Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Quick Tip # 5--When Spring Replaced the Winter

Some of the most dangerous yet most nutritious plants for horses are starting to green up across the south. Clovers are particularly dangerous. A horse that is insulin resistant should never graze living plants, especially clover. The risk of founder goes through the roof when he grazes spring plants that have daily sunshine and cool nights. Those plants become depositories of dangerous sugars.

Even those not insulin resistant have to become acclimated to spring grass by letting them graze in small spurts for about two weeks . I start with 15 minutes a day and gradually lengthen the time in the pasture.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: Sounds of Silence

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: Sounds of Silence: No rush yesterday morning. I had no early court and no plans to shower or shave. I had already had a hunk of cheese for breakfast. I had...

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: Health Alert: Help Curb Equine TTFM

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: Health Alert: Help Curb Equine TTFM: TTFM (Too Tall For me) is a genetically related disorder that often results from breeding mares over 13.3 hands to stallions of equal siz...

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Natural Horsemanship: For the Horse?

Marketing and competition between the top earning clinicians has been the key behind getting natural horsemanship more widely understood by enlightened horse owners. It has also prevented too many dedicated people from learning to do what is best for their horse. Distracting arguments over whether or not crops, spurs, laying a horse down, and the use of snaffle bits were inherently cruel have driven too many people away from natural horsemanship. Efforts to prove that a given clinician is a hypocrite or uses cruel methods have made matters much worse.

A few years ago a grainy you tube image of Linda Parelli working a one eyed horse was deceptively used to accuse her of cruelty to the horse. A clear image of the training segment reveals that what actually occurred was a tremendous success in helping a terrified horse gain confidence while becoming less of a safety risk to herself and to humans. It was a great piece of work that was utterly inaccurately characterized by Parelli opponents.

Sound training must never to a back seat to superior marketing. Whether a training technique is popular and feeds into the emotional needs of horse owners should never be a consideration for people truly interested in natural horsemanship. The only issue should be the physical and emotional well being of the horse.

For too long colt starting was viewed, and taught,as a contest of wills with the only goal being the subjugation of the horse. Such a model appealed to the emotional needs of boys who were taught that the ostentatious use of violence evidenced a step toward manhood. All training problems were solved by the three hall marks of masculine thought of the 1950's--power, violence, and technology (e.g. "stronger bits"). In the old western movies a cowboy might kiss his horse, but only quickly and likely comedicaly at the end of the movie. Love had no place in that school of training.

That culture promoted a view that a horse had only two functions--to win competitions and to be sold for big profits. Such a culture short changed both horse and rider. Natural horsemanship gives us the potential to sweep all of that aside as long as we do not simply use horses to make a statement about ourselves or to try to fill a subconscious longing for what we might want in a particular stage in our lives.

I am afraid that we are at risk of doing so by misusing natural horsemanship and replacing it with concepts that sell and make its adherents feel better about themselves. The major point of divergence is on the question of how to best create confidence in the horse.

Traditional natural horsemanship has recognized that, as a prey animal, fear is a very functional emotion for a horse. However, when a horse is no longer faces constant threats of death or injury as it does in the wild it is one of the most humane and important training tasks that we have to, to the degree possible, help the horse to learn to control its instinctual terror and not be a slave to it.

In its starkest terms horse training can take three routes:
1. Go past that mail box because you fear the beating that I will give more than you fear the mail box.
2. Go past that mail box because I have taught you that doing so is in no way a danger to you.
3. Go past that mail box only because you decide that you want to and only do it when you feel ready to do so.

Of these three alternatives, I believe that only the second actually reduces a horse's level of chronic fear. Option 1 is certainly crueler than option 2. The third option, while giving the trainer a sense of moral superiority over other trainers, does little to give a horse confidence that transcends a particular moment in its training.

Parelli's first book, "Natural Horse-Man-Ship", was perhaps the most important training manifesto published up to that time that reached a substantial number of future trainers. It is filled with sound principles. His phrase, "Love, Language and Leadership", which could more inartfully be stated as "Communication, Affection and Discipline," summed up the core of sound horse training.

The soundness of a training principal is not tested by the number of people that buy a video demonstrating that principal. Truth, when placed in the market place of ideas is not altered by its packaging. John Lyon's three questions in evaluating a potential training technique remain perfectly accurate even though they lack rhyme or alliteration: 1. "Will it hurt the horse?" 2. "Will it hurt me?" 3. "Will the horse be calmer when I have completed the session than when I began it?"

There is no fourth question: Does the horse want to do it?

