Saturday, April 30, 2016

Credit Where Credit Is Due

A few years ago someone who did not know me very well told me something that proved that they did not know me at all. After spending several hours at the horse lot and watching everything that goes on he tried to convince me to franchise our program because "there was a lot of money to be made doing that."

 Nausea and anger are two bad feelings made much worse when experienced at the same time.

Yesterday we did a demonstration at the local Veterans Hospital of the program that we do weekly for inpatients at the PTSD program. Dan and Pam brought a round pen over and Ashley and I carried her horse, Peter Maxwell, over for the demonstration

It was a great day because, despite the weather, it gave me a chance to talk to high ranking hospital administrators. I told them how effective the program is, how it cost the participants nothing, and, most importantly, that its simplicity would allow it to be used anywhere patients can get out to a horse, a round pen and an instructor who knows natural horsemanship and is willing to learn about PTSD.

My only interest is in seeing programs like this made available to everyone who needs them.

There was a reporter there from a local TV station. His story which ran last night did not mention me or Mill Swamp Indian Horses. Some were concerned about that omission.

It was not concerned at all. We constantly seek more public awareness of our program and the major driving force in doing so is to encourage others to develop programs like ours. I want young people who want to build a career with horses to understand that one may do so in a meaningful way without having to make any compromises with the established horse world. I want people to understand that they can build programs that preserve nearly extinct horses and save nearly extinguished humans.

Any step towards seeking credit for the development of the programs gets in the way of carrying them out and seeing them expanded. And I am in too much of a hurry to get that one to take that risk. I am already fifty six years old and the warranty on my body is running out. I want to die knowing that the seed is well planted.

Fifty six years is long enough to notice that words often mean more than what they say. The word "mine" is the most obscene four letter word in our language. The best way for programs like this to grow is for everyone who is involved in them to purge their minds of that term.

"Ours" is a four letter word that saves horses...and people.

(Two of last years foals from our Corolla Offsite breeding program)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Our Equine PTSD Program Is Going Across The River

For a few years now we have had patients at the local Veteran's Hospital come out for what for some of them have been life changing experiences. Tomorrow we will take a round pen and a horse over to the Hampton Veteran's hospital for a demonstration of this deceptively simple program that could be extended in PTSD treatment programs across the nation.

Kay Kerr, recreational therapist at that hospital, developed  this program. Participants first spend about 10-15 minutes brushing the horses and then we put one of the horses in the round pen. We explain the difference between prey animal body language and predator body language. We show how to gain the horse's trust by providing him with the security that he needs to relax. Security is created by showing the horse affection and leadership. For the horse, leadership is a simple concept. When one horse is having its speed and direction of movement controlled by another horse that other horse is the leader. Horses have evolved to need not only a herd, but also a leader of that herd, to be at peace.

After teaching how to use body language and actions that the horse can understand to produce the movement needed to demonstrate leadership, the participant dons a helmet and steps into the round pen. Participants learn that those who have suffered severe trauma often respond positively to the body language of prey animals and are repulsed by normal, human body language. Human body language is that of a predator. That is why no one ever had to teach you to understand what was going on in a dog's mind. We instinctively share common cues, signals, and techniques.The body language of a high school cheer leader and an excited Jack Russel terrier is identical.

That is not a coincidence.

After demonstrating how to use body language and actions that the horse can understand to produce the movement needed to demonstrate leadership, the participant dons a helmet and steps into the round pen, moves the horse--and generally ends up with the horse attached to them as if being on a lead rope. The horse follows the participant around the ring and seeks affection from their new found leader

And sometimes what happens seems like magic.

We know from direct reports from the participants that often radical changes in thinking can occur after just one session. I watch weekly and still am amazed at what I see. I wrack my brain trying to understand what is going on.

The key seems to be trust. Those who have been severely traumatized finding trusting anyone difficult, if not impossible.  There can be no recovery without trust. The euphoria that comes from causing a horse to have trust might be the key. Learning that one has the power to trust and create trust  opens the door to recovery.

I am not suggesting that this is, in and of itself, a permanent fix. Without a doubt, if a participant goes on to develop trust in a human and that trust is completely violated, the participant immediately falls back onto a road to despair. When that happens the participant needs to get right back out there with the horses and work the horses intensely, until the ability to trust is regained.

The most insidious aspect of  PTSD is that it often causes one to resist opportunities to heal. They forget the pleasure that earning the trust of a horse gave them and might even see the violation of their trust by a person to be proof that  the horses can't help heal. They can fall into patterns of isolation and avoidance behavior that makes their symptoms much worse. They fall onto the road to despair.

