Sunday, August 30, 2009

Man Of The House

Rattling Blanket Women, named for the step mother of Crazy Horse is shown above with her mother, Standing Holy, who was named for the last child of Sitting Bull. She recently turned two and about 10 days ago we put her in the round pen and began our methodical training program. KC was out for his second day at the horse lot. He and his sister, Carly, are my two newest little riders.

KC is quiet,intense and willing to sit for hours to learn how to gentle horses. He spent much of the morning gently rubbing the nervous filly down. Toward the end of the day I felt that she was ready to take her first rider. Two of my most experience teenage riders were still with us. I asked which one of them wanted to be the first person to get on Rattling Blanket Women.

KC said softly, "I do." I had no intention for someone with so little experience to get on the little bay. I was about to tell him no when I thought about what else is going on in life. The very next day his father was to be deployed to the Middle East.

I decided to give KC a chance to learn just how capable he is of meeting serious challenges. He put on his helmet and rib protectors and joined me in the round pen. We took it slowly, step by step. Foot in the stirrup, foot out over and over. Next it was Standing Up in The Stirrup for about 10 repetitions. Finally we were ready for him to throw his leg over and place his foot in the stirrup. I held the filly close and continued to rub her neck. She looked ready too.

KC mounted up and I lead Rattling Blanket Women off. She had just taken her first rider and KC had just gotten on his first completely fresh horse. It was a great day for both of them.

He looked proud and relieved. It was a look that I have seen many times, in fact, every time that Lido was the first person to ride a young or a wild horse.

I do believe that there just might be a touch of Lido in that boy.

To Become Better People

We practice natural horsemanship to become better people. Natural horsemanship teaches us to be patient and empathetic. It teaches us to be leaders. It gives us courage and confidence.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to see the seed planted in three of my new little riders and to watch it bloom in two others.

KC,Carly,and Emily cantered for the first time yesterday and did so successfully and repeatedly. I do not believe that any of them have mounted up more than ten times before we went into the woods yesterday. They showed the courage that is necessary to develop true confidence. Not only did they canter,but they cantered beautifully. Emily on Wanchese, my beautiful wild Shackleford stallion, KC on Croatoan, my wise wild Corolla stallion, and Carly on Porter, my resilient young Corolla who was captured after being hit by a car--what a team.

Sarah Lin has been riding a long time but she is younger than any of my three new riders. She began riding so young that she has always required the complete help of others to get her horse ready to ride. She milked her young age for all it was worth, realizing that there were older riders there that would do anything that she did not want to do if she only said the magic words, "I can't."

Yesterday she showed the value of "I can." She mounted by herself, got out her tack and nearly completed saddling by herself and she rode 18 miles flawlessly on a formerly wild Corolla stallion. It was her best day of riding yet.

My three newest riders rode at 2:00 yesterday. Although she had already ridden 18 miles, Rylee rode with us in the afternoon. She was not riding because she needed more time in the saddle, she stayed out there because she thought that she could be helpful to the new riders. She was more than helpful. She assisted with the tacking of the horses. Her confidence is contagious. She had no brag, no bluster, she simply demonstrated to the new riders that someone their size could learn to be a hard rider. She lead by example.

I think that it is great for kids to be involved in a range of extra curricular activities, but what we do is different than other sports or social activities. Yesterday, in the space of just one day, Rylee, Sarah Lin, KC, Carly, and Emily became better people.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Riding Like a Tick

Yesterday afternoon Danielle was riding Baton Rouge bareback at a pretty solid pace. Baton Rouge rarely spooks and never bucks. Yesterday she did something very out of the ordinary and then planted her feet with a sudden halt. It would have been difficult to have stayed on if the horse was saddled. Danielle kept the horse under her even without a saddle.

Danielle exercises. She rides a lot and she is strong. It was nothing but strength that kept her on that horse.

Another great example of why riders should be at least as well conditioned as their horses

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Beating Your Head Against the Wall and Knocking That Wall Down

I have spent my adult life being involved in various non profit organizations. I have never met a non profit director who is as smart, dedicated, and most importantly, tough as Karen McCalpin. Karen is the Executive Director of the the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.

Last Friday a visitor to our horse lots asked me if I thought that it was possible to save the Corollas. I answered yes without hesitation. Fifty years from now when people see the wild horses of Corolla on the beach at Corova they will owe thanks to a lot of people. Fore most among those owed thanks will be Karen.

(Here is a picture of Karen, Kay Kerr and some of Kay's art students presenting some of their work to the CWF.)

Monday, August 24, 2009


Little boys and little girls require different motivation to become successful horseman.

Boys want excitement, speed and long as there is absolutely no way they can get hurt because....their ultimate goal in life is to avoid discomfort at all costs. They want life to be their own personal video game--all gain, no pain.

Girls are more complex. Each wants to bond together as a group of close friends who share the love of horses and who will always be together no matter long as each of the other girls recognizes, and accepts, the cosmic justice of the fact that "I am Steve's favorite."

