Thursday, February 26, 2009

Focus Before Feel

Dorrence's great work, "True Horsemanship Through Feel" has all of the answers. Unfortunately, I have a very difficult time understanding some of his concepts and much of his vocabulary. For the longest time I was baffled by his concept of "feel". I have come to believe that "feel" is exhibited when the horse does what the human wants because the human wants it and for no other motivation. Read Dorrence. Try hard to understand him.

In any event, I do not believe that "feel" can come before "focus." Focus is the intense state of concentration that leads to physical relaxation while allowing the mind to block out other distractions. Focus is what causes me to look at my watch after 15 minutes of training a horse one on one only to discover that I have actually been with him over 2 hours. Focus is what allows me to become surprised when I exit the round pen and notice, for the first time, that a small crowd of people had gathered around the pen to watch us training.

The picture above demonstrates focus. This is not a posed picture. Jacob was mounting Harley for the first time. The intensity of my concentration is matched by Jacob's. Focus is the hardest thing for a kid to learn. It helps for a kid to get tossed a few times because of not focusing. Everyone needs incentives and staying out of the hospital is a good incentive.

Time Looks Over Its Shoulder At Us

For a decade now I have looked so forward to spring so I would be able to train horses in sunlight after work. Time will change in about 10 days and I will be able to do so again. This will also be the first spring in about a decade that I will not have Lido to help me train. Saturday there will be several bluegrass bands putting on a lengthy show in Lido's memory. The HOA Rescue fund is growing with donations honoring Lido. Sunday would be two months since he died. I say "would be" because he died on December 29 and there is no February 29.

But there will be another February 29. It will come back every four years, but Lido won't. Time marches on. Time cheats.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On the Horizon

I am really looking forward to getting our next set of interviews out. Keep an eye out for interesting interviews with Joe Camp, author of "Soul of a Horse," Karen McCalpin of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, and Stephanie Lockhart on the Baca Conservancy, Choctaws and the Trail of Tears.

Monday, February 23, 2009

We Are Always Here to Help

With so many mustang owners participating in English show events tremendous confusion has reigned as members of the English Horse Show World have been working diligently to come up with some easily observable criteria to distinguish 13.2 mustangs from 17 h Warm bloods. How indeed will the average spectator be able to tell the Holsteiner from the Huesteca?

Toward that end, I offer the following key differences between BLM mustangs and European Warm bloods with the hope that these points of comparison will lessen the confusion that currently plagues the show world of those who wear the little brown britches.

Warm bloods listen to Grand Opera.
My mustangs listen to the Grand Ole' Opry.

Warm Bloods vote a straight Republican ticket, though they claim to be independents.
My mustangs are Democrats, but 12% of them forgot to vote in the last election.

Warm Bloods are generally Episcopalians.
My mustangs are back sliding Pentecostals.

My mustangs are, in reality, large ponies.
Warm Bloods are, in reality, small giraffes.

Warm Bloods are often exhibited in the discipline of dressage.
My mustangs often exhibit no discipline at all.

Warm Bloods have been line bred,and closely bred, by sophisticated breeders.
My mustangs have been in bred, by necessity.

If, after closely examining the horse in question based on the specific criteria set out above, one still cannot determine if it is a Warm Blood or a mustang. A final distinguishing line can be drawn using more traditional measures. For example, if the horse is lame, obese, and carries the sweet, calm disposition of a Thoroughbred, coupled with the speed, and gracefulness of a plow horse, that one is not the mustang.

