Saturday, January 30, 2010

It Was Too Dark For Me to See the Ice Hanging From

my aged body. In fact it is too cold for me to even write about what the kids and our horses just took me through so I am now turning this key board over to Lydia and Emily so that they can do so.

Hi! This is Emily and Lydia is in the chair next to me... We have just gotten back from one of the coldest rides in the history of Mill Swamp according to Lydia, according to me one of the funnest. But I have a hard time rating the rides out here because I always have such a wonderful time.

At the moment we are "snowed in", Virginia-style, with big plans for avoiding cabin-fever. We sort of knew the storm was coming, so we brought our snow gear and stayed at Steve's house last night so that we could be snowed in here rather than in Portsmouth.

This morning after breakfast, Lydia showed up ready to go feed-up horses in some very uncool looking ski pants (Lydia says that "uncool" isn't a good word and to say "spiffy" instead) that Steve said made her look skinny. I thought this was hilarious because Lydia is skinny as a rail anyway. They saved her from the troubles of wet pants all day, she says. She wants to thank her mother for convincing her to bring them because she was hot when Steve and I were frozen.

After admiring Lydia's choice in fashion, we drove out to the horse lot in Steve's little SUV to feed and water everybody. I love how horses look in snow, especially when they run. It's like no other sight on earth. We got to wondering how deep the snow was in the woods, so we each grapped a horse and headed out to see. It was about 6 inches deep, for the record. The horses were very sure-footed and seemed to remember every inch of the trail even though they couldn't see it.

When we got back, we were starving. Beth very wonderfully had hot soup ready for us. Hot food is amazing after getting wet and frozen.

Ater lunch, Steve took a nap on the couch for three hours while we watched a movie--this enabled him (at his advanced age and all) to be able to go on a snowy night ride with us after a delicous dinner. We rode on and on in the darkness, talking and laughing and generally having a great time. When my feet were sufficiently frozen, I suggested that we turn around and head home. Steve looked over at me and crowed that he had "beat a Marble", then kept talking as he turned Holland around. I'm a sore looser, so instead of turning around, I got my horse into a canter in the opposite direction. Lydia thought that was a good idea and came, too. It took Steve a minute to figure out that he was talking to his horse instead of to us...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

This Boy Would Have Confused Darwin

This morning I was doing a brisk little canter/gaiting session with Carley and her older brother whose name we will not mention in order to protect him from any regional hostilities that he might have generated.

We were discussing Neanderthals. I explained that they were broad, thick and powerfully built. I explained that they likely had a level of intelligence below ours and that they probably had a very limited vocabulary.

"Sounds like they were a lot like people from Missouri," said the unnamed rider.

Monday, January 25, 2010

What Riding Discipline Do You Teach?

We do not teach a riding discipline. We teach a riding freedom. We ride with a loose rein and control our horses primarily with leg cues. Our riding posture is not designed to look pretty in a show ring. Instead, it is designed to be comfortable to the horse and the rider as we navigate through the woods and swamps of Tidewater. We do not sit erect as if in a military parade. We go for the posture of a tired old cowboy with tuberculosis who chain smokes Camels.

Emma started riding with us this weekend. She spent Saturday and Sunday afternoon riding through the muck, galloping up hills, and gaiting smoothly down the trails. On Saturday she cruised along on our wild Corolla stallion, Manteo. On Sunday she rode Porter, another wild Corolla.

She has ridden in a formal English style previously so it will take her a while to learn to ride in a manner that will make her look like "a total slob." Her horse and her spine will love her journey into slobdom.

Monday, January 18, 2010

I Could Have Ridden Him Forever

The documentary on the Corollas entitled, "I Could Have Ridden Him Forever", took a big step closer to completion yesterday. Joe Davenport of Richmond completed what is likely the filming of the last raw footage that will go into the production. He has put a tremendous amount of work in to this project and I have no doubt that the final product will be a first rate work.

(The photo above was taken at the beginning of a fifty mile ride that we completed in one day. Rylee is leading the way on Manteo, our first Corolla stallion.)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Perfect Horse's Kids

Of course, I recognize that many of my views and practices directly conflict with those of the established horse world. That is why I constantly reevaluate those views and practices. I mean, could it be that they are right and kids really cannot learn to safely start wild horses and colts?