Sarah Lin is the easiest to motivate. She just wants to canter and eat wild blue berries.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

One Year Later

This blog has been up now for nearly 13 months and during that time I have continued to learn new things about horses, people and life. My wife's Grandfather Eller was one of the more interesting men that I have ever known. Even as a very old man he maintained the curiosity of a five year old child. He read constantly and was always looking for something new to learn. He loved sharing his new found knowledge with those around him.

That is how I want to be with horses, always learning and never believing that I have all of the answers. Here are a few of the things that I learned this year:

By pouring vegetable oil over a fifty pound bag of 2-1 mineral I have created a fat bomb that improves the health and appearance of my herd and over comes the lack of magnesium in our soil.

Some horses really do require something more substantial than a snaffle bit.

Baling twine, in large amounts, creates a perfect baffle when placed in a wash to allow sediment deposition and fight erosion.

If the interior of a loafing area is fenced in so that the loafing area is, in effect, a track around the interior, horses will spend much more time moving around that track than they did when the entire loafing area was left open.

By allowing wild grass to grow up in that 2 acre interior and letting the horses in to graze on it rotationally, I have saved about $200.00 each week in hay costs this summer.

Wire mesh fencing can be greatly strengthened by lacing two inch saplings through every other mesh.

I can ride much harder and much farther than I ever imagined if I take the time to train my body for the challenge.

My horses can be ridden much harder and farther than I ever imagined if I take the time to train their bodies for the challenge.

I have found something of more value than horses. Friends.

Some pain never goes away.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Importance Of Doing Important Things

Since early spring my some of my riders and their families have put in hour after tedious, sweat-filled hour, preparing our pastures and training facility for the documentary that we filmed yesterday. They weeded, painted, built and planned for the big day of filming. The documentary will focus on the off site breeding program for the Corollas and will demonstrate what first rate horses the Corollas can become. As more people are exposed to these spectacular horses support will increase for efforts to keep a herd of Corollas wild and free.

Joe Davenport and Mark Stevenson spent the day behind the cameras. The raw footage that I have seen exceeds my wildest expectations.

Had you been there yesterday watching the filming you most certainly would have been struck by the conduct of my little riders. I had kids from age four to seventeen working in this production. They acted like adults who really cared about what they were doing.

My little riders know that not only are they learning natural horsemanship and riding, they are doing something very important. They are working to save the Corollas. They are rightfully proud of the work that they put into promoting these horses.

Indeed, for life to have meaning it is important to do important things.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Not Too Late To Gait

Ghost Dance is a BLM mare from a herd that was part of the Army Remount program which was designed to keep a constant and cheap source of cavalry horses available in the event that they were needed for national defense. Government gunman killed the little Spanish stallions in the wild bands and released Thoroughbred and Morgan stallions into the herds to produce future cavalry mounts should they ever be needed. This program lead to the creation of ideal potential polo ponies, but nearly erased the pure Spanish mustang herds of the west.

Ghost Dance has never been ridden hard enough to develop her strength until this summer when she began her training for the 100 mile ride. She and Emily Marble have become quite taken with each other. This morning we scheduled a fast trotting five mile run with none of the horses being allowed to canter. Ghost Dance has gotten stronger and stronger with her training regimen.

This morning at the 2.5 mile post Emily gushed out, "She is wonderful!" When we got back she showed me Ghost Dance's special gait. It is unlike the "Indian" or Appaloosa shuffle. It is not quite like a walking horse.

This was really a great surprise. We are developing a cadre of some of the smoothest, most reliable trail horses that one will find. Some are gaited, all are comfortable and all are tough. Even the few domestic horses on our place are becoming hard as steel. Living as naturally as possible, never meeting a stable or or a horse shoe being a part of a herd has made our horses remarkably healthy and happy.

(My little riders are getting tough too!)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

So What's In A Name?

Sometimes an awful lot. I received an e mail from Rebecca today letting me know that she and Mark have decided to name their baby who will be born in a few weeks in honor of Lido. His middle name will be Patrick, which was Lido's first name.

Seems like Rebecca always knows the right thing to do to help me when I need it most. The day Lido died she and JK and I went out to the horse lot. Rebecca did not say anything at first. She just picked up a string and went into the pasture and returned with Ghost Dance. The three of us just stood there with Ghost Dance and at that moment there was no better place on Earth for me to be.

Red Feather is Holding Classes

Red Feather is the most athletic horse with whom I have ever shared a round pen. He was once dangerous in all situations and now is only dangerous if something drags along his back legs. (Of course we are working on that and will have that problem solved before he is ridden in the woods again).

Carley and KC are very new students, aged 9 and 12. Last Friday they saw what Red Feather could do in, and to, a round pen when a rope touches his hind legs. He made quite an impression on them (and on some of the panels of the round pen).

The other side of Red Feather's personality is that he is a warm, affectionate horse, provided one stays away from the back legs. Carly and KC did a great job handling a yearling filly earlier in the evening. Before they left I put Red Feather in the ring. Both were afraid and both overcame that fear to the degree that not only did they touch him, Carly even laid her ribs across his back.