The question today facing many people that care deeply about humanely creating happy horses is simply this: Can I best create confidence and happiness in my horse by letting my horse decide what it wants to do and when it wants to do it or is confidence best created by showing a horse that it can do a range of things that it thought impossible or too dangerous to try?

I have wrestled with this key point for months and I have come to believe that confidence is only produced by overcoming perceived threats and that gradually waiting until a horse decides that it wants to do a given task does not produce confidence that reduces fear and anxiety in other aspects of a horse's existence.

The belief that superior training rests entirely on allowing the horse to decide what it wants to do is based on a a very slippery anthropomorphism. It is based on the belief that the horse's greatest wish is for autonomy. That is a dangerous mistake for a trainer to make. A horse's greatest wish is for security. Autonomy is only significant to a horse to the limited degree that it leads to security.

A horse can never learn to feel safer if it walks into water because it wants to to so. Such a horse has conquered no more fear than does a horse that bravely decides that it wants to eat grass. On the other hand, a horse that fears water but is directed into it regardless of its fears learns that water poses no threat.

My heart fell when I heard a clinician dismissively say that desensitization was bad because it produced horse's with no feeling. If I thought that the speaker had merely confused his terms and equated desensitization with "flooding", the primitive version of extreme sacking out that forced horse's into long term near-catatonic states, I would not have minded one bit. But he knew better.

Could it be that there is a bigger market to be reached by teaching novices that do not enjoy shaking a plastic bag, tarp, can filled with rocks, bouncing balls, etc, until a terrified horse learns to relax and ignore these "threats", that it is better for them to forsake such practices and to allow the horse to do that which it wishes?

Is the alternative to this New Age version of natural horsemanship the practice of torturing a horse into compliance? Of course not. The alternative is to simply fall back to the timeless truth that one should patiently train by making the right thing easy for the horse and the wrong thing difficult.

That does not mean beating and bleeding. It simply means pressure and release.

There is a fortune to be made by teaching this autonomy driven theory of natural horsemanship.

The cost will be born by the horses.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Quick Tip #4

Looking for quick, current, accessible information on horse health--go to The You owe it to your horse to at least be able to know enough to have a meaningful conversation with your vet.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Very Simple Off site Breeding Program

I received a request for information about the offsite breeding program which is designed to provide a safety net for the Corollas. It is not a substitute for a wild herd and it is not designed to produce a pool of horses to be released into the wild.

Anyone that gets a horse from me for use in the program must agree to a few conditions.

1. A stallion may not be gelded.
2. Mares over the course of their lifetime are to produce 4 foals from a stallion in the program. The owner will make every effort to place those foals with someone that agrees to maintain it in the breeding program.
3. Stallion owners agree that they will not charge a stud fee for any mare involved in the program.
4. All offspring from the program will be registered with the Horse of the Americas Registry, the American Indian Horse Registry and all stallions will be registered with the American Azteca and Foundation Breeding Stock Society.
5. I will be advised of the address of anyone that obtains a foal from the program so we can keep a network of breeders in touch with each other.
6. Breeders are strongly encouraged to show off their horses in every venue possible and to make a strong effort to obtain positive publicity for the strain and the individual horses.

That is it. There is only a moral obligation to to fulfill one's responsibilities under the program.

I currently have two weaning age fillies that I have produced that are available for placement immediately.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Home Remedy

My back is in more pain than it has been in in 20 years. Doctors would not agree, and few women understand, but, there is one thing that will cure it. I need to complete a ride of 100 miles in 24 hours. When I do that my back will be well.

I'm starting to train myself up to it. The down side is that my toughest riders are reaching the point in their lives where they have very heavy non-horse demands. I will have to knock this mileage off alone.

My back feels better just thinking about it. Living is the best preventative of dying.

(Here is Edward Teach. He has some exciting news to share with you all soon. So does the Black Drink)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: The Last Ride

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: 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 t...

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

There is no advantage to lie to a rough horse in the round pen. When one stands alone with a wild horse that could, if it chose to, kill you at any moment, only truth matters. It can be a moment of stark realization that pretending that you know what you are doing is of no value. Perhaps the most dangerous lies are those that we tell to ourselves.

When not in a horse lot I am a prosecutor. That means that I spend my days in court watching people swear to tell the truth and then listening to them lie. Truth has come to have no special value to too many people. It simply is one of the items on the buffet, to be put on the plate or left on the table as the whim of the moment dictates.

Television advertising took the lie of the old time medicine show to an entire world instead of just the few who could stand within sight of the huckster that peddled his bottled fraud to gullible. Television did not make it easier to lie. It just made it easier for the lie to be heard.

