Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Useful and Instructive Weed

We are now in our fourth day of rain. Last night was by far the heaviest. Streams that have been non-existent for months now gurgle and swirl with froth and foam. Remnants of crab grass turn green and weed roots that broke the ground with new growth two days ago now have tender shoots six inches long. Of course, one cannot call it pasture and it barely qualifies as forage, but the horses love to be eating something tender and green. The weeds are still sparse. A horse might have to walk five steps between each nibble, but they are there, reminding that life is resilient.

The weeds are teachers. They teach the importance of simply hanging on. They remind that though life on this Earth may be characterized by pain and devoid of pleasure, it is not perpetually so characterized. Small trees have died on my property during this drought. But the weeds have held on.

Somewhere inside me there is something that knows that one day the grass and clover will return. But for right now the sight of sprouting weeds is enough.

What a Match!

Medicine Dog has always been one of my favorite horses. She is curious, smart, gentle natured, and quite an athlete. So is her new owner.

Ruthann is a military nurse who bikes, plays soccer, and has learned to ride in very little time. Early on she could see the same kind of virtues in Medicine Dog that I have always seen. Yesterday Ruthann purchased Medicine Dog and I could not be happier.

The decision to sell Medicine Dog was a very difficult one and I am delighted that she has found her perfect match.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sea King at the National AIHR/HOA Show

King and I were among the first at the arena on Friday, since it was my job to open stalls, turn on electrical hookups, and various odds-and-ends that kept me running from 10 AM until I fell asleep that night. My knee, which was hurt in August 2009 during horse swimming when I wrongly dismounted a bucking horse onto an iron ore rock, is doing much better but still gets very weak and tired easily. By mid-afternoon, I had enough of a break that I was able to throw a saddle on King and warm him up. It was the first time he'd ever seen a covered arena, much less one with three big fans rotating above him and throwing strange shadows across the dirt. He didn't care about any of it--he was just glad to get out of the stall. He walked, trotted, extended trotted, and loped all across the arena, and once satisfied that he didn't care and would work well, we rode out.

To give my leg a break, I spent the next hour doing my Arena Manager duties mounted. Mounted on King's back, he and I would ride up to stalls and unlock then,plus ride to breaker boxes and flip breakers to turn the power on and off. It was boring work, particularly to him whose job was pretty much hurry-up-and-wait while I worked the locks, but the grass he got to munch on while working the breakers seemed to make it worth it.

Saturday is our long day, and our slow day. We start off with Frontier Period and Native American costume, followed by Halter & Color, ending with Green Pleasure and Tejas Pleasure. King and I dressed up for costume, with me sporting a pirate costume and him a rope bosal with a brass and copper anchor lamp hanging from it. This was our story:

The pirate Maria Delgado, perhaps recalled as being the pirate who stole a cowboy's horse, was sad to announce that the good ship Kelpie had perished. After going down off the coast of North Carolina, Maria and the other survivors swam across to the beach of Corolla, where wild horses lived freely and not much else. But just because they are land-locked doesn't mean they won't be pirating. Maria caught one of the wild horses, using ropes from the ship, and hung the Kelpie's anchor lamp from the halter. At night she would lead the horse up and down the beach, the swinging motion of the lamp giving the illusion of another ship and tricking other ships at sea into coming to close to the islands. Those that survived the wrecks didn't for very long, and Maria and her cohorts would take whatever cargo the ships had been carrying.

Our costume not only won our class, but also Grande Champion Froniter Period Costume.

However, what I am likely most proud of from Saturday is King's halter win. Our class was "O" Aged Stallions, easily the hardest halter class to judge at the National. The entries in this class were Under the Sun (Locomotion/Lady Madonna), Northern Song aka Cajun (El Tigre Segundo/Kiowa Windsong), Builing a Mystery aka BAM (Rowdy Yates/Liona), Timber Ghost (Beetlejuice/Little Corn), and CWH The Sea King.

King placed Second, beating almost all of the documented pedigree horses, including the famous NATRC National Champion BAM.

In our Pleasure Class, Green Pro Pleasure (a class designed for horses under saddle a year or less, and ridden by people who have trained horses professionally at some point) it was only us and Jerry Hilligoss on 4-year-old Illya Kuryakin, who'd had less than 12 rides. King beat Illya, even though I was sure he'd been off-lead at the lope more than Illya. Judge Curtis George laughed at that.

"I couldn't tell," he admitted, "I would think he was off-lead, look a little closer, and he would do a flying lead change onto the correct lead. He was constantly switching leads." The Corolla's athleticism made me doubly proud.

Sunday was a lot faster. Trail, and then the four speed events. The pattern for the trail class was challenging, but fast-paced. Trot while weaving four poles; trot over four cavaletti; stop at the mailbox and get the mail; pull a drag several feet; pick a bucket up off a barrel and circle two barrels, then pit the bucket back; ride into a "dead end", then back out; and, finally, trot to a cone and stop.

I sighed. King's a great boy, but I assumed we would completely blow some of this. Particularly the drag. He'd never drug anything before, and there was a reason King's nickname was Chicken of the Sea. We'd just do our best.