Carley and KC are going to be great riders and trainers. They listen, they trust, and they are not easily bored. Red Feather will continue to teach them that they are capable of achieving things that they would never have imagined.

(Here is a picture of Red Feather in the Living Room of the Little House. Note that he is perusing the book case. The sad part is that he has read as many of our horse training books as have most of my teen age riders.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Winning a Blue Ribbon

Readers of my book, those who have attended my clinics and long time readers of this blog know my feeling about horse shows, racing and the pursuit of ribbons. I think that competition has done little to benefit horses and does even less to improve human character.

Some ribbons do not offend me. In fact, there is a blue ribon hanging on the wall of my new office. The raised print reads "Skill,Courage, Sharing, Joy." It is one of Lido's Special Olympics ribbons. As soon as he would win one he would give it to me for safe keeping. I had them displayed in my old office on a deer skin that he helped tan. It has been nearly eight months since he died.

I do not have a good concluding point or message to this so I will simply stop writing.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Love Nothing That Has No Pulse

Love nothing that has no pulse, and love but a few that eat no hay. Wealth, fame, prestige, and power have no pulse. Their pursuit, as the wise man wrote is but, "striving after the wind."

Such pursuits, at best, lead to a shallow, vacuous life. Lives that are entangled with those of other people can have meaning, but cannot escape being filled with pain. Simply put, when one meets a potential life long friend, throw down a pad of hay. If your potential friend does not eat the hay, be very careful about intertwining your life with his.

Humans hurt. Horses heal. Humans break spirits. Horses only break bones.

Some breeders call it "good temperament," but it is much more than that. I want to breed horses that are loyal and reliable. I want to breed horses that can take me deeper and deeper into the woods, where house lights are not seen and automobile engines not heard. I want to breed horses that reduce suffering.

I have succeeded in doing so, though it was no great feat. I have allowed my horses to be horses, have trained them gently and firmly, and did not lock them up in stables, fill them with sugar, allow them to become fat and sour, or cripple them with unnecessary horse shoes.

Now I want to put these horses together with people who need them. Unwanted horses, juvenile angst and despair, adult loneliness--all of these problems have the same solution. We need to get horses into the hands of more people. We need to encourage the development of an entirely new horse market, that of the eager novice.

Perhaps in the past this could not be done. It can be done now. The study of natural horsemanship can turn a novice into a responsible horseman in a matter of months.

Across this nation we must develop more programs to teach natural horsemanship to kids and to older adults. It can be done and it can be done successfully. We do it and their is nothing magical about our program.

If I were driven to make money off of this concept perhaps I could market myself with the same vigor that one sees in the most famous clinicians. I could do so if only I loved money. But money, like a slaughtered, "unwanted" horse, has no pulse.

(My Shackleford Spanish mustang Holland, shown above, must have a pulse like a bass drum)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

100 Miles Worth of Committment

This fall I will join several of my most committed riders on a two day 100 mile ride on the horses that we have trained. Most of our horses were in better than average aerobic shape simply because of the number of miles we put on them during regular riding. Beginning last spring several of us began putting many more miles on several of the horses in order to condition them for two 50 mile days, back to back. Last fall we did 46 miles in one day and I am certain that we can handle a 2 day 100 mile ride. We will be proceeding at a pretty leisurely pace. This will not be a race.
The five mile canters nearly each morning have my riding muscles in better shape than they have been in since I was a kid. Recently I began the second part of that commitment. I have changed my diet significantly and have reinstituted a fairly intense exercise regimen. Three days a week I walk while pumping weights. I do this in laps and alternate between using 10 lbs dumbbells, then 15, and then thirty in each hand. After doing this for 1/2 hour I go inside and lift weights and then ride at a canter for 5 miles.
On the off days I do a Tabata Protocol on the tread mill. Then it is out to the horse lot for a five mile ride. I do abdominal work on a Swiss ball every day.
Granted, this would not be that much of a workout were I a 25 year old line backer. But I am not. I do not want an injury to hamper my ability to complete the 100 so I am not going to train any harder.
Most of my horses are ready now. By show time I will be ready too.

The Other Side of The Coin

The only solution to the problem of "surplus" horses is to develop more riders and horse owners. My initial focus was to teach natural horsemanship to kids. In recent years I have taken on several adult students. The results have been dramatic. Twenty-one of my students or former students have become horse owners
in the last five years.
Each first learned natural horsemanship and then learned to ride or in some cases learned both simultaneously. Adults who have never ridden are one of the best hopes that America's unwanted horses have.
Pictured above is Vickie, a very active volunteer with USERL getting on Annie, a Virginia Range Mustang for the horse's first mounting. Though a long time horse lover, her riding experience had been scant before becoming active with USERL. The rider attributed her spur of the moment decision to hop on as the result of watching my little riders train horses. She believes that my book, particularly the sections on Lido (Patrick) gave her the confidence to take on this challenge at this stage in her life.
(She realizes that she should have worn a helmet and rib protectors for this first mounting.)