Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Factory Farming

Most of these little pigs will become food for my family. I do not say that lightly. I no longer enjoy killing things. In fact, I dread it. But actual life requires actual death. In order to confront the reality of living, one must confront the reality of dying. Modern suburban living does not give kids the opportunity to have that confrontation. I am not aware of a single advantage that being raised in a neighborhood has over being raised beside the neighbor's woods.

The old time farming practices that existed around here when I was little were focused on the death of the livestock. But, before that animal died, it first had a life. Livestock raised in factory farms do not. The have an extend period of pre-death and then they are slaughtered.

Worst of all is the oft expressed reaction, "But they are too cute to kill!" Implicit in that statement is that the "cute" have a higher right to life than the ugly. No one is too cute to die and no one is too ugly to live. I always preferred the runt of the litter. The horse that is blind in one eye yet is an incredible trail animal impresses me much more than one with two good eyes who is equally well sutied for rough trails. A three legged hound that still runs deer earns my admiration, not my pity. A rough rider with about half of a functioning body impresses me more than Olympic riders.

No, I am not going to eat all of the little pigs. I am saving one, a little sow pig--all stubby, sawed off and ugly.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Not A Two Pack Habit Or a Motel Tan

People, who meet me in midwinter and know nothing about me but that I am a lawyer, have a remarkable tendency to look at my brown skin and ask me if I have just gotten back from a cruise or if I "spend a lot of time on a golf course." They do not recognize the particular irony of their question. I cannot think of many things that I would enjoy less than a cruise and I have never seen a golf course without my mind wandering to a vision of it fenced in and well stocked with horses.

We all make assumptions based on our life experiences. It can be too easy to assume that others share those life experiences and come to the table with a common set of expectations and understandings.

Yesterday I had a great ride with a new young adult rider. She is a city person from far away. I did not think about that when I stumbled into a wonderful situation on the ride. The wind was blowing and at first I was not sure that I heard what I hoped I had heard. We stopped and I signaled for everyone to be quiet. She got quiet--well sort of quiet. As the sound picked up I surveyed the cut over looking for likely crossings. We left the path, crossed cut over, and headed to a funnel of woods where I expected us to be able to get the best view. On several occasions we would briefly stop and I would listen hard to try to get the best directional bearings.

At one point I realized that they had turned and would not cross where I anticipated. We took off cantering (she had only done this a few times before in her life) up to get closer to the sound. We were too late. I watched the crossing of the path and we turned into a dead end path to put me into the far side of the cut over.

When we got to the cut over the deer were in sight, but barely so. Three does, well ahead of the hounds that I had been running to for the past fifteen minutes. As we watched the deer bounce through the cut over I learned something that came as a complete surprise.

She had utterly no idea what we had been doing. She could not understand why we would go and stop, why I wanted everyone quiet, why we changed direction, and most of all she had no idea why I was scanning the cut over so hard.

It never entered my mind that she did not understand that that was not merely the sound of a barking dog, but was a pair of hounds running a small herd of deer and that the object of our game was to get a close view of the deer as they crossed the paths.

It was only at the conclusion of the ride that Kelly came to understand that she had participated in her first mounted red neck fox hunt.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Link To Reality

There is so much misinformation out there about mustang conformation that those new to the horses could easily come to accept personal whims and fads as being accurate. The best way to avoid such a trap is to start all research through the Horse of the Americas Registry. I have set out below a link to Vickie Ives great work on the function of the Spanish horse's hip.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Best Starting Point

The internet is the greatest source of information, and misinformation, that the world has ever seen. Unfortunately, someone new to horses is likely to end up being fouled with misinformation simply because there is more of it out there. For anyone who wants to learn accurate information about Colonial Spanish horses the best place to start out is the web site of the Horse of the Americas Registry. It is more than a web site. It is a library.

The best starting point for one who wishes to become part of the Corolla offsite breeding program is shown above a few hours after he was born. The Black Drink was born in late May and is now weaned. He is the most attractive Corolla colt that I have seen. He is available for placement in a home that agrees to maintain him as a stallion and to participate in the offsite breeding program.

Don't wait for a better colt to come along.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: I Ride a Radiator

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: I Ride a Radiator: I often assume too much. My life revolves around mustangs and natural horsemanship and I often forget that my riders do not come to the past...

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Meaningfulness of Art

There was a time when I felt certain that one of Heaven's better features would be that everyone there would have access to the History Channel and Comedy Central. Gradually in recent years I find that my interest in comedy and all things fictional have waned. I have lost interest in being entertained and now only have an interest in being informed.