He handled the poles like a pro, and while he bumped one of the cavaletti he handled it well. he stood like a rock for the mailbox. Then came the drag. Mike Halupa handed me the rope as safely as he could, trying to keep King from seeing it.

It failed.

"Easy, boy," I soothed as he eyed the Navajo blanket we were about to be pulling. He gave it suspicious looks as we started off. I tried to keep him from looking at it, but he insisted that it wasn't to be trusted and needed to be intensely stared at.

Other than that, nothing. Nada. No jumping, no snorting, no bolting--just giving a piece of cloth the evil eye while he walked along.

After that, everything was a breeze. He didn't do so good a the back, which didn't surprised me as we still need to work on that, but he aced everything else.

Our first speed event was Forest Escape, and King criss-crossed the arena like an old hand, making the turns and loping easily into each "gate". Until we got to the second to last one. We made the turn to wide, and were going to run over one of the poles, which added an extra 10 seconds onto our time. Thinking quick, I sat back and demanded he stopped instantly from a hard lope.

He stopped with his chest against the pole, but without knocking it over. We continued with a clean run.

Next was one of the hardest events of the show, Torching the Prairie. It's Backfiring the Prairie meets Keyhole Race. A giant circle of lime, with an inner circle full of brush. You enter the outer circle, toss the "torch" into the brush, and ride out without touching the line.

Guess who never thought twice about it?

Then came Cherokee Ribbon Race. Well, we were going to blow this. We had been practicing on riding close enough to another horse to easily hold the ribbon, which scared King more than anything else, but I still had my doubts. I planned to team with a quiet, easy-going BLM mare named Cheyenne, and when adult came around, Jerry rode up to me on Under the Sun.

"I need a partner," he proclaimed.

"Do you wanna finish?" I asked. A dropped ribbon was a DQ in this event.

"Don't care if we do, so long as we run like hell," he said, and offered me the ribbon. King had only ever done Cherokee Ribbon successfully at a walk or trot.

I sighed. "I warned you," and took the other end. I told them that this only counted for Sun's time, as I was very sure we'd never finish.

Sometimes I like being wrong.

King stuck to Sun almost like glue, needing little correction or compensation on Jerry and Sun's part. Everyone who'd been watching the little Corolla all weekend as shocked. He was sweet, yes, and smart, sure, and lovely and cute as button, but fast? No one would have guessed that one.

We still ran with Cheyenne and Mick Rodgers, faster than I had originally planned but slower than with Sun. We still placed with a 6th. Sun got 2nd. I kicked my butt for not taking the first time.

Pony Express we also ran with Sun, and though it took us a moment to pull off the hand-off of the saddle bags, we did it good enough for me.

When the show was over, however,King and I re-entered the ring, along with Mary Margaret Tunks with CWH Whispering Jessie. My mother, Vickie Ives, then did a presentation on the Corolla horses, telling the amazing story of their ocean-side home and the trials that they face today. Mary Margaret and I showed off our Corollas, and when it was over King did Pony Rides for children, one as young as three. I gave King to Mom soon after.

"People still want to ride him," I told her, "But they need me to do tabulations."

She nodded and took care of him while I helped wrap up the show.

While I was cleaning the arena, I saw Mom riding him again. "We let the adults get on," she said, "Scott Nellis rode him"--Scott being Cajun's owner and rider--"and Jennifer Maddox." Jennifer rides Magneto, a Broom/Esperanza son she'd taken to a National Placing of 1st Open Junior in NATRC on multiple occasions.

Both of them loved him. Scott ended up riding King twice, and Jen didn't want to get off, saying he was so much fun to ride Scott remarked that he didn't feel like he was riding a little horse at all.

Through-out the weekend, King and I were constantly asked about Corollas, what they were like, where they were from, and why they were different. He made an excellent little ambassador for his strain, and I was very proud to be his rider. But what I think we did most importantly this weekend was prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that yes, a Corolla is a pure Colonial Spanish Horse and, yes, they are every bit as good as you Jones', Brislawns, Belskys, and other long-time domesticated strains.

--By Tommi Grey

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Corollas at the National AHIR/HOA Show

Stay tuned to see what Sea King a young Corolla Stallion owned by Karma Farms in Texas did in his first national competition.

From Dust Bunnies to Marsh Rabbits

In three weeks my two fillies that were born this summer sill be old enough to wean. Yesterday, for the first time in their lives they had a day of rain. Best of all it is likely to continue raining from much of this week.

It is too early to suggest that this drought is broken, but it gives hope.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye

Rebecca took this photo during the inspection tour of the Corolla and Shackleford herds. This stallion was sunning himself in an opening in the live oaks. It was windy and he could not hear our approach or catch wind of us. We were as surprised as he was when we found ourselves in each other's company. He snorted and indignantly trotted off.

Not quite two years later he was found dead. He had been shot from such close range that the wadding of the shotgun shell was deep in his neck. This November will be four years since he was killed in the wild and no one has yet been charged, despite the large rewards offered for information leading to the apprehension of the shooter.

About 2% of the adult wild Corolla stallions died when that trigger was pulled. That is how close we are to the brink of extinction of what might be the oldest and rarest distinct genetic grouping of horses in America. There are none to loose. We have no excess horses. We have no surplus.

