Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Dog Days Of Summer

These three beagle puppies will join their mother in the woods in a few more months. They are being raised to live as she does, outside, no kennel, free as the deer and rabbits all around them.

Nothing makes a beagle happier than to follow the scent of a deer. The deer bound along ahead of the hounds, never to be caught by the short legged dogs and only hunted by the eyes of my riders who have ridden ahead of the hounds in hopes of catching a glimpse of the deer as they slip nearly silently though the woods.

Though I once lived to hunt, I have not hunted in about fifteen years. But I still love the sound of the chase. Even towards my final years of hunting I got much more pleasure out of listening to my hounds run a deer than I got from killing a deer.

Listening hard to the hounds, interpreting the meaning of the various barks, yips and howls, pinning their direction and speed, moving hard to get in front of the hounds close to the spot where the deer is most likely to cross a clearing and then...riding hard to get out in front of the deer again...not to get a shot, but merely to get in as close to the chase as possible---more fun than can be explained or understood.

The deer do not careen through the woods in blind terror. Since the dogs are not penned, they go into the woods at least once a day and follow the scent of the deer. The deer are as accustomed to the sound of the hounds as they are to the smell of the pines. They bounce along in front of the pack, anywhere from fifty yards to a mile ahead of the dogs.

The dogs being dogs and the deer being deer---each just simply doing the job that their genes program them to do. And sometimes you and your horse get to join in on the bloodless chase.

For many of us, the best way to enjoy the wild is to be part of it--even if only a few hours a week.

Corolla Half Breeds

One of the reasons that we work so hard to prevent the extinction of the Corolla Colonial Spanish mustang is in this picture. When crossed with other breeds Corollas produce offspring with smooth gaits, incredible endurance, and, most importantly, a gentle sweet nature.

Corolla temperament in an Arabian, Corolla endurance in a Thoroughbred, Corolla smooth gaits in a quarter horse--these crosses can all be registered with the American Indian Horse Registry.

Werowance is the son of Croatoan, the famous subject Kay Kerr's children's book. His mother is a quarter horse/walking horse cross.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Spring Is The Best Time To Join Our Program

We are about to begin our most exciting spring ever. Learn riding, natural horsemanship, horse training, music, history, and help preserve and promote nearly extinct strains of Colonial Spanish horses. Mill Swamp Indian Horses is a program of Gwaltney Frontier Farm. We are a non-profit 501 (c) 5 organization. We are all volunteers--no paid staff--just a lot of experienced horse people dedicated to producing better horses, but even more importantly, better people.

We are located outside of Smithfield, Virginia. To learn more about Mill Swamp Indian Horses see our website at and check out the Mill Swamp Indian Horses group page on Facebook.

For more information e mail us at

Sunday, March 13, 2016

When You Give Your Child The Gift Of Peace

Things have really turned upside down when well meaning parents concern and compassion ends up creating children who grow up to suffer from anxiety disorders, depression, and poor self esteem.

Perhaps the two greatest gifts that parents can give children is to teach them to ignore personal comfort and to get on the stage and get the job done. The obsession with personal comfort--(e.g. "you need a coat on," "stay inside it is too cold/hot/wet out there", "where are your gloves? It is freezing out there") causes kids to chase an illusion that can rarely be caught.

Life often is not comfortable. The pursuit of comfort causes paralyzing frustration.

On the other hand, a child that is oblivious to the minor discomforts inherent in living an active life will actually live that life--instead of watching it pass by.

I am not a great athlete. I have never been a great rider. I have certainly fallen from horses hundreds of times.

But for the life of me I can only recall less than ten such falls. That is not from amnesia. That is because from the time I began riding at age two I was taught that falling off was such a nothing event that it was not worth remembering. One would fall, check for blood, and remount. Falling was of no more moment than putting on a shirt or drinking ice tea.

There are exceptions. I remember the times that resulted in hospitalizations or required other medical interventions, but I do not recall the result of the simple application of gravity to movement inherent in most falls.

That is not because I am tough. That is not because of any macho world view. That is because I was raised to ignore personal comfort. Even now, every time someone asks me if I think that the room we are in is too hot or too cold I am till taken aback. The truthful answer in all but the most extreme cases is that I have not noticed. In fact, it has not occurred to me to spend a moment being uncomfortable.

Most of the credit for being able to simply take things as they are goes to my mother. Unlike today's kids who are so often begged to reveal just exactly what it is they want to eat and how they want it prepared and where they want to sit at the table and what they want to drink with their meal, I faced no such inquiries.

When I was a preschooler and would complain about something Momma had cooked she would simply tell me to shut up and get used to it because when I got big and went to Viet Nam the food would really taste bad. That approach has made my adult life so much easier compared to those around me who were raise to expect life to conform to their wishes.

 To be taught to conquer the stage is nearly as important for a child's confidence as it is to be taught to ignore personal comfort. The earlier a child learns to be comfortable on stage the better. Stage presence is an aspect of leadership that is rarely taught today. Stage presence allows a child to become an effective communicator. Stage presence teaches a child to listen closely to the audience. Most importantly, stage presence allows a child to feel that he is worth listening to. Stage presence causes a child to feel that he deserves to be listened to.

And it teaches him to say things worth hearing.