Sure hope this helps.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

To Become Better People

We work to expose kids to the wide range of programs designed to improve the quality of the lives of others. Good horsemanship is its own reward but sharing the fruits of the skill, knowledge, and opportunity that our program provides is a very special reward. Della Stokes is a dedicated humanitarian who follows in the footsteps of her mother Otelis Rainey. Otelia was a role model for anyone who wanted to build a program from scratch to help people. She was an amazing women.
Della is developing a program exposing young people with problems to animals, especially horses. The horses available for her programs are big and younger children can be quite intimidated by them.
For some reason, Bird Women stayed remarkably small. She is a saucy little rascal and is too small for all but the smallest kids to ride.
Danielle is responsible for the fact that Bird Women has learned to be lead so well and take a saddle and little rider on her back. Danielle trained Bird Women with very little direction from me. She did a great job. Without the work that Danielle put into Bird Women she would have been little more than a lawn mower. Now, because of the time and effort that Danielle put into teaching Bird Women, she will not only have a good life, but through Della's program will be able to help many other people to have a better life.
I am very proud of Danielle this morning. I am also proud of Rylee. I can depend on her and I expect that over the next few years I will grow to depend on her more and more. When Della picked up Bird Women yesterday, she also picked up a young jenny named Chihuahua. Rylee had done some preliminary training on the donkey, but she was still quite donkeyfied. I asked Rylee to come out very early yesterday to work intensely with Chihuahua in order to get her leading with the lightest of pressure and to freshen her up on her cues.
I did not know it, but Rylee was planning to have a special morning out with a friend that included a movie and all of the other kind of things that make little nine year olds smile and giggle.
She cancelled those plans. As she explained to her father, "Steve needs my help this morning."
I have one more thing that I am proud of this morning. We did not spend yesterday riding. Instead we had an intense day of work. We transplanted trees, moved fences, cut saplings, moved concrete dust, and deepened water hole obstructions in the amusement park. A few adults helped out but, but the bulk of the work was done by my little riders. One rider brought along a friend who mentioned several times how much fun it was to be working so hard.
Hard work makes for good memories for kids. Yesterday we dug about 35 post holes by hand. The kids participated both in the digging and ramming of the posts. Of course the work would have gone much faster had I rented an auger. But in 15 years when my little riders bring their kids out to the horse lot it would not mean much for them to point out to the fence line and say, "See those posts? I was there when Steve rented an auger to put them in." No, it will mean much more for them to be able to tell their kids how they learned to use a post hole digger.
Perhaps the most important thing that happened yesterday was that my little riders/workers took a seat and listened as Della and I told them a little bit about Otelia and the great things that she did with her life. I want my riders to understand how to make impossible things possible. Most of all, I want my riders to grow up to make impossible things possible.
As said before, the goal of our program is not to generate ribbons in the show ring. It is to become better people.

(In the picture above Danielle stands with Comet. Danielle taught Comet to back through an L shaped alley using only voice cues.)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Big Wheels Keep on Turnin'

Tire training has become one of our most important confidence builders for colts and wild horses. Loretta's colt Si Tanka recently had his first exposure to the tires. While walking through the tires is not too much of a challenge physically, it challenges their courage and trust tremendously.

Of course, the tires are only one of the obstacles to be mastered in the Amusement Park. Much to my surprise, we find that a jumpy colt relaxes as if he had been tranquilized after his first visit to the Amusement Park. Of course, that confidence must be built on and reinforced daily for it to have the desired effect during the training process.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

From the Winds that Blow Across the Wild Moors

The ocean's breeze can make for a pleasant spring or fall day on the Outer Banks and it can make for a miserable time in the winter. Salt water cold is a special kind of cold. It has staying power. Here in Smithfield we start warming up the instant that the cold north wind settles down. In Corolla on a cold February day you can feel the cold wind even if it has stopped blowing. It is so cold that you can feel last Tuesday's wind.

Cold in Corolla seems to have a memory. It knows where you hide. It comes and looks for you and keeps hunting until it settles in on you.

In the 1850's Edmound Ruffin, in his volume on Southern agriculture, mentioned the Banker horses. He also said that horses bred on the mainland stood no chance of survival on the Outer Banks.

This is Manteo's little son, Don Louis Devalasco a few days ago. Note his pretty spanish head. Check out the winter hair. Reminds me of when I was little and first saw the Beetles on Ed Sullivan

Monday, February 16, 2009

My Deepest Sympathies... anyone stuck with timid,whiney,sissified little grand children. I have just returned from the horse lot where I have had to listen to my little three year old grand son complain, whine, and finally start crying at the top of his lungs.

However, he was complaining because he wanted me to saddle him a horse so we could ride in the woods, like we did for over an hour yesterday. He was whining, "I want to ride a horse now." And he was crying "Why can't we ride Grandaddy?"

It was music to my ears. Looks like I will always have someone to ride with me.

