Sunday, June 24, 2012

I'm Back

I was sick enough so that Thursday I decided that I would postpone construction of the first buildings for the Gwaltney Frontier Farm. I was sick enough so that I cancelled riding for two weeks. I was sick enough to go to the doctor. I was sicker than I have ever been.

Now I am well. I have lost a lot of stamina and it will likely take a week or two before I am back to where I was a year ago. I left the doctor's office Friday and drove directly to the lumber yard to get wood to begin the smokehouse.

Yesterday we rode. I was in the saddle for over six hours. Charlotte had six beautiful little pigs. Boys Home will be coming down along with a Covington 4-H group to begin construction on the Frontier Farm. Beth has lost over 50 pounds. I have a bouzouki that I have figured out how to play and I have begun a new creative endeavor. I have a new granddaughter. My little riders sing on key and Colton will be a much better musician than I ever will be. Emily has contagious happiness.

I'm back. Just in time--horses to train, buildings to build, programs to develop, music that needs playing, raw oysters that need eating.

Life that needs living.

(A shot of little riders, and Daddy, Bill and Gerald playing music at a local nursing home this week)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Least Now It Has a Lable

It is not accurate to say that I have been too sick to write lately. It is accurate to say that I have been too sick to write anything worth reading lately. Turns out that this unusual collection of symptoms that I have had seem to be generated by Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

This is not a sickness that I would have expected to pick up. The name alone does not fit--sounds like a John Denver kind of sickness. I feel more deserving of something like Texas Tick Fever--evocative of Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle or even Guy Clarke.

Bottom line is that I am not going to die but I expect to be living in slow motion for bit.

The mind plays a huge part in keeping a body pumped up and ready to fight germs and my mind has been getting its guts kicked out lately. Baby murder, parents murder, rape, molestation-- a buffet of suffering to prosecute. Makes your brain tired. Such matters would be so much easier if I was just better at hating. If all I had to do was get up in the morning and go prosecute people that I hate, my life would take on a pleasurable tint. But I burned out my hater too long ago. They don't make replacement models that fit the person that I have become. I would rather heal than hate. Don't always have the power to do the first and don't have the ability the do the last.

So I will pick up a guitar, feed a hog, ride a horse, speak with authority to a goat and with sympathy to a chicken, and I will make a kid smile.

Then I will do it again tomorrow.

Poor germs. They do not have a chance when faced with a regimen like that.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Having A Fever Clears the Mind For Serious Thinking

Hate to see any horse described as a "prospect." Horses are not "will be." Horses are not "was". Horses merely "are." Of the myriad of lessons that one can learn from horses perhaps no lesson is more important than to live in the moment.

I have been ill and very weak lately. I expect to be well soon, but I do not expect to be strong. Since I was old enough to give it a thought I have always taken comfort in knowing that unless I was in a room full of college athletes I was likely the one of the strongest people in the room. At age five I could walk around with an 85 pound anvil in my hands. When I was fourteen years old I bench pressed 250 pounds. I have not been a violent person since I was a kid playing ball. Although I do not recall striking anyone in anger in over thirty years it was always a great comfort to me to know that if things really went bad at the end of a brawl I would likely be the one standing up.

A few years ago I was lifting a weanling up that could not get to his feet on his own. A terrible jolt went through my arm. My right bicep tore long and deep. I should have gone to the doctor for that one. Now there is just a big dimple where the muscle used to be. It does not hurt but it is weak.

But that only explains the arm. The rest of me is weak also. It is weak for a simple, permanent biological reason--I am 52 years old. Maybe strong for a 52 year old, but that is still weak.

The good news is that it does not matter. I feel sorry for those that worry so much about aging--the botox, the hair dye, the facelifts--the waste of it all.

For many fear of aging is really simply fear of death. I have an unusual relationship with death. When I was 19 I was misdiagnosed with Lou Gerhig's disease and given a rather short life expectancy. It took a while before that misdiagnosis was cleared up--a few odd weeks. On the other hand, men in my family that do not drink or smoke tend to live very long lives and are often doing right well at age 90. But Lido was 17 and as strong and healthy as a teen could be when he died. The correlation of age and death does not come naturally to me.

This unusual collection of experiences has given me a different perspective on aging and what it means to be "old." It irritates me when people ask me how old a given horse is. The problem with the question is the inherent assumption that the answer matters. Horses do not have regular "ages." Horse's come in three ages--too young to ride, too old to ride, too wonderful to leave in the pasture without riding.