Televangelists took lying to a another realm. They raked in money from telling infernal lies about eternal truths. Cable news abandoned any sense of responsibility to present truth. Balancing a lie from the right with a lie from the left does not produce truth. Facebook has given every individual liar a heady sense of the power of the lie.

Faux religion. Faux politics. Faux economics. Facebook even gives us faux friendship.

Around 1970, Johnny Cash wrote, "And the lonely voice of youth cries, What is truth?" Today's lonely voice of youth believes "Who cares about truth?"

It is tempting to believe that the only place truth is found is in the horse lot, but truth is still out there, on life support perhaps, but not yet dead. Brutal, often painful, music is filled with truth. Hopeful, comforting music is filled with truth. I do not understand why those that often wrote the most truth filled music were those that took the needle or the bottle and filled themselves with the lying comfort of addiction. What is the connection between truth and suffering? Why can't the truth found in nail scarred hands be enough to destroy the lie that leaves needle scarred arms?

I do not know.

Musical truth does not always reach up and put its arm around you. Sometimes it takes its hand and slaps you in the face. Looking for the truth about the connection between poverty, oppression, addiction, violence and war--listen to "Copperhead Road." Looking for the truth about the degradation and humiliation of being homeless--listen to "Marie". Looking for the truth about the shallowness of materialism--listen to "Sin City." Looking for the truth about the redemptive bonding of shared grief--listen to "Who Will Sing For Me?" Looking for the truth about looking for strength--listen to "In My Hour of Darkness." Looking for simple truth about our clear moral obligation to care for kids regardless of who they are or where they come from--listen to "Jesus Loves the Little Children." Looking for truth about execution--listen to "Billy Austin." Looking for truth about the eternal nature of family ties--listen to "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?"

Looking for truth about how it is all going to turn out in the end--listen to "I'll Fly Away."

When I am working a bad horse in the round pen I find that the horse often calms down when I sing to it. Working a bad horse in a round pen while softly singing "We Shall Overcome"--now there is a double whammy of truth.

That is Not Natural Horsemanship

I encountered a performer that said that if your horse seeks to bite you while you are saddling him you should give him cookies. The performer went on to say that the problem was that the horse "hates you." And ascribed the action to fear on the horse's part.

This is part of a doctrine. This is part of a philosophy. This is part of an ideology. This is not natural horsemanship. Pat Parelli does a good job of describing natural horsemanship as using body language and forms of communication that a horse instinctively (naturally) understands. That is natural horsemanship. Every training technique that does not fit into that model cannot be called natural horsemanship. Doing so hurts legitimate natural horsemanship.

As soon as I see Comet offer a cookie to a herd member that bites him I will follow suit. Until then I will not pretend to believe that there is any virtue in such a practice.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Back to Square Three

Over the years my Amusement Park, one of our most important training accessories has fallen into disuse.

I am going to start building a new one this week and I expect great things from it.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

To Torture a Horse

Last night I was in a huge antique mall looking for the kind of tools to use in the Gwaltney Frontier Farm. I saw an old snaffle bit labeled as a "training bit." It had two large rings which held the bit. The bit was made from a bicycle chain.

Torture devices like these were created entirely because too few horseman understood that the degree of pressure exerted was much less important than the perfect consistency of the release of the pressure upon compliance, and nearly as important, the speed in which the pressure was released.

That is why it is never a good answer to get a harsher bit for a horse that is not under control. When confronted with such a horse, one must retrain by using a lighter device such as a rope halter or a bosal.

That's right--a bicycle chain.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: We Are Always Here to Help

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: We Are Always Here to Help: With so many mustang owners participating in English show events tremendous confusion has reigned as members of the English Horse Show Wor...

Subtle Sounds of Success

I cannot get the sound out of my mouth that Steve Earle does. I had not been able to figure it out. No matter how correct my pitch is, it does not have the remotest of Steve Earle's sound.

This morning while listening to him do Gram Parsons', "My Uncle", I discovered my problem. He does not merely have a Texas accent. He has a Steve Earle accent. Some of these syllables come out in an accent that I have never encountered. It is a cliche to say that when a performer covers someone else's song he "makes it his own." When Steve Earle sings he seems to make the English language his own.

Riding does not just come in "disciplines" or even "styles". Riding comes in accents. At Mill Swamp my little riders ride with our unique accent.

I like the way our riding and training program is starting to sound.

Quick Tip #3

Calcium deficiency is a real problem for horses. Many other "deficiencies" are merely real opportunities for those that make supplements of little value.

Unless the mineral used has a 2:1 ratio of calcium to phosphorous, the calcium cannot be absorbed. The blood will be robbed of calcium to provide it to the bones and it will not be used to build muscle and other tissues.

