Saturday, December 31, 2016

Converting A Fifteen Year Old Wood Lot Back To Pasture

In November of 2016 my wife and I purchased the nearly twenty acres adjacent to our horse lot for the use of our program. The acreage was all part of my grand father's farm. This gives us approximately sixty acres of total land for the program.

The newly purchased land was planted as a pasture in the late 1990's. Since that time perhaps 60-70% has been gradually overtaken, in varying degrees, by sweet gum,ash, pine, wild cherry and mimosa. We set out to remove all sweet gum, all wild cherry, all small pine and nearly all of the ash. We left a band of app. one acre of ash, over fifteen feet long on average, to use as pollard forage and nearly every gum and ash stumps were left to develop coppice forage.

The portion of the pasture that was not in trees held a strong remnant of clump style fescue that has been there for nearly 20 years. The land has not been fertilized or limed in at least fifteen years. We will obtain soil samples today to determine what the soil needs.

Larger pines cover about 1.5-2 acres. In that area we will raise ossabaw pigs and heritage breed poultry. We might also take advantage of the shade and construct a wooden round pen for summer horse training and demonstrations.

To date all land clearing has been done with a few handsaws, several loppers, three chainsaws, and a brush buster. Felled trees are being delimbed and the trunks of the gum, pine and ash are being cut in sections over 10 feet long and  are used as poles for the pole fencing that we are constructing. Posts for that fence are being  cut from the wild cherry and mimosa. The fence perimeter is .64 miles. We are not fencing in all of the land at this moment.

A significant amount of the land clearing will be done by our livestock. As soon as the land is fenced we will add a band of Spanish goats and three donkeys. I expect them to make quick work of the brier and honey suckle that has grown up in a few spots. I hope to have either Cracker or Piney Woods cattle join our program to assist in that job

Sections of trunk that is too short for use either as poles or posts will be collected for spring hugelkulture projects. Branches are being placed in brush piles. Some of these brush piles will remain for wild life habitat. The other will be burned, or if it is financially feasible, reduced to chips and spread over the land.

As part of our educational mission we intend to build an eastern Algonquin type scare crow hut, a Choctaw Chickee, a wickiup, and perhaps even a Cherokee type log structure.

We have now installed a sixteen hydrant water system and an artesian well. The new land will be eventually connected to that system although it will require many fewer hydrants.

Lastly, before spring arrives we will complete creating a perimeter around our land that will allow for over two miles of riding without ever leaving our land.

In short, we are creating the perfect environment to preserve and promote nearly extinct strains of Colonial Spanish horses, to teach history, ecology, horse training, riding, and everything else that goes on in our program.

All with no paid staff.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Birthdays, Anniversaries, Holidays

I was sleeping very deeply when the dog woke me up this morning. I was sleeping deeper than I have in a very long time. I went to bed last night in more peace than I have been in a very long time.

The day did not start out that way. I never know what will be coming on December 29. Yesterday was the eighth anniversary of the death of my little brother Lido in a hunting accident. He was seventeen years old and when I got the phone call at 9:23 am on December 29, 2008 my life changed forever.

I changed forever. There was once a time when I could hold a jury or any audience spell bound when telling a story or making a point. There was once a time when I could move a child from tears to laughter with the turn of a phrase.

There was once a time when I could smile without it being a fake smile.

The days leading up to yesterday were better than they generally are at the end of December. Staying busy--working hard and constantly seeking the warm embrace of exhaustion--looking back and reminding myself that I have persevered--looking at the new land and the new programs and reminding myself of what we have created at the horse lot--

But not yesterday itself.

It was bad from the moment that I woke up in the middle of the night--raining hard, windy--usually do not let the weather distract me from getting any work done but not yesterday--out of the blue Lydia shows up in the rain. We sit on the porch and talk. Did not get the same peaceful feeling that I usually get from talking to Lydia.

 Did not relax.

Went to the office--at 9:23 I realized that I would not be able to stay. Had lunch with Jen and Lydia--went to my new land. The night before I had walked through the pines where I planned to put the hog pens-flashed through my mind to tell Lido to work on that while I cut more fence posts--even after eight years that flashed through my mind.

Even after eight years.

Weather turned bad fast-strange weather, super high winds, dark sky, cancelled the night ride--went home and listened to "What It Means" by Drive By Truckers over and over--powerful song about young men who die by gunfire in a very different context.

And then Ashley came home.

By far the best part of Christmas was watching Ashley pull out a picture frame that I had gotten her for Christmas. In it I had placed her adoption decree. She gave a half gasp, a quick tear, and an equally quick hug.

Beth is visiting her family in the mountains and with the night ride cancelled I was not at all sure how I would be spending the evening of December 29. Ashley and I went to dinner--best dinner that I have had in a long time. We headed home.

She was happy. She had been by a clothing store and picked up a dress for New Year's Eve. Before she showed it to me she took on a bit of a lecturing tone. She obviously was concerned about what her father would think about the dress. She explained that the dress was a party dress, that she was 22 years old, that she would be wearing leggings with it....then she came back in the living room to show me the dress after I had received all such necessary paternal warnings.

The dress was beautiful. The dress was a fine dress for a 22 year old young women to wear to a party (with leggings!). I was a bit amused by the fact that she wanted to make sure that her Daddy thought the dress was ok.

She did not look like the same person that I met when she was seventeen years old. She had survived the most hellish existence of anyone that I had ever known. At age seventeen she looked defeated. She was not.

Looks are deceiving.

This picture is from her birthday party at the Little House a few years ago. It is a picture of a wonderful young women who already has touched a lot of lives. She has already helped many people begin to heal. She has taught me how to better help others in their healing process.

In the days after Lido's death I was flooded with calls, notes, and emails from people telling me how much Lido had inspired them--how much he helped them learn to ride--how they preferred having him help them with the horses because he never made them feel like failures.

They told me that his simple example--just watching him--a teenager with cerebral palsy who had nearly no use of his right arm--catch, saddle, train and ride wild horses had made them believe in themselves.

He believed that he could do anything...and he believed that others could too.

My daughter Ashley can do anything--even make December 29 a very good day for me.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Memorial Night Ride

After work tomorrow, 12-29-2016,as the darkness falls we will have a night ride. Let me know who will be riding.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Pollard Hay-Corn Fodder-Replacing Money With Work

I don't blame the kids for not understanding how the new land is going to fit into our over all program. Being young they instinctively assess all options with one question in mind--"Will this cause me to have to do less work?"

I assess each option with several questions in mind--"Will this produce healthier, happier animals?"--"Will this reduce overall cost to the operation?" and "Will this provide an educational experience for program participants and visitors?"

They all look confused when I explain that no livestock will be given access to the stream/swamp that separates the new land from our horse lots. In fact, the buffer around the stream will remain. That will reduce pasture runoff and keep water quality high. Electric wire means a bit more work in terms of keeping it hot--but it is simple work that primarily involves walking the fence, removing shortages and fixing breaks in the wire.

