Sunday, January 30, 2011

Now Emily Was Just a Little Kid Then

What can happen when a novice rider is teamed up with a gentle but untrained BLM mustang who can only see out of one eye? Could be a recipe for disaster. Or....

About seven years ago I drove over to the next county to help a 15 year old girl get on her mustang for the first time. OK, so things went alright that time. Probably just luck. So where did that horse end up? What about that poor little girl, being stuck on a wild horse with out even having ever had proper a equestrian education?

The horse is with the same family, living happily in Arizona and training for her first competitive 25 mile ride. The little girl never did get much of a proper equestrian education. She was stuck with what she picked up from me, watching some natural horsemanship videos and, oh yeah, spending endless hours in the saddle.

Somehow Emily overcame all of that and is one of the more knowledgeable horsewomen I know. Best of all, she has a pair of little sisters that might even become better than she is.

All of this started with one ancient pony who was looking for a home, a pair of untrained BLM mustangs and some little girls who wanted a pony.

This is a model that could be implemented by any trainer that truly understands horses and kids. But to make the program safe and effective that trainer will have to learn to stop pretending that there is any validity whatsoever in the pronouncements of the established horse world.

Too many horse people would prefer the praise of Mrs. Drysdale to the pleasure of Ellie Mae Clampett's company.

(This is a picture of Emily as a kid just before she mounted her mustang for the first time. Emily and Mrs. Drysdale would not get along well.)

He is Becoming a Pacifist


It was much warmer today than it was last Sunday. Edward Teach seemed to appreciate the change. The picture is a bit deceiving. His back is hollowed because he is braced to bolt. He is standing down hill. Those things distort the beauty of this stunning little stallion.

Employment Benefits

A parent who is trained and quite knowledgeable on health issues suggested that I keep a few aspirin on hand in case of a cardiac event. I appreciated the sentiment and I plan to do so. I understand why the suggestion was made. Anyone looking at my body, which is at least fifty pounds over weight, might be lead to the conclusion that I am not long for this world.

In fact, if I had not gotten back into working horses more than a decade ago I suspect that that would be the case. My annual blood tests came back this week. Triglycerides, cholesterol, everything else--all at levels that would be great for a high school athlete. Cantering and trotting are great aerobic exercises, not just for the horse, but for the rider as well. Simply feeding up and checking on the horses allows me to walk several extra miles each week.

At times it gives me the opportunity to test myself and end up on my own personal honor roll. The only thing that Karl Marx was right about was that in order for humans to be happy they must create. Without some form of creative outlet life does, indeed, become a bland exercise in waking each morning and then sleeping for another night.

A few days ago I created. My creation is not beautiful. In fact, it is ugly, but I am singularly proud of it.

I dug a well with a shovel and post hole diggers that contains about seven feet of water. I am 51 years old and I dug a well in a little more than half of a day.

I graduated from William and Mary and followed up with law school and have been practicing since 1986. I got more pleasure out of creating that well than I have from any legal work that I have ever done. The irony does not escape me.

Working the horses allows me to experience a few other things that are of tremendous benefit to my health. Most important among these is that I get to make kids smile. I am not really sure if that will make one live longer but it does make living longer worth it.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Past is Catching Up to Us

The Gwaltney Frontier Farm is moving out of my imagination and taking big steps into becoming reality. To briefly recap, my earliest white ancestors came to Virginia in the 1600's. Since that time I have continuously had ancestors living within a fifty mile radius of my horse lots. Though less than fifty miles from the ocean, there was a time when our area represented the frontier of English colonization. When settlers arrived they did not build ante bellum mansions. Most were young, poor folks who hoped to become less poor in the Virginia.

In order to increase the scope of our educational programs we will re-create one of those efforts to become less poor. Over the next few years we will re-create a working version of the farm of a young, formerly indentured servant whose fondest dream is to become a yeoman farmer.

