Sunday, March 29, 2009

When I Was Twenty-One, It Was a Very Good Year

I wish every mustang owner, of every type of mustang, would quit acting like house slaves. For those not familiar with the term, house slaves were distinguished from field slaves in that that were the household staff on the larger plantations. They tended to be given better food, better clothes and often lived in better housing, close to the big house on the plantation. They were considered by their owners, and usually by themselves, to be superior to the slaves that worked in the fields. Many house slaves looked down on the field slaves to the point of treating them with contempt.

There are many kinds of mustangs out there and many mustang registries. Unfortunately there are too many mustang owners who look down on mustangs not of their registry as field slaves,-- impure, not to be trusted, dangerous, and of inferior blood. In doing so they hope to convince the established horse world that their horses are just like the modern breeds in that they are superior to the other, mongrel mustangs. Like the house slaves they look with contempt at other mustangs without even seeing the irony of seeking to impress their oppressors by showing off how much they too despise the despised.

I am not interested in impressing Ole Massah and Ole Misses. They are the very ones who have created an established horse world in which the cost of horse ownership is beyond the means of working families. They are the very ones who have hamstrung modern breeds with their obsessive drive to follow the latest fad or fashion in breeding. They are the very ones who have set up the model of competition as the highest and best use of horses. They are the very ones who support horse slaughter. The field slave who runs wild on the ranges of Nevada is not the enemy of my mustangs, it is Ole Massah and Ole Misses.

Every time a mustang owner maligns a BLM mustang by pointing out how different their mustang is from a BLM they denigrate all mustangs. It is a strategy doomed to failure. Do you really think that the slave owners accepted house slaves as their equals merely because the house slaves joined them in ridiculing the field slaves?

My herd includes wild horses of several different backgrounds and I am proud of everyone that we ride. I own a grandson of the great Choctaw Sundance who is registered with the SMR, HOA,and AIHR and is becoming everything that I could want in a horse. I have bred a Chincoteague to several BLM mares and have produced horses that already are everything that I could want in a horse. I recently picked up a BLM filly that may exceed them all in a few years. I do not think of her as "just" a BLM mustang.

When I was younger I thought that the world was a place of justice in which reason, logic, and education would prevail. I am no longer twenty one. In fact, I am older than two 21's. I now realize that ignorance, prejudice, and plain old stupidity, will give reason, logic, and education a run for its money every time they come face to face. I do not try to get Ole Massah to accept my horses as the equal of his well bred steeds. I cannot over come his prejudices. I do not beg Ole Misses to recognize the qualities of my mustangs. I cannot pour a brain into her head.

Instead, I invite those new to the horse world into my world of mustangs. Their views have not yet been tainted by the experts. They can actually learn. They are the only hope for the future that mustangs have.

(The picture above is of a twenty year old wild Corolla stallion taken by one of my riders a few weeks ago. He doesn't care about Ole Massah either)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

On Selecting a Mentor II

Those who embrace 45% of natural horsemanship are 100% responsible for the bad name that natural horsemanship sometimes receives. For some, natural horsemanship means that a horse should only do that which it desires and that discipline has no place in horse training. They adhere most strongly to one buzz word--"nonviolence." The problem with their philosophy is that horses are naturally violent. Indeed, much of their interaction and social system is based on power, control, and dominance.

Avoid mentors who place nonviolence ahead of all other teaching concepts. Does she consider a wide range of training aides cruel in every case? Does she believe that a crop, quirt, lounge whip, or spurs are always cruel to use for every single horse?

Just as one must avoid a potential mentor whose answer to every problem is coercion, on must avoid with equal vigor those who believe that coercion is never the answer to any problem. The only violence that is appropriate in training is violence that is not generated by the trainer's anger and is in a form that has meaning to the horse.

In my pasture if a lead horse is bitten by another the lead horse does not go to the barn looking for a stud chain. He does not quickly run off to get a whip. He kicks back, or bites, or charges the offender. I do the same if bitten or kicked at. It takes a tremendous amount of experience to know when it is safe to employ these techniques. It takes no experience at all to insure that the biting and kicking will continue. All the peace loving trainer has to do is step back and explain that what the horse did was natural and therefore should not be responded to.

