would have never known that he would be so calm but for the fact that she had the guts to trust her skill.

None of my little riders are ever forced, coerced, or manipulated to get on unbroke and wild horses.

They all "bolunteer."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

And the Winner Is

The Horse of the Americas Registry held its national meeting last weekend in Missouri. Three of my riders, Jacob, Amanda, and Sarah Lin each received the Buckaroo Award in recognition for the the number of hours they spent riding an HOA horse over the past year. Each participated in the September Big Ride. Jacob and Amanda rode 50 miles on Saturday and 25 miles on Sunday. Sarah Lin, age 9, rode 38 miles on Saturday.

The 2008 Pleasure Trail Horse of the Year is......Uncle Harley, owned and trained by Jacob. Jacob won this talented young horse in an HOA essay contest the previous year. At the time Harley was smart, gentle and athletic, but not trained to ride. Jacob and Brent took care of the last part. Most satisfying to me is Harley's lineage. Several year's ago, Tom Norush, a far sighted equine preservationist from the mid west realized that he could produce super horses by crossing western mustangs with those from the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Harley's roots trace back to that breeding program. The HOA Pleasure Trail Horse of the Year traces his roots back to the sandy beaches of Corolla.

Sarah Lin gained her award for the many hours that she spent riding two formerly wild Corolla Spanish mustangs, Porter and Croatoan. Amanda, who is not featured in a picture above, will soon be the subject of a special post on her success with her wild Corolla, Secotan.

My riders were recognized with this honor not because their parents purchased them a show horse and hired a trainer for both horse and child, but instead they were recognized because they worked long hours to become proficient horseman. Harley was recognized because he is a super horse, but Jacob's work made him shine. I am so proud of my riders this morning.

The Carol Stone Ambassador Award, which recognizes those who have done the most annually to promote, preserve, and protect the Colonial Spanish Horses, of which the Corollas are but one strain, was awarded to our program for 2008. This award is made possible not only by my riders but also by their family members who worked to assist in maintenance and improvement of our pastures, helped haul our horses to various events, and encouraged their kids to work hard for the horses.

I love team work.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Please Don't Worry About My Soul

This blog is not about religion. However, I strongly believe that there is a very strong spiritual aspect to horsemanship. I expect that God speaks to different people in different ways. I have a degree in religion from William&Mary and I am in my 25th year of teaching the high school Sunday School class at my church. With that said, I do not recall a single time in my life that I have "gotten" anything from a formal church service. Yet everytime I hear old mountain sacred songs I feel the presence of God and if I need to know what God wants me to do I get on a horse and ride alone into the woods. I do not believe, and I certainly do not insist, that those who experience God in a different way are riding on a Hell bound train.

Even more heretical to some, I believe that God made me so that I am responsible for my actions that are wrong, but that He will cut me some slack if my beliefs are wrong. If God wanted me to be theologically flawless He should have made me smarter. When it comes to grand thoughts, I am doing the best with what I have to work with.

Once again, this blog is not about religion but I will close this with a thought from Plenty-Coups, perhaps the most infuential of all of the Crow chiefs.

"The white man, who is almost a god, yet still a child, says that a horse has no soul! How can that be? Many times I have looked into the eye of my horse and have seen his soul."

Again, I do not seek to foist my views on anyone else, but if you have not found God in a church service go take a look in the pasture. He likes to hang out there.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Looking For Truth

Immutable truth is found in Lincoln's second Inaugural Address, the Book of Ecclesiastes, and in Bobby Kennedy's speech in Indianapolis given immediately after the assassination of Martin Luther King.