This will be the back drop for our efforts to promote the earliest horses of the colonial southeast, the Colonial Spanish Horse. It will be a nice frame for a beautiful picture. We will populate our patch of land with other rare, colonial breeds of live stock. All of the work and building will be done by me and my riders. This is not intended to be a tourist attraction. I hope, and expect that it will become a beautiful class room.

In short order we will have a non profit corporation set up to fund and perpetuate the Corolla offsite breeding program and to advance our educational programs. Yesterday, with shovel, post hole diggers and a bucket, Jacob and I dug a simple well of the type used in early Virginia. The well house will be the first project that my riders and I build on site.

At the moment we have an idea, a hole in the ground filled with water, and a colonial era goat.

And as it is so often said, After a man gets himself a goat, there simply is no stopping him.

A Great Year Two

Jacob and Harley did it again. Harley was named the Horse of the Americas Registry's Pleasure Trail Horse of the Year for the second year running. Harley also received the Sun Dance Award. Jacob's sister, Jordan, received the Buckaroo Award from the same registry. Jordan's achievement was particularly impressive because she spends most of her time in the saddle on her horse, Mia, who is registered with the American Indian Horse Registry. Her Buckaroo Award is based on the saddle hours that she spent on Corollas only and does not include any miles in the woods on Mia.

Harley is a product of Tom Norush's breeding program, which is rooted in crossing western Colonial Spanish stock with horses that trace their lineage back to Corolla and Shackleford. Harley is owned, ridden, and (most importantly) trained by Jacob. The picture is a bit deceiving. Jacob is not old enough to drive and was much younger when he began Harley's training.

I despise horse shows and horse races because of the wall that they build between horses and their owners. They perpetuate a system in which the "relationship" that develops between horse and owner is based entirely on the horse's ability to win. Kids are taught that a horse's value is tied to the color of the strip of cloth that a judge deems appropriate for the horse and rider to have won.

I love the HOA and the AIHR system, which are based more on the concept of rewards than they are on the concept of awards. Rewards are based on the amount of time and effort that owners spend building a meaningful relationship with their horses. In these systems the only competition is with one's self. Riders and horses are recognized for their joint efforts.

Our blue ribbons are different from those of the show ring. When we have ridden so far and so long that our blue jeans become nothing more than thin, worn out cloth that is a blue ribbon. Our horses do not win ribbons, just rewards.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Deadly Serious, No Satire here

One of the purposes of this blog is to encourage others to develop riding programs that teach natural horsemanship to kids, teach kids to respect each horse for who he is, not what ribbons he has won, or even worse what ribbons his father won, preserve and promote rare, historic horses, focus on natural hoof care and natural horse care, and have as their ultimate goal the production of better people.

A program will only be able to continue if safety of horse and student are of the highest priority. Safety involves more than writing up a list of rules. It involves such complex issues as teaching a young, distracted kid to concentrate and to focus on everything around them with a constant eye toward safety. It requires the student to come to understand that she is capable of doing more difficult things than she ever imagined possible. It requires that the student come to believe that if I said that it could be done, then that simply is how it is.

That is why I do not discourage hero worship among my younger riders. It certainly has nothing to do with the size of my own ego. Unfortunately for me, the reality is that I am perhaps more aware of my own faults, frailties, foibles, and failures than most people are of their own. I do not think that I am Super Man. All too often I feel barely a man at all.

However, the safety of my littlest riders is absolutely dependent on my ability to build their confidence. Success for my littlest riders must be defined as pleasing me. When that is the case they will listen harder when I talk about one rein stops. They will trust me when, while deep in the woods, I yell 'dismount now' because of a safety threat that I see of which they are unaware. I will use whatever it takes to prevent an inexperienced rider from substituting their judgement for mine.

If doing so is facilitated by a second grader believing that I am infallible, then I do not discourage that.

Of course, I am not infallible, but I am responsible. I am responsible for the safety and emotional health of all of my little riders (and sometime my big riders too). It can be a bit overwhelming to set out on a fifty mile ride with 15 riders behind me knowing that nearly everyone of them is on a formerly wild horse, that several are riding stallions, and that many of my riders are not natural athletes.