Over the years some of these horses were adopted and some mares from Corolla most certainly are in the possession of those who are interested in the preservation of these horses. I have not been able to obtain a list of adopters so they could be directly contacted and informed of the offsite breeding program and the availability of Corolla and a Shackleford stallions to breed to those mares at no cost.

This is one more reminder that this opportunity exists. If any of you have a Corolla
mare and would like to participate in the offsite breeding program next spring please get in touch with us.

Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye

Rebecca took this photo during the inspection tour of the Corolla and Shackleford herds. This stallion was sunning himself in an opening in the live oaks. It was windy and he could not hear our approach or catch wind of us. We were as surprised as he was when we found ourselves in each other's company. He snorted and indignantly trotted off.

Not quite two years later he was found dead. He had been shot from such close range that the wadding of the shotgun shell was deep in his neck. This November will be four years since he was killed in the wild and no one has yet been charged, despite the large rewards offered for information leading to the apprehension of the shooter.

About 2% of the adult wild Corolla stallions died when that trigger was pulled. That is how close we are to the brink of extinction of what might be the oldest and rarest distinct genetic grouping of horses in America. There are none to loose. We have no excess horses. We have no surplus.

Over the years some of these horses were adopted and some mares from Corolla most certainly are in the possession of those who are interested in the preservation of these horses. I have not been able to obtain a list of adopters so they could be directly contacted and informed of the offsite breeding program and the availability of Corolla and a Shackleford stallions to breed to those mares at no cost.

This is one more reminder that this opportunity exists. If any of you have a Corolla
mare and would like to participate in the offsite breeding program next spring please get in touch with us.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Putting Pain to Sleep

I am a prosecutor when I am not in the horse lot. I was asked yesterday how I can find time to be with the horses and my riders with a job as demanding as being a prosecutor.

I find myself spending so much time with my horses, not in spite of my job, but because of my job. The week began with several molestation cases, violent car jacking, robbery and assault cases and a new case involving the death of a most innocent victim. Being a prosecutor is an easy job if one wants to simply join in the chorus of the howls of the ignorant and seek to "give them the maximum sentence" in every case. I am primarily a prosecutor in juvenile court. It is my duty to seek more than mere punishment. Any fool can do that. My major task is to prevent crime by dealing with the defendant's problems that are often at the root of the criminal behavior.

I was not raised like other people. Over the years my parents had over 150 foster children and I have a dozen younger adopted siblings. We are all products of our experiences. All too often, being raised in a loving, supportive home does not afford one with sufficient experiences to have any understanding of those raised in torture chambers of abuse and neglect.

Dealing with that lack of understanding is sometimes more frustrating than dealing with the crime itself. I must admit that I have, on occasion, wanted to give such people a glimpse into the Hell that serves as childhood for many kids in every community in this nation.

When such parents complain indignantly about the child who stole their child's newest expensive electronic toy, I find it difficult to contain myself as they haughtily declare that their child would never do anything as depraved as stealing an Ipod. I want so badly to point out that their child had not been molested for ten of its twelve years on this earth and that if the tables were turned their child might not be doing so well.

In any event, the week began as set out above and it is ending with the following:

1. A Troop of 13 Boy Scouts is camping out at the Little Horse and earning their equine merit badges plus everything else that I can stuff into their heads. Corolla preservation, natural horse care, natural hoof care, and natural horsemanship have been the focus of their weekend. Late yesterday, they watched as Stands With a Fist was given a solid round pen and despooking session which concluded with a calm young mare softly walking around the round pen with Lydia firmly in the saddle.

2. Hannah and Caleb returning from a ride with their faces as animated as cartoon characters. They experienced something that I do not see in court--joy.

3. Little Hannah standing before the Scouts, who towered above her, as she presented a succinct explanation of some of the training techniques that we use.

4. Christian demonstrating perfect cantering form on his horse One Bull, a horse that Christian trained himself.

5. Lea demonstrating round pen work on Stands With a Fist and giving the Scouts a chance to see a horse make a real connection with a person in the round pen.

6. Rylee, Lydia, and Emily assisting with the riding instruction portion of the program.

7. Bill, recently returned from a lengthy saddle making program demonstrating the saddle that he made and explaining the parts of the saddle to the Scouts.

8. Emily F. and Andrew proudly showing off their new horse.

9. Parents of riders working on repair projects and keeping us supplied with cold water in the 95 degree Fall weather.

10. Watching as the entire group of Scouts took turns riding Croatoan, Samson, and Porter, three wild Corollas, one a stallion, all gentle enough for complete novices to ride.

No bad dreams last night. No thoughts of court. Only sleep. Deep, painless sleep. Ironic indeed that being a juvenile prosecutor helps me spend more time with my horses by forcing me to do so --to put pain to sleep.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Distinction to Earn

A good horse is its own reward, but a good horse is the result of first rate horsemanship. I have decided to create one formal awards program for my riders to recognize those who have achieved first rate horsemanship. As I developed the criteria for this award I had to consider what I think it takes to be a complete horseman. It takes a wide range of skills and a wealth of knowledge. There will be no time, or age, limit on earning the Mill Swamp Master Horsemanship Award.

