Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I Am Not To Old To Appreciate Beauty, Just Too Old To SurrenderTo It

Were I forced to choose I think that I would have to say that Holland is my favorite horse. Ta Sunka Witco is a great horse and he is beautiful. Tradewind has more heart than any horse that I have ridden and he is beautiful. Manteo is a perfect example of a Colonial Spanish stallion and he is beautiful. He is so pure that he not only speaks Spanish, he also reads it. Joey is a Choctaw who impreses me more dailey.

Holland was born wild on Shackleford Island. His head is big, coarse and crude. He does not have Manteo's look of nobility. I strongly suspect that that his mother and most of the other members of his herd called him "Bubba". Even a quick glance at his eye makes it obvious that he is not contemplating deep philosophical issues and is more likely trying to remember where he left his RC Cola and his Moon Pie.

But when I ask him to go, he goes. Where I ask him to go, he goes. When we get to the briers, he goes. When we reach deep water, he goes. As far as I ask him to go, he goes. As smoothly as I asked him to go, he goes. With the ground frozen rock hard, he goes. With the ground parched and baked rock hard, he goes. With the sun glaring down on us, he goes and in the pitch darkness of the night, he goes.

And with all of that do you still think that I should care that he does not look 'refined'?

Oh, go on.
               (Holland getting ready at 3:00 am for the first leg of our 109 Mile Ride on March 23.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Spanish Mustang Of The Southeast

When we think mustang we think Old West. Few people know that some of the best blooded Colonial Spanish horses that one will find have roots east of the Mississippi. The wild horses of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the Choctaws, the Cracker Horse, and the Marsh Tackys all trace their lineage back to what was once the only horse in the southeast--the horses of the Spanish colonies.

I have never ridden a Florida Cracker and have only seen one once. My Marsh Tacky is even gentler and easier to train than my Corollas. My Choctaws have even more endurance than my Shacklefords. All are smooth gaited. All are strong. All have great hooves.

The picture above is of two stallions, Manteo born wild on Corolla and Wanchese, born wild on Shackleford. They are two of our foundation stallions for the offsite breeding program. This picture was taken on about the 18th mile of a nearly all cantering ride. Those unfamiliar with Colonial Spanish mustangs would think it impossible for horses of that size to run with such ease on such a ride with adult riders.

Yes, they are very special horses and we cannot let them go extinct.

Judging Books By Their Covers

Little girl looked shocked when she heard that I was a lawyer. I asked her what she thought I looked like.

She said a gold miner.

Monday, September 22, 2014

To Give A Kid A Life

There is a constant struggle to stave off the extinction of the first horses of America  It is causing many who care about the preservation of the Colonial Spanish mustang to question the future of breeding these horses.

Many point out that breeding the horses is only part of the job. They stress that it is equally important to train the horses and to offer fully trained or well started horses to the market place. I agree, but even this does not go far enough to insure the preservation of these horses.

We must create horses and we must train them. We also must create riders and we must train them. Without a new generation of riders there is no hope for the horses. It is not brain surgery. If you understand horses and you care about kids, you can teach kids to ride.

The mustang's competition is not the Quarter Horse or the Arabian. It is the X box and the Iphone.

The best way to save the lives of the horses is to give a kid a life.

Long Distance Relationships

It takes a lot of work for both horse and rider to become part of a team that can cover significant ground. Saturday Jen and KC rode a string of horses on stretches of 10-15 miles until they reached their 80th mile for the day around 2:00 am. Most of the mileage was cantering. Until one has cantered 50 or 60 miles in a day one cannot understand the physical strain it puts on the body. Until one has ridden many hours in total darkness one cannot understand the importance of having a relationship of absolute trust in one's horse.

In this picture Jen is riding Tradewind, a formerly wild Corolla stallion who was the HOA National Pleasure Trail Horse of The Year for 2011. KC is on Manteo, another formerly wild Corolla stallion. Both of these stallions have produced beautiful offspring that are now at Boy's Home in Covington Virginia where they will be part of insuring the survival of this nearly extinct breed.

If you want to be part of the breeding program that is working to save this incredible strain of Colonial Spanish horse let us know. We will have several foals available net summer.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

From Kelly's Facebook Post from a Short While Ago

Kelly is thinking out loud on Facebook this morning and they are some good thoughts. Read below what she has just posted.


 This past Friday and Saturday 3 of our older teens/young adults began their training for endurance riding. Their goal is to ultimately do 200 miles in 48 hours or less and they will do it by this Spring. I am letting them know that I have an idea for doing 500 miles during Spring Break - that would be 500 miles in 6 days. The kind of riding they did today would be the beginning of training for such an event. The training of the riders, the training of the ground crew, and the training of the horses. And their are no better endurance horses than the Spanish Mustang, and in my experience specifically the Corolla and Choctaw strains. And no better riders at Mill Swamp than Lydia, KC and Jenn and Emily --- under the age of 30.

There is much we (and by we I mean riders and ground crew) need to learn and much of that learning will come from practice, and trial and error. This past Friday and Saturday we had an excellent beginning with Jennifer Michelle Hill, Kaleb, and Lydia, We even had additional riding support from Emily and her brother, and Ride Leader Terry. The ride hit some glitches but good leadership, sensible thinking, and a bit of grit and grace re-imagined the ride and that is what it takes to achieve goals of this sort. This winter we will practice doing 20-30 mile rides at night. Possibly being able to do a 50 mile ride from sundown to sunrise - in order to accommodate hunting season. Cold but doable. Beginning next year we will add another group of riders - these a bit younger to our endurance ride training - and next fall I hope to have some of them competing in endurance rides in Va.

I believe the more we can showcase what the Corollas are capable of, the better the chance we will have in drawing attention to them in the bigger horse world. This will a piece of the puzzle in helping to preserve and protect them. Which is part one of the mission of Gwaltney Frontier Farm non profit.