That is when I am drawn to objective criteria to answer my questions. Last night I received a surprise visit from two first rate Colorado horse trainers, one seventeen and one about thirteen years old. Abby and Pricilla are pictured above with some of their horses. They first began to work with horses a few years ago under my instruction and encouragement. On their own they have worked to put into practice the principles espoused by most of the great natural horseman of the last century, particularly Pat Parelli.

Yes, it can be done. Last night the proof was sitting at my right hand and my left hand. This morning they are going riding with us, along with their much older sister, Emily, who even at her advanced age, can still manage to turn a scared or bad horse into a solid trial horse using patience and skill.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Kid's Horse

When people create arbitrary rules of proper horsemanship it is often the horse that suffers. I came across a great example in an of hand comment that, "No three year old horse should ever be ridden by a child."

Of course, the statement is rooted in the idea that kids should only ride old, "bomb-proof" horses. The problem is that no horse is bomb proof. On the other hand, kids can be taught to become horse handlers at a very young age and have been in every horse culture in the world's history.

The picture taken above is from a time when parents believed that children should not be raised in a bubble, sheltered from all of life's challenges. Instead, they believed that good parenting required that a child be taught to welcome and overcome those challenges.

Yes, a three year old horse can make a great kid's horse if someone has taken the time to teach that kid to handle a horse. In fact, the horse standing on the well just happens to be three years old when this picture was taken. His rider got him when he was two and the pony was one. By age four his rider could take him over jumps and run him as hard as he could go.

That picture is from 46 years ago. Riding a young horse stunted neither my growth, nor my morals. Tonka was tough and smart. Because I could not get in the saddle at such a young age Daddy taught Tonka to lay down for me to mount up.

This picture was taken behind the Little House when I was four years old. Tonka has gone on, but the Little House and I are still around. In December, Daddy walked along beside my five year old niece as she rode her horse in this year's Christmas Parade. Spotted Fox turns three this summer. He has not yet been gelded.

The formula is simple--more kids riding more horses=fewer horses at the slaughter house and fewer kids with empty lives.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Modern Ranch Wife

My wife, Beth Edwards, is a Senior Assistant Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia. She enjoys riding but not to the degree that I do. She rarely does any of the upkeep or work with horse training. Her job is more important. She thinks for me. I absolutely rely on her judgement regarding every business decision that is made at the horse lot. In fact, I have never gone against that judgement.

I can count on her in other ways. Over the holidays we had a few sick horses. Treating them was a monumental effort on the part of many people. Beth was there every moment that she could be, even cutting back on her visits with family members that she only gets to see a few times each year.

I have to say that in certain respects she impressed me more this morning than she usually does. I needed to hook up the trailer and put two round bales in the trailer by hand, in the darkness, with the temperature in the twenties. Beth offered to help. The bales weigh between 800 and 1000 pounds. I could not have come close to getting the job done by myself. It turns out that her legs are every bit as strong as they were when she ran track in high school.

We got the job done.

Friday, January 1, 2010

KC Said ,"We have three Shacklefords."

He said it naturally and without giving any thought to the import of his words. KC has been riding with me for five months and has absolutely thrown his life into our program. If he could, he would spend every minute either working horses, fixing fence, toting feed, or riding. That is why it was so good to hear him say "We have.." instead of "Steve has..."

One of the purposes of this blog is to encourage conventional riding facilities to develop riding and training programs that draw young people into riding with the fervor that our's does. One of the most important keys to that program is for the riders, and their families to feel that they have partial ownership of what we do. The feeling of ownership results in dedication and that dedication is what holds a program together in times of crisis.

KC is not the only example. Some Little riders work incessantly on work projects at the horse lot. They are joined by adults who develop programs and social events for the riders,constantly prime me with ideas for the program, bring furniture and books to the Little House, deliver feed and hay, participate in not only the fun part of the program but in the drudge work also.

So many of my riders and their families seem to always be asking themselves, "What can I do to help our program?" "Our Program"--that is what holds us together.