Monday, August 30, 2010

Why De Spooking Matters

Yesterday, while Holland was gaiting down a woods trail at a speed that kept Comet and Sampson cantering to keep up, a buzzard flushed about 12 steps in front of us. It flew at head level with a wing span of nearly four feet. In addition, it carried with it the pungent oder of its snack.

Holland did not spook. Comet did not spook. Sampson did not spook. All of these horses have gone through the through the despooking program that we illustrate in our training DVD. It is ironic that after such occurences I have to sternly remind my little riders that they cannot count on other people's horses to react as well as our wild horses do when confronted with a terrifying sight and that they must always expect the worst if riding horses that we did not train.

This shot is when I first met Holland in 2007. It was taken in February and Holland was a bit beefy. No picture better illustrates that a Spanish mustang stops looking like a Spanish mustang when he becomes over weight. A fat mustang looks like an English cob. However, fat does not change all of the other key indicators of the breed. Go to the Horse of the Americas web site and click on the report of the Corolla and Shackleford inspection and you will find a tremendously enlightening discussion of those Spanish indicators.

Holland is a touch over 13 hands. I probably average riding him about 15 miles a week. On several occasions I have completed 50 mile in a day rides on him. I cannot recall ever asking him to go anywhere that he did not take me. I rarely allow anyone else to ride him.

He will be offered for sale the Tuesday after Hell freezes over.

A Cure for What Ails You

Here are a couple of shots of Medicine Dog, the great BLM trail horse that we are offering for sale.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Student, The Teacher, and The Student

Emily W. is one of my best young students, smart, articulate and observant. Most importantly she had to overcome her fear of falling to fully enjoy her love of riding. She is not a lot older than Matthew, but she has a lot that she can teach him. And teach she does, very well.

And Matthew is learning as proven by his smile when trotting yesterday.

Medicine Dog

I never intended to sell any of the trail horses that I have personally trained and put many hours on in the woods. I expected Medicine Dog, Comet and Star Dust to out live me in the horse lot, but in order to maintain a viable riding and training program and, most importantly, to be able to allow the off site Corolla Breeding Program to reach its full potential, some hard decisions have had to be made.

Medicine Dog is one of the best trail horses that we have. She is taller than I like, over 14.2 hands, but she is sweet, gentle and affectionate with a shuffling gait that I find as comfortable as the canter on most modern horses. She lopes beautifully and plows through brush, over fallen trees and through water with ease. She has completed a fifty mile ride in one day and has been on several other long rides.

She is a BLM mare with full Appaloosa traits. A rare color and a riding horse of rare quality. Her sales price is $1,800.00

Monday, August 23, 2010

And I Shall Buy You A Pony

Most certainly we have never had a president as wracked with depression as was Abraham Lincoln. From the death of his mother, to the death of his child, to the near death of his nation, he stumbled through life in a world of pain. As a young man the tall, gangling Lincoln had been quite an athlete. He was a lifelong horseman, and rode his horse ,Old Bob, through Washington, often unaccompanied, through out the War.

As miserable as most of his life had been, he was giddy with happiness from the date of Lee's surrender to his death. He discussed plans for future travel with his wife and looked forward to a quite retirement.

He assured his youngest son that life would be turning better soon. He promised to do one thing for the child as soon as he got back to Springfield that he knew would bring pure delight to the child.

"And I shall buy you a pony", he told the little boy.

A kid cannot ride out of gloom on an x-box. He cannot gallop into the sunshine on an iPod. He cannot trot through the woods on a cell phone.

But his life can find meaning in a saddle. More kids need to find that meaning.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Just a Big Mistake

"I was so wrong about this whole program of kids and mustangs." Saturday a lady with years of horse show experience had this to say as she watched us working horses and boys as Boys Home. She had been there two months ago when we unloaded the group of untrained young mustang and mustang cross colts that were to be the core of the equine program at Boys Home. After two days of work all of the colts old enough to be ridden were under saddle. She watched with great pleasure as the horses and the kids gained confidence from each other. She had become a believer. She was very excited to have been mistaken at the program's outset. Some kids received their first introduction to natural horsemanship over the weekend. Others, like Jimmy, refreshed and strengthened their knowledge of real horsemanship.

Bonnie Wheatley has exactly the right idea for these boys and their program. She could have gotten together a group of ancient, "bomb proof" horses and the boys could have had simply another riding program. Instead she sought out untrained young horses so that the boys would receive as much benefit from the experience of applying natural horsemanship as the horses do in receiving the instruction.

Bonnie is putting together something very important for these kids. She understands that this is not simply another form of recreation, but instead is one of the most effective means of strengthening weaknesses and healing pain that participants will ever have. She deserves a great deal of credit for having the vision and dedication to take this step.