These kinds of rides also will provide a kind of rite of passage for some of these kids and older teens. Our culture sorely lacks healthy rites of passage - study upon study proves that healthy rites of passage, done by adults for the kids, and not the kids doing it for each other, actually makes the transition to adulthood healthier and ultimately more grounded, secure, and successful than not having them. Without them kids create their own that are often, though not always, more than a little self destructive. And there is part two of the mission of Gwaltney Frontier Farm -- improving the lives of youth.

So to all of my ground crew & support staff who were so invaluable this weekend… get ready for a bit more amping up. And to the younger kids who helped out so tremendously, you are preparing yourselves to step into the roll of endurance rider as you learn the process from the 'ground up'.

I am really looking forward to this winter at the 'Swamp' in a whole new way.

Grown People...

...are worth keeping around. When I began teaching riding and natural horsemanship I was very concerned that I would not be able to teach kids to ride with confidence and a feeling of freedom. I knew that I could not use the simple motivating techniques that worked so well on little boys in the 1960's. (e.g. "Shut up whining, wipe that blood off your face, and get back on the horse. Are you going to be just laying on the ground whining when the Viet Cong are shooting at you?")

I was absolutely certain that I could not teach adults to ride. I did not even have a guess as to how to motivate adults. Slowly a few adults became part of the program. Many of them quickly came to understand the importance of what goes on at the horse lot. Many did much more than ride. They volunteered, not just for the occasional helping out--but more like an unpaid, part time job. They put hours into what we do.

I am not going to list them individually along with their contributions to the work of running this program. First of all, I don't think any of them are looking for recognition, and secondly, because so many people do so much that it is inevitable that I would miss someone.

The physical work that is volunteered is so very important. The mental and emotional commitment is equally important. Yesterday I lead a small group of kids on a woods ride. They had limited riding experience. I have done this many times in the past but never once without my stomach being tied in an absolute knot. Insuring the safety of the kids in such a situation is nerve wracking. It has never been an issue of feeling that I had to be the boss and be in control of everything. It was the very simple and accurate perception that I was responsible for the safety of everyone at the horse lot, all of the time that chewed me up.

But not yesterday. I had the help of several adults both in getting things organized and in going on the ride. I was as relaxed as I have ever been on a ride. Two of my adult riders joined in and we all had a great time.

We achieved maximum growth in our program a few years ago. The primary limiting factor was not money or even the extreme amount of physical work that I had to do to keep things running. The problem was that I could only be in so many places at once. I was leading and supervising all that I could do.

And now we are a non profit organization and I have dedicated adults and young people whose experience and judgement I can count on assisting in just about everything we do.  I do not have to be everywhere at once. You cannot imagine what this means to the program and to me.

Yesterday, while awaiting the group of kids that I was going to take in the woods, I fell asleep by the round pen and took a little nap.

Did you hear me?

 I went to sleep.

 Not because I was exhausted, but because I was relaxed.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Thank You Diane W.

Years go I wrote something decrying the pathetic state of American lyrical composition. Diane W., who I knew to have a clear analytical mind, sent me note that perhaps there were great lyrics being written but that I would need to hunt out those writers.

Had the suggestion come from anywhere else I would have dismissed it out of hand. But A.P. Carter was not re-discovered by America until about three years after his death. Maybe there were other great ones out there now.

So the search began. I found Gram Parsons, Guy Clarke, Towns Van Zandt...and I found Steve Earle. I think that he is America's greatest living song writer. Others point to Bob Dylan but I prefer quality over quantity.

I find Steve Earle to be even more compelling than his mentor Townes Van Zandt.

And Thursday night he was in Virginia Beach and I was in the audience. And after the show I talked to him. I told him about my little riders that are learning to play music. I told him that I teach them Carter Family, Woody Guthrie and Steve Earle songs. He was amused when I told him about the audience's reaction when innocent looking, sweet looking little Jessie sang about Burning the Walmart Down. I told him that Ashley said to let him know that she thought his version of Taney Town was much better than mine. He said that he was sure that my version sounded just fine.

To my surprise I was unusually comfortable talking to him. No elevated pulse, shortness of breath, just like sitting around the tack shed talking for a moment or two. (Unlike when I first entered the Carter Family museum and spoke with A.p. and Sara's daughter Jeanette.)

Still this was one of high points of my life.

And it would not have occurred but for Diane W. taking a moment to send me a note several years ago.

Thank you.

(This photo is from a Huffington Post story.)

"You Can't Please Everyone.... got to please yourself." (Joe South, Garden Party).

Whether you are your harshest critic or or not, you are your only critic that matters. There are only a smattering of people who understand why I do some of the things that I do. That does not matter. There lives would not be any better for the understanding and mine is none the worst for their lack of understanding.

I do not understand the cliche that many young people cut themselves so they "can feel something." Perhaps I should understand the phrase. I push myself just so I can feel something.

When I was 19 I was misdiagnosed with Lou Gerhig's disease and told to expect death to come just around the corner. (It is not that I somehow beat that horrible disease--the diagnosis was incorrect). When was 28 the orthopedic surgeon told me that my spine had arthritic changes that made it appear as the back of a man thirty years older. He told me to quit playing soft ball. Said that my body could not handle it.

Soft ball--not even thirty years old--"could not handle it."

After a year or two I started walking. Then I progressed to walking while pumping hand weights. My first effort involved 1 pound weights in each hand. I walked three tenths of a mile and, in complete exhaustion, I returned to read more about this idea of walking with weights because I was certain I must have misunderstood how this was to be done.

With in a year I was walking ten miles every day while curling a ten pound barbell in each hand.

In ten years I was taking alternating walks of forty yards with nothing in my hands and forty yards of curling 50 pound weights in each hand. At the time I was in my mid forties.

About five years ago I came to realize that if I was to continue to respect myself I had to ride 100 miles in less than 24 hours. This does not make sense to most people. That does not matter. If everyone in the world understood that would not matter either.

The only critic who I seek to impress lives in my head.

Worst of all, several failed efforts to complete a 100 mile ride had me inclined to believe that I could not do so. In March, with the support of a dedicated contingent of my riders Terry and I rode 109 miles in seventeen hours.