I have come to be the same way about music. If there is no education in lyrics than no amount of entertainment can make up for that. I have come upon a set of profoundly insightful lyrics that Steve Earle put together several years ago, "Billy Austin". It is shallow analysis indeed that considers this to be a song merely about execution. "Tom Dooley" was a song merely about execution. "Tom Dooley" is to "Billy Austin" what cellophane is to silk.

"Billy Austin" is about alienation, in its starkest embodiments. The protagonist is alienated from his family background ("Quarter Cherokee, I'm told"),his home, his ability to understand his own actions, his emotions, soon even his hair, which he will loose shortly before electrocution alienates him from life. He stands alone, like he has "always been." He has no connection to any other person and has lost connection to himself. He is not merely rootless. He is without stem, leaves, or bark--alone. That's all-- No one to "take that long walk with me."

Few things alienate a person from his horse like tying that horse's value to his success at competition. But that is not the only thing that can build a wall between humans and horses.

Time spent mending fence, watering, feeding, traveling, teaching, writing and speaking is always time that is not spent getting close to your horse. Such things alienate people from their horses.

Without me realizing it this is precisely what has happened to me and my main horses.

I first realized it when Ta Sunka became more and more spooky on the trail. No longer was my mere presence enough to calm him down. Recently I have come to realize that I can no longer guide my horses simply by focusing intently on where I want to go. Holland no longer seeks to follow me out of the pen if I am leading another horse out. Tradewind at times does not want me to catch him.

Most importantly, all three of them no longer feel absolutely safe merely from being in my presence. The drift has been entirely my fault. Because it is much easier for me to become close to a horse than to a person, when I become alienated from my main horses I have lost a great deal.

Recently we have had a tremendous infusion of new riders and new families in our program. Many of them are as willing to throw themselves whole heartedly into the our program as have so many families over the past decade. Spring is coming, days longer, families that want to work fence, feed up and water, etc. I am going to reintroduce myself to my horses.

All of this I "learned" from listening to "Billy Austin", likely 50 times over the past two weeks. For me that is the meaningfulness of art.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: I Feel Good--Like I knew That I Would Now

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: I Feel Good--Like I knew That I Would Now: Edwards Teach is healing well. In the bottom shot he was about to be unloaded at our place after having spent two weeks at Dominion Equi...

A Peculiar Post--Perhaps Helpful

(What is set out below is not a normal blog post. It is from a note that I sent out to the parents of my riders last week. In the note I sought to explain why we push ourselves as hard as we do. One of the parents suggested that I post it directly on the blog. After bouncing it around in my head I have come to agree with her. Though this message was directed to the parents of my riders, it raises points that parents of any kids that wish to learn to ride in whatever discipline that they choose should keep in mind.)

(The picture set out above has utterly nothing to do with the post, but she sure does look festive for the parade, doesn't she?)

The schedule is a bit more complicated now that we have several new riders. I want to group riders using several criteria:

1. Level of skill and confidence regardless of age
2. Matching of horses with each riders level of skill and confidence
3. Working toward gaining the basic skills necessary to be able to comfortably trot on the trails.

Riders that reach the level of trotting comfortably on trails can easily transition into being competent trail riders and can join the groups that go on longer trail rides. Parents should encourage their kids to work very hard at following my instructions concerning how to sit, handle the reins, and how to control their horse. Please stress to your kids that it is dangerous to substitute their judgement for mine. If I say to remove a hand from the saddle I do so because it is safer to learn to ride without hands on the saddle.

Parents should also encourage their kids to move out of their comfort zone with individual horses. Kids that ride the same horse at all times do not learn to ride as well or as quickly as those that switch around. Little girls like to reach consensus on horses and decide who is cool and who is not just as they do with other kids on the play ground. Please make sure that the kids understand that if I give them a horse to ride on a given day they should not be afraid to do so because some other little rider has said that he is not nice.

Learning to ride a given horse is not the same thing as learning to ride horses. Jessica's skill and confidence has grown in leaps and bounds since she began to enthusiastically push herself to work with horses instead of just getting on the same old horse time after time.

I do not think that enough kids understand the import of my instructions regarding how to ride. For example, if I say to put hands closer together the proper response is never that you like it better with your hands far apart. When I say "hands down" the proper response is never , "They just keep coming up on their own." We do not accept any of the silly rules of what has come to be considered proper riding. Everything that we do is done that way because it is the safest, least difficult technique for horse and rider. Our safety record is phenomenal when one considers the miles ridden, the number and age of riders, the use of wild horses, colts and stallions. In fact, most establishments would say that what we do is impossible.