There is no need to buy an expensive small bag with a picture of a horse on it. 2:1 cattle mineral works great.

When every other problem for a poor keeping horse has been ruled out one will often find the problem solved by proper calcium supplementation.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Huge Step to Save The Corollas Passes the House of Representatives

"We used to have Arabians but when the kids came along we wanted something safer so we got into mustangs."

This quote is from an offhand comment about how a family in Texas got involved with mustangs. The point here is not to criticize Arabians but to point out that mustangs and other formerly wild horses can often make the most affectionate, trustworthy, and safe horses that can be found.

Being a good herd member is not a theoretical concept for wild horses. It is the key to survival.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Playing For the Most Important Audience

There is an opportunity to learn everywhere for anyone that keeps their eyes open. One can learn a bit about riding by watching Steve Earle on stage. (That's right, Steve Earle the singer/song writer, not some new horse clinician that you have not heard of). When I watch him on stage sometimes (often) it seems like he sees some little itty, bitty audience off to the side somewhere. He looks at them hard. He plays for them hard. He gives them his best notes. The audience of living people there get a great show, but the itty bitty unseen people get his best sounds.

Of course, there is no itty bitty audience there. When he hits his best notes, he play for himself and to himself. All performances of every type are an invitation to others to judge that performance. That is how it is. Period.

But for things that give us, or should give us, pleasure the audience that matters and the judgment that matters must simply be that of ourselves. When we ride we have to impress that little itty bitty audience that is in each of us.

I knew a young rider that was learning at a spectacular rate. She was doing great. Still she was not enjoying herself as much as she deserved because she was too much of a perfectionist. She was putting on a wonderful performance but she feared that it was not perfect enough for the audience.

That is when it becomes imperative to play to the itty bitty audience in your head.

Yesterday I was shocked to encounter riders in an actual fox hunt (fancy suits, english saddles. slick groomed horses, hounds--the real thing) when I was riding in the woods. I was riding Tradewind.

Perhaps there would have been some logic to allow myself to wonder what such people thought to see me in muddy clothes riding a 12.2 Corolla Spanish mustang as they sat immaculately dressed on their 16 hand horses.

But I did not have such a thought.

The itty bitty audience that is in my head thinks that Tradewind is a fine horse and that same audience sort of likes the way I look when I am attired in a manner a bit rufffled.

(This picture is of four of my riders that impress all of their audiences)

No Wall Is Higher, No Barrier Thicker Than a Good Excuse

Too many people love their excuses more than they love truth. The believe to their core excuses like:

I can't speak out. People might think that I am too radical.
But Jesus spoke out.
I can't be honest. People might think I am too abrasive.
But Amos was honest.
I can't take risks. I have a family to think about.
But the Freedom Riders took risks.
I can't get clean. Been on this stuff too long.
But Johnny Cash and Steve Earle got clean.
I can't get on a bad horse. I might get thrown.
But Lido got on bad horses (and he got thrown).
I can't get thrown. I might be afraid to ever get back on.
But Lido got thrown (and he got back on).

Get up. Shut up. Get on. Go on.
Fall off. Get hurt. Get up. Go on.
Get hurt. Get healed. Get ready. Go on.

I can't do it. I am scared.
But Lido was scared and he did it.

Quick Tip #1

I stumble into many things that I am sure are well known by many horse people but simply never reached me. I generally make little mention of them because I have tended to assume that everyone else knew it but me. I am changing that policy and when a light bulb illuminates my mind I will let the little light shine in hopes that it might do someone else some good.

There are many ways to get a horse comfortable with taking a bit for the first time. Some complex, some simple. I feel into this one this week.

Completely desensitize the horse's face and lips by gently every inch of face (but the eyes) with a short crop. Rub the horse's teeth and gums with the crop and when he opens his mouth run the crop over his tongue for a few strokes.

Repeat 642 times.

Friday, February 3, 2012

When A Butter Fly Becomes A Caterpillar

We have complex reactions to aging in my family. My relatives that do not smoke or drink tend to live a very long time. My great uncle only recently started using the ramp instead of the steps to get into church. He is 100 years old. Quite frankly, much of what people consider the effects of aging I simply thought of as being the effects of being a city person. It seems that people who live in town are born weak, raised weak, live weakly, and generally die many years before their death.

By many objective measures I am healthier than I was thirty years ago. Of course, things change. A few years ago I lifted a six month old colt that could not stand and tore my right bicep rather badly. My fore arm filled with blood, leaving it a strange bluish color and, although it was the bicep that was hurt, the fore arm swelled up like Pop Eye. Looking back, I should have gone to the doctor. The muscle grew in, but not correctly. It does not hurt at all, but it is much weaker than my left arm. It tires easily.