I was 54 years old and she was 55 years old.

That achievement gave me enough self respect to hold me for a few years.

Yesterday morning three young people that I think the world of made their first effort at riding 200 miles less than 48 hours. They set out at 3:00 am. With Kelly's help they had built a solid plan and horse list to use for the ride. They completed several circuits in good time.

But then the unexpected, unplanned for, and utterly out of the blue hit them. One of the riders became ill. (One simply cannot ride long and hard while sick. I once set out to do a 100 mile ride while in the early stages of the flu. After 69 miles I could not ride another step.)

They had no choice but to postpone the achieving of this goal.

No, they did not quit. They rescheduled. They did what was prudent.

They will knock off two hundred miles in 48 hours in a few months. They will have to wait until deer season is over so we will have the woods to ourselves.

Not failure just postponed success.

A silly person asked me if I was disappointed in them for not completing the 200 mile ride. I am too busy being proud of them for starting a 200 mile ride.

If one could assemble every rider in the nation who set out on a two hundred mile ride yesterday in one spot--they would all fit comfortably in my truck.

I am proud of each of them.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

From An Idea To A New Reality

(I found this old post from 2010. It was the first time that I had written about what I would like to see happen with the horse lot. It's happening now. The only difference is that it is in pasture #2 instead of #1 as I had originally envisioned it. Now for another idea--we develop a play about Betsy Dowdy's ride to save Carolina from the British and give out door performances at night next summer using our settler's home and out buildings as the stage. )

The old post is set out below.

If we are serious about teaching the history of the Spanish horse in early Colonial America we need to include not only the western story, but also the story of the Spanish horse in the southeast. Few people consider the fact that there was a time when the frontier of settlement was east of Richmond, Virginia. Even fewer realize that as early as 1621 feral horse bands were causing crop damage in eastern Virginia.

One of the reason that "history" is not relevant to many of us is that "history" has, all too often, been taught as simply the story of how rich folks used to live. Few of us are rich and in the past an infinitesimally smaller percentage were rich.

The story of the common settler (with uncommon courage)and his ordinary Spanish horse (with extraordinary ability) is rarely told.

Jes' S'pose...There was an outdoor living history museum with an accurate depiction of such a settlers' simple plank cabin, tobacco patch, gardens, goat,chicken, and pig pens, and his beautiful little Spanish horse, say from about the time of 1674. Jes' s'pose that that living history museum featured authentic, nearly extinct breeds of early colonial livestock. Jes' s'pose that that living history museum also served as a center to breed and promote all of these endangered heritage breeds of livestock.

Jes' S'pose we built it in pasture number 1.
Posted by Steve Edwards
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Priscilla said...

May 20, 2010 at 12:47 PM
Adam Lathan Edwards said...

So many of the heritage farms and museums host modern cattle and poultry etc. wouldnt it be great.....for the kids to get excited and the adults to learn a little too?
May 20, 2010 at 7:43 PM
DianneW said...

That would be extremely wonderful. Education (history, social science, genetics, ...) recreation, multiple breed preservation all in one spot. I really hope that you can pull it off. Have you considered include rare plant species preservation? Heirloom varieties would be perfect for the garden and orchard. Maybe some landrace agricultural plots, too.
May 25, 2010 at 2:02 AM
Duane said...

Great ideas Steve!!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What Hand Woven Means

This was a wonderful gift I received today. It is my first mohair girth. It is also the first girth that Pam, one of our adult riders, made. Her husband, Dan, made her a loom and in short order she produced a girth.

She did it all by hand, by herself.

Several months ago Lloyd plaited me a colorful quirt and rigged my bridle with long slobber straps. I am rather sentimental about such things.

Things like this are part of what makes it worth it to be a part of this program.

Bare Feet, Hard Riding and Conditioning

Of course, the best exercise to prepare one for hard riding is to ride hard. However, barefoot running does more to strengthen a rider's ankles and develop endurance in the quadriceps than any aerobic exercise that I know of.

At the same time it jars the knee less than running with tennis shoes. Perhaps it is not as important for kids, but if a rider over forty wants to stay in the saddle consistently on 50 mile rides conditioned legs matter. Conditioned abdominal and back muscles matter too.

Tombstone Religion

We practice natural horsemanship not merely to create better horses, but to become better people. It must be that way. A practitioner of natural horsemanship who is not becoming a better person most assuredly is not creating better horses.

One of my majors at William and Mary was Religion. If memory serves I was an honors graduate. My wife was also a religion major at William and Mary. I taught the teen Sunday School class at my church for over 25 years. Daddy teaches Sunday school. Grandma taught Sunday School. Between the three of us I suspect that we taught Sunday School over 100 years.

I have never felt a need to tell others what they must believe. I simply try to live the way that I understand God wants me to live. How one lives is the most important sermon one will ever preach.

In fact, it is the only one that matters.

Several years ago I came to realize how similar theologians are to dressage instructors. Both take something pure and simple and turn it into complex set of twisted rules. Neither leads one to become a better person but each convinces their adherents that they are so very superior to those who do not seek their knowledge and follow their rules.

I was very excited when wrist band theology began to take hold among young people. That little piece of rubber asks what to me is the central question of Christian life--"What would Jesus do?" In fact, it has become the only theological question that I ask myself.

We have sufficient evidence of Jesus most important sermon, how he lived his life, to be able to answer those questions. But from the beginning of Church history theologians have failed to do so. It seems that Jesus was just too simple, his rules not numerous or stringent enough, his lack of zeal to punish those not adhering to doctrine and his total lack of interest in building up a sufficient store of wealth in his church seems to have left so many with a need to tidy up the mess Jesus made with his preaching and fill in all the blanks that Jesus left open.

It seems that they thought Jesus was likely doing his best but just needed their help to set the record straight. So new belief systems were built pulling a bit here from Greek and Roman religion and philosophy and a bit there to placate political and religious powers of the time.