Such trainers create dangerous horses. While Gandhi and Martin Luther King are perfect roles models for how we should interact with each other, Malcolm X is a more appropriate role model for understanding leadership in the horse world. As he would have put it, sometimes responsible training requires that a dangerous horse be controlled "by any means necessary."

The test is simple. I use no more violence with my herd than my lead horse Comet uses with them. As a result of Comet's consistent insistence on obedience, he rarely uses actual violence. Nor do I.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Riding Red Feather

I was surprised when JK told me that she wanted to ride Red Feather. Although JK completed the 46 mile ride on her Corolla,Sampson she still had not spent a tremendous amount of time in the saddle. She certainly had spent less time in the saddle than any of the few people who had ridden him in the woods.

Last night they did it. She rode Red Feather for about an hour and a half. We spent a lot of time on a trail that was submerged and at several points the water was up to Red Feather's belly. Both horse and rider hung tough. Early on, a cracking stirrup caused Red Feather to spook sideways. JK had a foot in a stirrup, a boot in the saddle seat and her hands on the reins. She righted herself and calmed Red Feather down and we rode on.

I never thought that Red Feather would ever be ridden by any but the most experienced of riders. Instead, he is becoming a solid,little trail horse. He is only 12.2 but is a spectacular athlete who has carried a rider and saddle combination weighing around 200 pounds with absolutely no problem.

Those who have never been exposed to Spanish Mustangs would have a very hard time imagining such a pay load on such a small horse.(No, JK and the saddle didn't weigh 200 lbs. I am referring to another rider)Those who have ridden the smaller mustangs for years would not bat an eyelash at the combination.

(The picture above is of JK and her Corolla Spanish mustang, Sampson.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On Choosing a Mentor

I believe that the future of the horse industry lies in kids and novices. I also believe that with all of the information that is at hand about natural horsemanship there is no reason for a person with a real interest in horses to remain a novice more than a few months. One of the things that keeps people in the permanent status as novices, or even worse drives them away from horses altogether, is the choice of a poor mentor.
The world is full of people who believe themselves to be authorities on all things equine. Unfortunately, the world is nearly devoid of those who actually are such authorities. A good mentor recognizes this limitation and will consider herself a student who is always looking to learn more about horses. A good mentor will not be a fierce disciple of any individual clinician to the point that she denigrates all other clinicians. A good mentor will have a library of resources for the novice to read and view.
More important than the mentor's store of knowledge is the make up of the mentor's personality. The key points are these--Does the mentor truly want you to learn or does the mentor want to make sure that you remain a novice, always in awe of her skill? Does the mentor's view of her own expertise extend to an incredibly wide range of subjects, making her an expert, not just on horses, but on every topic that she encounters?
Is she arrogant or humble? Nothing humbles one like having a great deal of experience with horses. Very few arrogant people understand horses and even fewer arrogant people understand humans. Listen to her training stories. Do they often conclude with "So we finally sold that horse!"? Listen to her stories about her students/disciples. Do they tend to explain all failures and injuries as a result of the the student/disciple deviating from the instruction that the mentor gave?
What is the potential mentor's attitude towards the concept of power? Is gaining power and control a goal in itself or is it only a means to gain a better relationship with a horse? Does the mentor recognize that patience is the best indicator of true power and self control?
Does the mentor possess self control? Is the mentor's self control so strong that it generates confidence in both horses and humans?
Does she believe that horses are incapable of feeling human emotions, specifically love? Does she appear incapable of feeling human emotions, specifically love?
Without a doubt horses can bring out the best in people. Unfortunately they can also bring out the worst in some people. If your potential mentor is driven by only a desire to control a horses and students you will have a problem in your development as a horseman. If your potential mentor is driven only by a desire to teach horses and students then you will find many of your problems solved on the road to becoming a deserving partner to your horse.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Just Chillin'

Looking for a role model? Here is one for anyone who cares about horses. This is Abby and her new little mustang, Brego. They just sent me some pictures from their frozen western existence.
The irony! My region is filled with members of the established horse world who are true horse experts. And if you do not believe it just ask them. Actually, there is no need to ask, they will tell you--loudly and often.
I hope that someday these people can learn enough about horses to be nearly as good with them as is Abby. But you will not hear Abby brag about it. Even if you directly asked her she would not let you know that she is a first rate horse handler.
Last week I received some great pictures from Emily of the three Marble girls and their horses. I miss the Marble family. It was good to have them around. I am sure that it is even better to be one of their horses.