A few posts ago I discussed coppicing the new land. Doing so creates less work for us, saves money, provides healthy, diverse forage to the animals, and provides an opportunity for education. Pollarding and foddering will create much more work but they meet all of my criteria perfectly.

There is about an acre or more in an open pasture behind the Little house. In late winter we will put hot wire around the base of it and I will sow several hundred pounds of feed corn on the surface. I will put a few hogs in there. I will bury with the post hole digger some corn below the surface spaced out across the pasture.

I expect the hogs and Elise's chickens to prepare the soil nicely for the first planting of corn. We will be able to irrigate that planting now that we have our new super water system. Those stalks will either be hand severed and fed to the horses or we will put hogs back in when the stalks reach about waist high. The second planting of corn will occur after that. I hope that we will have enough of a variety of heirloom corn that Jackie found that produced stalks between ten and twelve feet high to make that second, broad cast planting. This crop will be harvested with a machete while still green. The green stalks make some of the best horse feed that I have encountered. The still green ears will be fed t the goats and hogs. We will then put a few hogs in and let them break the ground up by lifting the corn roots out of the ground.

That should be late August or early September.

Then the winter forage goes in. We will sow oats and rye. By late winter/early spring it will provide super forage for any of our livestock.

The new land has a few acres that are nearly entirely ash, with a few gum saplings coming along. In mid summer these saplings will be severed at about five feet high. The tops that are removed are referred to as pollard hay. Pollard hay is the leaves, bark, and brows created from these tops. Pollard hay can be fed green to horses, cows, and goats or it can be dried and used as winter feed.

Lot of work listed above--lot of cost savings listed above--but most of all a lot of education and memories to be made for program participants--all with the central goal of preserving and promoting nearly extinct strains of Colonial Spanish horses.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Junior Managment

Pam is at again--taking a vague idea or principle that I have and turning it into an action plan. I take the greatest of pleasure in showing kids that they can do more than they think that they can and that work produces results.

As discussed in a previous post, I encourage young riders to develop analytical skills and I listen closely to their ideas concerning the development and improvement of our program. Even if the idea is not practical the mere fact that the kid is thinking about such thing is tremendously important. The main way that I encourage such thought is to respectfully listen to the idea or plan before commenting on it.

In addition when I am asked by whiny kids to do something for them that they are entirely capable of doing, I simply tell them to "go figure it out." This is quite a shock for many kids who are used to having adults at their  beck and call but invariably it leads to the child achieving another accomplishment, which no matter how small, leads to the confidence necessary to take on bigger challenges.

And here is Pam's idea. (Which came along about the same time as Jackie made a great suggestion to me). We now have colonial pigs, goats, and a few chickens to provide historical context for our Colonial Spanish horses. Understanding the historical context of these horses is vitally important to our efforts to preserve and promote them.That is why our costumed living history programs matter. That is why Jackie's heirloom garden is so important.

People are shocked to learn that there are wild Spanish mustangs on the east coast. They are even more shocked to learn that it is possible that the two wild herds at Shackleford and Corolla are the only herd of wild horses left who are not inter bred with modern horses. They are completely ignorant of the fact that in the early colonial years the small Spanish horses were the only horses in the southeast.

Then as they look over our replica 1650's era farm site and think about the fact that if their ancestors came to America south of the James River, and then south around the Atlantic coast, all along the Gulf coast or in any part of America west of the Mississippi these were the horses they rode. They are not just part of our history. They are part of our family and that is the main reason that we cannot allow them to go extinct.

We are making radical improvements in the infrastructure that supports this educational message.  I want to enhance that presentation by adding additional livestock. I want either Arkansas Piney Woods cattle or Florida Cracker cattle.

Pam suggested that we create a committee of some of our younger teen riders and have them do the research as to cattle availability, price, transportation cost, and deveopment of a fundraiser to cover the cost of getting the cattle here.

That is a wonderful idea. I have kids that can do it.

Jackie suggested turning over the work of maintaining  the heirloom garden to the kids under her direction.I love that idea also. Although she is not a child, but is a bright young lady, I have turned over the management of the Spanish goat program to my daughter Ashley Edwards. Sometime entire families are taking on big projects. The Lindquist family is working on developing a black soldier fly development program. In 2018 I want someone to turn our compost/worm farming/vermiculture efforts into a venture that not only manages waste but leads to income for the program. That will be a great job for a committed young person to take on.

In related news, Comet is getting some age on him and, to my tremendous surprise, he is gradually, graciously deferring to Peter Maxwell as that young horse seeks to replace Comet as the Emperor of his herd.

I am getting a little age on me and am looking forward to gradually, graciously turning over my empire of dirt to some of the spectacular young people that my horse lot helped raise.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Cross Generational Friendship

Then there was an old man
wise and kind with age
he could read me like a book
and he never missed a page
and I loved him like my father
and I loved him like my friend--

Gram Parson's "In My Hour Of Darkness"

Our program has generated a lot spin off benefits that could have never been anticipated when we began. Some have been utterly unpredictable. One of the most rewarding of such benefits that occurs is the existence of cross-generational friendships.

This one I take a bit of the credit for. I expect my riders to be responsible and mature. That is easier for some than others, but I have always been very respectful of the ideas of those who throw their heart into the program.

That  has helped to bring out the best in many of these young people. I was once asked if I was concerned that the young women that I referred to as my "big girls" might be offended by that characterization.

I have never had the slightest concern about that. Though we have never discussed the matter, they each know that I have no higher term of respect for anyone then to call them one of my big girls. My big girls understand what we do, why we do it, how it must be done, and why it matters.

Years ago at a blm auction a tv news crew was so surprised at watching how much I deferred to Lydia's judgement in deciding which horses to get that they followed us around with the camera and filmed her decision making process--doubt if she was old enough to drive then.

Throw into the mix the fact that we have completely inexperienced adults join our program who rely on the expertise of my big girls and the walls that separate the generations in our world are breached.

Are you following me here? This creates a unique atmosphere of cross mentorship--life experience of one--energy and knowledge of the other--each learning from the other--each enjoying the company of the other.

And it is wonderful.  Not everyone has a child--not everyone has both parents--but everyone needs a friend and finding one is a great thing.

All Most Like Time Travelers

After an absence of likely over 300 years Colonial Spanish hogs have returned to Isle of Wight County. A pair of young Ossabaw hogs recently joined the Colonial Spanish horses and colonial era goats and chickens at Mill Swamp Indian Horses outside of Smithfield on Moonlight Road. The hogs will be bred in a fenced in pine forest and a few will be kept in the replica 1650's era farm site constructed in the horse pastures.

These Ossabaws are from a line of heritage breed pigs raised today at Mount Vernon. A handful of small breeders across the nation work to prevent their extinction. Along with the Mulefoot and Choctaw hogs, the Ossabaws are listed by the Breeds Conservancy as one of only three
breeds to be so rare as to be listed as "critically" endangered.

According to Steve Edwards, who directs the non-profit program at Mill Swamp Indian Horses, the Ossabaws are prized for their flavor. "Their meat is dark and often marbled like beef." Although they will be bred and raised for distribution to other preservation breeders their primary focus will be educational.