Lastly, please do not think that I am callous about a kid's fears or even actual pain. I understand fear and I understand pain. Most importantly, I understand the utterly devastating impact that not dealing with fear and surrendering to minor aches and pain has on kids as they grow up. A kid that stops riding because he is afraid of the feeling of not being able to control the horse, especially a kid that really wanted to become a rider but has a bad day and gives in to it is much more likely to develop anxiety disorder, full blown depression, substance abuse, and even worse problems than is one that learns to work through the fear.

What is in the paragraph above is very important to understand. Every Monday I read presentence reports and psychological reports on troubled teens. The prevalence of anxiety disorder and depression among kids that become addicted to serious drugs is mind boggling. Anxiety disorder is nearly epidemic among kids today. Riding a slightly rough horse is not a miracle cure but it is a an important peg in developing self esteem.

I have read thousands of sentencing reports and have never read a report of a teen that rides horses that is addicted to drugs. I am not being callous when I tell kids that if you ride horses you will end up in a hospital at some point and that it is no big deal. I say that because I know that those that to give into their fears without working through them often ends up with something much worse than a broken arm.

If alcoholism, depression, or drug abuse run a rider's family it is that much more important that we take the hard steps to teach kids to deal with fear. I have never laid this out so bluntly before but I want to make sure that everyone understands how important this is to me. I want my little riders to push themselves physically and mentally, not because I want to make them into Navy seals but because I want to make them into happy adults. Quite frankly, that is more important to me than saving the Corollas.

The other side of it is that I know what kids are capable of. Understand this point--Lydia, Emily, Abby, Amanda,Rebecca, Jacob, Jordan and many other great older riders are not what I measure your kid by. They are all athletes with everything going for them. I measure your kid by Lido. He had cerebral palsy, a very weak right leg and a nearly useless right arm. He got on very rough horses. They did not coddle him because he had a disability. They threw him higher and he landed harder than you can imagine. He got back on.

He was a severely disabled child who was taunted and harassed at school yet he understood that none of the kids that called him names had the guts to do what he did. He had a lot of problems but anxiety was not one of them. He became bold and fearless. He became super strong in his left arm. He even was a very fast runner by the time that he died.

And it is just like the sign on Lido's bridge says, "If I can do it why can't you?"

So if it appears to you that I am challenging your kids and pushing them to do things that other kids can't, like ride 40 miles in the cold. You are correct. I am not doing that because I am callous. I am doing it because it is the best thing that I can give these kids.

Encourage your kids to trust me and do what I say exactly as I say it and I will help them do things that everyone would think impossible. When they are grown and face crushing crisis their first reaction will be "I can't take it." Then they will remember what they did with horses when they were little that they never thought possible and it will help give them the courage to push on through the crisis.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Fusion On Any Other Terms Would be As Foolish And As Unprincipled

In 1859 Lincoln was encouraged to to seek the votes of the growing anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic movements in the nation by seeking to "fuse" with such nativist hate groups. His response was quite clear. He believed that such groups had no understanding of the purpose of this nation and no understanding of the central theme of the Declaration of Independence.

He said that he would only agree to seek the support of such groups, (particularly the Know-Nothing Party)under one condition. Any "fusion" of the groups with his still young Republican Party would have to occur under "Republican principles." In short, as long as they espoused positions that were morally abhorrent to Lincoln, he had no interest in their support. If, however, the leopard somehow changed his spots he could accept its support.

The same question is facing mustang preservationists today. Our periodic cycle of hand wringing over what we can do to impress the established horse world is surfacing once again. If only we dressed our horses up like theirs, if only we took pictures of our horses to make them look like theirs, if only we dressed ourselves up like they do, if only we bred our horses to be as big as theirs, if only we entered into their horse shows and their events, then ....maybe Ole Massah and Ole Missus will decide that it is all right for us to have mustangs.

Such efforts will not work. They have failed for years. They will continue to fail. Thank God. If such efforts succeed in gaining the support of the established horse world within a generation our horses would be living the same unhealthy, miserable lives of obesity, lameness, and neurosis that characterizes the life of a horse trapped by the established horse world.

I do not want the approval of such people. The only hope to preserve the mustang as he is today and was yesterday is to draw new people into riding and to help them find natural horsemanship, natural horse care, and natural hoof care. They are the best students because they do not have to unlearn anything. Their head is not filled with sludge from the established horse world that must first be drained before that head can be filled with actual knowledge.

The established horse world has been calling the shots for fifty years and as such they are responsible for every crisis that horses face today, from the explosion in the number of cases of founder to the effort to bring horse slaughter back to America. I have no interest in fusing with such people.