It is also found in the silent woods on the back of a good mustang.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Karen McCalpin Executive Director Corolla Wild Horse Fund

In the past some critics have derided the Corollas as being “Back Yard ponies.” What evidence do we have that ties the Corollas back to the Conquistadors?
Fortunately, the Spaniards kept meticulous ship’s logs. For example, we know that Lucas Vasquez de Allyon sent an expedition to the Cape Fear area of North Carolina in 1521. Ship’s logs also document the Spaniard’s leaving their horses behind during conflicts with Indians as well as numerous accounts of ships running aground and breaking apart with livestock swimming ashore and escaping. In addition, DNA testing in 1992 and again in 2008 also supports their Spanish ancestry. In 2007, the Horse of the Americas inspected the herd and found them to be Spanish type and eligible for registration.

Looking around the 4WD area one finds no clover, fescue, orchard grass or alfalfa. How can a herd of horses survive such a desolate environment?

The horses have adapted to a specialized diet of saltmeadow grass, witch grasses, cattails, American threesquare, spikerush, black needlerush, common reed grass, young cordgrass, sea oats and beach grass. They also eat acorns, persimmons, oak browse and underwater vegetation in the freshwater canals. They are not just surviving – they are thriving.

What is the greatest threat facing the Corolla herd? The current management plan. We have been working to change the plan that was implemented in 1997 and calls for a maximum herd size of 60. The selection of this number was NOT based in any available science – it was arbitrary. A wild herd will have a genetic collapse at this size. That is what happened to the wild horses on Ocracoke Island. The ideal number for genetic diversity is 150 with a range of 120 – 130 as a compromise. I have requested that the herd be allowed to reach this range as well as to introduce some mares from Shackleford Banks. Recent DNA testing has shown low levels of genetic diversity due to the small herd size. My request has been denied by United States Fish & Wildlife Service and the North Carolina Estuarine Reserve, owners of 1/3 of the land roamed by the wild herd. The other 2/3 is owned by private individuals and limited partnerships. They support the presence of the horses while NCERR and USF&W do not. The herd on Shackleford Banks is federally protected by the Shackleford Banks Act. This mandates a herd of 120 – 130. The Corolla herd has no protection.

Why are they worth saving? No other breed played a more important part in building America than the Colonial Spanish Mustang. Used for work, war, and transportation, the Spanish Mustang also contributed to the development of many American breeds such as the Morgan, Quarter Horse, American Saddlebred, Tennessee Walker, Appaloosa, and others. In addition, they possess superior intelligence, incredible athletic ability, have loving and calm personalities, and once domesticated, make one of the greatest riding horses and companions that I have ever experienced.

Tell us about the history of the CWHF. How is it managed and funded today?
The Corolla Wild Horse Fund was formed in 1989 by a group of citizens concerned about the increasing number of horses being injured and killed by cars as the Corolla area continued to experience incredible development. Before 1995, there were wild horses living up to 17 miles south of where they are now. The paved road stopped at Duck, NC until 1985. Once the road was paved from Duck to Corolla, the fate of the wild horses was sealed. The Fund incorporated as a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit in 2001. The first fulltime staff was hired in 2006. Nearly 90% of our operating funding must be raised. We do this through our membership program, our two mission-related retail stores, special events, donations, and grants. Our horse management expenses alone, like vet bills and board for horses that have been injured or sick, top $25,000 each year.

How can one become a member of the Fund? What is the most important thing that a supporter of wild horses, say living in Delaware, could do to help these horses stay wild and free? Becoming a member gives the horses a voice. We have about 1100 members right now from all over the country. The horses need nationwide support if they are to remain wild and free and by becoming a member, you are making a statement to the governmental decision makers, that you believe these horses are worth protecting and preserving. You can become a member on our website: Our goal is 2,000 members by 2010.

How is the health of the herd and what, if any conclusions about natural horse care do you think can be drawn from their health? Our wild herd is extremely healthy. We have less than a 10% mortality rate and the majority of deaths are from old age. Every horse that passes is taken for a necropsy. We know from these that we have a very low parasite load and that primarily our horses die from old age or cancer in old age. Natural selection is the rule with wild horses. The strong survive. Their diet meets their needs and they grow coats substantial to protect them from the elements in the winter. The only time we intervene is when we find a horse that is sick or severely injured. We capture it and remove it for treatment. It cannot return once we expose it to domestic horses, and it becomes dependent on humans for its care.