As programs like ours spread I think that a mechanism to allow former participants to get back into the round pen as soon as their trust is betrayed will be needed. Participant's need to know that the door is always open to come back to the horse lot.

I am looking forward to tomorrow's program.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sometimes The Road Is Rough Along The Way Boys

....but I won't traveling alone." A great line from Steve Earle's great and wonderfully simple song "Pilgrim". Yesterday we pulled off our first special event of the season. We did so among bands of heavy rain and a bit of wind.

And we were incredibly shorthanded yesterday.

We also did our regular riding program. And Ben even sowed little fertilizer. And Jen and Elise helped keep everything going smoothly. And Ben and Chris did what was needed. And Andrew worked with some of the young people to get a cooking rack made in the settler's farm. And Lloyd did a great round pen demo. And Will rounded up horses. And Abigail and Emily helped with the new riders at noon. And Lydia was there to pitch in though she was quite ill.

And it was hard. While all this was going on Daddy was in surgery for many hours. It was the first time that we have ever had a special event without him being there.

At such times one should never have to travel alone.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Road To Repair--Planning For Healing In The Round Pen

Yesterday I spent some time in one of my favorite pastimes--navigating through Ashley Edwards' brilliant mind. Her program, Road to Repair LLC, has two primary components. One is a training program using the horses to teach effective communication skills to professionals who deal with individuals who have suffered severe trauma. They learn more than how to simply avoid using the body language of predators. In that program detectives, prosecutors, victim/witness coordinators, CASA volunteers and others learn how to use prey animal body language to build relationships. It is a powerful, ground breaking program.

I hope that this summer Rebecca Stevenson will be able to use her considerable talents as a film maker to put some of these sessions on video to allow reach a a broader audience.

The "Other Side" is Road To Repair's direct service component. In that program she gives people who have been severely traumatized the opportunity to work with and understand the horses. No formal therapy, or even what might be loosely called counseling--as she said yesterday it is the horse's job to be a horse for the participant and it is her job to simply be human.

The phrase surprised me--never thought of it that way. A horse, a human, and a participant can equal healing. She constantly brings me back to the need to keep the program simple and to allow participants to feel the program instead of simply listening to a program.

She is in a unique position to teach, to share and to heal. She is brilliant. She is articulate. She is courageous.

And she is also recovering from the worst case of abuse that I have ever prosecuted.

And she can talk about it. And she can teach about it.

And when she is in a round pen she can use it to bring healing.

(This is a picture of Ashley and Peter Maxwell, her half Corolla horse that she trained).

Thursday, April 21, 2016

April 23, 2016--A Very Special Saturday Afternoon

This Saturday, April 23 beginning at 4:00, at Mill Swamp Indian Horses near Smithfield VA, we will have a great event at the horse lot that is free of charge--come on out and meet Tom Norush, President of the Horse of the Americas Registry who will speak on the history of mustang preservation, see how children learn to tame wild horses, her some great music from the participants in our music program and close the day out with a living history program in our replica 1650's era farm--please rsvp to

Monday, April 18, 2016

You Must Never Learn To Love The Darkness

Even before humans had the slightest clue what depression was or even had a name for it, many recognized that riding, training, and handling horses lifted them from Hell on a regular basis. Now we are starting to recognize some of the how's and why's of this phenomenon.

Clinical depression, anxiety disorder and even severe PTSD can be alleviated by simply entering the horse's world. That takes a special kind of talk therapy. It requires the human to learn to speak horse and that knowledge is the essence of natural horsemanship. Whether it be simply brushing a horse, rehabilitating one dangerously ill or injured, training a wild one from scratch, or even feeling the satisfaction of riding fifty miles in a stretch--the horse/human connection, successfully made is a miracle drug.

I don't use that cliche lightly. For some people every month that they go without committing suicide is a miracle. 

But one must first pour the water into the glass before one can drink it.  One must overcome the feeling that nothing helps and that there is nothing---but the darkness. The darkness of avoiding people, the darkness of avoiding any potentially stressful situation (and nearly all situations are potentially stressful) and worst of all the darkness of  seeking the safety of hiding from life, staying in bed, and resisting every thing that science tells us helps make life better.

It is warm in that darkness. There is a comfort in that darkness. The darkness tells one that the best way to end the struggle is to surrender. And then the darkness speaks louder and tells one that surrender is not only the best way to end the struggle--it is the only way.

And that is not true. If you are working hard to follow your doctor's instructions, eating right, exercising hard, spending time in the sunlight, and getting up every day to do everything that needs to be done yet you still find life to be primarily a dreary endeavor--understand something that so few people do--you are not merely suffering from depression--you are winning.