(The picture above is my grandson astride Croatoan 16 months ago.)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Lydia and Owl Prophet

Owl Prophet, named for the Commanche holy man, was born to Ghost Dance and Wind in His Hair on Easter Sunday three years ago. He had a serious chill in the hours after his birth and nearly died. Luckily for him, Mill Swamp Indian Horses is a high tech, modern equine facility of the most sophisticated variety. As a result, I had my equine infant incubator on hand. I drove that Chevrolet Silverado incubator right on out to him and placed him inside the truck. I turned the heater heater up high and in about half an hour he was sitting up and happpily staring out of the window lookiing at Ghost Dance.

I doubt that Lydia had to be heated up in a truck after she was born, but aside from that they are quite a match. Both are lean, long legged,athletic and intense. Lydia is about 13 and has become a very good colt starter. She creates the appearance of having absolute control over her emotions, fear, anger, joy--they all look the same on her face. In fact, the only time that I have ever seen her appear angry was when I claimed to be funnier than her father. (Just a warning, if you meet Lydia I cannot be responsible for what she might do if you dare suggest that you are funnier than her father.)

Primarily becuase of her extreme self control, she instills trust and confidence in colts that few professionals could. Lydia is particularily skilled at getting terrified colts to step into and gently out of huge tractor tires. (Tire training has become an important part of our despooking program.)

Owl Prophet is a nervous, jumpy colt. Yesterday she lead him through the amusement park and gently handled him for about two hours. Later she saddled him without incident and mounted up as I lead him around the round pen for perhaps 15 minutes. He relaxed, yawned and walked around with his head lowered. Lydia will soon have him in the woods. He will be a super distance horse.

To the person who quite rudely questioned the worth of our horses, I suggest that you contact Lydia instead of any of my other riders/horse owners. She is much more likely to maintain her composure while discussing the matter with you. Just do not suggest that you are funnier than her father.

(Ghost Dance and Owl Prophet when he was a foal are depicted in the picture above.)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Miss Me When I'm Gone?

Today was one of the few days that I have been too sick to go into the office. Luckily, I did not have any cases scheduled for trial today so I doubt that I was missed. However, when feeding up I noticed that I had a young donkey with a hoof problem. I had no choice but to trim her hoof. There have been very few times that I have ever trimmed any of the donkey's feet without having Lido there to help me. I am tired of doing things without Lido.

Last Saturday night the monthly tack auction was held in Courtland. Lido loved to go there and wheel and deal. I did not go and I don't think that I ever will be able to go again.

The first time that a mustang hurt me badly I was left with a concussion and several broken ribs. Unfortunately, Beth and my daughters were in Colorado at a soft ball tournament. I was not left without first rate medical attention. Lido stayed with me, got me my medicine, cooked for me and even pulled me up off of the sofa with his one strong arm. He was about 12 then.

This week someone asked me how many kids were in my family and I told the that I have twelve little adopted brothers and sisters. As soon as I heard the words come out of my mouth, it hit me like a punch in the chest. I used to have 12 little adopted brothers and sisters. Now I have 11.

(The picture above is of Nick,the donkey that Lido broke to ride. This is the same Nick that is in the book. For any of you that might be confused after reading the book, in the book I referred to Lido by his adopted name, Patrick)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

There is No "I" in Team, but There is a Great Big One in Sarah Lin

Sarah Lin is now seven and she began riding with me when she was five. She is the most confident, self assured little girl her age that I have ever seen.

Her mother sent me an e mail telling me that today was "team day" at Sarah Lin's school and each child was supposed to wear an article of clothing from their favorite sports team.

Had one been in her class this morning one would have seen her sitting there, no doubt amongst a crowd of Steelers, Redskins, and maybe a Yankee or two, wearing the uniform of her favorite sports team. She had on her blue jeans and her Mill Swamp Indian Horse shirt.

(The picture above is Sarah Lin astride Wanchese during some of his early training last summer.)

A Few Very Special Yearlings

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


It seems that we receive two types of questions about why we do things the way we do. One type simply consists of rude, hostile diatribes. I do not respond to those. The other type is more interesting. These inquiries come from what are likely good hearted people who are confused as to why we do not adhere to the dogma of the established horse world. Some of these questions assume that I simply do not understand how the established horse has decided that certain things are to be done. These nice people only seek to explain the error of my ways to me so that I can learn the joy of mindless conformity. They tell me that "everyone" knows that horses need to have pasture blankets and they are genuinely perplexed that I do not find such a "fact" to be of any significance what so ever, much less persuasive.