Comet is likely in his mid teens. If my life depended on getting 100 miles in rough terrain, I would pick Comet over many younger, better conditioned, more athletic horses that I have.

You see, Comet is old enough. He is old enough to know that what ever spooked him is not dangerous enough to run us into something that really is dangerous. He is old enough to know that he would be best off if he looked before he put his foot down if he did not know what was on the other side of the log. He is old enough to know that if I say that it is ok to cross that water we can do it.

I am too old to be strong. I am old enough to have a slew of young people that would love to tote whatever it is that I need toting. I am old enough to know what will merely be difficult to tote and what will hurt me if I try to tote it.

In short, Comet and I are at just the perfect age.

We are both "now years old."

(Here is a shot of Bonnie Gruenberg and two fillies that we produced in the offsite breeding program. Bonnie is the perfect age to ride a wild Corolla stallion through pitch darkness at a very brisk pace. That is not a bad age to be)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: Fighting Nature is Rarely Good Strategy

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: Fighting Nature is Rarely Good Strategy: Horses evolved to survive nature's rhythms. When we force them to live counter to that evolution their health pays for it. Just because w...

No Gold In Them Thar Hills, but Enough Copper to Keep You Going

I received an inquiry from someone whose view of the horse/human relationship is entirely in line with mine. It was the kind of inquiry that I love to receive. It was not about why we have our program but how we have our program.

In short can one make any money off of doing what we do? The short answer is --yes. I believe that getting more kids and novices on horses is one of the most valuable services that one can provide to one's community. I believe that the greatest impediment to the provision of that service is that the established horse world is so adamantly opposed to that goal. They artificially send the cost of horse care through the roof by insisting on "necessities" that not only are not needed but are very detrimental to the health and safety of horses. Natural horse care, natural horsemanship, and natural hoof care are the keys to knocking these barriers to horse ownership down.

I was asked the nuts and bolts of the financing of what I do with our program. First of all, I am not a non profit. After years of very hard work we now make a profit. I could make much more of a profit if I had just a touch of Ebenezer Scrooge in me. I have never turned away a kid because they could not afford to pay. I do not charge parents to ride with kids because I think that it is great for families to learn together. I give too much of a break on fees for siblings. I do not charge for any of our extra programs, (music, horse training, etc).

Our fee structure is $160.00 per month for a single student. That student and the students parents can ride as often as possible at no extra charge. There are discounts for siblings. Many of my riders obtain a young horse from me and we train the horse together. Those riders are not charged any fee for riding lessons. They simply pay the board fee for the horse. My board fee includes hay, worming, provision of medical care as needed (not vet bills. I mean things like if a horse needs to have a wound cleansed daily for several weeks and the owner lives too far away to come out daily. I used to provide free hoof trimming but I am getting too old to trim all of these hooves and it is important to me that as many of my students as possible learn to provide professional quality hoof care. (A kid that understands natural horsemanship and can gently trim very rough horses can always make enough money as they get older to cover the cost of owning a horse. I trimmed professionally on a small level for 30 years. Eventually it got so that nearly all of the horses that I did for outsiders were those that know one else would trim. They were too rough for anyone else to do. I stopped doing outside trimming about five years ago.)

Cost containment is the key to making such an operation viable. Natural horse care is not only the healthiest option, it is the most affordable option. I nearly never hire anyone to do any work at the horse lot. What I cannot do myself my riders and their families volunteer to do. This is a very important aspect of how we do things. My riders feel a strong sense of ownership in everything that we do. It is wonderful when kids say "We have several Corolla stallions", instead of saying "Steve has several Corolla stallions."

My three highest costs are hay (they eat nearly 10,000 pounds a week), insurance, and wormer.

I have no doubt that a good manager could take our model and make it so that an operator could earn a sufficient living doing what we do.

I recognize that I have two enormous advantages over many others that might consider a program like ours. I started out with a significant of amount of land from my family at no cost. Secondly, I do not mind working around the clock because I have absolutely no interest in vacations, trips, going to the movies, shopping, etc. I could function quite well living the remainder of my life within 10 miles of the horse lot 24/7. I dine quite happily on a big hunk of cheese and some ice water. A half of a jar of peanut butter makes a fine supper for me. I could be referred to as low maintenance. The shirt that I am wearing at the moment was purchased in the early nineties.