To become a Mill Swamp Master Horseman a rider must:

take a very active role in the starting of a colt or wild horse;
complete at least one 50 mile ride in one day;
give quality natural hoof trimmings to five different horses;
worm and give an injection to a horse;
give a 30 minute presentation on an aspect of mustang history, preservation, or genetics;
complete a ten mile night ride;
pass a written test on natural horse care and equine nutritional needs;
complete a fencing, construction, digging, or other project designed to increase safety, functionality, or aesthetics of a natural horse care facility;
demonstrate riding and all manner of horse control using lightness and what Dorrence called 'feel';
give a solid training session to a novice rider in my presence;
complete a reading list of several of the top works on natural horsemanship and natural horse care.

No work done prior to January 1, 2011 can be applied to the earning of this award. (e.g. "but I have already done a fifty mile ride.." will not count)

All of my riders that have ridden in our program for a few years are already horseman of distinction. This award will give the opportunity to quantify and formally recognize their skills.

(The shot above was taken during a fifty mile ride. Every horse on that ride was trained at Mill Swamp Indian Horses. Most of the training was done by kids 14 and younger when they began to start their horse.)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Oh the Night Time Is the Right Time

I used to despise the fall and winter because it meant no riding after work. After all, no one could ride in the woods in pitch darkness,... or could they? Now the early sunsets mean that it is time to begin my favorite rides.

I have found no sensation equal to gaiting through the woods on a Spanish mustang, whether he be SMR, Shackleford, or Corolla. Last night at the conclusion of a great night ride with three other riders, I allowed Tradewind to take us home directly through the woods. The trail twisted and wound through holly trees, pines, and around fallen oaks. He never missed a step. We never bumped a tree. He never spooked and neither did I.

Monday night we start our first scheduled night rides of the fall and it looks like we will have a big turnout.

Daytime riding in a community where my family has lived since the 1600's gets me in touch with my horse. Night riding in the same woods, as my ancestors did for more than two hundred years, keeps me in touch with myself.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dust Bunnies

In much of Tidewater the drought is bad but it is worse at my horse lots than anywhere else that I know of. The water table has plummeted. My well at home and the well at the little house go dry each time they are used for watering. For many square miles around my horse lot there is not even a mud hole with water in it. Deer can go where they want to to get water and have access to several farm ponds in the area. Rabbits are more limited in there ability to seek out water. The protective cover of vegetation that allowed them to slipped by unseen by hawks is gone. They risk their lives each time they go to find water. This spring we had an enormous rabbit population. That is not so now. They are as rare as a rain cloud.

Last week sand and dust filled the air as it used to when wind swept across peanut fields as the ground was broken to harvest what was once our cash crop. This time it was different. Instead of lifting dust from plowed, bare fields, it lifted dust from what would normally be grass covered pastures. The grass is not only brown. It is not only dead. It is gone, leaving a deep bed of sand, so soft that walking through it is tiring.

Watering the horses now takes my father and I about six hours each day. With all of the natural water holes dry, water must be driven to the pastures in barrels with water drawn from nearly dry wells.

My riders are city kids. They do not understand the concept of a well going dry and having to give it 24 hours to re charge. They do not under stand that a running toilet or a dripping hose dries out the well and makes it possible for the pump to burn up unless someone discovers the mistake in time.

It makes for other complications also. I am at home waiting for my well to recharge and we are going to be without water this morning. My wife, an otherwise sane and reasonable person, was a city person. When we loose water, even for just a few hours, she looses her mind--calls me "uncivilized."

It also creates certain ironies. I am about to go to court to prosecute criminals whose level of personal hygiene will exceed mine.

But, as difficult as things can be I know how to keep them in proper perspective.

At least I am not a rabbit.

The Core, The Kettle, and The Canter

I am fifty years old, fifty pounds overweight, and can ride a horse fifty miles in a day. Quite obviously, my weight makes me far from a perfect role model, but on the other hand it shows what is possible, even for an older rider who is no longer mistaken for Tarzan.

The first step is not emphasized enough in the equine press. Step one is to stay in the saddle. At my age if I hit the ground at 20 MPH bones will break. Broken bones result in either a recovery period that keeps one out of the saddle or, at best, a less pleasurable experience while riding and healing.

The safest riding style that I have found is also one of the simplest--heels lower than toes, toes in front of knees, sitting on one's pockets, hands in front of one's belt buckle, spine slouched into a relaxed "C" shape.

The body needs to be trained to take advantage of the security that this riding position affords. The key muscles that need to be strengthened are the core muscles of the back, abdomen, and the upper legs. Bulging biceps are of little value when it comes to riding, but a strong back is essential.

Of course, training the body takes time and every moment spent in the gym is a moment not spent in the horse lot. That is why I try to make all exercise sessions as efficient as possible.

Nothing helps a riders legs more than barefoot running. Unlike running with shoes on, barefoot running engages the quadriceps and calves with less stress to the joints. Once a week I do dead lifts with heavy weight and very few reps. (Only to be done after a solid warm up session and using perfect form to avoid back injury.) Daily use of the kettle bell (google the term if you have never seen one, strengthens every muscle that I use in the saddle and has increased both strength and flexibility.