Many years ago I was at a a deer skinning shed talking to several little boys about stone age technology, using and making stone projectile points and knives, and authentically tanning hides. Unbeknown to me, one little boy went around to each butchering site and picked up all of the stretches of fresh deer ligaments and tendons that he could find. He filled his pants pockets with his slippery, bloody bounty.

When he got in the truck his father asked him what was in his pockets. His response was brief.

"I don't know Daddy, but Steve said that it was an Indian thing and I am going to keep them all."

For their own sake I need for my little riders to be able to believe that, even if they do not understand exactly why we do the things that we do, they are going to keep doing it that way because Steve said that that is how we do it.

(The brilliant little girl shown above is too mature for hero worship, but it was the closest picture that I could find to illustrate the point.)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

This is How Cold It Was Yesterday! III

In what might end up as our worse equine related tragedy to date, Emily W. and Lydia (human) made the horrible mistake of putting their hands on Skyco. He was so cold to the touch that their hands were instantly frozen in place. If the temperature improves I will go out later today and try to chip the two girls off of the unfortunate little horse.

I would have tried to snatch them free yesterday but for the nightmarish experience of Emily M. who thoughtlessly kissed Lydia (dog) in the frigid pasture. Lydia dog will heal just fine. We have high hopes for the skin grafts.

This is How Cold it Was Yesterday! II

Edwards Teach had his first introduction to becoming halter trained yesterday. His horrific neck wound, which necessitated his removal from the wild, hospitalization, and recovery at our place is now no more than a slight scab on his neck. His recovery is complete. However, perhaps because of the frigid temperature, he was in a mood to settle in for some serious kicking and biting.

Regardless of his motivation, I was cold enough to hope for an assault. If the violence was of a minimal nature it would help warm me up and if it was of the most extreme nature it would have put me out of my misery.

It was so cold that the flames in the fire froze solid and they have not thawed up yet.

This is How Cold It Was Yesterday!

The girl hiding down under all of those layers of clothes spent much of her life living in Alaska. The dog, hiding deep under the blanket, has spent all of her life ...being a dog. But yesterday they were both freezing.

Some Where Over the Rainbow

All right, all right I will say it, "Sharon Sluss' horses are prettier than mine." Sharon runs Rainbow's End Farm,about an hour from me down in Suffolk, Virginia, where she has a great selection of Spanish Mustangs. Her horses are more colorful than mine. The beautiful splash of colors shown in her horses were lost among the wild horses of Corolla as they became more and more genetically isolated.

There is much more to Rainbows End Farm than colorful mustangs. Sharon's facility was designed for conventional horse management and she has converted it into a home of enlightened horse care. She represents what can happen when someone who cares about horses has the nerve to break the mold and give the horses the kind of care that they deserve.

It is not possible to turn every facility into something modeled on Brown's great book, "Paddock Paradise". However, it is always possible to look for ways to allow horse's to live as naturally as possible and Sharon has hit a home run in that regard with her mustangs.

I am just going to make a quick list of the things that she has done in regard to her horse care that are great examples for every horse owner.

1. She has learned Pete Ramey style hoof care so that her horses maintain healthy feet and
those that come to her with a problem can be fully rehabilitated. She introduced me to the
Ramey's work and without her advice, Trade Wind would remained crippled to this day.

2. She does her own research on nutrition and has learned, and taught, a lot about the problems
of soy based feeds.

3. She understands the danger of obesity in horses and works to prevent the problem, instead of
bragging about how fat her horses are.

4. She gives her mustangs room for movement, which is necessary for everything from digestive
health, to prevention of lameness, to the psychological health and happiness of the horse.

5. Her horses are not consigned to a life of stables, shoes and sugary feeds. She recognizes
that horses evolved to eat forage, not candy.

6. She works to create an environment for her horses that is not only safe and healthy, but
affordable. She feeds quality round bales and uses safe, and attractive electric fencing as
shown in the picture above.