" The colonial livestock, heritage vegetables, and replica farm are all here to assist in our primary purpose, breeding and preventing the extinction of rare strains of Colonial Spanish horses. It all provides a setting, a picture frame to place the horses that were here in the earliest years in their proper historical context.", Edwards explained.

As spring arrives the facility will be open for family and group visits by appointment.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

I Have Never Been 57 Before

But that is what I was when I woke up this morning. Seems like only last night I was 56. I have lived now five  years longer than I was counting on. My retirement plan was based on getting killed by a horse at the age of 52. I figured getting killed by a horse would be a good way to get remembered. About the only better way to die would be to get assassinated and I do not qualify for that.

2016 has been a special year for me. Ended it with a new daughter and a pair of Ossabaw hogs. (of course the daughter is the best part)

2017 should be even better--several foals coming beginning in the spring--nearly twenty acre land addition for the program's use. new water system in place,knowing that we have in place enough unrelated breeding stock for a foundation herd for the Corolla off site breeding program, being very close to having the infrastructure in place to turn our horse lots into institutions of learning the way and....playing more music.

Our program will be better next year. I will too.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Coppice: Creating A Two Tier Pasture

I allow the horses that I ride to eat while we are riding, provided that they do not stop and that they maintain their gait while doing so. That has made me acutely aware of how much horses enjoy browsing from trees and shrubs.

The new pasture that we are creating has a total of nearly 20 acres, a small amount already open, a significant portion covered in pine, but a great deal of it was covered with sweet gum, ash,wild cherry and mimosa. The cherries can produce toxins and will not be allowed to remain alive. The largest pine areas will be allowed to grow after some thinning is done and we will use it for shade for the hogs and will likely build a special round pen for summer demonstrations and programs.

The ash, gum, and mimosa will sprout new growth from the stumps that will provide lush forage for the horses and goats well into summer. The  tree roots pull minerals to the surface from deep in the soil and some of those minerals reach the new growth. This diverse natural diet will be great for the horses.

We will probably leave many brush piles in the area to serve as habitat for wild rabbits. They enjoy few things more then the tender shoots that grow from the coppiced stumps.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Unbridled Optimism

Been building this program a long time. Winter is normally our ugly season of mud and dull colors of gray and brown. Wendell's ideas on soil conservation have reduce the mud much more than 95%.

And that is just one example of why I feel better about our program going into the next year than I ever have.

And....I am not going to list all of the other reasons because if I start listing the wonderful things that program participants have done to make this place work I will miss someone.

And that in itself is a solid reason to feel optimistic. So many people have done so much with so very little.

One of the reasons that I look forward so much to the next year is that my daughter Ashley Edwards will be working hard to take the Road To Repair programs as far as they can go. It will be a lot of work on her part, but the changed lives will make every bit of it worth it.

And it won't be her only role at the horse lot. I have promoted her to the position of Minister of Goat Affairs. The new land gives us the opportunity to preserve historically appropriate strains of Colonial Spanish Goats. The goats, the Ossabow hogs, the settler's farm, the colonial chickens, and our hand made post and rail fence will all provide a picture frame, a setting both for education and promotion and preservation of the nearly extinct strains of pioneer horses of the southeast.

And we now need only to obtain historically appropriator cattle. I do hope that 2017 brings us either Arkansas Piney Woods Cattle or Cracker cattle.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Christmas Pony

What could be better than a pony for Christmas? A chance to join the program at Mill Swamp Indian Horses is the only thing that I know that tops a Christmas pony.

Located outside of Smithfield Virginia, Mill Swamp indian Horses is the program name of Gwaltney Frontier Farm, a 501 (c) 5 breed conservation non-profit organization. The entire program is run by dedicated volunteers with no paid staff. This unique riding instruction program accepts adult riders and children young as five years old.

Here is a brief list of what goes on at this incredible operation:

Participants learn natural horsemanship, both to develop close relationships with trained horses but even to include training wild horses.

Nearly extinct strains of historic Colonial Spanish Horses and American Indian horses are preserved and promoted including the breeding, raising and training of these horses.

Participants learn to ride and safely handle horses on everything from casual rides around the field to long distance rides in the woods.

The site includes a replica 1650's era farm complete with smokehouse, home, corn crib and tobacco barn.

Livestock appropriate to the early colonial era are maintained on site including Spanish Goats, Ossabow hogs and Dominique chickens.

Participants learn about soil conservation and permaculture practices

Participants have the opportunity to join the music program where ancient songs are taught on instruments like fiddles, banjos, dulcimers, bouzoukis, bodhruns, guitars, mandolins, autoharp, and even the wash tub bass.

Most riders ride horses owned by the program but many obtain and board their own Colonial Spanish horses on site and take a direct role in preventing the extinction of thee horses.

The program has no hourly rates and participants are encouraged to ride and learn at every possible opportunity. This list is brief and incomplete--go to the website and check out the Mill Swamp Indian Horses Group facebook page to learn more about this exciting and affordable program.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Care About Colonial Spanish Mustangs? Then Sign Up For The Great Distance Derby Sign up For the

Sorry for the lack of notice but sometime good ideas hit me at the last moment. The Great Distance Derby is a wonderful way to track the miles that you ride and to let others see your mileage. You will likely find that recording and posting this mileage will cause you to ride more and that is a huge benefit in itself. Here is  the Derby site

Read the rules closely--don't ask me for more information contact them directly with your questions. Enroll you and your horses whether you call them Spanish Mustangs or Colonial Spanish Horses. What better way to show that our horses are perfect trail horses, perfect family horses, perfect distance horses than for the top miles nationally and regionally to be garnered by our horses?

It is easy. It is super cheap. It gives us a great way to make waves.

Sign up now. Let's make 2017 the Year Of The Colonial Spanish Mustang.

Lets have every registry work together to get this done. Deadlines are short--move now. This could really be great for our horses.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Come Home For Christmas

So many of us use our experience with horses to improve the quality of our emotional lives. Many who do so do not even realize that is what they are doing. Horses heal and sooth by providing distractions and relief from everyday stress to some people. At the other end of the spectrum they prevent suicide by people who have been through the severest of trauma.

If horses have saved your life, and continue to do so on a daily basis, squeeze every bit of knowledge that you can from your experience with horses. Your horse understands the horror. You need to understand why he understands.

As a prey animal, a horse's greatest desire is for security--that same wonderful feeling of safety that you so desperately need as you find your mind being pulled back into the horror of your past. He needs consistency. Chaos for him is not freedom. It is the exact opposite. Lack of consistency and predictability robs him of the ability to feel secure. He needs to be around other horses who are calm and secure. The security that radiates from them is every bit as beneficial as the stress that radiates from a band of highly stressed horses is detrimental.

Fun, excitement as we understand it, adventure----none of these things appeal to a prey animal seeking security.

