Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Pride and the BLM Mustang

The established horse world cringes at the thought of breeding horses of BLM stock. The fact that they are "mongrels" without pride of pedigree trumps the fact that many are horses of amazing ability.

For people that are more interested in performance than paperwork some of these horses cannot be beat. This point has been hammered home to me over the past week.

Leah is a tall bay BLM mare. She is blind in one eye and was likely born that way. Every inch of her body is designed to do only two things, move efficiently and cool off quickly. She is the perfect radiator--huge lungs, slab sides, and rafter hips.

She has not been ridden as much as my great Spanish mustang, Ta Sunka Witco and should not be as aerobically fit as he is. However, on a hard night ride last week Ta Sunka had to work to keep up with her. He could keep up and did, but only because I asked him to. Emily did not have to ask Leah to do anything. She has the physical ability to go on endlessly.

Why would one not want to pass on those traits?

Yesterday I took a mustang from the Virginia city range out in the woods for my fist ride on her. I place great value on comfort and endurance. I know what real comfort and endurance are. I ride Corollas. I do not expect other horses to be able to compare with the smoothness and heart of a Corolla. The little roan mustang, whose relative is shown in the picture above, was smoother than any Corolla that I have ever ridden.

Why would one not want to pass on that trait?

Proper Accessorizing and Other Fashion Concerns

A great deal of attention is placed on matching accessories such as shoes,belts and purses. It is often more important that fashion match activities. For example, this particular hair do goes very well with riding an Indian horse bareback but would be out of place at all but the most festive of wakes.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dark and Stormy Weather

Minimal damage here though more damage to fences than ever before. Wind blew hundreds of bushels of Red Maple leaves down. Working hard to get them up before they wilt and are consumed. Just got power on. Have not slept in my own home in five nights (a modern record for me.)

Wild Corollas did fine. My horses are doing ok. Hogs are happy. War Admiral missed me more than anyone. Holland was glad to see me.

Further evidence that when one seeks a friend one should, to the degree possible, restrict the pool of potential friends to those who enjoy a good meal of hay and getting their ears scratched.

During my sojourn in the mountains I picked up a new instrument called a "lap harp".

I have about figured out how to play it. Sounds great but little volume--will have to keep it close to the microphone.

I know that this post seems more like a facebook note than a thoughtful blog post, but I just wanted to let everyone know that things are fine here--no better, but no worse either.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Last Ride

I am not Aesop. This is not a fable. I am bone cold deadly serious in what I am about to write. There is no artistic license taken here. I will tell you what happened. You can decide what you think it means.

When Hunter Liebold was five years old he told me in the most serious of tones that he had decided to marry my daughter Amanda, who was about six years his senior. (His prediction was wrong on that point). I had known his father since we were both children. Hunter was raised three miles from the horse lot. His family had been around the area about as long as had mine so I was related to Hunter in many different ways through the families of both of my parents.

With all of that said, up until two years ago I did not really know him. I stopped hunting when he was about 10 years old so we never hunted together. However, we shared a mutual friend. Wayne Farmer, our Commonwealth Attorney, is a youth leader at the church in which Hunter grew up. Hunter idolized Wayne. He wanted to be a prosecutor just like Wayne, though I suspect that had Wayne been a house painter that would have been Hunter's dream job. For the past two summers Hunter was an intern in our office.

Ten days ago the phone rang and Wayne told me that he was at Hunter's home and that Hunter had unexpectedly died in his sleep several hours earlier. He was twenty years old.

As a high school athlete Hunter had received some debilitating injuries that required extensive surgery and treatment for his spine. One weekend lst year we were riding through the woods and we ran up with Hunter, who was taking a walk with his father through the cut over. I had not seen him in a while and he hustled over to catch up on what had been going on at the office. At the conclusion of our conversation he put his hand on Holland and made the off hand comment that he wishes that he could ride with us but that that would never be possible.

