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.)

Collateral Benefits

I have always been interested in the health benefits of riding but have found little solid research on the matter. I have discovered that my pulse rate while cantering on a smooth Spanish mustang is the same as it is when I jog at 5 miles per hour. This summer we trained our horses pretty hard to prepare for the big ride. Nearly every morning this summer I cantered five miles on one horse or another, and spent most of the weekend in the saddle.

Here is the bottom line. I lost 17 pounds and my core muscles are stronger than they have been since I was a teenager. This is the key point. At 217 pounds I still exceed my "ideal" weight by about 70 pounds. Even if we made the number more realistic, I am about 50 pounds over weight.

At forty nine years old and fifty pounds over weight this exercise regimen contributed to a triglyceride level of 54 and a cholesterol count of only 148.

Riding, like any other exercise, must be done consistently and at a sufficient level of difficulty in order to produce results but it can produce results even better than that found in a gym.

Keep that in mind the next time someone tells you that "the horse does all the work" and that riding is not real exercise.

(Here are a few half Corolla and one full Corolla yearlings who spend little time worrying about their cholesterol levels.)