You are beating the darkness and keep it up and you will learn to hate the darkness.

And I don't know anything that helps  beat the darkness better than natural horsemanship. But you have to get out of bed and light that small candle to be able to find yourself over to the window where you can let more light in by pulling the curtains back. With the curtains back you can see how to get to the door in the hall and you can open the door and turn the light on. And then you will have enough light to make it all the way to the front door.

When you open that door you will see the sunlight there in front of you, but when you get on a horse you will feel the sunlight all around you. You will feel its warmth on your shoulders.

And eventually, though it might take many months you will wonder why you loved the darkness.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Come On Out To The Horse Lot Saturday Night

                                    "Saturday Night Special At Mill Swamp Indian Horses"

Saturday April 23--Come on out to the country and meet nearly extinct strains of historic Colonial Spanish mustangs such as the Corollas, Shacklefords, Grand Canyons, Galicenos, Choctaws, Brislawns, and Marsh Tackys. See how children learn to tame and train wild horses. Watch a living history presentation at the replica 1650's era farm showing how these horses fit into the history of this part of Virginia. Moonlight Road, Smithfield Va 23430. No charge to attend but you must RSVP to Seating is limited. From 4:00-7:30

Always Consider The Source

I came upon a great set of suggestions for those new to the world of Colonial Spanish horses that Vickie Ives recently wrote.  All of it was great, solid information. One point hit home the hardest.

If you are not completely familiar with these horses when you obtain your first one please make sure that you only get your information on the care, training, and abilities of these horses from someone who knows the horses inside and out.

Even well intentioned owners of modern horses will give the worst advice imaginable. They will tell you that your horse is too small, too thin, too narrow chested, too "weak in the hindquarters", too shaggy....You might even be told by those who have never seen the ambling of gaited Spanish Colonial horses that your horse is unsound or lame.

Although these horses are rare, so rare that in most parts of the country a veterinarian has never seen one, there are great sources available to the new owner of one of these historic horses. The first place to start is on the web site of the Horse of The Americas Registry. The HOA has many knowledgeable members who are great resources for all of your questions regarding these horses.

In a world where the amount of misinformation dwarfs the amount of reliable information, be sure of the quality of your sources.

(Here is a shot of Terry and Twister, a Choctaw Colonial Spanish Horse, going over a small jump.)

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Remington and Russel Are Dead And Gone

.....but the lean, hard, tough horses that they drew and sculpted are still with us.

There are likely less than 3,000 Colonial Spanish horses/Spanish mustangs left in the world. The pure lines have gone extinct in the Old World, even in Spain. These horses descend from many different strains that developed from the earliest horses brought to the New World by the Spanish explorers.

Little Hawk, depicted above, is a Corolla Colonial Spanish Mustang, perhaps the oldest and rarest distinct genetic grouping of American horses. The Corollas teeter on the brink of extinction. We work hard to preserve and promote these historic horses along with several other rare strains of Colonial Spanish horses.

Take a look to our website to learn more about our unique program

The Education Of Little Hawk

Have not been on a horse in over a week. I have been spending my mornings training a very tall 12 year old Corolla gelding, Little Hawk, that we recently acquired, along with his half sister, Black Elk. After a five days of training he took on his first rider, Abigail without incident. As the picture shows, all of our first mountings and riding on the horses that we train start off wit the horse being lead from the ground. After the horse is comfortable with that he takes his first independent ride in the round pen. Then it is just a matter of time before he is in the woods.

I will likely ride him in the woods before Memorial Day. He lacks his sister's beauty but he has the perfect Corolla mind---- calm, trusting and sensible.

Friday, April 15, 2016

When The Mystery of Life Meets The Inevitability Of Death

Ashley has thrown herself head long into learning and practicing small livestock husbandry. She has developed ambitious yet realistic plans for for duck and rabbit production. She first began to put the plan into action with baby ducks.

She researched duck egg production and got her first set little ducks--cared for them well, built an outside pen with plans for a small duck pond as they got older. The ducks were close to the dog pen which I expected to keep any night prowlers away. They were growing explosively.

But yesterday something, I take it to be a coon, broke into the pen and killed several of the ducks. I hated to see this happen but at the same time I am glad that having been raised with livestock, by people who were raised with livestock, I recognize that death is not only natural, but inevitable.

Years ago a heavy storm broke red maple limbs around the horse lot. We scoured the pastures and got up every limb that touched the ground before the leaves could wilt and become toxic to the horses. it was hard wok but we got it all done.

