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.