(Abbie and Emily went with me and worked horses and taught kids from Thursday after dinner to Saturday morning. Here is a shot of Abbie on Ice, a great young trail horse that we have for sale.)

Friday, August 20, 2010


For the past two days I have been here at Boys Home in Covington, VA working both with their horses and the kids that will be in their natural horsemanship program. A local 4-H Club watched and participated today as we worked several young horses. Sunka Wasicun was pretty much untouchable 24 hours ago but this afternoon he was ridden leisurely in a large enclosure adjacent to the round pen. Rain In the Face is started sufficiently well to be ridden in the woods. Iron Shirt's ability to learn is only matched by that of the young man who spent the day training him.

This was a big day for the horses, the students and for me. I love teaching kids how to do first rate training, but it is much more fun to teach them how to believe that they can do first rate training.

A few years ago someone commented that I do not really teach kids how to ride. I simply teach kids to have the confidence to learn how to ride on their own.

Such analysis is perfectly accurate and I do not shy from it a bit.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

But Seriously Folks...

Last night I had a long over due meeting with some of the adults who understand the purpose of our program and who also understand the logistical problems of keeping it going. I received some great ideas and offers of assistance.

Our operation could easily take up a full time position for two very hard workers. We do not have, nor will we have, such a staff. Instead we will have an advertising and publicity committee, families will be asked to take responsibility for certain building and maintenance programs, invoices will be mailed out monthly, mandatory meetings regarding safety and program changes will be a condition of participation, participants will be given the option of taking a greater role in the full panoply of jobs that horse ownership requires or paying an increased fee for program participation and I will offer for sale several first rate horses that I would have never considered selling in the past.

If everyone pitches in, and if the older kids encourage the younger ones to do the same, by spring time our program should be back on sound footing.

My granddaughter, shown here about to ride Holland into the James river, will serve as Director of Program Compliance. The consensus seems to be that I am too soft hearted to whip this program back into line. She inherited no such tendencies. A quick glance into her eyes reveals just what a hard nosed businessman she is.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sunshine In the Shadows


Here is a shot of Ice, a three year old colt that we have for sale. His father is Cherokee Boogie, of Karma Farms breeding, and his mother is a modern mare. He is blue eyed, sweet natured and very affectionate. Ice has been primarly trained by KC and is ridden several hours each week. He goes where asked, through water,in heavy brush, over fallen tree trunks.

He ambles with deep Spanish strides. He is a bit tall. I fear that he might reach 15 hands when fully grown. But for that excessive height, he is a first rate colt.
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Monday, August 16, 2010


Emily started to ride Wanchese toward the end of this summer. She was in awe of his athleticism and comfort. Kayla is returning home to North Carolina today and for her last ride yesterday she wanted to ride Wanchese. Wanchese was born in the wild on Shackleford Island. He is the son of the wild stallion Dionysis. At only 12.2 hands he carries a 150 pound rider as if he had nothing on his back. I have never seen him make a hostile move towards a human. He has a gentler personality than even his nephew, Holland.

He should have his first colt born next summer. He is bred to Amanda's wonderful Corolla mare, Secotan.

Score Card

A quick rundown of a summer that in so many ways was the best our program ever had, yet was also the most difficult and challenging summer we have yet had to face in the horse lot.

1. Horses trained well enough to ride in the woods by an intermediate rider:
Makoda, Kiowa, Roxie.
2. Horses trained from point zero to off to a good start:
Valor, Looking Glass
3. New Faces that were inclined to smile:
Dennis, Vickie, Joey, Kayla, Jacob, Judy, Norm,Abbie,Jenny, and Matthew,Emma, Emily,Paytin
4. Best Financial news:
The paintings that the student's in Kay's art class have created are selling well in Corolla and generating a nice sum for the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.
5. Worst Financial News:
Everything Else
6. Events: Wild Horse Days, Duck Parade
7. Best Hope for the Future:
Assisting in the initiation of a natural horsemanship program at Boys Home.
8. Best reason to keep this program going:
All the new faces that are inclined to smile (and I bet I missed some of them in the list above)
9. Best Reason to Smile:
Having Abbie and Emily around all summer
10. Best reason to be optimistic about the future:
Still looking

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Knowledge is Money

I began to trim hooves for money when I was about 11 years old. Lido did a great deal of trimming work with me although he had no real use out of his right arm. When one understands natural horsemanship, hoof care should not be a wrestling match. The principles for maintenence of a healthy hoof are simple. (Treatment of a problem hoof is not so simple and requires professional expertise.)

Because of advances in natural hoof care knowledge, horses that were considered hopelessly lame can often be restored to complete comfort. Tradewind, whose founder in the wild and abcesses were so severe that I never thought that he would be able to move with out pain, is now regularly ridden and has done several rides of 50 miles in one day and has yet to show a hint of lameness. I trim his hooves using techniques that I learned from Pete Ramey's great book on natural hoof care.