In fact, all that one needed to do to advance such beliefs was to ignore or explain away what Jesus did in his life. The Church became very good at doing that. Its leaders took obscure passages from other texts to define Christianity. The life of the man who preached love and compassion had to be glossed over by those who sought to amass wealth and power.

Beside my home is a small country church and a cemetery. The tombstones may have a word or two on them, perhaps a line of scripture or an inspiring word of poetry, but they all have one thing in common--a date of birth and a date of death. And that is exactly what too many theologians and religious leaders have done with the life of Jesus.

A Christian is taught about Jesus birth and his death, just like what is on the tombstones, but all that stuff about caring for the poor, being selfless, exhibiting perfect generosity, refusing to judge others, refraining from violence, and identifying the poor and the powerless as God's people had to be ignored or explained away.

There simply is no money to be made off of those teachings.

I cannot imagine that Jesus would be able to sit comfortably in the pews of many modern churches. I expect that his eyes would dart around the sanctuary, looking for tables to overturn.

I have been given the gift of horses that wipe tears from the faces of little ones, bring smiles to the faces of older ones and bring peace to the minds of all of us who suffer in our own way. I believe that Jesus would enjoy himself in our horse lot--plenty of kids that that he could suffer to come unto Him.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Our Three Choctaw Horses

One is trained to suit me. One is 80% trained. One is still an unknown quantity but I bet he will be easier than many have thought.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Wish Fulfilled

Things do not always come along the way one expects. Last week I was lamenting the shriveling of my arms and looking forward to surgery that would make me able to lift heavy things again.

Three hours ago I was stung by a ground bee on my left bicep.

Seems to be filling out right nicely now.

An answered prayer.

Two From The Original Red Feather

The big stallion, Stitch, is a pure Corolla born and bred domestically to a mother who was also born domestically. The smaller horse is my Red Feather, the most athletic horse with whom I have ever shared a round pen, who was born and bred wild and lived wild until adulthood. They are half brothers.

Diet is part of the difference, but only part. My Red Feather produced a filly who grew up to be at least as tall, and maybe taller, than Stitch.

Stitch is highly impressive and he also just happens to be big. I hope to raise many foals off of him because he is highly impressive and not a single one because he is big. Dr. Sponenberg has pointed out that selecting Spanish mustangs for breeding based on size produces large horses who do not carry as much Colonial Spanish type in their bodies.

We cannot risk loosing everything that is special in these horses simply to make them more acceptable in the eyes of modern horse people.

Bonnie Gruenberg's great book, "The Wild Horse Enigma" (which I was asked to proof) will go to the publisher soon. It will be the primary text on the wild horses of the east coast for the next fifty years. She has found several references in old writings to there being two types of Banker horses in the 1800's. (The Corollas make up one of only two remaining wild herds of the Colonial Spanish horse of the Outer Banks of North Carolina known as "Bankers.") Those references, whether correct or not, refer to the separate types as "Seminole Ponies" and "Chickasaw Ponies".

The Chicasaws were described as larger and easier to handle and the Seminoles were smaller, rough ponies. The explanation being that the poor whites who lived on the Outer Banks traded in the "Chickasaws" (likely of the same root stock of the Cherokee and Choctaw strains) prior to the ethnic cleansing that forced those tribes across the Mississippi. I cannot find a historical hypothesis that makes sense that would have brought a new influx of Florida ponies to the Outer Banks and I strongly suspect that the labeling of these type as "Seminoles" resulted from them simply looking identical to the horses of the Seminoles. Those horses would have been familiar to men of the Outer Banks who fought in the Seminole war.

I am not aware of any genetic proof of  the two source theory. However, my pasture contains Swimmer, a Corolla mare whose type is indistinguishable from a Choctaw horse and many of the smaller Corollas like my Red Feather.  The theory makes sense. It is based on historical anecdotal information it cannot be ignored simply because years of watching CSI on tv has caused us to believe that there is no truth outside of a laboratory analysis.

In either event, the Chickasaw ponies and the Seminole ponies were both Spanish horses. Interestingly enough, on Shackleford Island where the only other herd of wild Banker horses live I have seen absolutely no evidence of a separate, taller Choctaw type, but there is evidence of a heavier, less refined influence

All of these Colonial Spanish types share the same tractabilty, hardiness, smooth gaits, endurance and healthy hooves. Every type, big and small, refined and crude, ornate and plainly colored deserve preservation.

In fact, it is the modern rider who deserves the chance to ride one of these super horses. That will never happen if we allow them to go extinct.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Steve and Ashley 9-4-2014 at The Victorian Station

There is a consensus that Ashley masks my voice wonderfully.

Time Can Change So Much

but it does not change genetic makeup. Croatoan was a middle aged stallion when he was captured because of his propensity to go into the highway. He also was ill. Some sort of internal infection had ravaged him. I tamed him, treated him, healed him, trained him and rode him. He was eventually, though a stallion, one of our beginner's horses.

Though hard to imagine now, he was the fastest gaiting Corolla that we have ever had--smoothest gaiting too. Fairly early on in his training he took me for the easiest forty mile solo ride I had had to that point.

He is the father of the rabicano filly, Mokete, shown above the first foal produced in the offsite breeding program. I also bred him to several modern breed mares. The Appaloosa colt is his son.

He has spent the summer with Hickory Wind, my Marsh Tacky mare.  Their foal will likely be the first cross between a Corolla and a Marsh Tacky in a few hundred years.  That foal has already been claimed and will become an integral part of the offsite breeding program. In another month I hope he will have a foal born to Persa, a heavy mare from Shackleford Island.

If the foal takes the best of those two it will be a great horse.

But Croatoan is old. He is healthy, not a hint of arthritic pain, (or any other pain). His muscles are only shadows of what they once were. We do not ride him any more. I do not know how much longer he will produce foals.

But even if he can produce no more Mokete is to be bred next month and I unexpectedly received his adult daughter this summer.

She will have a foal from the son of the original Red Feather.