But adult humans are predators. We are not prey animals. Our greatest goal is not security. It is autonomy. We want freedom. We abhor boredom. We crave excitement, adventure,

But, and here is the key point, those of us who have been severely traumatized, whether having been officially diagnosed with PTSD or not, often cease to be predators. In order to survive those who have lived through Hell, often adopt the body language and motivations of prey animals without having any idea that they have done so. 

When that happens the need for security becomes paramount. But our culture is not designed to support that quest for security. Our instincts and our friends and family who know no better tell us that we need to be autonomous if we are ever to be happy.

And that is true. But few people understand that in these cases happiness with autonomy can never occur until one first finds security.

One cannot make the emotional leap from being a full fledged prey animal to being a predator without first achieving that vital sense of security. Efforts to do so are doomed to fail--substance abuse,serial romantic relationships with partners whose "dangerousness" makes them appealing, constantly changing "homes" and running to the next job, or school, or set of friends. These results are obvious to those who understand the dichotomy that severe trauma induces--the need for security coupled with a hope for autonomy.

But autonomy is not out of reach for those who taste pain daily. It is fully achievable--with very hard work and commitment. Trauma has wreaked havoc on your mind and body in a myriad of ways and fighting back will take a myriad of strategies--exercise, sound nutrition, adequate sleep, perhaps medication, and counseling.

For most of us developing a relationship with a horse using natural horsemanship will radically enhance the effectiveness of all of these strategies. It can bring us to feeling truly secure.

And it can let you come home--back to a home that you knew before pain dripped on you like a constant, misty rain that is only interrupted by pouring thunder storms. It can let you come home to the home that was once filled with excitement, surprises, and, yes, even fun.

And there is no need to wait--no need to have New Year's resolutions. Go home now. Come home for Christmas...

and use a horse to get there.

* Please note that the term  "predator" has taken on a hostile and pejorative meaning in common usage. The term here is used in its simple and literal meaning as simply a meat eating creature.

Best Christmas Present For The Rider In Your Life

That is an easy one--get them a new helmet. I hate the way helmets look. I agree that they are uncomfortable and inconvenient.

I also know that I would be dead if I did not wear a helmet....or worse. I could be severely brain damaged so that I would not be able to care for myself were it not for the fact that I wear a helmet.

When I had little experience training wild horses I made a series of mistakes  that lead to me coming off of a very fast moving young horse. When I landed my head hit the ground with such force that the chin snap on the helmet broke. The helmet absorbed the blow and then shot off of my head.

When I sat up I saw it as it rested on the ground away from where I landed. So I paced it off to measure the distance of the trip that my broken hemet made after I hit the ground.

Eight long strides--stop reading for a moment and go take eight long strides--look at how far that is.

Without a helmet on my head at that time there would be no Mill Swamp Indian Horses. Every bit of good that has been done over the past decade in our program would have never happened.

Some questions about horsemanship are as blurry as the picture above. This question is not.

Yes, wear a helmet.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Teaching Teachers: Our Newest Ground Breaking Program

No sarcasm here--bone cold deadly serious (and a bit excited) Never had a business class, never studied management--never studied theories of organizational development, but I do get things done. This is how those things get done.

What we do is based on a system that I have used for years and have come to rely on it  more as time goes by. Simple system--I surround myself with brilliant women and I  describe everything that I see going on at the horse lot, both good and bad to them--not in a formal setting but simply in conversation.

And then I shut up and listen.

This morning that is exactly what happened. I told my wife about something that I noticed at the horse lot yesterday. She told me how to create a vitally important program as a result of what I told her.

I told her about Hannah. She is a young school teacher. She is a small school teacher. Several of the students that she brings out to the horse lot are older teenage boys, one or two of them dwarf me. After she was out for the first time with the students Lydia pointed out the obviously genuine degree of respect that she received from the students. The next time she was out I paid a bit more attention to it. Lydia was right--respect and trust---strong, obvious.

Hannah knows horses. Yesterday she got in the round pen with Ta Sunka. He responded to her every bit as well as he responds to me. I told Beth that I thought that the respect that the students gave her and the respect Ta Sunka gave her are quite closely related.

Beth said, "I have your next new program for you to do. Teach school teachers how to use the round pen to learn to handle their class rooms. You and Amanda do it." (My daughter Amanda Browder is a super star eighth grade science teacher and is nearly as charismatic a speaker as I am).

I jumped at the idea and said that even better we will have one of my other daughter's, Ashley Edwards, join Amanda and me in developing the program.  Ashley's experience presenting programs through Road to Repair that use the lessons of the round pen to teach effective communication with people, especially young people, who have been severely traumatized will add another dimension to the program.

This is going to be great.

(Another key component of my non-management  style is that I do not waste a lot of my time hand wringing and planning or seeing if it will be ok with everyone. In fact, I am sure that Amanda and Ashley will be excited about their participation in this program--and I am looking forward to telling them all about it.)

A New Day For Our Program: Ossabow Hogs

Woke up same as always--looked over at the clock, a bit past two am, quickly figure out which day it is. Do I have court today? No, it might be Friday--mind begins to clear more--no its Saturday.

Vague feeling of excitement, bordering on happiness--can't figure out why.

Then I wake all the way up and realize that as of lunch time yesterday we now have a pair of colonial pigs for the settler's farm--the real thing--no more wincing as I take visitors by the pig pen and have to explain that the hogs that they see are primarily of modern extraction. We now have the real thing--stepping back in time to see some of the rarest pigs in existence. Knowing that if one wants to see such pigs one can go to Mount Vernon, Colonial Williamsburg, or......Mill Swamp Indian Horses.

Pam deserves the credit for this tremendous  acquisition. I had absolutely no idea this was happening. Let me try to explain why this is so important.

Our program is many faceted and we offer several different "products."  These products include, fun, healing, peace, exercise, a sense of belonging and at times, pure joy. But there is another product that we offer that is particularly important to me--knowledge.

It is easily understood that we are a breed conservation program focusing on preventing the extinction of the Corollas and several other strands of historic Colonial Spanish Horses. It is easily understood that we are a riding program that teaches natural horsemanship to children and adults. It is less obvious that we are a soil conservation program that seeks to use permaculture principles to enhance the environment.

But what is not so obvious and easily understood is that we are an educational institution. That function is very important to me. To allow children to see wondrous things and to open their minds to things they never imagined, and to do it all so subtly that they do not even realize that they are being taught, gives me the greatest of pleasure.

These pigs will open minds to history, agricultural production, economics, and ecological studies in ways that a class room or a library cannot. You would understand if you had been with me yesterday as I explained to a teenager who lives in the inner city why the horse's name is Ta Sunka Witco. This lead to a discussion of names, culture, history and heroism that lit his eyes up.

If reading this causes you to do a bit of research to learn about Ta Sunka Witco our educational mission will have enlightened one more person. And that is why seeing these Christmas pigs come to join our program has delighted me so much.


Friday, December 16, 2016

Preserving Colonial Spanish Horses: Various Business Models To Consider

I am delighted to be receiving so many questions about this vital and boring topic. (Kids this is the grown up world.)

