Sunday, May 31, 2015

Training: Going As Fast As You Can, but Slowly

This is where experience comes in--When is it time to move on to the next step when starting a horse who has not been handled? When the horse completes the step you are on to your satisfaction move on. Otherwise one gets a bored horse and the horse's willingness to learn is stifled as is curiosity withers.

But what about the other side--When is it time to move back a step when a horse does not seem to be progressing at all towards achieving the step being taught? When the horse shows so much fear that it is not even remotely showing signs of learning the step being trained, it is time to go back a step or a half step.

I took Stitch, the Corolla stallion shown above ,into the round pen. He became perfectly responsive to my cues. I gave him an opportunity to join me in the center of the round pen and he refused. I did this two more times. Each time I stopped he would face me but not come to me--I took it back a step. Instead of running him more I worked on advance and retreat until he stood happily to be touched on the face. He was more nervous the further back my hand went. I stopped that exercise and lunged him.

With in a few minutes he lunged to one side tolerably well. The other side was not as much of a success but I got him moving in circles.

Intermittently a great deal of time was spent simply simply rubbing him and talking to him. I then took a pool noodle and rubbed him with it until he would calmly accept it over 85% of his body. He eventually came to enjoy it.

Then I returned to lunging and, as if by magic, he lunged in each direction on a completely limp lead. Minutes earlier he was pulling constantly on the rope in one direction.

By now his head was down and he was relaxing. I put a saddle pad on his back and rhythmically removed it--over 100 times in all. He walked on a limp lead with the saddle pad on his back.

I put him back in the pasture. Total work time was just over an hour.

I could have spent that hour marveling at how beautifully he wheeled and turned on cue in the round pen. Would have given both of us a great deal of exercise but the horse would learn nearly nothing.

On the other hand I could have spent that hour continuing to move him in the round pen until he walked to me and started following me around. Maybe he would have in that hour. But even if he did that is all he would have learned.

Bottom line--when training patiently go forward or backward but do not stay in the same place revving your engine. That is true whether the horse has learned the step or shows no progress toward learning the step.

Overcoming Riding Anxiety Clinic

During the month of June we concluded a highly successful series of clinics, "Introduction to Natural Horsemanship." Aside from being a great deal of fun, we are picking up new program participants from this introduction.

What people like the most about our teaching sessions is that they demonstrate just how simple the concepts are. We take away all of the hocus pocus and all of the pompous self righteousness often seen in such sessions and simply explain how to communicate with a horse in a manner that the horse naturally understands.

On June 27, from 9-3 we will host a one day clinic on overcoming riding anxiety and ending the fear of horses. The session will be limited to ten participants, ages 12 and above. The cost is only $76.00 per participant.

Contact me at for more information.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

That Which Seperates Us....

is, unfortunately, more powerful than that which unites us. Years ago, when I first became involved in mustang preservation, I was completely caught off guard by the divisions in the movement as exemplified by the number of registries that exist for the same horses. I thought then, as I do now, that the Horse of the Americas registry was the perfect vehicle to bring unity to the movement. I thought that unity was something that would be universally accepted.

I was very naive.

I knew that there was no money in mustang preservation and I was encouraged by those who  recognized that fact and pushed on anyway. I thought that as long as greed was not involved unity of purpose would cause everyone to work together.

I had failed to account for the intense human desire to be in control of something--anything at all--so long as the desire for power was satiated by being able to tell someone--anyone--exactly how they were to do things.

When I was young I was a politician. I met many people who were considered leaders who gloried in saying "no." They demonstrated their power by preventing people from getting what they wanted. They always perplexed me. I loved demonstrating my power by giving people what they needed.

I continue to feel that power is best demonstrated by opening doors rather than closing them.

I do not understand the thirst to control the actions of others--I do not understand why anyone would think that having such power would be anything but a tremendous drain on one's psyche.

In my coat and tie life I have more power than most people ever dream of having. My decisions as to what to what crime to charge a defendant with and what sentence to agree to often lead to utterly life changing consequences, not merely for the defendant, but for everyone who loves or depends on that defendant for financial support. I know that some prosecutors revel in that power.

I feel very sorry for those prosecutors whose lives are so empty that their pleasure is defined by how much power they exert and how much pain they can inflict. The only part of my job that gives me any satisfaction is working with victims to help them get through the process with as little pain as possible.

Having the responsibility of morally exercising the power of a prosecutor is all of the responsibility that I want. I certainly would not want the "power" that I could garner by seeking to form a splinter mustang/Colonial Spanish horse registry. I certainly would not want the "power" of trying to tell someone else whether or not their horse was worthy of breeding.

The HOA is a powerful force for unity among mustang preservationists.

On a micro level, individual programs can only succeed and expand when participants set aside their self interest for the sake of unity of that program. Our program is based on unity and cooperation. We have succeeded only because we have not fallen prey to the divisiveness that inevitably results when any faction seeks the power to control the actions of others. Our success is the result of many years of many people asking themselves, "What can I do?" instead of asking "What can I require someone else to do?"