However, there are many good people, through no fault of their own, who have been around horses for decades but understand nothing about them. The only "information" available to them came those who value a horse according to the color of fabric it is given at the conclusion of a horse show class.

There are many such people that are looking for ways to build a solid relationship with their horse and to learn to allow their horses to live as horses. With such people I will happily fuse. As Lincoln put it, "A fusion on any other terms would be as foolish......"

The bottom line remains the same. If one wants to help preserve mustangs the best way to do so is to teach a kid to ride. The second best way to do so is to teach his parents to ride with him.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

This Picture Is Not Blurred

This is what things actually look like at dawn when it is 22 degrees and you are about to begin a forty mile ride. Only one of these little riders had ever done a forty mile ride. My newest little rider, Emily H. has been with us only a short while and she completed 20 miles. The remainder of the little ones did forty miles. The youngest in kindergarten and the oldest is fourteen.

The horses were a great collection of Corollas, Shacklefords, Chincoteagues, BLM, Chincteague/BLM crosses and Ta Sunka Witco, an SMR. Every horse,but Ta Sunka, in the ride was either born in the wild or had at least one parent born in the wild.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Frail, Delicate Little Things

Trained horses all day yesterday. Worked a young stallion that got aggressive with me in front of the kids. Saddled him up after we worked through that and the little riders started mounting up and riding him as I lead him around the round pen. All little girls, oldest about 12 years old, youngest about 8. These challenges and successes are the kind of things that give kids meaningful self esteem. A lot more important than telling a little girl that she has a nice haircut. In a few hours most of that same group will be doing their first performing some of the old songs that we have worked up for a church breakfast and tomorrow several of those same little girls will join me for a forty mile ride on horses that were all trained by me and other kids here at our horse lot. They will grow up to be kind, compassionate and tough, secure in the knowledge that if it ever really came down to it they could whip everybody in the room. To matter in this world one must be kind, compassionate... and tough.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

An Error In Posting

Periodically old posts are pulled up as links so that newer readers will have an opportunity to see some posts that are significant for one reason or another. This morning I reposted a page by accident. The post involved the death of my brother.This event occurred a bit over three years ago. A person that did not know otherwise could read that post and take it as a post about a current tragedy. It is not. I removed the post that was accidentally put up this morning.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Strength To Ride

The best exercise to prepare one for hard riding is to ride hard. However, every form of aerobic conditioning pays off directly when one spends long miles in the saddle. One part of riding that is often ignored is the importance of strong riding muscles.

What are now commonly called "core muscles" are the key to staying in the saddle in a bad situation. Strong quadriceps often are the difference between staying in the saddle and laying on the ground.

This is especially important for older riders. When we it the ground we are likely to break something and even if not, we are likely to be laid up from riding for a while. It is worth the effort to develop muscles that prevent hospitalizations.

Weight training that focuses on the major riding muscles and Tabata Protocol to provide aerobic fitness an be completed in 2.5 hours a week and is time very well spent.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Clay Pigeons

I like the collection of words that Blaze Foley put together when he wrote Clay Pigeons better than anything else he did. I am in that song right now. Back in the saddle again and getting on with it all

This has been a brutal year in many respects. One of the worst is that in late summer my 51 year old body picked up a nagging injury that got worse every time I got in the saddle. The catch was that I needed to be in the saddle. Tradewind and I had work to do. We kept riding hard until that work was finished. Tradewind, a formerly wild Corolla stallion who was captured because he was utterly crippled with founder carried me for so many hours on the trails that he was the Horse of the Americas Registry's National Pleasure Trail Horse of the Year for 2011. He was not only an ambassador for his nearly extinct strain of Colonial Spanish mustang, but for all stallions, all little horses, all horses that had been foundered, and for everybody else in this entire universe that someone had given up on.

In late August we finished that job. It has been about four months since riding was fun. I am now comfortable in a saddle. I am now riding hard again and enjoying riding hard. It is a terrible thing when one's best thing becomes a bad thing. But it is so good when good becomes good again.

And this year I will complete 100 miles of riding in 24 hours. I have failed in efforts to do so for the past two years, but now I realize what my problem was--I was not old enough for the challenge. Now I am 52 and have the requite experience to get the job done.

(This is Lydia giving a little BLM mare her first ride. She will be accompanying me when I do 100 miles in a day. Don't worry, I'll look out for the poor little girl.)