Visitation at the funeral home was packed. I was a pall bearer and I was crushed to be around so many people that were in so much pain. I had been to very few funerals since Lido died. I was not looking forward to the funeral the next day. I could only imagine that it would be much more painful than the visitation.

The next morning I set out for a ride. I rode Tradewind and Terry joined me on the ride. I am in the habit of timing rides and constantly refer to my watch. We set out on the ride with little said between us. Terry is my paralegal and she also knew Hunter. She was at the visitation and would be out for the funeral in the afternoon.

As we made the turn around the first corner of the field three does stood in front of us. One got on her hind legs to reach for a leaf. Terry was not raised in the woods. She does not understand how terrifying the sound of a human voice is to wild animals. As soon as she saw the deer she began asking me questions.

We were about forty yards from them and I expected them to bolt at the sound of her voice. Instead they allowed us to ride to within fifteen yards of them. Terry kept talking about how unusual it was to be so close to them. I looked to my watch and wondered how much longer the deer would put up with our intrusion. These were not city park deer. They were not suburban deer. They were wild deer that had been hunted all of their lives.

They turned and walked along ahead of us. When they stopped we did also. At one point they jumped into a thick hedge row. I turned to ride away. They immediately jumped back out and began to follow us. I turned and once again they took the lead.

They went along in front of us, sometimes in the edge of the cotton, sometimes in the path around the field, never more than 15 or 20 steps from me. They went around the corner by some rusted old farm equipment down the path to the swamp. When they reached the stream bed they turned and walked into a small piece of timber that had not been cut in over 100 years. I had never walked into it before. I turned Tradewind in behind them and we all proceeded up the dry swamp bed. Tradewind stumbled and made a great deal of noise as we crossed a particularly soft section of muck. I looked up expecting the deer to run as if they were on fire at the sound of such commotion. Instead they stood and waited for us to ride closer before they continued their slow, deliberate pace.

I knew that this was not normal behavior. The time had long since passed since I could attribute a natural cause for this behavior. I have never known deer to stand still for more than 10 seconds when approached by riders. My breathing had slowed to the degree that it was not noticeable. I do not recall ever feeling so peaceful. I looked at my watch. For 33 minutes the deer had joined us on this ride--33 minutes of never being further from me than a pitcher is from home plate--33 minutes of deer demonstrating perfectly calm behavior, licking, chewing, putting their heads down, lifting them up, over and over, looking directly into my eyes---33 minutes of peace.

They followed the stream bed up to the edge of the cut over. The paused and looked back before hopping into the thicket. I knew that they were going into a place that I could not go. Our ride together ended, in perfect peace.

Terry and I did not speak on the way back. I simply rode on knowing that I had experienced something that I would never experience again. When we got back I told Daddy what had happened. Like me, he has always been around horses and deer and he immediately realized that what had just happened--for 33 minutes-- was something that does not happen--at all.

Terry went over to her car. She asked me if I had picked up a bulletin from the visitation. She handed me the one that she had on her car seat. The outside cover was a print of two deer at the edge of a field with a piece of rusted farm equipment in the background.

Nothing else was said. Nothing of meaning could be said. I felt a feeling of peace that replaced all of the pain at the visitation. That peace remained through the funeral and falls back on me when I think of Hunter.

I am old enough to realize that I cannot even understand that which is natural, much less that which is most certainly not natural.

But I am very glad that Hunter was able to ride with me. For 33 minutes I went along with him for his last ride.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Shifting Gears

Free at last! I have now exceeded the riding hours that I set as a goal for Sunka, Holland and Tradewind. It has been difficult, especially with the outrageous heat indexes that we have experienced this summer. I have had to be focused and prudent. I could not risk a serious injury that could keep me out of the saddle for a week or two.

But now that is all behind me! It is no longer vitally important for me to refrain from getting hurt. I can go back to training the horses that need it, some of them from the ground up without having to worry about the effects of a hospital stay.