With all of that said, nothing trains one better for riding than riding, especially cantering. It is a great way to not only improve strength but to get a solid cardio vascular work out. During the summer of 2009 I cantered five miles each morning. Not only did it get my horses in great shape, I lost 17 pounds over that summer with no change in my diet. In the last 7 weeks I have lost 7 pounds simply by returning to the five mile canter (or gaiting if on a Corolla or Shackleford)in the morning.

This routine does not give me a beach body, (though some of my riders have suggested that I look like I have been beached)but it does give me a body that can stay where I need to be--in the saddle.

As with all exercise routines, please consult your physician before trying this.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Survival of the Chillest

Why are wild Corollas so gentle and easy to train? Without thinking, the instant answer that comes to mind is that they have been exposed to people all of their lives. That cannot be the answer. A modern domestic horse that has seen people every day of its life but has lived in an open pasture until it is 10 years old, without any training, is likely to be much more difficult to train than a wild ten year old Corolla stallion.

The Corollas are not just the easiest wild horses to train that I have encountered, they are easiest horses of any kind to train that I have encountered. On the other hand, western mustangs tend to have a much more reactive, nervous personalities. Those traits served them well. The horses with the greatest flight instinct were the ones that survived in a world filled with predators of various ilk.

The Spanish mustangs of the the Outer Banks of North Carolina have lived for several hundred years in a world devoid of predators. However, they evolved in an ecosystem that has little if any thing in it that we would consider normal horse forage. A horse's body is as strong as steel, but his digestive system is as fragile as crystal.

In the modern world high strung, high performance horses constantly battle digestive problems, from ulcers to colic. Colic remains the leading cause of death of adult horses. Could it be that the high strung, nervous members of the early Spanish mustang herds on the Outer Banks were more susceptible to digestive threats? If so, could that mean that the calm, relaxed Spanish horses that would have been cougar feed in the west would have been the survivors had they lived on the Outer Banks?

Croatoan was a mature, wild stallion when he was captured outside of Corolla. Yet he was as calm as a Basset Hound. If you find a horse more relaxed than Croatoan check that horse's vital signs right away. (It may already be too late to save him!)

As your doctor will tell you, stress kills. Perhaps the Corollas survived because they became genetically programmed to avoid over reacting to stress.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Breaking More Rocks Than a Chain Gang

Here is a view of Comet's hoof from several years ago as I prepared it for a trim. At that time, like nearly every one else, I thought that I was preparing for a trim when, in reality, I was only preparing it for a shoe to be nailed on. That was the fundamental error that farriers made for several hundred years.

Fortunately, in the last thirty years serious horseman have begun looking to the horse's natural hoof in its natural environment to determine how a horse's hoof should be trimmed. Jaime Brown, Pete Ramey, and a host of other serious students of a healthy hoof have made it possible for a domestic horse to have a life without the periodic lameness that accompanies a lifestyle marred by stable confinement, lack of movement, and obesity.

A proper trim leads to a concave hoof. Heels are widened, and the bars are kept well in check. The outer portion of the hoof should not be weight bearing but should instead be rolled upward with the rasp. The portion of the hoof outside of the white line was the portion that bore nearly all of the horse's weight under the traditional style of hoof trimming. As a result, that portion constantly chipped and cracked. The horse owner then was advised to spend a fortune on hoof supplements, more misguided hoof trimming, oils and salves to 'restore the hoof," and worst of all, to keep the horse stall confined until the hoof "healed."

Unfortunately that was the state of the art for hundreds of years. My father had professional training as a farrier and a blacksmith in the 1960's and the techniques that he was taught as absolutely essential, we now realize, are absolutely destructive.

So how is it that we can say that natural hoof care is essential to a healthy horse? Well, the proof is in the pasture. Comet's hooves are trimmed to mimic that of a wild horse. He lives in a herd on hard ground and has the constant opportunity for movement. As long as I have had him he has never stood in a stable and been exposed to the corrosive power of horse urine or hoof deforming soft bedding. Tradewind, who foundered in the wild to the degree that he walked on the side of his hoof, does 50 miles in a day without the slightest hint of discomfort.

Comet trots through gravel and road rock. He does not limp or give way to tender feet. He treats gravel like sand. Just the way he was naturally designed to do.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chasing Perfection

Perfectionism is a symptom of an unhealthy mind. It certainly is not a virtue and it most certainly is not something of which one should be proud. Perfectionism combined with competitiveness on the part of horse breeders have spelled disaster for horses over the years.

The pursuit of perfection in appearance and the silly science of conformation are at the root of a system that causes large breeding operations to produce 60 colts a year while only six of those ever achieve elevation to "the highest level of competition." It is those horses that become our surplus, unwanted horses. The drive for perfection has caused us to condone inhumane training methods and devices while doing nothing to elevate the human spirit or the quality of the horses' lives.

Endangered breeds like Spanish mustangs are particularly vulnerable to the threat posed by perfectionist breeders. God did a fine job in creating mustangs. In fact, it was one of His better efforts. Only arrogance that rivals that of the builders of the Tower of Babel can drive the urge to "improve" these horses.