Objectively Speaking--The American Indian Horse Hall of Fame Award

What we do is unconventional. Put simply, we teach little children to tame, train and ride wild horses and colts and then we ride them very far. Nine year old girls riding 50 miles in a day--five year old boys riding in the woods on a formerly wild Corolla stallion--220 pound man riding thirteen hand formerly wild Shackleford 50 miles in 10 hours and 21 minutes--98 miles in the saddle in two days for a man over fifty years old. My point being that because we do so many things that the established horse world says cannot be done it is important that we have some objective criteria upon which to hang our hat.

I also like for my little riders to have something to say when are they confronted by a future member of the established horse world who rides a lame 22 year old quarter horse in circles in a sandy ring once a week for 50 minutes who belittles the program that my little riders have helped create. When a little third grade future fool says, "You just ride little ponies, do not even compete in horse shows, and you do not even have a real barn." my little riders are best suited to respond with examples of concrete recognitions instead of heart felt feelings.

In short they need a "resume" to legitimize what they do every weekend. The resume got a big boost yesterday that pleases me very much.

Mill Swamp Indian Horses was recognized by the American Indian Horse Registry with their Ranch and Farm Hall of Fame Award. It took a lot of hard riding and hard work by a lot of riders and their families over the years to earn this recognition. This great award adds to past accomplishments such as Jacobs'horse, Harley winning the HOA National Pleasure Trail Horse of the Year, Tradewind accomplishing the same feat, receipt of the Keeper of the Flame Award From the AIHR, The Carol Stone Ambassador Award From the Horse of the Americas Registry and the Buck Award from Currituck County for work to preserve the wild horses of Corolla.

These recognitions are wonderful in that they provide tangible things to help the little riders understand why the program matters. As much as I like such recognition, they will never top my favorite response from one of my little riders when a classmate who rode purebred horses belittled "those mustangs."

Q. "What can you do on those little ponies anyway?"
A. "Uh 46 miles last Saturday, but we are going to do more next time."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Best Thing That I Ever Saw On Face Book

I have never met Brooke Sims, the young lady who stars in this video with her mustang stallion that she trained. I expect that she and I would get along very well.

I do not know what more can be said that this video does not say. It really drives home a point that we all too often forget. Starting horses is child's play, or at least it has been in nearly every great horse culture the world has known. Modern Americans have decided that it is too dangerous and as a result children are deprived of one of the most rewarding experiences that they could ever have.

And did you catch in the video that she got second place "In the Lido." That is not a peculiar coincidence of language. That class is named for Lido. All the way down in Texas.

He would like that. If I ever go to Texas I am going to go riding with Brooke Sims. I might learn something.

Corollas Facing New Threat of Extinction

The wild herd at Corolla face serious threats to their survival on a daily basis. The offsite breeding program's purpose is to provide a safety net to stave off extinction in the event of a catastrophic loss of the wild herd. The program got off to a solid start but has been slowed down greatly by the nation's economic downturn. That will change. Economies go up and down. However, the program is running into a more insidious threat.

In order to maintain a genetically viable strain of domesticated Corollas we must maintain a solid pool of stallions. It never occurred to me that that would be a problem. The established horse world's promotion of the fear of stallions makes it very difficult to get satellite breeding stations off of the ground. I never realized how deep this phobia had become ingrained in the horse owning culture.

When I was growing up both Momma and Daddy rode stallions. We have trail rides with mixed groups of stallions, mares and geldings every weekend. A trained stallion requires additional firmness in handling when he is around mares in heat and he requires stronger fencing than do geldings. An untrained, undisciplined stallion is dangerous. So is an untrained, undisciplined gelding. The three most violent horses that I have ever known are all geldings.

The most horrific irony that results from this mindless prejudice is the position that the Corolla Wild Horse Fund finds itself in. The wild horse fund is unable to place stallions in solid homes. As a result they are forced to vandalize the bodies of one of America's oldest and rarest distinct genetic grouping of horses. With no placement options available they have no choice but to geld stallions that have to be removed from the wild for one reason or another.

At the moment I have two beautiful stallions available for placement in my pastures, The Black Drink, a weanling produced from the offsite breeding program and the son of Tradewind, and Edward Teach, a wild stallion that was captured because of a severe neck wound. They have not been placed because they are stallions and everyone knows that stallions are dangerous.

I will not geld either. If I cannot place them in solid breeding homes I will continue their training so they can become horses that I use for children and complete novices that want to learn to ride.

Last week my six year old grandson accompanied me on a ride. He was on Croatoan, a wild Corolla stallion. I was on Tradewind, a wild Corolla stallion. We all made it back to safety without a single casualty. I guess that we are just lucky.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

All Right I'M Back

Werowance is the son of Croatoan and is a very impressive young horse.

I had no intention of resurrecting this blog but I have been asked to in the strongest of terms. Future posts will be longer than this one.