Croaotan is doing his part to prevent the extinction of the Corolla Spanish Mustang.A children's book about him will be coming out this spring, about the same time as the second in the series on my Red Feather.

He is going forth and having children "that his name may live long in this land."

That is a form of immortality that time cannot change.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Things That Can Be Hard For Others To Understand

Southern farm boys of my time were raised with a deep conflict that remains remains unsettled for us through out life. The male side of the family stressed that a man should brook absolutely no disrespect. Dueling had been outlawed a long time ago but we were all taught that allowing another male to treat you disrespectfully without beating them for their action was simply dishonorable.I can't even guess how many times I was told when I was very little that when one was in a fight it was important to keep hitting until one's opponent ceased moving (but to stop at that point).

Yet the women in the family expected little boys to behave. The conflict in expectations often left boys in a constant state of confusion. At the same time it lead to the creation of some social strategies that kept violence and conflict in check in a manner that I still find very functional.

Of course, grown men could not simply go around punching everyone who offended them. Society could not work that way. At the same time, one could not allow another to insult or offend you without taking some action. The resulting solution was to simply erase the existence of the offensive person from one's social contact or discourse. One would, to the degree possible, simply live as if the other did not exist.

This was illustrated strongly in church attendance and choice of country stores that one patronized. If a church leader treated one with disrespect one simply ceased to attend said church and joined another one. If the owner of a country store treated one with disrespect one simply never returned to the store. One did not spend time and energy gossiping and complaining about it. In fact, one might make the change without ever discussing it with anyone. My grandfather and my great uncle lived side by side all of their adult lives. It was only when Grandaddy Horace was on his death bed that I learned that the two had not spoken to each other for decades. Neither said anything bad about the other. They simply ceased to recognize the existence of the other.

Still seems like a great system to me. Of course, this was a time before Phil Donahue and Oprah so we had not had the benefit of condescending outsiders telling us how to live. I guess  we just did not know any better.

Even with the institution of unilateral shunning to keep us from wringing each other's necks it still was important for each man to maintain his own  personal nuclear deterrent. That meant maintaining the capacity to physically whip those who would press the matter. I am fifty four years old. I played ball with a recklessness and degree of violence that would have shocked Ty Cobb, but I have not struck anyone off of a ball field  since about the fourth grade.

Even with that said, it is hard to describe the sense of ease that one feels in a confrontational situation to know, that if things went bad, one could whip everyone in the room.

Maintaining that deterrent had other benefits.  When there is hard physical work to be done it is important to one's self respect to know that one can get the work done. Since I began putting down fence at the horse lot I have dug well over 500 post holes by hand. I remember the shock that hit me when someone suggested that I rent equipment to get the job done. That was about eight years ago. I told the person that I was not even fifty years old and could not consider such a thing until I was unable to get the job done by hand.

My great uncle died recently. He broke his garden by hand when he was over 100 years old. I expected it to be many years before I could no longer dig post holes.

Now I can no longer dig post holes.

 Carpal tunnel syndrome has made it so that I can do very little that requires any degree of grip strength. An arthritic related bone spur makes my left arm difficult to use even if my hand worked. I spend more time playing banjo and bouzoki because playing a guitar has become very difficult.

And now for the role of vanity. My weight or lack of teeth has never been particularly significant to me. The American ideal of beauty did not penetrate as far back in the woods as I was raised. It never was a matter of how one looked--it was a matter of what one could do. At age five I could stand straight up with an 85 pound anvil in my hands. That had a lot to do with how I thought of myself growing up.

Now I could not stand up with that same anvil in my hands. And it is obvious. For going on three years I have not been able to fully use my hands. The result is a set of arms that look like they belong on a city man. That bothers me.

I do not like looking like a city man. It is embarrassing.

So, Monday I go to see the surgeon. I want to be able to play a guitar like it ought to be played. I want my arms to grow back like a crab grows back his claws. I don't want to be embarrassed to roll my sleeves up.

The picture above is Daddy and his mare Roxie. He got her a few years ago when she was completely without handling. He went to her pasture, put a rope on her and put her in the trailer without my help, and brought her to the horse lot.

 He trained her, without my help.  He rode her in the Christmas parade. I have never been on the horse.

I am not good with ages. They seem to change every year, so it is hard to keep up with them. Daddy is about 77 years old. When he was in his thirties the doctor told him to expect to be totally disabled from arthritis by age forty.

The doctor missed that one pretty badly.

A few years ago a young lady told me that I needed to rent a particular movie. She said that I would love the movie because the main characters were just like my family. I got the movie and I could not figure out what in the world she meant by that. The movie was about bootleggers. (We do not consume alcohol in my family).

She asked me about the movie. It told her that it was interesting (did not know what else to say). She said "I told you that it was just like your family. No matter how many times they got shot, or knifed or burned out of their homes they just got right back up and kept on coming."

My plan is that after the surgeon gets through I will get on up and keep on coming.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Going Home To A Place He'd Never Been Before

Steven Ambrose, I believe, was the writer who said that Crazy Horse lived a life as free as a man could be--on the prairie, on horse back, without fences, born to whatever station in life yet able to aspire to any station in life.

Developing a close relationship with horses changes one's relationship with the rest of the world. It knocks down barriers. Without the artificial motivations of competition and profit, a pure understanding, a pure affection can develop. Without the artificial barriers of competition and profit freedom can develop.

When one is free in a world that limits that freedom with artificial barriers of title and entitlement one becomes a radical by default. 

When one comes to understand that the sales price of a horse has nothing to do with the value of a horse one can finally understand that a person's station in life has nothing to do with the value of that person.

Respect for others grows from that understanding.

I care everything for actual respect and I care nothing for the language of artificial respect. I have been a lawyer for nearly thirty years and there has never been an occasion in court in which I referred to a judge as "Your Honor." I do not believe that to be an appropriate phrase for one American to use to another American.