Some broad considerations first--why do you want to prevent the extinction of the first horses of the nation? Is this a whim or an inspiration? What lifestyle changes are you willing to make to make it happen? Does it bother you that no one close to you will understand why you are doing this? Do you seek to have only a breeding program or do you also want to build a program to radically improve the lives of people?

Do you, in any way, have the slightest regard for the approval of the established horse world? (If so stop reading and go breed whatever modern horse is the fad of the moment.)


If you want complete control over the operation you will need to run it as a for profit business. Three main models come to mind:

1. sole proprietorship--advantage easy to set up, huge disadvantage--no protection of corporate laws.

2. partnership--advantage brings in additional operating capitol and management energy, disadvantage--partners are humans and interaction with humans is fraught with potential problems, partnership agreements should be in writing and prepared by competent legal counsel.

3. Limited Liability Corporations--advantage provides protection of corporate laws, likely can be taxed as a subchapter S corporation--disadvantage (though a very small one) entails legal fees to create and manage.

I believe very strongly in working to save every penny possible by doing work yourself except in regards to legal and accounting advice. Hire and pay a real lawyer. In fact, for  most people the previous sentence is by far the most important sentence in this post.

If you use a for profit business model keep in mind that making a profit must be the primary goal. You must make business decisions with that in mind. Sounds great, but it will limit your ability to build a program.

Non-profit status:

More than one form of non-profit  status exists. Everyone has heard of 501 (c) 3 non profits, but the 501 (c) 5 breed conservation nonprofit might be better for you. Before deciding to pursue non-profit status research everything that you can about the pros and cons of doing so. Do not do the research with an eye towards being able to save money by completing your own filing forms and application. Instead research enough so that you can carry on a meaningful conversation with the attorney and accountant that will be advising you.

Do not be your own lawyer. I am a lawyer. My wife is a lawyer. I still obtained the assistance of legal counsel to prepare all of the paper work. This is too important to skimp on.

Carefully consider who you ask to serve on your initial board. Take on no one who does not absolutely understand your goals and motivations. If you seek to create a bland, ordinary riding and breeding program that differs from other bland, ordinary breeding and riding programs only in the fact that your horses are more athletic, affectionate, and hearty than other programs', then, by all means, seek out bland, ordinary people to join you in making that vision a reality.

If you want to be part of the revolution that seeks to improve the quality of horse's lives by practicing natural horsemanship, natural hoof care, and natural horse care it is imperative that those on your board understand and completely share in those goals.  (I would type this in bolder print but there is no print big enough to do this point justice. Do not seek to put new wine in old wine skins.)

Revolutions take commitment. More commitment of time and energy than most people imagine. For many years now I have been a prosecutor. I spend as much time with our program as I do with my actual job. That means that there is little (actually no) time for other things. That suits me.

Would it suit you?

Let me give you a example of what I mean. Tuesday night I was returning from Corolla where I had been at a meeting of the Board of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund. I was returning in the dark. I found myself surrounded by scores of new businesses, houses and entire neighborhoods that I had never seen at night.

That was within 20 miles of my home.

No, I don't get out much.

You need to decide early on if being a part of building a revolution is worth that to you.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

I Miss Belle!

That is what my granddaughter told me over the weekend. Belle is her gaited mule. Lucy is beginning to learn to ride and has been in the woods with me a time or two.

But not lately. The past six weeks or so has been a blur of land clearing and fence building. Deer season ends in a few weeks. I hope to have livestock in the new land that we are clearing in a month.

I hope that my big girls can take over much of the Saturday programing in the coming months. I need some time off.

Ironically, I need the time off so I can ride.

I want to ride alone. I want to ride with my family. I want to ride far. My body and my mind are ready for the satisfaction that only comes from trotting and gaiting at least twenty miles. I miss refining horses the way that I like them to be refined--with the only two things that I care about--that the horse ride with feather-like lightness and that the horse calmly and courageously take on any terrain.

I have been waiting a long time to personally refine Janie's Got A Gun. She came all the way here from Texas. She is going to be everything that I look for in a horse.

Such a peculiar season--the sky seems to always be the color of only two things--gun powder and lead. It is a season in which I am engulfed by the peculiarities of the mind. From the moment that I got the phone call telling me that Lido had died in a hunting accident I remember everything perfectly clearly. But I immediately lost all memory of the week that lead up to it.

So now I am in that peculiar season--the future is just around the corner, but the past is here, always, never breaking for a rest for even a moment.

The past never seems to get tired. It works all the time.

And you just cannot out work it--no matter how many trees you cut down.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Film Students, Directors and Documentarians-Take A Look

So here is the situation. Our program preserves nearly extinct strains of the first horses to come to America and touches lives in ways that are impossible to imagine without actually seeing it. We are a 501(c)5 non profit and we have no paid staff. I am convinced that what we do can be replicated all over the country. I also am convinced that gradual, word of mouth exposure has very limited utility in showing what is possible for people who care about horse and humans.

So here is the next step. In the spring when things are green again there are few places more beautiful than our horse lot. The optics are extraordinary. The story is much more beautiful than the sights. It is time to have professionals make a film on what goes on here.

I am not a sales man or a pitchman. I am a prosecutor with an unusual family background. I am also in a hurry to do everything I can to get others to develop programs  like ours. I am not seeking an iota of compensation resulting from a film. There is a great deal of potential text to be found in our blog, Mill Swamp indian Horse Views that I will also authorize to be used.

Here is a short list of what goes on at our horse lot. There will be no detailed descriptions in this list. For more information contact me at

Mill Swamp Indian Horses is the program name of Gwaltney Frontier Farm. In this program we:

1. work to preserve and promote nearly extinct strains of historic Colonial Spanish Horses, such as Choctaws, Corollas, Shacklefords, Marsh Tackys and Galicenos.

2. provide weekly sessions for those in the in patient PTSD program at the local Veterans Hospital.

3. have never turned away anyone for lack of ability to pay program fees.

4. teach children as young as five years old how to begin to tame, train, and ride wild horses.

5. provide a site for Ashley Edwards' "Road to Repair" programs both for training professionals who deal with those who have experienced intense trauma and for the survivors of such abuse. She teaches cops how to use the body language of horses when communicating with victims of child abuse and sexual assault. I met Ashley when she was seventeen. I have been prosecuting molestation and sexual assault cases for nearly twenty years, Ashley's case was the worst case I ever encountered. She is brilliant, articulate, filled with insight and is a compelling speaker. She is now also the youngest daughter that my wife, Beth, and I have with her adoption having been finalized in recent months.

6. have been featured in award winning children's books such as "Corolla's Sand Horse Beach: Croatoan's Memoirs" and "The Adventures of Red Feather" and "Red Feather Goes to School." We were also in a great segment of the TV show "Wild About Animals

7. built a replica 1650's era farm site to provide a back drop for our historical and educational programs where we occasionally have living history performances.

8. have a music program for participants to learn to play ancient American songs using fiddles, banjos, harmonicas, dulcimers, three string wooden banjos, wash tub bass, cahone, bodhrun, bouzouki, mandolin and guitar.