Our program is not based on a power/control paradigm. It never will be. The way we get work done is that a few days each year we announce special work days. Those who participate are rewarded by knowing that they have done something important that will lead to more good for more people. Those who do not participate punish themselves by missing out on that opportunity.

That is not how most of the work gets done. I usually just post that at a given time on a given day I will be working on a given project and everyone is invited out to help.

But there is an even better way that things get done at he horse lot--some people simply do them--without being ordered, or even asked, to do so--like when I come to the horse lot to find that Wendell has repaired the round pen gate.  I am not going to give any further examples of such work--because there are too many to list and inevitably I will forget someone.  (Although I doubt if anyone would mind if I forgot to mention them because these people do not do the work because they want recognition. They do it because they was contribute to the good that comes out of our program)

This model works and in order to fail to see its success one must be so deeply caught up on the process of exercising power that one fails to see the product of cooperation. Such a model cannot succeed everywhere. Its success is dependent on having people who have the ability to set aside their divisive desire to control others.

But it can be done--we prove it every day.

Friday, May 29, 2015

A Totally New Experience for Visitors

Beginning Saturday June 20, just as the darkness falls on our horse lot, on Moonlight Road just outside of Smithfield, VA, we will have a modest beginning to what will grow into a significant part of our role as an educational institution.

Half an hour before sunset we will have a round pen demonstration using our Colonial Spanish horses, primarily the Corollas, Choctaws and Marsh Tacky. During that demonstration we will explain about the off site breeding program and how we can work to prevent the extinction of these historic horses.

As darkness falls visitors will be invited to move over to our replica of a a mid seventeenth century settlers farm, consisting of his home, small garden, corn crib, tobacco barn, and fully functioning smokehouse. As they are seated in the farm yard on rustic benches just off from the hog pen and over near the colonial goats and chickens they will meet Patrick Gwaltney, my fictitious but totally historical accurate ancestor who established his first home site here at the conclusion of his indenture.

He might sit back and between bites of the ham and side meat that he smoked and is now cooking tell visitors about life here only two generations from the first settlement at Jamestown. He will talk about his pride and joy--his horses--in Wales where he came from a man of his social class could never dream of owning a horse, much less the small band of horses that he has accumulated. He will speak of freedom and he will speak of slavery. He will speak of bounty and riches and he will speak of of the utter poverty that comes though the loss of everything through a fire. He will remind you of the beats that you have long forgotten being here--wild hogs, the still present threat of wolves, and his first taste of roasted cougar. He will remind you of his greatest fear, the power of "big witches", be the of African or Indian descent.

There will be no admission charged to visitors, although we will encourage and accept donations to the Gwaltney Frontier Farm. We want to see the living history aspect of our program grow over the next few years.

All the way through college and law school I worked at Jamestown and helped develop some of the living history programs that were created there in the early 1980's. I have always found it to be one of the best ways to teach--especially when teaching shocking facts--like the fact that the eastern woodland buffalo was found just one county over from Isle of Wight in the 1600's or that the pine thickets and swamps known by their Algonquin name of "poquosins" were thought to be the abode of demons.

Who better to teach such things than a man who had hunted such buffalo and feared such demons?

Outdoor drama is always weather dependent. We will make this program grow as we have with every other aspect of our program--never biting off more than we can chew and never moving a single step towards simply becoming just another place where spoiled little rich kids ride ponies in circles.

For information about performance schedules email us at

The Difference Between Fault and Blame

When one falls from a horse the best possible news is to learn that falling was one's own fault. It is human nature to shift responsibility-to move from finding out who was at fault to finding out who can be blamed.

When one realizes that the fall resulted from an action or inaction on one's part, one can work to remedy the situation. When one decides that the horse is to blame because he is stubborn, mean, poorly trained, doesn't listen, etc--the solution all to often is to seek to ride another horse or to stop riding all together.

Until one recognizes fault and causation one cannot work to prevent future falls.

Least helpful of all are the group post mortem analysis that come from a kid falling from the horse. By the time the other little riders have described what they "saw" happen the event was apocalyptic in nature and only by the Grace of God did either child, horse, or civilization survive.

e.g. "I was riding and another horse bolted up from behind running in at top speed and bit my horse. As my horse kicked back at him we twisted on the trail and I was slammed into a tree. The horse panicked and began bucking wildly. I think I stayed on for the first several bucks but I finally went off. I think one of the other horses must have stepped on me while I was laying there."

Perhaps, but what I observed was that the horse stumbled and the rider fell forward because of poor stirrup positioning. Somehow I missed seeing all of the other fireworks.

Therefore, the fall could have been prevented by having one's feet properly in the stirrup.

Good news kid--you made a mistake. You can fix that mistake. You have the power to do so. You are not merely cast out to be controlled by the fickle whims of fate--you can impact your ride--you can impact your future--you can impact your life.