Wanchese-Have you been running off with riders and ignoring the bit? Guess what? Daddy's home. Kiowa--Are you difficult because you are a "left brain introvert'? Don't worry. I am a "whole grain, all season radial" and I am sure that we can work together to put your brain back on which ever side it is supposed to be on. Valor--Are you still scared of being hurt? Don't worry we can learn not to be scared together.

This will mean putting some other goals aside for a while. I will have to move my next effort to ride 100 miles in one day to the spring instead of this fall.

But it will be worth it. Nothing is more gratifying than sweetening terrified or mean horses.

I do hope that they will not cause me to have to stay over night in the hospital. Whatever charm that I have totally eludes nurses. It seems that I bring out the very worst in them.

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: There Is More To Riding Than Just Riding

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: 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,...

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: Responsible Management

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: 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, bu...

Cole Younger, Optimism, and Keeping On

I believe that Cole Younger spent about 25 years in prison for his role in the Northfield, Minn. bank robbery before he was paroled. He hit the lecture circuit with a talk entitled "What Life Has Taught Me." Sometime the only thing that prevents failure is to accept the simple facts of what life has taught.

Without a doubt I have never entered a summer with such optimism for our program and with such an expectation of a great summer. Without a doubt this has been the most miserable disappointment of a summer that our program has ever experienced. As the corn browns it becomes clearer that hoping for an improvement over this summer is a vain hope. We have never trained fewer horses than we have this summer. We have never had such broiling weather. I have never had so many of my best teenagers age out of their love of the saddle. In short, it has been an utter bust.

However, I should have,(and will resume) considering what life has taught me. The main thing that I learned from keeping and training hounds for most of my life was that even if your current pack was a total failure, there would be more young dogs coming along for next year. That knowledge did not lead to foolish optimism but it did give the ability to put one foot in front of another and just keep on.

I have new crop of little riders that are brimming with enthusiasm. Their lives will be better for the experience and I will keep on providing the experience. I will keep my expectations to precisely that--keeping on.

Such an approach is neither a surrender, nor an example of setting the bar too low. It is an approach that recognizes the important reality that in this life, to keep on is to succeed.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Occasional Pleasant Surprise

Bob Dylan's "Ballad of Hollis Brown" is the most disturbing set of simple words that I have ever heard set to music. When I first heard a recording of this song about the slaughter of a Dakota farm family the hair stood up on my arms--Mike Seeger's banjo, Dylan's unique voice, and "seven people dead on a South Dakota Farm." A horror movie, a reality show, and a searing indictment of our society as we turn once again to the most wicked of social sins--that of not being being willing to be our brother's keeper--all in seven or eight haunting verses.

I have never done the song on stage and I have never even taught it to a kid. To my great embarrassment, I have never been able to do the song correctly. Every time I did it it was a failure that sounded entirely too much like the ancient mountain murder song, "Pretty Polly."

I read a short article about this song recently that explained that Dylan put his words to the tune of an ancient mountain murder song, "Pretty Polly." In short, I did not have it wrong all along.

Now such little things are meaningless to the most people and I have never met anyone, (including my wife), that understands why rare, pleasant surprises like this are so important to my emotional well being. They give hope that failures might not be as bad as they seem. Or even better that failures are not failures at all. That realization, plus having a pot of coffee waiting for you, makes getting up each morning a lot easier.

Such things suggest that, regardless of two failed attempts to do so, the next time I try to ride 100 miles in one day I might just make it.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: A Great Trail Horse

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: A Great Trail Horse: "'Great Trail Horse' is a term that gets thrown around a lot without much of a definition. To a great extent NATRAC competitions seek to def..."

Hold On to Your Horses

Horses are not selling. In too much of the nation rain comes only in memories. Rain used to come regularly, now the only thing that comes regularly are the bills. The world is much too interconnected when junk bonds, criminal greed, selfishness, and outrageous abuse of raw economic power have created a financial environment that poses the greatest threat to the survival of Colonial Spanish horses in a century.

Great horses are being given away and great horsemen are tempted to give it all up. No one has ever gotten wealthy from working to preserve the first horses of America. It has always required tremendous financial sacrifice to be part of the effort to prevent the rest of the American horse world from throwing away the most important part of its history.