When I was about twelve years old I went on a trip with our local county agent.  He was in the National Guard. He had been to college and was an officer. He was also raised on a farm just up the road from me. He told me how much it bothered him that his friends had to salute him when they were on duty. I shared his horror. He was 100% sincere, though I suspect that there were few other officers who shared his revulsion at military courtesy

Daddy worked at a plant that was not in Smithfield for a while when I was little.  The workers, nearly all black, were required to call the supervisors, nearly all white, Mr _______.  The workers wore name tags. One of the workers scratched out her name and replaced it with Mrs.__________.

 She was fired for her impertinence. You see, it was viewed as disrespectful for her to ask for the same degree of "respect" that she was required to show the boss man.

I do not like to be called "Mister" nor do I like the term "sir" being applied to me. The parents of many of my riders teach their kids to do so  and, of course, I do not seek to contradict such teachings. But I am acutely  aware that there are scores of people out there who call me Steve who I can absolutely count on.

I would not want to put my life in the hands of anyone who calls me Mr. Edwards.

It seems a bit perverse to me that anyone could consider me arrogant for thinking that everyone else is deserving of the same respect that I am.

And no, that does not mean that I do not believe in manners. I thank everyone who does a kindness to me and I mean it. I expect everyone for whom I do a kindness to thank me and I expect them to mean it.

And to my surprise working with horses has radicalized my feelings on the issue of title and positions. A horse respects me or he does not. He cannot hide his contempt or lack of respect by calling me Mr. Edwards. 

Could they talk, each of my horses would call me Steve.

When it comes to horsemanship my respect goes to those who are one with the horse. Ribbons won, honors given, degrees from colleges in horsemanship, recognition granted through a tv trainer's program are utterly meaningless unless a person can become one with the horse.

 And the person who can become one with the horse needs no artificial indicia of respectability.

The freedom that one gains from well practiced natural horsemanship can be disturbing to some people. When one's eyes are opened one can sometimes be shocked at what one sees. Hours spent in the round pen teach one what is real. Hours spent in the round pen can break one free of the illusions that society teaches as truths.

Being free is like going home--even if you have never been there before.

(I think that I would have been four years old when this picture was taken of me on my first horse, Tanka, a Welsh/Hackney cross. I got him when I was two and he was one. The following year I rode him in the Christmas parade. )

Monday, September 8, 2014

Why Worm August 15?

The naturally pastured horse benefits from a late summer worming even more than an early fall worming. The horse evolved to gain weight in the spring and fall and lose weight in the winter. Grasses change their nutritional content as fall progresses but I am finding that most of my horses put on a bit of prewinter weight even when eating the exact same hay they have been eating all summer.

The only explanation is a slowing of metabolism as the days shorten. Of course, I never want my horses obese but I do want them to go through their natural body cycles. If they evolved to gain weight in fall and spring and loose it in the winter I do not want to fight that cycle. I have a strong hunch that metabolic syndrome in horses is tied not only to obesity, but to winter obesity, in particular.

Therefore, I want my horses to take full advantage of the fall weight gaining season so thy can take full advantage of the winter weight loosing season to come.

I want my horses to go into the fall with a very low parasite load. That is why I am moving my worming to late summer instead of after the frost.

(As one can see in the picture above my metabolism must also slow as the days shorten.)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Home On Our Range

There are only about 3,500 Colonial Spanish horses left in the world. All but a handful live in America. They went extinct in Europe many years ago. They are on the verge of extinction in America.

These horses are divided into strains based on their particular history and genetics by the Horse of The Americas Registry. When one looks at individual strains the hope for long term survival of many of those strains is bleak.

But, then, their chances were always bleak but most of them are still hanging on. They are known by but a few, but those few have the privilege of knowing gentle, easy handling affectionate, athletes. Those few have the privilege of knowing easy keeping, super healthy horses with hooves that are designed to handle the roughest of terrain. Those few have the privilege of reaching back into history and experiencing it the way that no owner of a modern horse could.

The pictures above show several of the strains of Colonial Spanish horses that we have. Our primary purpose is to work through the off site breeding program to prevent the extinction of the Corolla Spanish mustang, but we also see to preserve or promote other strains.

The top two horses Snow On Her and Ta Sunka Witco are Brislawn stock. Bob Brislawn began working to preserve these horses in the 1920's. He went on to found the Spanish Mustang Registry in 1957. Croatoan, a Corolla stallion is pictured just beneath them. Perhaps these horses would still be round were it not for Dale Burrus preservation and promotion of them, but I would not want to have had to have found that out. Joty Baca is pictured with one of his famous Baca strain mustangs. He died not too long ago at his home in New Mexico with some of his horses still around him. Next year we will likely have a Baca foal born here--the first to ever be born and bred away from the Baca Ranch.

The next shot is Lydia on our Marsh Tacky mare, Hickory Wind. The Lowther family is responsible for these horses still being in existence. I am riding Joey, a wonderful Choctaw. the Choctaws owe a great deal to the work of Gilbert Jones and his efforts to show the world the amazing endurance of these horses.

Terry is sitting on Wanchese our Shackleford stallion. The horses would surely be gone but for the hard work of Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina and the dedicated  ladies of the Foundation for the Shackelford Horses.

The final shot is La Primera a young filly from Texas. She has a great deal of Choctaw lineage but also traces back to Barbwire, the last of the Grand Canyon strain.

I am the beneficiary of countless hours hard work and tremendous financial sacrifice that others have made to keep these horses from going extinct. Bryant Rickman, David Grant, Vickie Ives, Tom Norush, Karen McAlpin, Carolyn Mason, the Sims family, Adam Edwards, Stephanie Lockhart and Simrat Khalsa and a handful of others are out there everyday doing the hard work of breed conservation.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Jen Hill And Manny

Sacred Man is a young Choctaw of considerable promise. He came to us 6 days ago. Less than a week of being outside 24/7 with good grass hay and some grazing settled him down a lot. Friday morning several of my little girls worked him in the round pen and gave him a heavy round of de-spooking.