This is a shot of Comet's hoof as I prepred to trim it several years ago. Note his huge frog and the sound structure that allows him to trot and canter over rock and gravel every weekend. He has never worn a shoe and will never need to.

In the last two weeks Abbie and Emily have been trimming a lot of my horses. They are just learning the process. They trimmed these already healthy feet as well as I would expect a professional to do. Had I hired someone to do the trimming it would have run between $500.00 and $750.00 to get this level of quality.

Which brings me to my point. Kids who learn natural hoof care not only greatly decrease their cost of horse ownership, they set themselves up to advance either into a full time profession or a great part time job.
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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Teach Your Children Well

Few things make me as proud as seeing my little riders correctly training horses and starting colts on their own. One thing that rivals that is to watch my little riders train new little riders. Danielle was out this morning and gave me a hand teaching several new riders in the round pen. Her instruction was impeccable. She was not smug or condescending and gave great suggestions to the kids.

I expect that many of my riders will teach others to ride as they get older. We are planting vines and they are starting to run.

Now Just How Bad Can Things Get?

I took it as a bad sign when this morning when I awoke to find Dante sitting in my living room. He told me that he was there doing research for a sequel to "the Inferno."

Friday, August 13, 2010

MSIH Horse Women of the Year

A series of proposals that would have been tremendously detrimental to the future of horse ownership on our county were pulled off the table yesterday. These ordinances represented the greatest threat to horse people that our county has ever faced.

One person is responsible for informing horse owners about the danger that these ordinances posed. One person stood up and fought these proposals from the very beginning. One person worked to get the facts out. One person worked to draw others into the process.

She did so even though some of the "experts" supported these proposals. She did so even though her work schedule was taking up nearly every moment of her time. She did so even though the proposals probably would have had no direct effect on her horses.

She did so because she cares about kids and horses. She did so because she embodies everything that our program stands for.

Wendy Dean is the Mill Swamp Indian Horse Women of the Year.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Put Your Mouth Where Their Money Is

If you oppose horse slaughter and belong to a horse breed registry it might be worth your time to find out that registry's position on horse slaughter. In doing so you may have to weed through a lot of double talk (e.g. we do not support horse slaughter we just think that the legislation to ban it is unnecessary blah, blah, blah) to get an answer. Find out if they are doing anything with your money to end horse slaughter or if your dues are helping to fund high paid lobbyists who are paid to keep horse slaughter alive.

If your registry's hands are covered with horse blood get out of that registry and get out of it loudly. Don't just fail to renew your membership. Send letters to the board of directors with a copy to every member that you know explaining that you refuse to belong to an organization that supports the slaughter of horses. Do not participate in registry sanctioned events if that registry wants to deal with unwanted horses by wanting to cut their throats. Encourage open events, (shows, trail rides, etc) to ban members of those registries from participating. Loudly boycott events that refuse to do so. Advise your local horse and pony club leaders as to which registries oppose slaughter and which do not. If you have ribbons or trophies from registries that, in the most Orwellian of terms, support horse slaughter as being 'humane', return those trophies and ribbons to those registries. You would not decorate your stable or your bedroom with horse blood, so why would you want to decorate them with commendations from those who support the continued spilling of that blood?

Lastly, do not fall into the silly trap of responding to the "if we don't kill 'em something bad might happen to 'em" argument of these registries.

Let those registries put their money into programs that draw new riders and owners into the horse world. Let them work on programs that help reduce impediments to horse ownership.

Let them remember what it is like to actually care more about horses and kids than money.

Best Summer Ever

How long does it take to learn to ride? Well, how bad to you want to learn?

Kayla wants to learn. She came up to Smithfield to visit her grandparents this summer. She arrived in mid June and started from scratch. She listened. She did as instructed. She learned and applied. She trusted and gained the trust of the horses.

In a few weeks she was riding on the most difficult rides. She probably averaged riding about five days each week over the summer. She quickly learned to catch and saddle her horse. She even watched during our all day horse training sessions this summer. She gained better control of her emotions. As she became a better rider, she became a better person.

So how long does it take to learn to ride wild horses? Not long if you are Kayla.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

On Becoming a Swan

I did not want Porter. I saw absolutely no reason to take on a young, small, Corolla gelding. As has happened so often, Rebecca was firm in her conviction that we should take him and she was proven right again.

I never paid much attention to Porter. He was small, bland, and could go completely unnoticed in even the smallest of herds. Like most Spanish mustangs he has proven to be a very slow grower. Between ages two and five he has grown a full hand. He is tolerant of the mistakes of young riders, and is both sweet and sluggish in nature. For the past two years he has carried smaller riders hundreds of miles through the woods.