How many Colonial Spanish horses are left? Maybe five thousand. How many people who have dedicated their lives to preserving them by breeding, promoting and protecting these horses are left? Maybe five hundred.

Custer could not kill all of the ponies. Miles could not kill all of the ponies. The established horse world could not kill all of the ponies. The whims and fears of a fickle public could not kill all of the ponies. The greed of the cattlemen and the callousness of the bureaucrats could not kill all of the ponies.

The only thing that can kill all of the ponies is the bone weariness of the (perhaps) five hundred that are struggling, not to get rich off of their Spanish ponies, but to feed them.

Do not give up. What you are doing matters. The rain will come back one day. The grass will be green again.

We must make sure that we still have horses there to graze when that happens. Do not give up. Hold on to your horses.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

As Will Sonnet said, "No Brag, Just Fact."

Even if one would credit my three main horses with averaging only 4 mph on trails with me aboard, in the last 12 months I have ridden further than the distance from Norfolk to Dallas. 51 years old.

(This is a picture of my grandson Aiden on Holland. Both of them are tough too.)

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: Collateral Benefits II

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: Collateral Benefits II: "Here are three key facts to understand: 1. By most measures I am 50-70 pounds over weight. My diet is composed largely of cheese, pork cho..."

No Predators? Not So Sure Any More

It is often said that a key to explaining the calm disposition of the Banker horses is that they have lived for hundreds of years without the threat of predators.

I question that assumption now. A hog will eat just about anything and loves the smell of blood and the taste of meat. I have seen no evidence that wild hogs attack and kill mobile foals. However, I have no doubt that they would take the importunity to consume a foal as it was being born.

The reaction of the horses to the sight of smell of the hogs was instructive. Most were fearful and curious but some of the formerly wild Corollas and Shacklefords became very agitated and aggressive toward the hogs. These horses, that do not even demonstrate hostility towards dogs, would have killed or at least run off the hogs had they been given the opportunity. The horses that were not from the Outer Banks merely shrunk back from the hogs.

I do not suggest that natal predation of foals by wild hogs has had any significant effect on herd numbers among the wild horses of the Outer Banks, but it may have had an effect on herd behavior.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Look Tom, Grand Ma Had Some Just Like Those

Charlotte the snow sow came to us today after a great deal of deliberation and planning. Amos came to me completely as a fluke and arrived late yesterday afternoon.

Amos and Charlotte are not for eating. Neither they, nor I, appreciate suggestions, allusions or jokes to the contrary. These hogs are teaching tools. It may , and should, shock you to know that factory farming has destroyed hog farming in Smithfield, Virginia to the degree that nearly none of my riders have ever touched a hog.

Charlotte and Amos will not live on a factory farm. They will live a life much more like the lives of the hogs that my grandfathers raised in the 1960's--corn, mud, and a lot of having their ears scratched.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Or, Perhaps There is Merely a Madness to My Method

Of course I realize that how we do things is not the way that things are done! No, I have no interest in getting with the times or falling into line. The civil rights movement, advances in medical treatment, and the Original Carter Family are the only good things that came from the 20th century and I am still waiting for something good to come of this sorry excuse for a century in which we now find ourselves.

I have come to the conclusion that it is futile to try to teach kids to ride without first teaching them to have confidence in their own abilities. There is nothing about today's modern parenting model that gives a kid the chance to develop confidence. There is everything in today's ideal parenting model that teaches kids that the most important virtue to develop is the willingness to seek (and demand) instant gratification and comfort at all times.

Nothing undercuts a person's shot at happiness as an adult more than being so raised. Living with an untreated anxiety disorder turns one's life into merely an extended period of pre-death. We live in a culture that creates a perfect growing environment for anxiety disorder in kids.

Be kind--be generous--be compassionate--be strong--all these have been replaced with be careful. I do not advocate recklessness for either adults or children. I am very prudent in all of my risk taking. However, I realize that confidence is only gained when kids take prudent risks and succeed, or even better, fail and rise to try again.