Enlightened horse owners have the right to expect this kind of farsightedness from their board providers. Unfortunately, in many areas it is impossible to find places to keep one's horse that place the legitimate value of health and happiness over silly, human concepts of warmth and comfort.

But, it will not always be so.

An Imperfect Horse

Spirit is a wonderful young Colonial Spanish horse. He lives deep in North Carolina many miles from our horse lot. It is amazing how much he looks like Emma's horse, Ice, but they are not related. He is beautiful. He is athletic. He is affectionate. He is loved.

And he is deaf.

He is no more bothered by the fact that other horses hear that which he cannot than I am bothered by the fact that blood hounds smell that which I cannot smell. He is not in pain. He does not need pity. He does not even need sympathy. He needs only that which every other horse needs--sunlight, water, grass, air, and room for movement.

Put your check book away. You do not have enough money to persuade his owner to part with him. He is a special horse, but he is not a "special" horse. He is special in the sense that every horse deserves to be special.

There is no reason that he cannot be trained to become a horse that is perfect for his owner. He can be trained to jump. He can be trained to do dressage. He can be trained to ride gentle trails and he can be trained to ride grueling endurance treks. He can be trained to work cattle and he can be trained to teach children.

Those who waste their lives constantly looking for the perfectly built horse, the perfectly trained horse, and the perfectly bred horse are as blind to his potential as he is deaf to their pretensions. He gets the best of that deal. They cannot see his soul and he does not have to hear their scoffing.

Had Lido been a horse, he would have been a perfectly imperfect horse. Ill conformed and ill trained, he would have been discarded by all those who seek the perfect horse. Yet as imperfect as he was, with only one fully functioning arm and one fully functioning leg, he drove himself until he could run five miles faster than most high school track stars. He could unload a truck load of hay or feed without the help of another person or even the use of a wheel barrow. For years he was the first person to mount the wild horses that he and I trained and he was always the first person to remount a wild horse that had just thrown him sky high.

As Lido showed through out his brief life, true ability is that which is demonstrated, not that which is perceived. As Spirit has shown in his brief life, love is that which is felt, not that which is heard.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Spring Training

When one genuinely has more to do than time to do it things must be prioritized. My priorities for the spring are to complete fencing in a huge mixed forest section of our land to allow the horses to take advantage of the browse over the spring and summer and to do a lot of horse training, even if that means less riding for a few months. Several of my riders have young horses that are ready for intense training and I look forward to working with them to teach them how to teach their horses.

I also have several other mares that we will be training in order to get them perfectly trained for sale. None of these horses are Corollas and selling several of these larger horses will give me room to take more horses into the off site breeding program.

We will once again institute our Introduction to Natural Horsemanship Classes in April. Participants in those four sessions will be given the opportunity for hands on work with horses that are actually being trained. Many of my riders that have been with us for only a short while will really benefit from auditing those four sessions.

Their horses will benefit even more than will they.

The picture above is of Lydia training her horse, Owl Prophet. He is not for sale. He is Exhibit A to demonstrate just what a well taught kid can do with a nervous colt.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Supper Will Be Ready Soon

I know that I have not written anything big lately. Been busy--been sick--been tired etc. However, there are some neat things that will be coming along soon. Rainbow's End Farm is a great Colonial Spanish Horse farm here in southeastern Virginia and will soon be featured in a special post. There will also be one coming up about an imperfect colt that is getting along perfectly despite its "disability".

Tomorrow morning I will be meeting with my riders and their parents to explain that we are going to continue to provide everything that we do now and begin expansion into an entirely new field of equine/agricultural/historical education. (Bad sign--My knees started hurting as I just typed that sentence)

More about our time-travel plans later. In the mean time, enjoy these pictures of what is perhaps the most beautiful billy goat to have ever ridden from northern Virginia to Smithfield on the back seat of my Durango. The Durango was rather full with the baby strapped into her seat, accompanied by Lydia (the person), Lydia (the dog), Emily driving, as I rested comfortably on the front passenger seat while keeping a constant eye out for any Dairy Queens that might be along our route.