At the core of such delusions is a simple inability to understand the meaning of the term that lies at the center of all truly satisfied minds. That term is "good enough." In fact, to perfectionists the term 'good enough" actually means, "not good enough" and denotes a slovenly product in dire need of improvement.

No, there are two very important aspects to the concept of "good enough" that these people do not understand. Those aspects are that the product is "good" and that it is "enough."

The wild stallion in the picture above is Spec who was killed when struck by a vehicle. The perfectionist breeders can look at him and quickly see his defects. I saw him up close and all that I noticed was a fine horse, one certainly good enough for me.

One cannot breed for that which one cannot see and until we spend hours training, riding, and spending time with a horse we cannot, in the words of Plenty Coup, the Crow chief of the late 1800's, look into his eyes and see his soul.

Lido was born with cerebral palsy and the right side of his body was of nearly no use to him. As a young teen he could put a fifty pound bag of feed on his left shoulder and tote it where it needed to go. As an older teen he could run five miles at the speed of the average high school athlete. Most significantly, for several years he was the first person to mount most of the wild horses that I trained.

As a horseman he was not perfect, but he was good enough. And good enough made him better than all but a few of the kids that I have ever met when it came to handling rough horses.

I have no interest in the effort to try to improve mustangs by seeking to breed only the best to the best. The mustang world would be better off with more Spec's and Lido's, stones rejected by the builders who made first rate corner stones.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Number Worth Writing Home About

In the last nine years, my riders and I have trained 45 horses, most wild, many colts, and a few modern horses to the degree that each could be ridden in the woods by an intermediate rider. I have scoured my memory and I can only recall one broken bone that occured to a rider during a training session under my direction. That was a broken finger. That is a tribute to our dedication to safety, good safety equipment, and a sound training program.

Ten years ago an experienced horse owner told me that 'you can't let kids work with wild horses." And that comment was from a friend. Opponents of natural horsemanship, mustangs, and non-traditional training were much blunter in their attacks on our program and our horses.

Those critics all came back to the same point,-- "it cannot be done." Well, it can be done and we have done it. Most importantly, it is not brain surgery. Anyone who is willing to learn natural horsemanship, cares about horses and cares about kids can do this.

The program is not just for kids. The young lady pictured above had never ridden before coming out to our place and she is pictured with her Corolla Spanish mustang, Samson. She rode him forty six miles in one of our earliest long rides.

(Forty five horses trained is a great number. Here is another great number--30. Thirty years ago tonight my wife and I went out on our first date. Unfortunately, even after 30 years she considers me to be merely green broke.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sometimes You Just Have to Push On

The note below is about a Corolla stallion that is in Texas and is standing at Karma Farms.

The Sea King and the Critter Creek CTR
by Tommi Grey on Tuesday, September 7, 2010 at 11:45am

This weekend CWH The Sea King was introduced to the concept of Competitive Trail Rides (CTRs) and the North American Trail Ride Conference (NATRC). Knowing my little horse had no, and I mean NO conditioning even for the short 40 mile weekend of Novice, I took King and volunteered to ride drag at the Critter Creek Caper at the LBJ Grasslands, located outside of Decatur, TX.

For those of you about to ask, drag or safety riders are riders who follow behind the competitors on the trail picking up lost items, taking down old (and sometimes remarking) markers and trail, and – most importantly – helping a horse or rider in need in case there is an emergency on trail. Usually it’s a pretty easy job, and drag riders only go as fast as the last rider, which is usually pretty slow. LBJ is very easy trail, being mostly sand, and so I figured this would be a great time to get some conditioning in on King.

First off, the little Corolla stallion was a big hit with pretty much anyone who saw him. Deck out with my distance gear and covered in yellow ribbons to indicate his fertile state, he was often greeted with, “Oh my god, he’s so cute!”, “What a sweet horse!”, “Is he really a stallion? He’s got such good manners!”, and “He’s from WHERE?!” This was often joined with children, riding and not riding, literally hugging him, petting him, and hanging off of him anytime they had a chance. He spent Saturday afternoon before dinner giving “Corolla rides” to the Karma Kids, who just had to know what it was like to ride a real sea horse. Oh, and the food. He spent a lot of time eating, particularly things that were never intended for a horse. Kids and adults alike added to his diet cookies, peanut butter granola bars, Wheat Thins, watermelon, carrots, Honey Nut Chex Mix, and Chili Cheese flavored Fritos. He was particularly fond of the homemade Macadamia nut, chocolate chip, marshmallow cookies. In fact, I think the only thing he didn’t eat when offered all weekend was celery.

The riders did two loops each day, Novice being shorter and slower than open. When asked by the Safety Chairman where we were needed most, we found ourselves riding the second Open loop both days. Day one was uneventful and easy, though faster than King was used to. The White loop was right around 12 miles, 2 miles further than King had ever gone before and far faster. But he took it in stride, and found he actually rather liked it. Not too surprisingly, though, when I got back to camp I found he had some girth rubs and adema. I doctored him, and we prepared for the next day.