This means that before I can teach a kid to ride correctly I first have to teach a kid to believe that he can ride. The only way to believe that is to do it. Yes, I understand the irony of our instructional method. It is all based on the concept that before one can learn to ride one must first ride. It is only after a kid comes to understand that she is not likely to fall off and, most importantly, that it really does not matter if she does, that she can learn proper riding techniques. That is right. A kid best learns to ride only after the kid is convinced that she already knows how to ride.

It is very true that for a long time my little riders only know how to mount up and ride hard behind the horse in front of them. They learn how to stop and turn a horse and how to stay on in most circumstances. In the mean time they learn natural horsemanship and learn how to live in the horse's head. Then they are ready to learn how to ride--how to have hands as light as feathers, how to flow with the horse, and how to anticipate the horse's every movement.

But they cannot learn any of that until they come to believe that they are safe in the saddle. They cannot learn that until they develop confidence in their own skills. They cannot learn that until they understand that they can push themselves beyond the limits of what they think that they can endure. They must come to experience the warm satisfaction of knowing that they can do things that others their age are not able, or are not willing, to try.

Daddy's anvil weighed 85 pounds. When I was five years old I could bend over, grab it, and stand up straight with it in my hands. Many boys twice my age could not do that. Knowing that I could do that did not make me cocky or arrogant. I never recall bragging about it. But I understood that it was a very big deal that I was able to do so.

A kid cannot get that understanding from getting a high score on a video game. A kid cannot get that understanding from winning a trophy for cheer leading.

But a nine year old girl that stays on a horse for 50 miles in one day gets that understanding and it is that nine year old girl that can now be taught how to be not only a great rider, but a great friend and leader for her horse.

And there it is in a nutshell, first a kid is taught to believe that she can ride and then later, sometimes much later, she is taught to ride well.

What Color is the Wind?

I am not sure but the best place to find out is Wind Rider Farm in Pennsylvania. That is where Monique Sheaffer is working diligently to preserve the Choctaw strain of Colonial Spanish horses.

Choctaw horses have perhaps the most beautiful movement of any of the strains and their color patterns cause them to appear to move even when standing still. If the wind ate grass it would become a Choctaw horse.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Swimming Upstream

Last Sunday, at my niece's birthday party, I got in a swimming pool. It was wonderful.

The water was cool and the buoyancy made all movement painless. It caused me to think over my recent experience in swimming pools. I realized that I had no such recent experiences. I could only think of four times in the last decade that I have been in a swimming pool. Last week I looked in my back yard. Even by my standards it was a mess. It caused me to realize that since I stopped storing hay in the shelter in the back yard I no longer put a foot in the back yard.

There was a time when I read up to three books each week and played some instrument for a half hour or forty five minutes daily. Now I run through the songs a few times before we go on stage and often do not touch an instrument again for weeks.

When it is all over I hope that it will have been worth it. Jury is still out.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: Time Management

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: Time Management: "I am often asked how I find time to be a prosecutor, horse trainer, riding instructor, and occasional writer. Toward that end I offer the f..."

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: If I Could Write a Book...

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: If I Could Write a Book...: "Oh yeah, I did. Last weekend I prepared to take a Corolla stallion to show off at a horse expo and do a book signing. To my surprise, I dis..."

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: On Naming Horses

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: On Naming Horses: "Don't the mainstream registries do enough damage to the horse world without encouraging the perpetuation of ridiculous, undignified names fo..."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: The Color of Time

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: The Color of Time: "What color is time? For my little riders time is green, Time is the color of spring, Time is the color of life to be. Time is the color of..."

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: Against the Wind

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: Against the Wind: "The hot topic on many equine message boards today is what is called responsible breeding. Certainly no one can be against the concept of re..."

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: Fear

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: Fear: "We teach small children to train wild horses. We work very hard to prevent the extinction of the Corolla Spanish mustangs. We encourage na..."