I adjust.

I play music better than I ever did. On the other hand, my hearing has severely deteriorated and I cannot remember 12 digit sequences for even a few seconds.

Again, I adjust.

Other changes are more disturbing, and perhaps not age related. I now rarely find interest in Comedy Central, which I once considered to be, along with the History Channel, solid proof of the goodness of God. I can tolerate frivolous songs, but I no longer enjoy them. I find entertainment to be generally tedious and prefer being educated to being entertained.

Two days ago I had a chance to step back into the past and it was very disturbing. I obtained a dvd of a presentation that I made about five years ago to an assembly of prosecutors. It was a training seminar on using prey animal body language and natural horsemanship principles to more effectively communicate with child witnesses who had been molested and adults with mental retardation that were similarly victimized. The presentation lasted over an hour and was one of the better public statements that I have ever made.

In all candor, the audience was utterly mesmerized and the electricity in the room was palpable. Since I was a teenager I had been been able to electrify an audience with very little effort or preparation. Highly ironic, because there are few people out there worse at making small talk or conversing one one one with a stranger than am I.

That is gone. There is no more electricity when I speak. My battery is not charged--doubt if it ever will be fully charged again.

I regret that. However, horses still enjoy communicating with me. Not a step has been lost there.

That makes up for everything else.

Which brings us around to the final point. When things are not smooth, forget glasses. Look at your horse. Is he half empty or half full?

Either way, feed him, saddle up and ride on.

The Destination

Lately we have had an explosion in the number of page views for this blog. The blog has a central purpose with sub themes that consistently crop up. The primary focus is to promote efforts to prevent the extinction of the wild Colonial Spanish mustangs of Corolla.

Associated with that purpose is the effort to demonstrate that a different kind of education in horsemanship is not only feasible, but practical. Here is the bottom line.

1. We have too many horses in this nation that need homes.
2. Everyone, but especially kids, can benefit tremendously from developing healthy relationships with horses.
3. The central road block to getting those horses together with those kids is the established horse world's culture of competition, greed, and lack of regard for the innate value of every horse.
4. The established horse world has artificially set the cost of horse ownership beyond the reach of many working class families.
5. Those costs can be radically reduced and horses can have healthier, happier lives by the application of natural horsemanship, natural horse care, and natural hoof. care.
6. The established horse world brings nothing to the table to benefit either the horses or the kids that need them in their lives.
7. Children can learn to train colts and wild horses today.
8. In every horse culture prior to the 20th century children did train colts and wild horses.
9. We teach kids and novices to train and ride wild horses, including stallions and colts and then we have actual fun with the horses.
10. There is no magic in anything that we do and anyone that cares about kids and horses and is willing to work hard to understand natural horsemanship, natural horse care and natural hoof care can run a program like ours.

So much work goes into this blog so readers can understand that they can develop programs like ours. More happy kids training and riding more healthy and happy horses.

That is the destination.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sit Up and Pay Attention Please, I Need a Hand With This

So often people that cannot participate directly in the off site breeding program ask what they can do to help otherwise. Of course one can, and should donate the the Corolla wild Horse Fund.

I have another very important thing that I need some help with now. History buffs, computer whizzes, patriotic North Carolinians come on and hop on this.

Betsy Dowdy rode her Corolla mare 52 miles overnight to warn the Carolina Militia that Lord Dunmore was poised to invade North Carolina during the Revolution. Because of the guts of this teenage girl, Dunmore was routed and Carolina spared British pillage.

I need to know her exact route or at least I need a colonial map from that time period for Northeastern North Carolina. I will be delighted if anyone can find this.



Our program has succeeded entirely because of the way that the families of so many riders over the years have thrown themselves into everything that we have done. Those hard working families are being joined by a new crop of riders and their families that are coming out of the wood work everywhere. We have more riders than we have ever had and we have people that want to just work with us to be part of the effort.

This is one of the most gratifying parts of what happens at our horse lot. Participants have a strong sense of ownership in everything that we do. It was a telling moment a few years ago when KC made the off hand comment that "we" have three Shacklefords at the horse lot. He did not say "Steve" has three Shacklefords. He said "we."

I am not being modest when I say that I could not keep this program growing and succeeding. I am not being unrealistic when I say that what "we" can achieve is nearly limitless.

This colt is Legacy, the son of Tradewind and a modern Appaloosa mare. He belongs to Samantha but it will be great fun this summer when "we" train him.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Bare Necessities


There are some riding and training programs out there that do not even have a front porch on their tack sheds. One wonders where such people play their fiddles and banjos in nice weather.
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