He is a San Clemente Island goat, of Spanish Colonial descent. I do not allow others to name my animals because proper animal naming is a gift given to so few people. However, I did allow my grand daughter to name my super rare Spanish Colonial goat. He would have been named Eisenhower, for obvious reasons. I have never seen a goat that looked as determined to invade Normandy as does he. However, the baby chose to name him Spicer. When I asked her, why Spicer?, she looked at me as if it was so obvious that I should not have even considered asking. Recognizing the spark of a true gift in her I allowed her to name him Spicer in what I hope will be a long life of animal naming. (Note to all of you who are not married: never marry a person who would name a brown dog "Brownie." Doing so will consign you to a life of stifling boredom, conformity, and worst of all, predictability.)

Bottom line is, do not loose your patience with me yet. Over the next few weeks I expect to write a few things that are worth the effort of reading.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Responsible Management

Spearheading the off site breeding program for the Corollas is quite a responsibility. We owe the highest duty not only to the strain, but to the individual horses. If a horse must be removed from the wild everything possible must be done to insure that that horse has a great quality of life. That means that we must work to insure that it has the opportunity to live as natural of a life as possible as a domestic horse. It is a shame for any horse to live a life of stables, shoes and sugar, but it is particularly sad to see a once wild mustang consigned to such an existence.

We have to consider the quality of life of every stallion that has to be removed from the wild. We have to consider whether he can be properly managed and cared for as a stallion by a potential owner. If not we have only one ethical choice, to seek an owner with the necessary skills to manage a stallion safely so that he can remain in the breeding program.

The best hope that we have for the program is that, with proper motivation and instruction, these skills can be learned.

On Saturday the little rider depicted above had her first 25 mile ride. She rode the first 15 miles on Manteo, a Corolla stallion, and the last 10 miles on Trade Wind, another Corolla stallion.

She is only 7 years old. Manteo and Tradewind each represent hope for the Corollas. So does their little seven year old rider.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Finding Talents

Learning to tame wild horses is not a dead end road. It inevitably gives confidence that leads one to take new roads. Rebecca produced this video for our new website that she is working on.

I am sure that her technologically savvy husband Mark was a good advisor to her, but the point is that Rebecca took on this project, worked on it for months, produced a great product, and most importantly, while working on it, knew that she would be able to produce a great product.

The ironic, peculiar, and singularly important point is that after one has tamed wild horses, the rest of living seems a little bit simpler. Enjoy the video. I am sure that Daddy will.

Thank you Rebecca.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Importance of Whoa

Curt Pate is the most likable big name clinician I have met. One of his many points of emphasis is not to take the 'go' out of a horse. He gives wonderful instruction on how to create a good ranch horse to be ridden by professional cowboys.

I do not mind taking the "go" out of the horse. I am training horses to be ridden by kids, novices, and my now 51 year old body. I want all of my horses and my riders to know "whoa" and to know it the same way in every situation so that it becomes instinctive for both horse and rider. My goal is to produce horses and riders that will not hurt each other. After a horse is trained I can put all of the "go" back in him that I want to.

We employ the one rein stop. I teach it and train it dogmatically. We ride with our hands low in front of us. Whoa is accomplished by gently tugging the left rein, (yes always the left) toward the left knee while the left calf pushed the hindquarters to the right. This is how I want it done every time so that in the event of a runaway situation the rider will instinctively pull the left rein to the left knee.

Might one achieve greater flexion by drawing the left rein upwards in the general direction of the right arm pit? Certainly. Are there other trainers who execute the stop that way? Yes. Does raising the rein assist in collection? Yes

Does raising the rein increase the possibility that the horse will loose its balance and fall, or even worse, turn over on its back (and its rider). I think so. I saw a solid young rider do exactly that move while I was but a few feet away. She flipped her horse on its back. I never want to see that again. It was one of the few times that fear has made me sick in the horse lot. Watching that horse fall is etched in my mind.