9. conduct clinics demonstrating our methods of gently and humanely taming and training horses.

Sounds pretty dry when you just read it over in a quick list like this--but the bottom line is that what goes on in our horse lot radically improves lives for horses and people. It is a compelling story that would make a great film.

If you would like to discuss being the person that makes that film, contact me at

Saturday, December 10, 2016

And I Had Nothing To Do With It!

Cold yesterday--cut trees for hours--really stiff and sore when I got in--checking computer before I ate and then....

I saw this picture that came to me as a complete surprise. I had no idea that she had progressed this far. This is Elise on her horse, Sparrow Hawk. I have done no training of this horse. I have given Elise minimal training suggestions. I am sure that Lydia and Jen have helped out and given suggestions.

But Elise did this. This is her victory.

There are few things more emotionally satisfying than taking a horse that wants absolutely nothing to do with you and turning it into your friend. One of those things is to encourage a person to develop the skill , knowledge and confidence to take that road.

Daddy once told someone who asked about my techniques to teach kids to ride and he told them that I do not teach kids to ride. He said that riding is like swimming. You are born knowing how to do it and that all that I do is to give kids the confidence to ride.

I could not agree more.

Emily Marble once told me that I do not give instruction. I just give inspiration.

Again, I could not agree more.

I have trained many horses. I have seen thousands of pictures of me with horses that I have trained. I am very pleased to be able to look at many of those pictures knowing that I made it happen.

But none of those pictures are as satisfying to me as seeing this one of Elise on her horse. The satisfaction comes from knowing that I was not the one who made it happen. I was just the one who made it possible.

And that feels good. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Thank You For Keeping The Program Growing

In an off hand comment a mustang preservationist mentioned that the handful of people who dedicate themselves to preserving the nearly extinct strains of historic horses that first came to America in the 1500's can be difficult people to work with. She went on to say that these preservationists "impoverish their families" to preserve the horses.

"Impoverish"? that's a hard hitting term. There have been a few people who get into breeding these horses expecting to make money. That is understandable. After all, for the needs of most horse people today, the Colonial Spanish Horse is a superior product. The are large enough for adults, small enough for kids, sweet natured, easy to train, affectionate, smooth gaited,have great hooves,are athletic, easy keepers, and if you care about such things, beautiful.

But money is rarely made by those who dedicate themselves to preserving beauty for future generations.  In fact, it costs a fortune to do so. Saving yesterday's horses for tomorrow's riders is hard on the bank account of today's breeders.

We started out preserving or promoting the Corolla Colonial Spanish Mustang but our efforts have grown to include Choctaws, Shacklefords, Grand Canyons, Galicenos and Marsh Tackys.

We do all of this while teaching children to tame, train and ride wild horses, teach history in a replica 1650's era farm site, complete with historically appropriate livestock, have programs for veterans with PTSD,and at risk young people, provide a site for Ashley Edwards' "Road To Repair" programs both for survivors of sexual assault and to teach professionals how to better communicate with severely traumatized people,bring in speakers on the history of various strains of these horses, maintain the region's best library on natural horsemanship, teach and demonstrate ecologically sound principles of soil conservation and permaculture practices, have occasional living history programs, and teach young people to play and perform ancient songs on American folk musical instruments.

And we do all of this as a 501(c)5 non profit breed conservation organization, with no paid staff and all of the work done by volunteers.

 My wife and I purchased nearly twenty acres of land adjacent to the horse lot for use by the program--primarily as additional pasture land. This has been an expensive and unanticipated development. We have a shallow well at the Little House that provides water for the horses--except during very dry weather. during those times water has to be hauled back to the horses. Some days the watering process would take my father up to four hours to complete. The dry weather would also wreak havoc on our pastures.

We have nearly completed installation of a deep well and water system that will not only provide sufficient water for the livestock, but will also allow us to water the pastures. This will give us lush, beautiful forage for the horses.

And it is expensive.

The fencing and clearing of the new land would be an extraordinary expense. In fact, more of an expense than we could handle. So we are doing it all ourselves. The land was a pasture as recently as 15 years ago. Since that time it has grown up in trees. We are building wooden fencing around the land from the trees that we are removing. All of this work is being done without any heavy equipment--chainsaws, a brush buster, loppers and a lot of kids and adults working very hard. My original plan was to use commercial fence post and woven wire fencing. That would have been fairly easy.

And it would have been expensive.

And our horses eat a lot of hay--10-14,000 pounds a week. When the pasture dies down the demand for hay increases. Our program fees are designed to cover that cost but we have never turned anyone away for inability to pay those fees. In addition to our regular hay bill, we purchase a big bulk load in the spring and the winter.

And it is expensive.

Big expenses, rapidly growing program that is touching a lot of lives--horses and human-- income not growing to keep pace with that growth.

I put out a fund raising appeal and the response has been gratifying. Very gratifying to me, personally. In order to save money on the fencing of the new land I have been working at a frenetic pace dropping trees, cutting poles and making fence posts. Using a chain saw in near darkness is a bit stressful. Luckily, I can dig post holes in the dark.

But is does make you wonder if this is all worth it--well it does for at least a moment. I am fifty six years old and deputy prosecutor for my county. Those things wear on the body and the mind. When you cap off a day in court by working a few hours in the dark at the horse lot, especially as winter approaches, one cannot help but be plagued by a bit of doubt--ok a lot of doubt.

But then days like yesterday occur. Although contributions to a non profit  (c)5 breed conservation program are not tax deducible we received several contributions--the kind of contributions that make you feel that someone out there thinks that all this work is worth it--Contributions that are big enough to make you feel like putting some extra oil on that chainsaw.

If you want to be part of what we are doing take a look at our web site There is a "donate" button at the end of the "Bio" section. It is a touch after five am. Shortly I am heading out to drop more trees before beginning to work. It would be a great thing to come home tonight and find out that you all have nearly worn that "donate" button out.

Go ahead, make my day.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Ask Yourself: Is This A Horse Problem?

I have to somehow protect myself from being drawn to the various horse forums that pop up on my computer. Viewing these questions is bad enough. Reading the answers is even worse.

 Why do so many people who are fairly new to horses voluntarily degrade the quality of their lives by seeking the opinion (in reality the approval) of the anonymous experts of the internet as to how they should interact with their horses?

Start with the obvious question. What has the established horse world done for horses? It has created an agribusiness that produces a food/supplement regimen that produces more obese, laminitic horse than the nation has ever seen. It is based on the horrid notion that a horse's worth is somehow related to its sales price. It has supported horse slaughter and has stood firmly in the way of efforts to improve the quality of horse's lives through natural horse care, natural hoof care and natural horsemanship.

What has the established horse world done for people? It has created a system of unnecessary and harmful "requirements" for good horsemanship that place the cost of owning a horse completely outside the budget of working families. It has taught 12 year old girls that they should sell their best friend and purchase another horse who can  be awarded a strip of cloth of a different color at the next assemblage of such experts at a horse show. It has taught people that the competition horse is of more value than one used "just" for trail riding. It has taught people that they need to have a trainer solve all the problems that arise between them and their horses.