Tell us about the adoption program? If there are so few horses left in the wild, why does the CWF remove adult horses from the 4WD area? How can the horses benefit from an off site breeding program? As mentioned previously, we do remove horses if they are severely injured or show signs of severe illness. This happens maybe once or twice a year. Before we were able to gather the DNA results that told us our herd size was too small for a genetically healthy herd, we had to reduce the herd in compliance with the management plan that calls for 60. 41 horses were VERY reluctantly removed from the gene pool starting in October of 2006, and adoptive homes were found. Out of those 41, 4 were removed for injury, one for illness, 2 for consistently escaping around the fence, and two for approaching humans. (We have a tremendous problem with visitors feeding the wild horses. Once they began to approach humans and demand to be fed, we must remove them as they have become a danger to people. We hate this reason the most! Caused by human selfishness.) We currently have two horses available for adoption.

Offsite breeding is our “Plan B.” Plan A is to keep them wild and free for as long as possible but we need a back up plan in case of a catastrophic hurricane, or other natural event that could decimate the herd in the wild. It is absolutely imperative that we do not let this incredible breed die out. They are already in the critical/nearly extinct category.

What is your horse background? Have you ever ridden a Corolla? I have ridden and showed since the age of ten and taught forward and saddle seat riding, as well as therapeutic riding for special needs students (both children and adults). I started a therapeutic riding program in PA in 1983 called High Hopes that is still going strong today. I’ll show my age and say it’s a total of 47 years! I also directed Penn State University’s statewide therapeutic riding program for six years.

I have had the privilege of riding two of your horses, one in the Duck Fourth of July parade and I have to say that of all the horses I’ve owned and ridden in my 47 years of riding – the Corolla Colonial Spanish Mustang is the best. I would trade every horse I ever had for one of these. Smooth, sensible, affectionate, smart, and athletic.

Monday, October 5, 2009

What Is Right With You People?

Whether it is the anonymity of the internet or the corrosive effects of talk radio, communication in all veins of American society is corroding rapidly. The ultimate irony is that the internet makes it possible to learn real horsemanship faster than has been possible since the first human mounted a horse.

It has also become a vehicle for the prevention of learning real horsemanship by the perpetuation of old myths and beliefs that have been leavened with the pure vitriol that passes for debate in society today.

It is appalling to find blogs that showcase such language and attitudes that are viewed by the misguided as authoritative voices on horsemanship. What drives people to spew hatred and call it horsemanship?

Perhaps a significant contributing factor is the lack of accountability that the anonymity of the internet provides. At Mill Swamp Indian Horses we promote the preservation of the rarest of Americas historic horse breeds, the Spanish mustangs of Corolla. We teach natural horsemanship to children as young as five years old. We teach children how to train wild horses and colts. We teach and practice natural horse care which means no stables, no barns, no sugary feeds, no horse shoes, no pasture blankets, and no following of the latest fads in horse care. (The result is perhaps the healthiest and happiest herd of horses in the region.) We ride ponies. We ride them long and we ride them hard. We forcefully advocate against practices that unnecessarily boost the cost of horse ownership beyond the means of working families. We oppose horse slaughter. We support programs that encourage kids to spend more time on their horses and less time preparing for or participating in horse shows.

In short, our entire program is fodder for a wide range of haters who masquerade as caring horseman. We hear from those people, occasionally in language not appropriate for a third grader often used to prop up arguments and beliefs too shallow and simplistic to be believed by a third grader.

We seek the sympathy of no one for being the brunt of such comments. Instead, I am learning to have sympathy for those critics. They challenge my deeply held hope that spending time with horses can make us all better people.

(Lucy, shown above, does not hate anybody, but on the other hand only one of her parents was a donkey.)