And no, that does not mean that I am blaming you for falling. It means that I am showing you how to fight off the idea that your are helpless in this life.

There are not a lot of lessons in life more important than that one.

Cycles of Life

This is a replica of a Chickee, a summer home of Choctaws and other tribes of the southeast. This is what it looked like about a year ago.

This is what it looks like right now. When the broad leaves of the sycamore trees fill out in the spring we cast them over the Chickee frame. Over the winter they dry, crinkle and blow away--just as they would if still on the tree.

And we replace them in the spring.

And eventually old horses die. And eventually new foals are born.

And eventually I will be gone from this horse lot. And eventually it will be run by one of my riders, all grown up and ready to take on the challenge.

And eventually, I will put my banjo down. And eventually, one of my grandchildren will pick it up.

And the Circle will be unbroken, bye and bye , Lord, bye and bye.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Back To A Good Place To Start

Yesterday I rode hard for two days in a row. It has been months since that has happened two days in a row. A series of events have conspired to cut my riding time down to nearly nothing. The consequences have been real. I am in worse physical shape than I have been in since I was wiped out one summer with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Perhaps that is coming to an end. This morning, barring problems at the horse lot, I will once again ride hard before work. Rebecca will be moving back to Virginia in a few weeks and we will begin conditioning her horse and all of the Choctaws for covering some heavy ground.

All those who think that one cannot run away from their problems have never sought to do so on a Choctaw. Riding Joey hard is like being on a clipper ship--smooth, fast, and silent.

Last summer KC and Ashley kept me permanently sleep deprived from going out and playing music night after night. It might have been the best summer of my life. Seems like a very long time ago now.

But, things permitting, I think that I might go over to Cozzy's tonight and do a few songs.

It is ok to get knocked back to the starting line sometime--as long as the starting line is at a good place.

An Old Post About A Good colt and a Great Kid: Lydia and Owl Prophet

Hit this link:       Mill Swamp Indian Horse Views: Lydia and Owl Prophet: Owl Prophet, named for the Commanche holy man, was born to Ghost Dance and Wind in His Hair on Easter Sunday three years ago. He ha...

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Some of Our Stallions: Stitch

Stitch is a pure Corolla stallion. The Corolla herd is one of only two remaining wild herds of the Banker horses of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The other herd is in Shackleford. Only about 210 wild Bankers are left. In 1927 there were over 6,000 of these horses running wild on the Outer Banks.

There lineage goes back to the earliest Spanish efforts to settle on mainland America. In the 18th century their genetics may have been enriched by the inclusion of a few horses that the white settlers called "Chickasaws", likely Native American bred colonial Spanish horses that are exemplified today by the Choctaw, and Cherokee strain.

The Corollas have been called the oldest and rarest distinct genetic grouping of American horse. They have been isolated so long on the upper Outer Banks that some have called them a breed onto themselves.

We head up the effort to prevent the extinction of these historic horses by breeding them domestically and encouraging others to do so. We are constantly in search of breeders who want to participate in this program.

His son, Poncho, was born in the early spring of 2015 and will make an excellent breeding stallion for program participants.

We work to promote protect these horses not as a money making endeavor. We are a breed conservation non-profit under 501(c)5. Our program is administered by volunteers--no one is paid.

To learn more about becoming a breeder of these horses just send me an email.

Some of Our Stallions: El Rosio

El Rosio is a Bacca strain Colonial Spanish horse. Long coveted for their extraordinary endurance and gentle nature, this perfect example of the Southwestern type Spanish mustang came to us after the death of Joty Bacca, who dedicated his life to preserving these extraordinary horses.

The key to his endurance is his  rare body type. He carries minimal body fat year long. His large lungs and heart are not wrapped in layers of fat that would retain body heat. Leggy and lean, his gait is smooth as glass.

In evaluating the temperament of this horse, consider that he came to us as a fifteen year old, untrained breeding stallion. In short order he was trained to ride by an adult who had never before trained a horse.

This spring we hope to breed him to Motita, a Bacca mare and Snow on Her, a Brislawn stock.

For the sake of keeping these extraordinary genetics around we would consider breeding him to an outside mares, even those of a modern breed. I think an out cross with an Arabian mare could produce a first rate horse.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Time To Get Back To Work

Several months ago,  area judges asked me to take over prosecutions in District and also in Juvenile courts in a neighboring jurisdiction. This was in addition to my normal job of prosecuting here in Isle of Wight. I have been maintaining this dual role since that time. During the first five months of this year my riding time has been cut dramatically.

I did not have time maintain this blog. But in less than a month all that will be behind me as I return to only prosecuting in one county.

A lot has been happening--settler's farm nearly completed, new programming coming into place, and new foals born.

So it is time to get back to work and to use this blog to promote the conservation of nearly extinct strains of Colonial Spanish horses, teach natural horsemanship and natural horse care, and the promotion of humane horse care even if it means that the established horse world will not profit from it.

And most of all, to show how natural horsemanship can create better people.