I Expect My Girls to Think

I do not talk down to my little riders. I explain what needs to be done, show them how to do it, and expect them to do it as instructed. They rarely disappoint me. Many of the things that I call on my little riders to do in clinics and other public venues surprise the audience. I am not referring to skills demonstrations, (everyone is surprised at how skilled my little riders are at handling green or wild horses), I am referring to communications demonstrations. I regularly call on little girls to speak off the top of their heads to explain natural horsemanship skills to the audience.
For some people, public speaking about how to halter train a wild horse is scarier than actually halter training the horse. I called Ashley up at a meeting of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund Board of Directors to speak with absolutely no advance notice. She did great. I seek out the opinions of my riders as to what steps we should next take in training a colt. I do not mind if there answers are incorrect, I simply want them to be able to give a coherent, well thought out response.
I delegate a lot of responsibility to my riders. They see that I respect their opinions. Over the years I have often found myself deferring to the judgement of Rebecca, Katie, Ashley, and Brenna. (At this point I am sure that Rebecca would like for me to point out that she actually is a grown up. So noted. However, being such an important part of what we have done with our program over the years is part of what has made her such a reliable grown up).
Riley cancelled a movie trip one Saturday because, as she explained to her father, "Steve, needs my help with the donkeys!". Jordan, after having ridden for a very short period of time insisted on bringing her helmet and rib protectors with her to her first clinic, "just in case" I needed some help in the ring. Lea, without being asked to do so, helps new little riders tack up and catch horses. Katelynn takes a very active role in promoting the preservation of the Corollas. Brenna, Danielle, and Amanda have worked hard to become effective trainers.
I am sure that I have missed out on mentioning some of the significant accomplishments of some of my little riders. I believe that it is accurate to say that everyone of my little girls has become more mature, reliable, and confident since they have been riding with us. I think that all of my riders have maintained or improved their academic performance after riding with us.
With all of that being said, yesterday I got a chance to look at things from the outside for a few moments and I was very pleased with what I saw. We attended a BLM auction in Lexington. We looked over the horses and I got input from my riders concerning which one we might want to make our next training success.
At the auctions there are many horses with nearly identical markings and they can only be identified by a number that is affixed to the collar that circles each horse's neck. I asked Lydia to prioritize our selections and to make sure that she did not mix up any of the numbers.
The Roanoke Times was covering the event both in print and with a video feed. My favorite part of the video is the scene where Lydia is reviewing our choices with me. With paper in hand she quickly goes over the numbers with me. She is obviously focused on the task and there is nothing in her manner that suggests that she is anything less than a highly motivated graduate student intern making sure that the job gets done right.
She comes off as the picture of confidence and competence. Highly impressive for a little girl who is only about 13 years old.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Stephanie Lockhart Part II

This is the conclusion of our interview with Stephanie Lockhart who has worked to preserve both the Choctaw and Baca strain of Colonial Spanish horse. Part I of the interview is found in the previous post.

Q. Why are these horses worth saving?

SL ...from the historical angle, which the general public can relate to, they are living museum pieces. From the horse industry angle, these horses can and will do it all, with smiles on their faces. They are unique in their conformation, character, and abilities. With the such a low number, it could be only a short time before they no longer exist.

Q. It seems that more and more the Colonial Spanish horse is finding an English saddle on his back. How well are the smaller strains of Colonial Spanish Horses suited for dressage, jumping or even three day eventing?

SL Big movement and power come in small packages. I've experienced much success in the dressage ring with my CS horses. ....Morado, at 14.2 has bigger and more elevated movement than many horses which stand 15-16 hands. My daughter has a 14 hand Choctaw gelding that show jumps 3 feet easily, and gallops around a cross country course making the time. ...these horses have that advantage ..because of their conformation and lack of heavy muscling. Their suppleness makes them really handy for jumping, yet their sloping shoulders and short back make for excellent extension and collection for the dressage ring.

Q. Have you found a need to shoe any of the Colonial Spanish Horses with which you have worked?

SL I've never had to shoe any of them. I rode Morado on his first 30 mile competitive trail ride barefoot. We trained barefoot, he vetted out great at the end of the ride, much to the vets surprise. ...everyone I've had has had a good foot. Using Natural Balance trimming keeps them going fine.