This summer something happened to him. He not only grew, he matured. He stopped being gangly and awkward. He carries himself with a bit of dignity and for brief moments projects a sense of what the ancient Greeks called gravitas.

This week I began riding him. He is a calm, reliable mount but is unrefined and will benefit greatly from being ridden by an experienced rider who can work on flexion, collection and lightness. He is becoming quite handsome.

I have been bothered recently by something about his looks. He is distinctly different in appearance from my other Corollas, yet looked so very familiar to me. Yesterday, while looking through some old photos I learned why.

He is growing into the spitting image of Son of Sailor, a Corolla/Shackleford stallion who spent most of his life on the Wyoming range at the Cayuse Ranch. He provided much of the genetics for what became known as the east/west cross, a line of spectacular Spanish mustangs produced by breeding the Spanish mustangs of the southeast to Spanish mustangs of western lineage. (Uncle Harley, the 2009 HOA Pleasure Trail Horse of the Year, owned by Jacob Anderson, one of my best riders, is a product of that breeding program.)

Porter is maturing from being an ugly duckling into a beautiful Swan. I had under estimated him.

One should never underestimate a Corolla.

(Werowance, the little colt shown here during last winter's perpetual rains, is a half Corolla who will also be a swan. His father is Croatoan and he is as gentle and teachable as his father.)

The Pivot

When I first met Vickie she told me that she had read my book and immediately wanted to meet Lido. I explained that he had died several months ago. She told me that reading about his courage and perseverance had inspired her to take on the project of training and riding a USERL mustang of Virginia Range stock. Vickie was a complete novice and is older than I am.

Vickie has taken herself from being a novice to being the trainer and rider of a beautiful mustang. She is learning every day. She and her husband Dennis have been making the long drive down from their home both to work horses and to help out with round pen construction and heavy fence repair.

Yesterday she rode Porter, a great young Corolla Spanish mustang with lightness and ease. She is a driven seeker of knowledge and understands horses better than many who have spent a lifetime working them. They have been a great help this summer.

So how did she get to where she is today?

1. She got information from solid practitioners of natural horsemanship and natural horse care such as Joe Camp, Parelli, and Monty Roberts.

2. She had the independence and intelligence to recognize that what passes for wisdom in the established horse world is nothing but foolishness in a horse's world.

3. She understands that the search for the perfect, bomb proof horse is misplaced and has, instead, taken on the quest to learn how to diffuse bombs.

Vickie has transformed herself. She is moving from being simply being a person who was inspired to becoming an inspiration for others.

That is not just a change. That is not just a turn. That is a pivot.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Progress Postponed

The Horse of the Americas Registry reached out to the Spanish Mustang Registry registry and asked that each registry work together on projects to promote and protect the remnant of America's most historic breed. With all of the other crisis facing Spanish Mustangs the last thing they need is to have their supporters divided against each other.

The initiative on the part of the HOA was farsighted. The Spanish Mustang Registry's Board of Directors declined even this small but vital step to save the horses. This action was disappointing but not unanticipated. For the sake of the breed this decision must not be cast in stone.

There are too many good people in the SMR to allow that to happen. The action of the SMR postpones progress. I have no doubt that cooperation between the registries is still on the horizon. I suspect that the door will remain open on the part of the HOA.

This little filly was born in March. She does not care one whit about personality conflicts, past disputes, turf wars, or placing blame.

Neither do I.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

KC, Kiowa and the Myth of Conformation

This is KC. He is about 13 years old and has been riding with me for a year. He is also a first rate young trainer. He does not look like a trainer of wild horses, does he?

This is also Kiowa. She is a three year old USERL mustang with about twenty hours of training. Last week Abbie took her on her first ride in the woods. She found her to be one of the lightest and most comfortable horses that have trotted through our rough trails. She does not look comfortable and smooth, does she.

There is little in her that the established horse world would approve of. Since that world knows all about how a horse must be put together, this horse must be a rather pathetic ride. I mean, she does not appear well conformed. The reality that she is a spectacular ride does not matter because she does not appear to be a spectacular ride.

That is the essential difference between our horsemanship and that of the established horse world. They are interested in appearance and we are interested performance.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Summer 2010

This summer is about shot and it has not been a complete failure. A few of the goals that I set in the spring have been accomplished. Kiowa had her first woods ride recently and behaved perfectly. That was very satisfying. Emily and Abbie have gotten several horses started for me and improved several that needed it.

I had very high hopes for this summer, but I expect that it will be remembered by my riders primarily as a time of scalding heat and relentless drought. One of the reasons I have a disdain for planning is that it leads to expectations. Chaos is much better for me. Chaos keeps no score card.