But it did not occur to me to scour the trees above to see if by chance a broken maple limb had blown over to the top of another tree. There was such a limb and it fell into the pasture a few days later. I only found it after a horse had eaten the wilted leaves. He had no chance of recovery and was put down the next day.

He was a wonderful young horse and I hated to see him die, but I understood something that farm kids understand that might seem callous to city people. I understood that there were other horses out there who were also wonderful and needed my care.

And everyone of those horses have something in common--they are all going to die one day.

There are three reactions to that fact that seem logical to me. The first is to consider the pain of loss to be so great that one stops owning horses or developing relationships with them. The second is to become obsessive about preventing death or injury to the degree that one eventually replaces the practice of loving a horse with the practice worrying about that horse. The third is to move on and help the next horse that needs you.

The third one is the only option that seems ethical to me. Humans have four principle virtues--kindness, generosity, courage and resilience. One must aspire to all four but without resilience, always springing back, never giving up, the other three can be exhibited for but a short while.

It takes great deal of resilience to throw yourself headlong into a project only to face such a shocking setback as going out to feed up only to find some of the ducks dead and yet to never slow done--to work for a stronger anti predator solution and to figure out how to solve the problem and move on.

That is what Ashley will do. She is more resilient than anyone that I have ever known.

Kids who are not taught that death happens and that resilience matters are short changed by their culture--and their parents.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Expanded Programs Beginning Next Week

We are going to make Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays after work a new part of our program beginning next week.This is an exciting expansion made possible by the dedication of several volunteers.

Wednesday nights we will have a night ride that will leave the tack shed at 7:00 pm each Wednesday night--weather permitting--arrive in time tack
your horse and be ready to leave at 7:00--once again we have fallen back into a pattern of it taking way too long to saddle up.

On Tuesday nights and Thursday nights beginning at 6:00 pm we will focus on horse training. This is not to be used as an opportunity for kids to simply come to hang out, nor is it an opportunity for kids to come and ride while training is going on. It is for the actual training of horses and the opportunity to learn to train horses.

These sessions are not training demo's or clinics. This is an opportunity for participants to train horses and to learn to train horses. Lloyd will over see the Thursday  night sessions and Lydia will over see the Tuesday night session. They will be assisted by Jen and Elise and Rebecca when their schedules permit.

The training coordinators will be teaching ground work, amusement park, and despooking, driving, and teaching a horse to stand comfortably to be saddled. We won't get on the horses under training except for nights when I am present.

These expanded programs are offered at no charge for all program participants--you must wear boots and helmet when training. Check emails to see if a given session has had to be cancelled because of weather or another reason.

Participants in training will need to notify Lydia and Lloyd and me each week as to when you will participatek so we will know what size group to plan for.

Only certain horses will be used for training. Remember again that the purpose of these sessions is two fold--to have more riders understand natural horsemanship and to get more horses safely under saddle and in the woods.

The only horses to be used during the first several weeks are:

Polished Steel, Black Elk, Jessie, Rolling Thunder,Monique, Mozelle, and Zee. No other horses are to be used during these sessions.

Later in the summer I want to begin advanced riding training for the horses that we are well started under saddle but need to learn lightness and gain a sense of security. This training will be done under my supervision and while riders will be encouraged to participate and learn, we have to keep in mind that this kind of training requires a pretty experienced rider.

We have many solid trainers at our horse lot. I asked Lloyd and Lydia to be coordinators for these sessions because, aside from having a great deal of experience in how we train horses, both are very good at explaining and teaching.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

When She Thinks Big: Corollas Sand Beach Horse, Croatoan's Memoirs       is a link to a story on Kay Kerr's wonderfully illustrated children's book based on the life of Croatoan.

She has tirelessly promoted the book in an effort to bring more awareness to the plight of the nearly extinct, historic horses of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

And those efforts might be getting ready to payoff in a great way.

Friday, April 8, 2016


Our program has grown dramatically in the past two years. We are on sounder footing than we have ever been. If I had someone to do the things that I do in regard to running this program it would continue to grow. Age, absolute exhaustion, and the occasional wondering what it would be like to work less than seven days a week have increased the allure of retiring from this operation. Over the past two weeks I have been studying various options as to how best keep things going without my participation, but for chipping in the needed cash when we do not have enough to cover costs for a given month.

To use Jefferson's phrase, I have a wolf by the ears, afraid of the consequences of turning it loose and being worn out from holding on. The reality is that I can neither turn it loose nor hold on forever on the track that I have been on for the past several years.

The solution came to me this week. There are few problems that cannot be made better by spending time with a horse. The most extreme irony is that a major flaw in my lifestyle is that I am so busy working with horses and people that I do not have time left to spend time with a horse.