Jen arrived and I told her that if she felt that he was of good mind for it she could get a hackamore and pursue the matter further. She reassured him wonderfully, one step at a time, foot in--foot out, 1/2 mounts--then mounting , then riding, and even trotting a bit.

Jen might have been the best person to take on the task at that moment in the horse's life. She rides with light, gentle hands, is a calm confident rider, and is in first rate physical condition. There was a word uttered that his horse had significant bucking ability.

Such a horse needs a rider with strength.

Jen is the best young farrier that I have encountered. She understands natural horsemanship; which means that she understands horses. It is a lot easier to put a good trim on a horse that one does not have to fight while seeking to trim/treat/improve/heal that horse's hooves. Farriers like Jen don't fight horses.

She does great work, trims many of the horses in our horse lot, and helps train several others. If you have a horse in Tidewater Virginia you should be in touch with her.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Why Are Your Wild Horses So Gentle

Missing The Point

Many visitors are surprised at how warm and affectionate our horses are, especially those who once lived wild. What they do not understand, (and I do not blame them for missing the point), is that they are warm and affectionate because, not in spite of the fact, they were once wild.

Perhaps to best understand one should simply slowly walk across a pasture of modern milk goats. Chances are they will fall in and follow you around even if you are a complete stranger. They do so instinctively because it is a behavior that they are genetically programmed to do. Over thousands of years the goats that did not have a drive to follow human direction followed their wonder lust and ambled away from the flock. They took their hobo genes with them, leaving those who were driven to follow human direction to reproduce their genes in the domestic flock. After a few centuries, following human direction for these domestic goats became as natural as grazing.

Prey animal behavior, as demonstrated in herd animals, requires that the animal at least be sociable enough to learn how to read the signals of other herd members that could save its life in the event of a predator attack. Psychos, and obnoxious, anti-social jerks did not fit well in the herd's social structure and over the years their behavior lead to disproportionate incidences of isolation or early death through predation. Sociable animals who work to fit in and bond with each other lead longer lives, produced more off spring and passed on that genetic need to bond.

Owners of Spanish Mustang Registry horses, most of which are several generations from the wild often point to their horse's strong desire to attach themselves to humans as a special feature of the SMR horse. It is not. It is more pronounced in the SMR horse because, though he was not born in the wild, his genetics were shaped much more by the years in the wilderness that his ancestors spent than they are by the relatively few minutes his ancestors have spent in the domestication.

In fact, after one properly gentles a horse that was raised in the wild, be they BLM, Chincoteague, Corolla, Shackleford, or any other long term feral herd, one will find that that horse has a much stronger need for human contact and affection than do most modern horses.

The catch is that too few people know how to properly tame and gentle wild horses. When more people get to see the end result perhaps more people will be willing to accept the challenge of becoming a true horseman.

Today I Learned To Copy And Paste

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 'will be.'

What color is time?
Today time is gray.
Time is the color of a December sky.
Time is the color of Ta Sunka in the mud.
Time is the color of 'was.'

Paradise In A Mudhole

"It seems like the rays of the sun out there are blessed with gold. I love seeing the pictures, they all have something really special about them. I think God shines down in a very happy way out in Mill Swamp."--Annette Baca-Gonzales (from a face book post)

"This is simply a place of love" author Doris Gwaltney  (from a conversation years ago).

"This is my favorite land." Liam Stevenson at about age three. (from a conversation with his mother).

"Ever think about how many people drive by the field path and have no idea that the place at the end of that path is the center of the lives of so many people?" KC Rodebush, (from an off hand comment a few weeks ago)

"This is where my family lives." Ashley Meyers

"Mine too." me--(from a conversation that goes on in my head nearly daily)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: Why Ride Alone?

Check out this picture--Lydia dog and Lydia person were both once young. Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: Why Ride Alone?: Especially if you have a brindle treeing hound cross to trot along the swamp trails with you? These two are both named Lydia. Lydia dog w...

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: Things That Last

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: Things That Last: When I was fourteen years old I sat on my bed dazed at the realization that there was no way that my knees were going to allow me to play b...

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Horse Feed

Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Horse Feed: Oh how I hate to do it, but sometimes I have to feed the herd horse feed. It is usually done to stretch out hay and is done for econo...

Quick Tip #73 If You Want To Stay On The Horse..

...then staying on the horse must not be your top priority. The top priority must be controlling the horse's speed, gait and direction.

That requires one to keep the hands on the reins instead of simply grabbing the saddle, holding and hoping. Holding and hoping are poor substitutes for control of where this 700 pound horse will carry you. All to often fear (panic) results in forfeiting control of the horse.

There is no time more important to be in control of the horse than when there is a problem.

To safely stay on the horse one must control the horse.

Horses of Color...

...were ridden by people of color and that is all the proof that proper Englishmen needed to know that pintos were inferior. The Irish and the rural poor often rode ponies. Therefore a proper mount for an English gentleman must tower over the ponies of those he considered his inferiors. The wild stallions, symbols of freedom, self reliance and unbridled sexuality,reminded the rural poor of their own bondage.

Throughout history horses have been accorded the social status of their riders. The horse of the poor need not be proven to be inferior. The proof of his inferiority was the fact that he was the horse of the poor. His actual ability and talents mattered no more than the actual ability and talents of his owners.

And still, even today, the mustang is viewed as too small, too violent, too lacking in pedigree and dignity to be the proper mount of the properly mounted equestrian.

But there are others who feel that merit matters and who are unwilling to scrape and bow to the dictates of the established horse world. We are subversive and we disrupt their sense of order and, worst of all, question their unquestionable right to be the final arbiters on all things equine.

The established horse world is peopled by naked emperors and the sight of a child taming and riding a wild mustang stallion reminds them of their lack of dress.

These are three beautiful Choctaw  Colonial Spanish Horses, (or mustangs) or (Indian Ponies). They have incredible endurance, smooth gaits, are easy keepers, great hooves, naturally healthy, gentle and affectionate--- with "pedigrees" in America that go back centuries.

And not one of those facts requires the acceptance or approval of the established horse world to be true.

Merit matters.