Q. What about drawing new riders to Colonial Spanish Horses--what needs to be done to achieve that?

SL Getting our horses out there in the public eye is what will draw new people to the breed. Having the media involved has been the most successful way I've been able to promote the breed. I have also created events which focus on the Colonial Spanish horse and that has done some great things for the horses. Setting an example using good horsemanship skills, presenting a healthy, well cared for horse to the public is really important too. And getting kids involved . They are the future for our horses.

(For more information see and )

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Stephanie Lockhart

This is the second in our interview seris with those who have worked to preserve and promote Colonial Spanish Horses or who have become voices for the natural horse care movement.

Q. You started riding and competing as a child, at what point did mustangs come into your life?

SL: John Fusco introduced me to his Colonial Spanish colt Little Fox in 2002. John educated me about the breed for the next year while I trained Little Fox. In 2004 my young daughter Eliza was gifted a colt bred and raised at Baca Chica Farm in New Mexico. Since, then about 20 CS horses from many different strains have come through my doors as sale projects and ambassadors for the breed.

Q. What strains of Colonial Spanish Horses have you been associated with?

SL The two strains that lie closest to my heart are the Baca horses from New Mexico and the Choctaw Indian Ponies from Oklahoma. I do own horses from other strains such as the Banker/Western cross from Tom Norush, northern strain from Zen Cowboys, and have had some nice horses with HOA foundation blood from Karma Farms cross my path too.

Q. What differences do you see between the Baca strain and the Choctaws?

SL ...each have qualities that are very different from each other. I love the elegance of the Baca horses, their structure and graceful way of moving suits my English style disciplines really well. They have an incredible softness to them that is very natural. ...they are polite horses to work around and very gentle naturally. The Baca horses' light movement would take them across country with out breaking a sweat.
...Choctaw horses have a very workman-like, utilitarian manner to them which, looking at their history and the journey of the Trail of Tears, this is an innate characteristic....Hardy, full of painted colors, a little heavier bone than the Baca horses, with a different way of going. They eat up ground like a 4-wheel drive, the Baca's float across it! Personality wise, I had to be invited into the Choctaw herd we had. Once I accepted the invitation, I was in for life. The Baca horses let anyone in, even if you don't have an invitation!

Q. Have you had a role in the effort to save these two strains?

SL ...When John Fusco, Dr. Sponenberg, and the Rickman family launched the Choctaw Indian Pony Conservation Program in Vermont in 2004 I was asked to manage the herd, gentle the mares,and overlook the breeding program, as well as help to educate the public about these historic horses. After our growing herd relocated to Return to Freedom in California, I turned my efforts full time to the Baca Horse Conservancy in New Mexico..... the Choctaws will always be a part of me.
Screenwriter John Fusco (Spirit, Hidalgo and many other films) has been my mentor and friend along this journey..Dr. Sponenberg works with both the Baca horses and the Choctaws and he's just a master of all things Colonial Spanish. I have also learned so much from Vik Ives over the years.

(End of Part 1) The interview will be completed in a other installment.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Choctaw and Baca Strains

The Colonial Spanish Horse exists today in several different strains. Members of a given strain share a genetic history and often are very similar in type with each other. Two of the most interesting strains of Colonial Spanish horse are the Choctaw Indian Ponies from Oklahoma and the Baca strain from New Mexico. Though of different origin and history what both of these strains have in common is Stephanie Lockhart who in recent years has worked tirelessly to protect and promote these strains.
She graciously agreed to take a little time out and participate in our series of interviews with a wide range of people who have been part of promoting Colonial Spanish Horses or natural horse care. Assuming that I do not over sleep in the morning, I will have her interview up next.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing

I first met Red Feather about a year and a half ago. He had to be captured because he consistently escaped the safety of the 4WD area and ventured into Virginia with his band of mares. He was quite a difficult capture for the herd manager. Unlike every other Corolla that I have seen, he was hyper violent. The day I first met him in North Carolina I expected to halter train him in an hour or two and then head on. Instead he absolutely defeated me. I accomplished nothing but for having the opportunity to spend time with the most athletic horse that I had ever seen in the round pen.
About six month's later Karen McCalpin, director of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, asked me to take him to my place to see if I could just teach him enough so that he would be safe around other people since there really was no hope of adopting him out.
He and I had strong differences in our management styles. In fact, he kicked and bit me more times than every single time a horse had kicked or bitten me, combined. The problem was that he bluffed little and was so quick it was like working a horse that had a black belt. His training got interrupted for long periods of time over the last year. Rebecca, Brent, Chance, Jacob, and Ashley put a lot of work into getting him to accepting a rider.
He is still an amazing athlete but he is not violent. He is now wise. He has a basset hounds soul in the body of an Olympic athlete. Yesterday, Rylee took him in the woods for about an hour and then Danielle rode him for three more hours. His behavior was perfect.
He maintained his streak. Each of the few people who have ridden him agree that he is the smoothest moving horse that they have ever ridden.
I doubt if Danielle and Rylee together would weigh 150 lbs. Regardless of size, they rode with skill and confidence and brought out the best of this amazing little horse. I am as proud of them as I am of Red Feather.

The picture above is the first time Red Feather accepted a pad on his back.

A Working Model That Works

The horse show model is a failed model to follow in an effort to attract new riders to horse ownership. The fundamental flaw of the horse show world as it relates to kids is that it produces winners and losers. If a family's goal is to put more competition in a kid's life they can put him on a soccer team easier than in a horse lot.
Teaching natural horsemanship to kids to the degree that they can safely handle and start their own young horses with adequate supervision is a perfect model to attract new riders to horse ownership. When a kid learns and applies natural horsemanship there are no winners and losers, only confident, secure riders.
This picture of some of my riders is about two years old. One kid in the picture came from a horse owning family. Today every kid in that picture has a horse to call her own.
This model gives us skilled future horse owners, reduces the surplus of horses, and puts more meaning in a kid's life.
And it is fun.

Monday, March 2, 2009


Now we play old time and bluegrass music. I play 6 or 7 instruments, though I am not great on any of them. My brother Joseph plays four or five and he is great on all of them. I have about ten little adopted brothers and sisters, all much younger than me. Nearly all of us play--guitars, banjos, mandolins, dulcimers, dobros, auto harps, fiddles, bass fiddles, harmonicas, bodhrun, and guitars. My daughters play mandolins and my wife plays an auto harp.
Lido loved the same music I did, ancient mountain songs of beauty and meaning. I made him a three string banjo and I hoped we could invent a style that he could play considering the limited use that he had of his right arm. We never got successful with that but he found that he could keep time on a bodhrun, an ancient Irish drum that is generally played with a tipper. Lido could not maneuver the tipper, but he could play an older style using only his hand.
There really is only 24 hours in a day and as my girls got older and I spent more time in the horse lot, we performed less and less.
It has been a little over two months since he died and Lido had his last concert on Saturday night. My brother Joseph is not merely good, he is a prodigy and has garned a tremendous following among regional blue grass fans. The day of the funeral he decided that on Feb 28 he was going to put on a big show for Lido. He assembled a number of bands and put on a seven hour show at the Isle of Wight
Academy. It was a huge success. I had been sick all week thinking about going to the show and I really did not think that I could sit through the show and think about Lido that for that long of a time.
But something interesting happened and I hope that it will take hold. As I listened to Joseph singing songs that I taught him the words to when he was five years old, I thought about teaching those same songs to Lido when he was a bit older. When Joseph was talking about playing on the bus with Kenny Baker and Bill Monroe. I thought about Lido following Jeanette Carter, daughter of Sara and A.P.Carter of the Original Carter Family all around the Carter Fold. I remembered how he had to assemble his gear to hunt with me when he was too little to carry a gun. He took his essentials--lots of candy and a stack of Carter family recordings on cassette tape. I remembered him at the right hand of the great old time banjo player Leroy Troy everywhere he went at one festival and from that point on referring to Troy only as "my friend."

And...those memories felt good. Up to that point I had not had a memory that did anything but sear me to the core. Particularly since I think of Lido all the time, it certainly would be better if those thoughts could just stop hurting so much. After Saturday night I think that they might.

One last point, the audience could go in the back and have a fine dining experience put together primarily by my riders and their families. They worked at a grueling pace and did a great job. That meant a lot to Daddy and even more to me.

(Lido was about 10 in this picture and Stardust was a yearling)