Might I create a more impressive moving horse if I taught otherwise? Most certainly, but like Curt Pate I know for whom I am teaching. I also know that if I taught my little riders to raise the rein ,after I had seen what could happen from the maneuver, and I had a rider seriously injured because they did what I taught them to do I would never ride a horse again or teach another kid to.

Sometimes the teachings of the top clinicians have to be modified before it should be taught to my riders and my horses. It is not my responsibility to win ribbons. It is my responsibility to introduce kids into the world of horses in the safest manner possible.

That is not to say that the other techniques are wrong. It is to say that in my personal observation I saw results that that sickened me.

My little riders' safety is in my hands. I am cognizant of that every moment. I cannot use the best way to train a horse unless I also believe it to be the safest way to train a horse.

There Is More To Riding Than Just Riding

The woods are a beautiful classroom. In this shot we are paused at a clearing in a pine plantation that is a result of what, in our area, are called 'round pounds' and are called 'cat ponds' in some part of the country. Small, impermeable layers of super fine clay and silt cause water to remain above ground in round pounds for all but the driest of seasons. They drown out the trees and allow sunlight to hit the forest floor. This allows for vegetative diversity, more insects, which feed more birds, which attract more bob cats, who cause young raccoons to walk gingerly as they seek out craw fish around the round pond's edges.

Deer trails, coyote tracks, and even a bear sighting give city kids a chance to see and learn what all kids should have an opportunity to see and learn.

The same is true for historical education. It is hard for the kids to understand that Isle of Wight county, on the banks of the James River, across from Hampton, was once the frontier of English settlements. We ride where John Smith walked in 1608 when he came to the village of Mokete to trade for Indian corn. We ride past the area where Benedict Arnold camped his men during the Revolution. We swim our horses in the river off from Fort Boykin which was manned in every war fought on American soil. We ride around the remnants of Fort Bee, a major Confederate resupply center during the Peninsula Campaign. We ride by the small tracts of land once owned by freedmen during Reconstruction and beyond, but now are merely lines on a plat and words in a deed. We ride past farms where young German and Italian POW's harvested peanuts.

It is easy to get in touch with history while sitting on the backs of Corollas and Shacklefords whose ancestors came to America nearly 500 years ago.

That is 'living history.'

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Karma Communications

The effort to preserve Colonial Spanish horses got a little boost today when Vickie Ives of Karma Farms in Texas started a blog that will surely bring some exciting pictures, solid history, and first rate writing to the internet.

I met Vickie several years ago when she and Tom and Doug Norush came in to inspect the wild herds of Shackleford and Corolla. One can find the report that Vickie wrote on the inspection both on the HOA web site and the Corolla Wild Horse Fund web site. That report is the first thing that anyone who wants to understand the unique conformation of Colonial Spanish Horses should read.

That tour lead to Karma Farms joining us in spear heading the off site breeding program designed to help prevent the extinction of this line of extraordinary Spanish mustangs. The picture above is of Adam, a formally wild Corolla on the day after he got to Karma Farms.

The blog is called "Karma Communications". Expect big things to come of it.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Thank You

This could have been a rough week, but my friends and my riders were looking our for me and I really appreciate it.

Best Way to Close Out the Year

Yesterday was a big day for us. Two visitors up from Florida who rode their first wild horse, a small herd of kids from across the river that rode deep into the woods, Emily W. riding her colt Corolla colt Skyco for the first time out side of a round pen, and Ashley's weanling, Looks Up was haltered for the first time.

Though quite tired, I returned home for the New Year's festivities. This being a special occasion I broke out the good stuff--that's right not only did I have half a jar of Smart Choice peanut butter, I chased it down with 1/4 of a jar of vintage Skippy peanut butter.

I was so much in the holiday spirit that I did not go to sleep until 7:45. And check out my physique in the picture with Emily and Skyco. Yes--that is what clean living can do for you.