It is wonderful to have these three Choctaws in our herd.

Say What?

I never have understood people's possessiveness about their possessions. I know that I hold the minority view on the issue but sometimes I am a bit offended when people ask for permission to use something of mine. Doing so suggests that I am the kind of person who would possibly refuse an opportunity to share what I have.

Several years ago a neighboring land owner asked Daddy to ask me if it would alright for a service truck to drive across my land to get to theirs. Daddy told the person that, no, he would not ask me such a question as this because I was not the kind of foolish person who would object to such a thing and that the truck should proceed across my land.

Daddy was right on the matter.

With all of that said, I have to admit the slightest tinge (it is very slight) of selfishness when I see something of mine being used over the internet without attribution. When I was young I wrote speeches for several different candidates for political office. I have always known how to put the thought needed into the words at hand.

It still happens every now and then. Nearly 15 years ago I first drafted a short essay that concluded with a line that felt good to me as a read it. It still feels good to read it. I even saw it refereed to in one spot as a "saying."

Not that it would matter to anyone but me, but if you find a line in an article about small horses that says, "I ride ponies because heart is not measured in hands." keep in mind that that is not an old saying.

It is just a saying of one particular old man--me.

To Study War No More: Taking The Conflict Away

Avoid fighting your horse. Avoid fighting your children.

Do not be afraid to be a peacemaker. Raise your kids and your horses the same way--51% control and 49% affection.

Without control your horse becomes a rogue and your child will become a defendant. Without affection your horse grows afraid and your child grows cold, very cold.

The trainer must inspire confidence in the horse. The parent must inspire confidence in the child.

I am tired of training horses who were allowed to run over people and I am even more tired of prosecuting kids for the crime of having weak parents.

The truth is in the round pen.

The harsher truth is in the courtroom.

A Choctaw With Great Bone and Long Stride

Yesterday our third Choctaw arrived at the horse lot. He is known as Manny.

His legs are long. Mine are not.

He is tall. I am not.

He is young. I am not.

He is elegant. I am not.

He has a great future in front of him. I had a great future behind me.

He is said to be a bit difficult. I am too.

We will work together just fine.

An Excerpt From My Book

I Ride Ponies

The sorrel stallion charged down the runway and slid to a stop with the rails of the auction pit only inches from his nose. With eyes wide-open and nostrils flaring, he tossed his head and threw his flowing mane to the side. He eyed the audience, stomped, snorted and then did something that I did not know horses could do—he seemed to propel himself straight up, turn himself in the air, land, and tear back up that same runway at top speed. He disappeared as quickly as he had appeared. He was, then he was not—there was nothing in between.

This little stallion was the first moving mustang I had ever seen. I have been around horses all my life but I have never observed such athletic ability. A few hours earlier, I watched an experienced mustang gentler lead this young stud around the ring only minutes after he was first roped. Surely he would sell quite high in the ensuing Bureau of Land Management wild horse auction.

He did not sell high. He did not sell at all. No one even bid on him. For all his ability, for all his willingness to learn, for all his stunning beauty, he was not a horse. He was a pony and modern American adults do not ride ponies.

I ride ponies and I am an adult. I ride ponies and I am a large adult. I ride ponies and I ride them long and hard. I have ridden Holland, a 13 hand Shackleford, fifty miles in a day on several occassions.
I ride ponies because they give me what I want, which is to ride for hours on end on woods trails with my family. I have no need to pull a beer wagon. I do not fox hunt. I will never ride in the Kentucky Derby. In short, I do nothing with my ponies that would require me to feed an extra 400 pounds and two hands of horseflesh. My Indian Horses range from about 12.2 to 14.2 hands. They have heavy bones and iron-hard hooves. I doubt if any of them weigh over nine hundred pounds. Each carries my two hundred pound frame with grace and ease.

I ride ponies because they are healthy, easy keepers. My Indian Horses do not need grain. Indeed, it often takes quite a while before a mustang will even try the taste of grain. They live wonderfully on grass and hay. With the help of mineral supplement, they grow tough, dense hooves that have yet to require a shoe.

I ride ponies because they are easier to handle than tall heavy horses. I do not need a cherry picker to saddle up. I do not need an elevator to mount up. When I fall off, I only have a short descent to make. When they step on my feet, I do not end up lame.

Even with all these advantages, I am still asked why I ride those poor little things that are, after all, “only ponies.” Americans love big things. We are the only nation that feels the need to super-size a meal containing a three-layered hamburger. We drive SUV’s and root for 7ft tall basketball players and 300-pound football players. To make matters worse, children often start out on ponies and then graduate to horses. Ponies are viewed as the equine equivalent of training pants and horses, especially big horses, are the big boy pants of the properly potty-trained equestrian. Many riders are self-conscious of their own weight problems and feel that they call attention to their weight by riding the smaller equines. Worst of all, many riders are simply unaware of the carrying capacity of a well-built, well-conditioned pony. I will never forget being told by a woman with life-long equestrian experience that my 14-hand Indian Horse could never carry her because he was “just a pony.” She looked to weigh about fifty pounds less than me.

Not all cultures have shared our silly prejudices against ponies. Gall was one of the top four leaders of the Sioux and Cheyenne forces at the Little Big Horn. As a young man, he weighed around 240 pounds. When Custer’s men looked up to see Gall riding over the hill to them they did not see him astride a Clydesdale. Nor was he even riding a Warm-blood. Like all the victorious warriors on that day, he rode in on a mustang, likely one that was “just a pony.”

Aside from all of their other advantages, I ride ponies because of the sense of history that they project. I ride ponies because DeSoto invaded America on ponies. I ride ponies because Crazy Horse defended his America on ponies. I ride ponies because there was a Pony Express but there never was a Horse Express. I ride ponies because Quannah Parker lived on a pony and I ride ponies because Roman Nose died on a pony.

I ride ponies because heart is not measured in hands.

(This brief essay is an excerpt from my book, And A Little Child Shall Lead Them: Learning From Wild Horses and Small Children)