Sunday morning saw only 13 Open riders time out. The first P&R (Pulse and Respiration check) was right in camp, which happened to be where I and my fellow drag team, Bill and his horse Flag, took over. 12 Open came into the P&R. 10 minutes after the last one left, we were still waiting on number 13. No one could reached the other Open drag on the radio. King and I had been waiting for a while, so a P&R worker asked if I would mind back tracking down the trail and looking for the lost rider. I met with the Ride Chairman who told me take no longer than five minutes and be back quick.

Half a mile later, I ran into Open drag – and not the rider. When I told them about the missing Open, they doubled back to look for her while I went back to camp. By the time I saw the chair again, they’d found her: she’d taken a wrong turn on trail.
Bill and Flag left with the rest of Open to keep an eye on them, while I stayed in camp to get the radio and follow the no longer lost rider. It took her 20 minutes to get in and out. King and I followed her three miles, until she and her horse decided they were done—the horse was just too tired to continue.

I radioed ahead to inform management of the pull, and asked if she needed me to follow her back. She said no, she would be fine, so I continued down the trail. I saw no reason to hurry too much – King was still sore from yesterday, and Bill had my cell phone number. If there was a problem, he could call me—otherwise King and I would take our time and look for lost items on the trail.

Guess who called?

A rider had fallen off of her horse and broken her arm. To make matters worse, said horse had run off down trail and the only person able to follow had been another competitor. When Bill called me, we were about 3 – 4 miles away, and there was no way to move the rider and no way to get in to her except horseback or on foot.

So I kicked King into high gear and began to relay info to management. For at least a mile maybe two, I rode with the radio in one hand, my cell phone in the other, and King’s head free as a bird, using only my body and verbal signals to keep him in a constant trot or lope. The day was hot, the sand was deep, and he was sore, but I couldn’t let him rest right then. He didn’t argue. When I was able to put the cell phone away, I kicked up a notch faster. He gave me what I asked for.

By the time we’d reached Bill and the injured rider, King was hot and panting. I saw to the rider while Bill argued with 911, and when I could sponged King down, tied him under a shadey tree and pulled the saddle. His girth rubs were three times worse and very tender, but again, I couldn’t worry about that then.

Bill left to find a near-by road to help 911 with directions, leaving me with the rider. We talked for a while, and I was informed that her horse had been caught and taken back to camp. After a time I asked what had happened. Her horse had spooked when she’d gotten her map out. After a moment or two longer, while looking at King, she asked, “What is your horse?”

“Spanish Mustang, or Colonial Spanish Horse,” I responded, “He’s from a very rare, pure strain still wild on Corolla beach in North Carolina.”
“Is he a stallion?” she asked, seeing the yellow.

“Yeah, but he’s a real sweetheart with perfect manners.”

“Does he spook much?”

I laughed a bit. King’s odd spooking habits had earned him the nickname “Chicken of the Sea” at the farm. “Not really, just from other horses. He got hurt in a stallion fight on Corolla which was why he was taken off. I’m sure he knows that’s what ruined his life as he knew it.”

She paused a moment. “I think I need one of those next time,” she mused.

After a while, Bill returned with a volunteer fireman. The road wasn’t far, and an ambulance was on the way. I radioed management, and was told to leave Bill with her and I should try to catch up with the rest of Open. I saddled King, careful to keep the girth as far back from the rubs as I could, and we left. Bill caught up with us quickly, saying she had been able to walk out to the road to get in the ambulance.
To try and make time, Bill asked, “Is your pony up to some fast riding still?”

I looked down at King. He was so much more tired, and so much sorer…but his ears were up, and he was curious and looking at things. “He’s got more than enough left,” I replied. I asked him to go, and he went without hesitation.

By the time Bill and I got back into camp, the rest of the riders had been in for over an hour. The Safety Chair thanked us, and asked if I needed her to take care of my horse while I took care of me. I thanked her, but said King and I would be fine. When I striped his saddle for the last time, his girth was no worse but his breathing was hard and labored. I took him and a sponge down to cool water and shade, where I sponged him off and let him drink. I gave him a dose of Bute and electrolytes, and in 15 minutes he was cool, calm, and happy as a clam.

More importantly, however, was that the little horse was very proud. Everyone in camp could tell it. He carried himself better, he held his head high, his eyes were brighter, and he even ate his hay with a different sort of vigor. He knew he’d done something important, something wonderful, and he thought he was wonderful for having done it.

And you know what? He’s right.

On This We Must Stand

There was a proposal that the Horse of the Americas Registry develop a part bred registry for horses of half Spanish mustang blood. The issue was hotly debated and in an open election the proposal was voted down.

The leadership of the Horse of the Americas Registry asked the Spanish Mustang Registry to appoint a committee to work with the HOA to develop plans to promote Spanish mustang preservation. The SMR declined to do so.

A group of Spanish mustang enthusiasts in Europe have chosen to affiliate with the HOA.

Another Spanish mustang registry,the American Heritage Horse Registry, has come into being.

The HOA is a growing registry that seeks to give real power over important issues to the membership. The HOA must continue to shoulder the heaviest burden of all of the registries. It must continue to keep to the high road and continue to seek cooperation from the other registries.

I have no doubt that the board of the HOA will strive to do just that. It is vitally important that the HOA membership not divide itself over the part bred registry issue. The stakes are much bigger than who won and who lost.