I believe that children can be taught to start colts and wild horses using natural horsemanship for two reasons. In most horse cultures of the past, colt starting was done by the kids of the village. Secondly, I believe it because I have seen it happen with so many of my little riders.

Light horses, who have been raised naturally, are fully capable of being started to saddle at age two. During the horse's second year we do not jump him or even gallop. However, we put many hours of trotting and walking into the young horse and the result is a strong, dense boned colt. However, I doubt if colts who were raised on super charged horse feed and forced to spend hour after hour in a stable awaiting "turnout" could be safely started at age 2.

Stables were created to benefit people, not horses. Next to being over weight, there are few things more injurious to a horse's over all health than being confined in a stable.

Horses are intellectually quite limited, but have an emotional life as rich and varied as any higher primate. Yes, horses are capable of love. In addition, horses are very empathetic with humans who spend time to build relationships with those horses.

Horse shoes should be viewed as a last resort to correct a medical problem in a horse.

Horses that live off of hay and grass exhibit much less stress than those fed sugar coated grain feeds.

A mature, well conditioned pony can make a perfect mount for adults, even adults weighing over 200 pounds.

(The picture above is of my Shackleford stallion, Wanchese, moments after being unloaded at Mill Swamp Indian Horses.)

For Every Thing There is a Season

Days are getting longer and the winter's mud is drying up. Colt starting season is starting in full swing. Loretta has been able to spend more time with her colt, Si Tanka.

Her handling has done a great deal to desensitize him. She has begun to use clicker training on him. He will be a super horse, like his father, Young Joseph.

A Rose by Any Name Would Smell as Sweet

Part of the difficulty of learning horsemanship for anyone is mastering the complex vocabulary that has grown up around riding and horse care. It is that much more complicated if one is only nine years old, and even more complicated when trying to explain to another 9 year old that one's horse has been gelded.

One of my little riders ran into this specific problem when trying to remember the proper words for the procedure. She did not quite get it right. Her horse could not "make babies," she said because he was a "yielder" and that the vet had "yielded" him.

(The picture above is of Mokete the first pure Corolla born of the off site breeding program designed to help prevent the extinction of these incredible horses. Her existence is partially due to the fact that her father had not been "yielded."

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A View From the Outside

This morning we begin the first in our series of interviews with a wide range of experts whose lives have been touched by mustangs. Our first subject, Brent Speichinger, was a National High School Rodeo Association Bullrider contestant in the mid nineties, a 2001 Bareback Bronc finalist in the Mid Atlantic Rodeo Association, and the 2004 Missouri Family Rodeo Association Finals Champion and year end Champion Bareback Rider. He has won several rodeos across the country and has worked as a cowboy in Montana, Missouri and Texas.

His background had mostly exposed him to Quarter Horses and Paints with a few Arabians thrown into the mix.

Q. Ever Ridden a mustang out west or in a rodeo?

Brent: Funny that you ask that. BLM has rules and one of them is that you don't buck the BLM horse, but I have drawn two of them over my days in the arena. One just ran and kicked, not something that you want in a bucking horse. The other one was real snappy, a good draw.

Q. So what kind of horse are you riding now?

Brent: My current horse is Young Joseph, an American Indian Horse. He is half BLM range stock and half Chincoteague Island stock. He's 14.1 and weighs about 860 pounds. Joseph has a lot of trust in me, and compared to other horses he thinks about everything that he does. He is smooth and sure footed. His endurance is most impressive when riding with all other breeds. In rugged terrain he has the most impressive recovery time...does not tire at the end of the day and he is always ready to go.

His health has never been an issue. Something I like is their solid feet. When you ride all day in the mountains you spend a lot of time on rock and we've done this time after time and Joseph has never even acted sore.
...I was at a ride with a friend and several people walked by and commented on my friend's "colt." Well standing next to my friend's 1400 pound saddlebred cross, Joseph looks like a colt, but this one old guy wanted to ask a few questions. He asked me,with a smirk, "You gonna ride that little pony?"

Alright I'm a champion bronc rider. I have broken hundred's of horses in my day, ridden some of the best horses out there, but keep in mind that I am not boastful and I'm not going to let some old guy get under my skin.