(This is a picture of my granddaughter  at age two playing the spoons and performing with a group of my riders at Bethany Church.)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

What It Means To Ride (And Train) With Focus

Dorrence and other truly great horseman have written and spoken about the difficult concept of "feel." Feel is easy to demonstrate and nearly impossible to define.

My poor effort to come up with a definition is that "feel" is the ability to produce movement in a horse by wanting the horse to make that movement.

I have come to believe that there is an important precursor to achieving "feel." I think first one must achieve true focus.

Focus, as I use the term, means the ability to concentrate one's senses to the degree that one is able to close down all other senses while redirecting the energy of those senses in the one to be heightened.

Or phrased differently, concentration that allows one to block out all distractions. Focus is reached when one is able to direct one's eyesight to the degree that one might see the tip of the nose on the face of another person without seeing any other part of the face.

This kind of focus is part of what makes it possible to hit a baseball thrown at 100 miles per hour or to hit a bull's eye consistently with an arrow at 30 yards.

Focus comes easier for some people than for others. People who talk fast and talk a lot find achieving focus very difficult. People who spend a great deal of time talking about themselves find achieving focus impossible.

But those who are steady of eye and of movement find focus much easier. Chloe, shown above with Samson, a formerly wild Corolla, is predisposed towards finding focus. Though she has limited exposure to the horses she shows the same kind of focus that I have seen in Samantha, Lydia, Brent, Lido, Ashley and a handful of others.With experience she will be a first rate horse trainer.

People do not understand focus, but horses do. Focus gets stronger with use. On many occasions I have thought that I was alone in a round pen while training only to notice, as I leave, that several people have been standing there the entire time.

Some athletes call it being in the "zone." What ever one calls it, it is  frequency that horses communicate on and it is a channel that great horseman can all tune into at will.

But once again, this is a truth that generates no cash, therefore it is not taught. No money can be made selling videos that tell one to learn to shut up and focus, so it is never taught. It is very liberating to be able to simply teach truth without regard to profit.

I wish more of the big name clinicians had that freedom.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Knowing Matters, Doing It Matters More

Th cliche has meaning--its flight or fight. If the horse feels trapped and threatened violence is a typical reaction. I know that but this morning my mind was on something else and I slipped up--went to give dewormer to a horse who was tied.

I do not do that....but I did this morning.

If a horse feels the need to move away quickly because of a surprise I do not want to increase the reaction by making it impossible for him to do so. Even a horse that has no problem with something like wormer should have the right to shuffle his feet around if when that strange taste hits his tongue.

I went to worm Manteo and he set back on the rope--I released him from the tie but by then he was tensed up.  He went up on his hind legs and struck quickly--landed a quick jab to my left temple.

Could have turned out badly--don't think that it did but could have.

What you know is not as important as what you do.

Be ye not mere hearers of the word but also be doers of the word.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Program Growth--Two Pictures Say It All

The top photo is a great shot of kids in the music program several years ago. The other shot is of participants in the music program performing at Victorian Station Tea Room a few months ago. We get  together on Monday nights and learn to play ancient instruments and perform ancient songs.

Every part of our program is growing like this. We are about to burst at the seams and things just keep on getting better.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Health Benefits of Intense Horse Back Riding: A Case Study

I am fifty six years old and an experienced rider. My riding is primarily on lumber roads and trails through the woods. Beginning January 1 of 2016 I kept close records of my riding distances in order to compare the results of my blood work from my annual physical to the previous year in which I was riding but not intensely.

Riding for the past two months has been at a high level--much higher than the average recreational rider. During the months of January and February I rode 365.94 miles, the vast majority trotting or cantering. Weather permitting, I sought to do a fast five or six miles each morning before going to the office and on the weekends put in many more miles, but at a slower pace.

Here are the results:

Weight: loss six pounds

Overall Cholesterol increase of 7% (from 150 to 161)
Good Cholesterol increase of 12%(from 41 to 46)
Bad Cholesterol Decrease of 9% (from 111 to 101)

Triglycerides Decrease of 51% (from 142 to 70)

That is after just under two months of hard riding (I also did some Tabata Protocol for three of these weeks)

These are some pretty good reasons to go enjoy your horse more.

Your Horse Needs Physical Contact

When training we should never cause the simple to become unnecessarily complicated. One of the most important ways to build trust with the horse is to practice forms of affection that the horse understands. The most important is close contact with sufficient strength so that it does not tickle the horse or seem like a signal to move off.

There are three key points to keep in mind: use the palm or a closed hand more than finger tips, keep one's body very close to the horse, preferably touching the horse, and rub firmly but do not pet as you might with a dog.

By allowing your body to completely relax you signal to the horse that he is safe and can completely relax. But too much emphasis on technique can lead to a failure to understand purpose.

The purpose of the contact is not to simulate affection, but to generate affection. In this world the only thing that cannot be faked is sincerity. There is no doubt that the horse will come to feel closer to the person that uses affectionate handling in a manner that the horse can understand. The other side is equally important. The person that allows himself to relax and gently handle the horse will develop sincere affection for the horse. The more one cares for the horse the more time one will spend with him. The more time one spends with him the closer the bond will be between the two.

The closer the bond---period. That's right the, developing the closest bond possible is the goal in itself. Everything else that gets between a horse and a person hampers that goal. Other goals--winning a race, bringing home a blue ribbon, earning the admiration (jealousy) of other horse owners are all hindrances to the only goal that matters for the horse.

Affection is something that the horse is entitled to. It is not something that he earns.