For me it is the peace that comes from the gentling, calming and training of a horse--what I once called "sweetening" of  a horse, that matters most.  During the first three months of this year I have ridden over 500 miles (not a figure of speech, literal record kept mileage) but had spent not a single moment in the solitary sweetening of a horse.

Demonstrating how to do so is rewarding, but teaching does not bring the peace that working a horse in a predawn round pen until that horse settles in and wants, yes, even needs, to be close to me.  The sweetening of horses has gotten me through many intense crisis over the last fifteen years.

This week I have not been in the saddle. I have been in the round pen.

 I am working with the horse shown above  and her half brother, both untrained Corollas--offspring of the famous Red Feather and half siblings of my Red Feather. She is the most beautiful Corolla that I have encountered. She is a nervous horse who finds the world to be a place filled with potential threats around each corner.

She only feels secure when standing close to her brother. When I finish sweetening her she will feel just as secure standing with me.

And as that process goes on my battery will be charged enough to keep our program going and, most of all, to maintain the integrity of the program so that we never become a place where spoiled little rich girls learn to ride in circles in the sand--seeking fulfillment in being awarded a blue strip of cloth.

So I am not going to retire, but I am going to rewire. I am going to rewire my schedule to allow me to spend time with a horse  instead of simply spending all of my time in the presence of horses.

Breeding For Temperment

Breeding for a particular trait is risky enough in all breeding programs. Breeding for a particular trait instead of breeding for over all type can be devastating to a breed conservation program.

That is specially true when one starts with a very limited gene pool.

That does not mean that random breeding of the foundation herd is always the best way to go. The result can be an even more limited gene pool.

This year I am going to seek to add temperament to two of my crossings. Corn Stalk, shown above being ridden by my niece, is the calmest wild Corolla stallion that I have ever encountered. He became halter trained in a matter of minutes, took a saddle the next day and a rider the day after. He has never shown either aggression or fear to a degree that could cause the slightest concern.

Persa is a nervous Shackleford. She is strong, fast and has tremendous endurance but is very reactive. Zee is a stunning cremello Choctaw who gives the occasional buck. Later in the summer I will breed each mare to Corn Stalk.

The results are not going to disappoint me.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Blurred Vision

Maintaining focus is one of the most important aspects of riding...and living. Distractions abound.

Recently a spring time cough has gone through several of our horses. I know that it is a reaction to pollen and the spores that become active as the ground warms up. I know that for some horses it can lead to a secondary infection that must be treated.

I also know that it comes every single year, sometimes worse than others, but never with any long term impact on the health of any horse. Yet it still hits me hard to hear a horse cough. I will never understand how after all of these years I am shocked every single spring at how green everything becomes. How could my mind not accurately remember this? The same way that part of my mind can not accurately remember that the cough comes, and it goes.

Still it wears on me.

Exhaustion comes with each changing of the clock. In the winter I generally wake up between two and three am. In the spring that means that I am waking up between three and four am. And when I wake up at four am there is not sufficient time to do the things that need to be done each morning without rushing. Few things are more exhausting than rushing. It does not help that in addition to being Deputy prosecutor for Isle of Wight county I am serving as a special prosecutor in a neighboring jurisdiction. Every year, as is happening now, I fall very far behind on answering emails and making blog posts. Eventually things start to fall together and by summer I have gotten back on top of things.

Still it wears on me.

More and more I find my self wondering if I have finally gotten this program on sound enough ground to turn it over to someone else, or to several others jointly, to run without me. The lure of being responsible for only a handful of horses and no other people is strong. To get up on a Saturday morning and to only have to be concerned with the tacking of my horse and my own safety in the saddle is a thought that sometimes actually makes me giddy. I realize that when it is all boiled away, the success of the program depends on me--not because of any talent or virtue that I have but simply because there is no one else on the scene who is in a position to give up everything else in their lives to do the things that keep us together. I also recognize that my big girls are not yet old enough to exert the kind of leadership by benign neglect that is necessary to maintain harmony among such a diverse group of program participants.

But still it wears on me.

But then I recognize that we have had a tremendous number of successes recently with which I have had to do nearly nothing--great teamwork on a monstrously successful fund raiser,garden going in, a significant number of horses trained well enough to be ridden in the woods, new horses being picked up and delivered completely without me having to do anything to get it done, and Jen and Elise are taking care of nearly all of the morning chores. And our program is growing. We have more participants than we have ever had. Our facebook group page grows weekly and through our program scores of people are introduced to nearly extinct strains of Colonial Spanish horses.

And these things restore me