There is not enough room in our life boat to fight each other.

A Neglected Horse

Horses that are simply "hard keepers", but otherwise healthy, are a problem only because of the reaction that visitors have--"Oh, what is wrong with him?" It irritates me to have to justify a horses genetic predisposition to be lean to a family of fat people.

It is the rarest of visitors that notices the horse that I have that does have a serious dietary problem. Tradewind was captured because he foundered in the wild to the degree that he was severely crippled. Using Pete Ramey trimming techniques he is now sound and never shows a hint of lameness, even on a fifty mile ride.

However, his life is at risk every day. He is insulin resistant and if he were allowed to have the diet of a normal domestic horse he would cripple or colic within the week. He is overweight unless he is exercised very hard. I am currently running him at least five miles a day, at least five days a week.

By doing so I am maintaining his health. It is time consuming, hard work to keep him healthy. To the average visitor he looks great. Unfortunately, many horse owners think that all horses should be coated with fat slabs.

When I hear people chortle about how they know that their horses are obese but they simply, "like to keep them looking happy," I can only take relief at the knowledge that at least they cannot teach their horses to smoke cigarettes.

This is a shot of what Tradewind looks like when he is in shape.

The Mind Works With Unfortunate Speed

Yesterday was the opening day for public schools in our area. On the way out to the horse lot I met Lido's bus. Without thinking, as I had done for years, I looked up to see if I saw him on the bus. In quicker time than a clock could measure it flashed to me that I would not see him on the bus because he graduated last year.

In even less time I remembered that he did not graduate last year. The mind works so fast that it jumped from habit to hope to cold reality faster than I could blink my eye.

The mind works with unfortunate speed but the heart heals slowly, if at all.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

I must admit that at times my physical strength surprises me. I am not much for running or jumping but I can still toss a bit of weight around when needed. I have to further admit that on those occasions when I have greatly impressed myself, I occasionally flex my muscles and remind those around me that I am 50 years old.

My granddaughter turns three in a few weeks. She is quite athletic. Saturday she took off on a sprint. Someone behind her yelled that she was really going fast. Without turning around or missing a step she ran on while yelling "Fiddy Years Ole--Fiddy Years Ole."

Is Banning Horse Slaughter Impractical?

Of course it is, but practicality has no place in determining issues of morality. The slaughter of horses is immoral. It is not merely bad policy. It is not merely short sighted. It is not even merely cruel. It is immoral.

But who is to say what is moral and what is immoral? We,as reasoning beings, are tasked by God to do so. In making such a determination we must look to several sources.

We can look to tradition. The consumption of horse flesh by human beings has been banned at various times in history by all three dominant western religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Though cattle were used for transportation, agricultural work, and the production of milk, their slaughter and consumption has been accepted throughout the history of western civilization. While recognizing that many eastern religions prohibit the consumption of beef, one must note that with few exceptions, the consumption horse flesh has never been placed on par with the consumption of other livestock.

We can look to the unique nature of the horses relationship to the development of civilization. We differ from other animals in that we conceive and propagate thoughts, beliefs, and innovations. These thoughts, beliefs and innovations are the core of what makes up a civilization. For several thousand years those thoughts, beliefs and innovations were transported across the globe on horse back. For several thousand years, every advance in medicine, philosophy, theology, and science could be spread faster on horseback than on any other mode of transportation.

We have had the Internet for the briefest of time, but for millennia the horse has been man's world wide web.

Lastly, and we should make no apology for this, simple human emotion cries out against horse slaughter. The spiritual connection that occurs anytime a person first touches a horse is one of the soundest arguments against horse slaughter. Emotion is not the opposite of reason. Indeed, it is often the inspiration of reason. It can cause us to think, to care, and to cast aside apathy.

But what about all of the 'unwanted horses"? Don't we need to hurry up and slaughter them before something bad happens to them?

Slaughtering horses is certainly practical. The catch is that it is patently immoral. It is time for us to do for the horse what the horse has done for us for a few thousand years. We must spread information that advances horsemanship even faster than horses have been used to spread information that advanced civilization.

We must use the Internet to spread information, at lightening speed, of advances in natural horsemanship, natural horse care, and natural hoof care that make it possible for novices to become true horseman. We must use the Internet to teach ways of teaching riding that are practical and affordable for working people.

What is the most practical way to end horse slaughter?

Teach a kid to ride.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Saddle Up

Bill just got back from Kentucky where he has completed a month long, one on one, class on saddle making. Here is his first saddle. It is even better than the picture suggests. Bill has always been an organized, meticulous worker and it really comes out in the craftsmanship that he put into his first creation.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Jenny has accomplished something very important. She has taken a risk. She has placed trust in my horses and herself. She has ridden when she was afraid to do so. She chose not to let her life be governed by fear. She has found something that she loves and, from all indications so far, something that she will become quite good at.

That is just one of the ways kids can benefit from learning to ride. Young teens, and especially those even younger than teens, often find themselves at a cross roads. They can take either path, the road that says Believe, Achieve, Succeed or the road that says Fear, Fail, and Hide.

That is why we work so hard at natural horsemanship--to become better people. Horses change lives.
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