And most of all it has taught them that their horses are disposable.

Why would I possibly want their opinions on anything at all, much less something as important as the relationship that one can have with a horse?

I am often asked why I do not encourage my little riders to become involved in more competitions. The math is simple. Competitions create many more losers than they produce winners. And regardless of the color of the strip of cloth attached to the horse's head, the net impact of competition on horses at large is a tremendous  negative.

I believe in self competition. I want riders to compete, not among others, but entirely within themselves as individuals to see how much time they can spend with their horses, how quickly they can release pressure, how healthy they can maintain their horses, how comfortably they can ride, how gentle they can be, how firm they can be when necessary,  how kind they can be to their horses and to other people and how much factual information they can learn about horses.

Forget the color of the strip of cloth.

The only goal worth seeking is to use your horsemanship to become a better person.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

If We Build It They Will Come

Cyrus Lawrence was the greatest high school football player that I ever saw. Fast--yes, strong--without a doubt, but so were a lot of players. What was so puzzling watching him run the ball was what would happen when single players tried to tackle him.

Slamming his body into the tacklers as he ran--he was more of the hitter than the hittee. In many such collisions--there would be that pause of a microsecond that always occurred just before the running back went down--but he did not go down. Instead, he spun with the power of a wild boar and the tackler would come off of him the way a wet hound shakes off water.

Run hard-hit-be nearly stopped--spin hard and then run harder than even before.

If you keep your eyes open there are learning experiences all around you--insights that provide solutions to the crisis of nearly being tackled.

Now I do not like to worry about money, but in the last few weeks that worry has been hitting me hard. Gwaltney Frontier Farm is a 501(c)5 non profit breed conservation program. We have no paid staff--all volunteers. Last week we had a deep well dug and the watering system that will attach to it will insure year round water for the horses and will provide for irrigation for the pastures. It is an expensive endeavor that will greatly improve our pastures and benefit our horses.

Last month my wife and I purchased the nearly twenty adjoining acres the use of our program. It was a pasture up until about 15 years ago and much of it has grown up in pine, sweet gum and cherry trees. To clear the land commercially and to convert it back to pasture would cost about $1,000.00 an acre. A simple woven wire fence with treated fence posts would cost about $2,500.00 to $3,000.00.

We are clearing it ourselves. Wendell purchased a brush buster. The machine cost him a fortune and he has walked many miles behind it in the last few weeks. Program participants and a few outside volunteers have been of tremendous help.

I could not stand to waste all of the lumber that we were cutting down so I started a pole fence. The pole fence costs us nothing but the nails and the treated fence posts to hold the poles. Those posts are not cheap.

We were squeezing along with the donations that we had received and were on track to be able to pay for the fencing and the water system. Then we were hit with some large ticket items all for this same month.

I had run hard, hit hard, but I was about to be tackled. Yesterday I decided to spin hard, very hard and keep on running. Sweet gum will not last for even a few seasons as fence posts. Pine is better but still is not really sufficient for even a temporary fix.

No one uses wild cherry for fence posts because no one has access to enough wild cherry trees to cut any significant number of posts...

But we do. Wild cherry lasts on average about a decade when used as fence posts. I knew that it would be hard work to cut and remove sufficient wild cherry trunks to get the job done. Yesterday was brutally difficult but we cut and stacked about 200 cherry fence posts.

Skeptics will say that the posts will not work. Skeptics also thought that we could not build this fence with the work of a bunch of kids and a handful of volunteers. Skeptics thought that we could not teach little children to tame and train wild horses.

And time after time, as it looked like his knee was just about to touch the ground, skeptics thought that Cyrus Lawrence was about to be tackled.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

What Is An American Indian Horse?

This is an American Indian Horse. The American Indian Horse Registry was formed in 1961 to preserve, promote and protect these horses and to recognize the modern breeds whose roots go back to the first horses brought to this continent by the Spanish. is a website worth understanding. After you read it cover to cover the next stop that I would recommend is the Horse of the Americas Registry's website and then I would move on the the Spanish Mustang Registry's site.

Simple history, complex politics--spectacular horses.

Feather is 34% Choctaw strain Colonial Spanish Horse. She is small, gaited, has tremendous endurance, and is very affectionate.

If such things matter to you you might also notice that she is beautiful.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Kay Kerr--Award Winning Author and Humanitarian

It is great to see Kay Kerr getting the recognition that she deserves.

 In November her spectacularly illustrated children's book on Croatoan won first place in the children's fiction category at the Equus Film Festival in New York and now she is being recognized for the program that she created for those who are in patients in PTSD treatment at the Hampton VA. This program is conducted at Mill Swamp Indian Horses on a weekly basis. Kay's work saves horses and people.

                          (Some of the books available through our website, including "Corolla's Sand Horse     Beach-Croatoan's Memoirs".)

There are very few better things that can be said about a person than that.

Her book can be ordered through our website

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Even If The Heavens Fall

What does good training and being ridden with perfectly consistent pressure and release for several years do for a horse's confidence?

Our horses have never been despooked with the sound of chain saws. We do not practice having them stand around while trees are falling down. But yesterday morning I was deep in the wooded portion of our new land cutting down trees. The roar of the chain saw made me oblivious to any other sounds. Mimosa was cracking like a .22 going off as I sawed the big limbs off.

After one limb fell I looked up to see Terry sitting there bareback on Quien Es?, her Chincoteague/BLM cross mare, about thirty yards from me. The horse stood there as calmly as she would standing in the pasture with her herd.

Even for our horses, that was exceptional behavior. It really drives home an important part, the most important part, about safety while riding. Worst of all it is a safety lesson that is never taught.

The best way to reduce rider injury is to completely train the horse using perfectly consistent cues while continuing to build the horse's confidence by allowing it to constantly be exposed to new challenges. Along with the training comes the experience that the horse deserves. Long miles of riding in different environments builds both rider and horse confidence. Terry has ridden Quien Es? a few thousand miles in our woods and on weekend rides with other groups all across the region.

Lastly, get yourself in the best physical condition possible. On many occasions one will find that in all those episodes of nearly falling off, the thing that allows one to stay aboard is simply being strong enough to do so.

Ride long. Ride strong.

(Quien Es? was named for the last words of Billy the Kid. She is the mother of Ashley's horse, Peter Maxwell.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Our March Special Rides

This picture was from our first long ride, years ago--46 miles.

As this year comes to an end it is time to look forward to some special events. Deer season ends the first Saturday in January. That will be when we begin to seriously condition ourselves and our horses for March. Our new riders will be given a chance to do their first twenty mile ride.

On another Saturday in March we will have a fifty mile trotting ride for those who are up to it. and on the last Saturday of the month we may have a March Mudness timed 25 mile run for horses and riders who are in top condition.

I probably am supposed to keep this a secret...but I think that the big girls are planning a night ride/bonfire/camp out for March that all program participants can join in on.