So I [just] said "sure." Well by day's end me and my friend had gotten back from that 35 mile leg and slowly every one else started coming in [after us], horses lathered up, eyes glassy while my "little pony" was happily eating hay and barely wet from sweat. The old guy that wondered if I was going to ride that pony finally got in. Him and his daughter's horses were trying to go down and they were fighting the colic.

I let my pony speak for himself and as we fly by you on the trails, don't worry. Me and my pony will be ok.

Q. What is your take on the power and carrying capacity of the Spanish horses?

Brent: I recently had the privilege of riding Red Feather, a Corolla Spanish mustang. I am 5'11" and weigh about 170. Red Feather might make 13 hands [actually only 12.2] and weighs maybe 600 pounds. The first time I was on his back, he was kicking quarter moons. A horse cannot do that if he could not handle my weight! Recently I rode him in the woods for about an hour, trotting and cantering, one of the absolute smoothest gaited horses I have ever ridden.

That same weekend I rode a five year old colt raised by Tom Norush. These East-West Horses are something! Spectacular in their endurance, intelligence, comfort and over all health. And they eat a lot less than a 16 hand horse.

So for all of you over weight people, these smaller horses can carry you.

Q. Though they have had several non-Spanish breeds introduced into the wild with them, the Chincoteagues still carry a lot of their ancient Spanish traits. Today they are viewed as children's ponies. What do you think about Chincoteagues as mounts for adults?

Brent: As long as that adult is not too scared!

( The picture above is of a small band of wild Corollas that was taken in January of 2009.)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

To Run and Never Grow Weary

The stamina of the Corollas, Shacklefords, Spanish Mustang Registry Horses and BLM's is one of their best attributes. Though quite small compared to most modern breeds, their weight carrying capacity makes it possible for them to make first rate mounts for adults. The purer the Spanish lineage is in the horse it seems the more he prefers to trot. In other breeds this would be quite irritating but the Spanish horse's trots are more comfortable than the loping of many modern horses that I have ridden. In fact, when I get on a non-Spanish horse and move it into a trot it seems that the horse is missing a wheel.

I have trotted Croatoan, my 13.2 Corolla stallion over twenty miles in a single morning. The next morning neither of us was the worse for the wear.

The Corolla/BLM foals that were born last spring should be the best of any of these crosses. They will be a bit larger and faster than the pure Corollas. If they retain the gentle nature and trainability of the Corollas with a little more size and speed they will be ideal for trail riding.

(The picture above is a typical Sunday afternoon in my yard. Many of these horses were started to saddle by the kids that are riding them.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Weaker Sex?

Rebecca came to ride with us as a present from her husband on their first anniversary. She quickly became a skilled rider. She was in her early twenties and had been a gymnast for years. Within a few months she had gone from merely learning to ride to becoming my most serious student of natural horsemanship. Monday through Friday she would commute nearly 1/2 hour to come out to the horse lot before the sun rose to help me break horses. She then would spend the entire day on Saturday riding and working colts.

Rebecca gentled one mare that I feared had been too emotionally scarred to ever settle down. She turned her into a solid trail horse with patience and skill that one would never expect in a trainer of such relatively little experience. To this day she remains the best person to work a scared horse that I have met.

Over the years she has continued to take an active role in everything that we do at the horse lot. I have learned to trust her judgement on matters ranging from whether or not to acquire certain horses to making major purchases for the horse lot.

People often asked me how I have been able to put our program together by myself. The answer is simple. I didn't.

(In the picture above she is riding my Spanish Mustang stallion, Ta Sunka Witco, after breaking him to saddle when he was a colt.)

Monday, February 2, 2009

The HOA Lido Fund

The Horse of the Americas Registry is honoring Lido by administering a fund in his name that will be used to assist in the rescue of individual Colonial Spanish Horses.

Contributions can be made to the Lido Fund--HOA Registry and mailed to Margaret Odgers, Crazy Horse Farm, 1601 Little Rock-Jackstown Road, Carlisle, Kentucky 40311. For further back ground information one may take a look at the posts on this blog that began on 12-29-08 shortly after Lido died.

The Feb. edition of the online magazine,Equestrian Network News, features a brief article about Lido entitled 'Requiem for a Ranch Hand."