I have one other advantage. I believe in this. Saving the Corollas is only one of the most important things in my life. Saving kids is the most important thing in my life.

So, for the person that asked me--this is how we do it.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

And Some of Them Don't Look Bad In Pictures

Jacob and Jordan have always done great job at getting their AIHR and HOA horses out in front of the public. Here they are on a big regional trail ride on the eastern shore.

The horses love the ocean and the kids do not mind it either. Jacob is on Uncle Harley, a former HOA National Pleasure Trail Horse of the Year, who was bred by Tom Norush. Jordan is riding her great Paint mare, Mia, that she and I got going solid under saddle. Both Jacob and Jordan are solid horse trainers who have helped me conduct training clinics in three states.

They have both ridden fifty miles in a day on several occasions. Jacob is not old enough to drive and Jordan could order off of the children's menu but a short while ago.

They do a great job of showing what these horses can do.

They do a great job of showing what kids can do.

Just Another Monday Night At The Tack Shed

(Shelly, one of my adult riders and a very important part of our program wrote this post)

Steve has a new instrument, a Bouzouki. He explained that its heritage is Greek,
but Irish folk musicians started playing it in 1967. If you have heard any Irish music lately, you might recognize the sound. It is lovely. Steve's ability to play so many instruments is remarkable: the dulcimer, guitar, the banjo (regular and 3 strings), dobro, mandolin, auto harp and harmonica.

After supper this evening, Samantha and I headed out to Moonlight Road for Steve's music program practice. On the way, we saw many tree leaves flipped over showing their grey-green-white bellies. The sky was starting to purple up. A sure sign rain was coming.

Nelson, Steve's daddy, figures that he knows over 400 old time songs. He plays guitar. He can yodel, too. Gerald, Steve's 2nd or 3rd cousin, joins in on fiddle. Another cousin, JL, plays guitar. When I first met JL, I thought he had introduced himself as "gel". His rural Virginia accent is solid.

Everyone was comfortably assembled on the porch of the tack shed. Steve led the men and his little riders through the regular routine: I'll Fly Away, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Keep on the Sunny Side and few others. The rain began and pattered around us.

As the music continued, we kept an eye on the bigger weather coming across the pastures. A few bolts of lightening, some thunder claps and a brief spell of good rain gave way to a cool breeze. The little storm also left a brilliant double rainbow in its wake. The sun streaked clouds painted the evening sky. The little riders, now distracted by the storm, had scattered out to explore and play.

The men played a few more songs, and then the sound of Gerald's violin rang up like a sweet voice over the harmony of strings as they began Amazing Grace. I had never heard them play it before, and it sounded so pretty. It was a good night at Mill Swamp Indian Horses. It was perfect.

Monday, June 4, 2012

And My Legs Were Covered in Hair

In recent weeks I have made nearly no posts on the blog and those that are posted do not have the same feel that past posts have had. I am strangely, inexplicably tired. Lately I find it very hard to walk fifty yards with a fifty pound bag of mineral on my shoulder. If things break right I am going to go to the doctor this week.

Of course I have a lot of reasons to be tired. Taking care of the horses would be a full time job but for the fact that I already have one. I prosecute all crimes against kids, by kids, and within families. I also handle all crimes of sexual assault and crimes in which the victims have mental retardation. The last six months have been intense. Murder of a baby, murder of a father and step mother, bank robbery--these crimes make one tired from working. The molestation cases are exhausting in their essence. They cause one to feel a very strong need to go directly to bed after work. Sometimes just feeding up at night seems to demand more energy than I can muster.

I have thought a lot about potential causes and solutions but nothing solid came to mind until this weekend. As I was getting dressed I noticed that there was hair on my legs.

When one rides as much as I have for years past hair is not able to grow a midst the friction of jeans and boots. I have been riding so little and so slowly with novices that that friction is gone.

My lack of energy has had collateral effects. Tradewind has grown dangerously obese. He is insulin resistant and can eat nothing but hay, no grass at all. He needs heavy riding to maintain his health.

So, apparently, do I. Yesterday I had a good hour of good movement on Tradewind. Last night I slept sounder than I have in months. This morning I feel less muscle pain than I have in months.

If everything else works on schedule this morning he and I will hit the woods hard again before court. I doubt that a doctor will be able to give me a shot that will fix me up, but I strongly suspect that if Tradewind gets this hair off of my legs I will feel like moving again.