The best way to get out of a dark room is to keep your eyes on a glimmer of light.

Of Course That is His Natural Color

Sparrow Hawk is the most distinctive horse in our pasture. Marsh Tacky/Kentucky Mountain Horse--Elise has done a great job of settling her horse's mind and getting him ready for heavy riding. By Easter she will have him perfectly trained.

(Actually, I think she will have him perfectly trained by Valentine's Day but I am not going to say that out loud. It might put too much pressure on the two of them.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Eating Through The Woods Like Termites

The nearly twenty acres that Beth and I purchased for pasture for the program had more trees on it than I realized. Though the land is adjacent to the horse lot, I had not walked through hardly any of it in the past decade.

The progress that we are making in clearing the land is phenomenal.

Wendell purchased a brush buster and has walked many miles behind it in the last few weeks. We have had several chainsaws going at it hard, but the moving, the lifting,the toting, and  the piling is all being done by volunteers.

Most of those volunteers were young enough to order off of the kids menu a few short years ago.

The kids are doing great work, learning a lot and ......having fun.

Monday, November 28, 2016

For Whom Do You Ride?

Don't ride for other people. It is sad to see so many posts on Facebook and various horse forums that, in one form or another, beg people to approve of their horse, its size, its breed, its weight, its color,its conformation,its pedigree, its movement, its sales price, its stable, its blanket,its feed, its supplements and all of its tack.

Ride for your horse. Ride to give your horse the pleasure that movement and exercise give all living creatures. Ride for your horse's emotional health. Ride to give him confidence and to let him know that as long as you are with him he is in his herd. Ride to let him know that he is not, nor will he ever be, alone.

Ride for yourself. Ride to give yourself the pleasure that movement and exercise give all living creatures. Ride for your emotional health. Ride to gain confidence and to know that as long as your horse is with you you are in your herd. Ride to remind yourself that you are not, nor will you ever be, alone.

Do not march to the beat of a different drummer. Doing so only gives you a different drummer to surrender to.

The key is to not march at all--to walk,run, and rest as is best for you and your horse.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

My Empire Of Dirt

My wife and I just purchased a bit less than twenty acres of land adjacent to the horse lot for the use of the program. It was all part of Granddaddy Horace's farm and as recent as the very early 2000's it was a dense pasture. Since then it has over grown with pine, ash, wild cherry and sweet gum.

I had originally planned to fence it in with woven wire. That was before I realized how many trees stood there. The largest are pines that are about 18 inches across at the stump. We are using treated posts to support the poles that we are cutting, toting, and skinning by hand.

It will be a lot of work, but it will be unique for our area. I like that very much. The thought of anything that I am associated with being simply a run of the mill version of what others have or do gives me a claustrophobic feeling and makes it a bit hard to breathe.

I do not think that my land would look any better wearing a Mao suit than I would.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Forcing A Square Peg In A Round Pen: PTSD, Security and Autonomy

To very briefly summarize, a horse is a prey animal who responds best to prey animal body language, is repelled by predator body language and has a set of motivations and desires that are the polar opposite of those of predators. Adult humans evolved as predators and our body language motivations and desires are perfectly in keeping with those of other predators. Except...

for people who have experienced severe trauma. Whether diagnosed with PTSD or not, severely traumatized people, entirely without recognizing it, respond as prey animals. That does not mean that they are cowards. It means that in order to survive their entire response to the world around them changes.

Again, to oversimplify, predators have as one of their absolute supreme desires to achieve autonomy and experience excitement. Their prey, on the other hand, have as one of their absolute supreme desires to achieve security and experience calm.

Without completely understanding these concepts it is impossible for one to understand how natural horsemanship can so radically improve the lives of those who have lived through extraordinary trauma. There are many books to be written and studies to be done on this transformation and one cannot do it justice in the limits of a blog post.

But rest assured, it is real. I see it in our PTSD program done in conjunction with the VA. I see it in the lives of people who have been touched by our horses. Most of all, I see it as I watch Ashley Edwards doing programs through Road to Repair.

I do not believe that interaction with the horses using natural horsemanship in either a structured program or an individual journey, by itself, will invariably lead to healing. In fact, this belief is damaging both to the individual and the future of these treatment breakthroughs.

One who develops a trusting relationship with a horse and uses the insights gained from that experience still has a prey animal outlook. As the quality of life improves the predator outlook, which is natural for humans and is not a pejorative term, strengthens.

And herein is the danger. As changes occur the desire for autonomy begins to replace the desire for security as a primary motivator. The desire for excitement begins to return. These are good things, great things--but unless the person has first found a sense of security then it will be impossible to lead a functional life. Autonomy and excitement will not produce happiness or peace unless one has first found the feeling of security that has been robbed from them. That step is an absolute prerequisite for happiness.

As the desire for autonomy strengthens the threat is that one will come to believe that becoming autonomous, in what ever way one defines it at that point in one's life, will be the solution to the pain created by trauma and abuse. And therein lies the root of wanderlust--the belief that "all I need is a change of scenery" or, as Jimmy Rogers sang "When a man gets the blues, he hops on a train and he rides."  It is at that point that the desire for autonomy causes the person to leave every bit of the support system that they may have developed to run away to seek "adventure". The result generally being another round of depression and a downward spiral.Gram Parson's understood, "It hard way to find out that trouble is real, in a far away city, with a faraway feel." (Hickory Wind).

And if you think that I am condescendingly saying that those who have experienced severe trauma are so broken and their healing so fragile that they can never experience the pleasures of excitement and freedom--that autonomy is simply too high a goal for them to aspire to you sadly misread the point. 

Working the horses, migrating away from a prey animal's instinctive reaction to the world and seeking to be, and becoming, fully autonomous is well within reach.....

....provided that one, in making this migration, finds security first. That will require a life of consistency instead of chaos. It will require the person to be able to return to those who help provide that sense of peace and security. It requires the person to develop a schedule and manage time. It requires that the person take control of the events around them. 

Security has many features, but one its most important features is knowing that one has a tremendous degree of control over the events in their lives and that knowledge comes with the experience  of consistently taking that control and noting the outcome. Winning begets winning. 

When that sense of security is achieved autonomy and its enjoyment becomes possible. In chaos there is not security.

Think about this simple example. I know exactly where I will be sleeping three Thursday's from now. Now think about how many people there who are caught up in an existence where they cannot make such a prediction with any degree of certainty--and I am not even talking about homeless people, just the enormous number of people living without any control over their future.

Working with horses can be the most important step in overcoming a Hellish existence that many people will ever take. But healing is a process.

People who are hurting bad often approach healing with three different beliefs:

1. It won't work for me.
2. It will work for me and it must happen immediately.
3. It will work if I put everything that I have into it, struggle, fight, refuse to give up, take one step at a time and refuse to pretend "that everything would be fine if only (fill in the blank )

Of course, only the third belief enables healing.

The horses are the door. You still have to be willing to walk through that door.

Makes for an entirely new 4-H "Healing's Hard, Horse's Help"