Monday, October 31, 2016

Breed conservation, Soil Conservation and Math

I am barely into the world of permaculture, organic farming and vermiculture but what I see is wondrous. Wondrous and beyond the imagination of most people with conventional educations.

It began with a desire to reduce mud in the pastures. That simple--no more than that. It has lead to possibilities of heritage breed livestock production to compliment our Corolla and other Colonial Spanish horse conservation program.

I learned about breaking compacted hard pan to allow water to drain into the soil instead of running off or standing as mud. I learned that this can be accomplished with a one shank plow called a subsoiler, and can also be accomplished by growing diakon radishes and some cereal.

My conventional understanding of soil strength was purely mathematical--put enough pounds of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in the soil and plants grow. Generally we used 10-10-10 fertilizers.

Wendell urged me to use organic fertilizer. It was expensive but he said that I could use less of it and get better results. I assumed that the fertilizer would have to be much stronger than 10-10-10 if that was the case. In fact, I was shocked find out that it was less than 10-10-10 in chemical strength. I did not understand how it could be more effective, especially if less was used.

The math simply did not add up.

About the same time I began to study the biome that lives in our digestive system and learning about the impact that a healthy biome has on human health. This is leading to an explosion in understanding of my own physical and emotional health. The simple fact is that there are millions of organisms living in our bodies that are necessary to keep us alive, vital and productive.

And soil is more than math and chemicals. Healthy soil requires millions of organisms to live in it to keep that soil alive, vital and productive.

That organic fertilizer provided those organisms.

So, we are beginning to work to give our soil probiotics right along with the nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium that it needs. I always thought of horse manure in one dimension--as a problem that created mud and run off. Because our horses live off of grass and hay their wastes are very low in nitrogen and phosphorous. While that meant that run off was a fraction of the problem that one finds in modern feed lots, it also meant that the manure did little to provide nutrients to the soil.

But when that manure is composted with worms the result is compost loaded with the organisms that cause roots to expand and foliage to grow at an explosive rate.

So, I am working slowing in a very low tech way to convert manure of minimal value into highly valuable compost--perhaps to sell to off set the cost of our non profit reed conservation program, perhaps to spread on our pastures to make them more viable.

All the while teaching and learning along with program participants and guests how to best conserve these nearly extinct horses while help to conserve endangered soil.

Would have never guessed that my life would have taken this turn or that our program would grow in its mission so much.

This is a very good time for us. Right now my kids might not like spending time digging shallow graves to bury wood in in the pastures, but years from now they will be proud to tell their kids that they were part of the first efforts to apply hugelkulture to pasture management in our area.

They will understand that the soil is a living being and like all living beings, when not fed and cared for it will die.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Gait On: A Study of The Gaits Of Mill Swamp's Indian Horses

Now this is going to be fun--and fascinating. We have a range of nearly extinct strains of Colonial Spanish Horses. Each strain traces itself back to the early years of Spanish colonization of our nation. Genetically joined, geographically separated, the same horse raised in differing environments for hundreds of years--changing, yet maintaining everything in them that makes them special.

The Grand Canyon horses from the desert Southwest--The Shackelfords, Corollas, and Marsh Tackys from the swamps of the Southeast--the Galiceno from Mexico, the Choctaw from the Southeast via Oklahoma--how they all move--how they all dance.

Yesterday we were working on some drills to enhance gaiting with several of our horses. Jen has a slow motion camera and she filmed some of what was going on--what a thing to see!

The comparisons and contrasts that we will film as we move these horses under saddle and in the round pen will be a thing of beauty. I hope that Jen, Sherry, and Rebecca can all come out next Saturday and get a series of stills and video as we examine the gaits of perhaps twenty Colonial Spanish horses with an eye towards creating a video scrap book.

And as Muhammad Ali told his crew of trainers and corner men before stepping into the ring with George Foreman--"We goin' dance--Yes we goin' dance."

Friday, October 21, 2016

Veterans, Our Horses, and Our Program

The link above is from the Virginian-Pilot and tells a bit about the PTSD program

When I Need A Farrier... can be hard to find someone that has what I am looking for in terms of experience, philosophy, and professional training. Daddy trimmed professionally for over fifty years. I did my first paid farrier work when I was 11 and continued trimming for years even after I became a lawyer. I can be a bit particular in how I think the horse should be handled and how the hoof should be shaped. I want someone who can safely, gently handle my horses.

I want a farrier who understands horses--who can apply natural horsemanship to calm and humanely handle an aggressive or terrified horse.  That means more than reading a book--I want someone who is experienced in every aspect of horse handling--training, riding, and teaching.

Ideally I want someone with experience handling wild horses. Successfully handling and trimming a wild horse makes it that much easier to trim a dead broke, bomb proof horse. I want someone who understands why the wild horse is successful in its environment. I want someone who can look to the wild horse's never trimmed hoof for what it is, a model of health to be aspired to by every horse owner.

I want someone who is experienced, but I also want someone with real professional training both in the class room and at the right hand of those who have done the work for years.

Making it even harder to find the perfect farrier is the fact that I need a real athlete to be strong enough to trim rock hard mustang hooves and tough enough to do a dozen horses on a hot July day.

And, of course, I need someone who is dependable--someone who will show up on time and get the job done efficiently.

Well, I got lucky. Jennifer Hill, of Hill Farrier Service here in Smithfield, fits the bill. She does first rate work.  She works hard and travels all over Tidewater. Anyone looking for the kinds of things that I need in a farrier will find that she fits your bill too.

What's In a Name: Natural Horsemanship, Country Music, Ham?

It is the ultimate problem with language and labeling. If I am to communicate effectively with you what I say does not matter. The test is what you hear.

When I was in high school it was nearly a scandal that I liked country music and detested the inane babble that at that time was pop and rock music. In fact, I was the only person my age that I knew who admitted to listening to country radio.

High school students today think that they love country music. They must love country music. They listen to it all the time. Of course, what they listen too has nothing in common with actual country music that I listened to in the 1970's and everything in common with the inane babble of 1970's pop and rock music.

But is it labeled as country music.

What is today known as ham is a watery, bland slice of pinkish colored meat like substance. Many people who love what is now called ham shriek and run in terror from actual salted, smoked ham. The only thing that they have in common is that real ham was produced from real hogs who lived on real dirt. Today's ham is made from hog like looking machines who live in cages in factory farms.

But is labeled as ham.

And so it is with natural horsemanship. Real natural horsemanship is a system of training and relating to horses using techniques and body language that mimic herd behavior that are instinctively understood by horses. It is rooted in the horse's desperate need to feel secure and lead. The two are inextricably aligned. A horse, like all other prey animals who live in herds, cannot feel secure without the knowledge that it is in the presence of a leader.

But there was a fortune to be made by pretending that frivolous music with meaningless lyrics actually is country music. The market for "ham" skyrocketed when the bland tastes of city people were exposed to slippery slices of watery discs that were marketed as "ham." And so it has become for some versions of "natural horsemanship."

Some money can be made by teaching the infinitely rewarding path of slowly being able to reach a horse's heart by understanding its mind. However, much more money can be made by appealing to the weakness in humans that causes us to celebrate rank failure as success.

Teaching that the horse gets to make the decisions, that showing the horse leadership is unnatural bullying, that the video buyer's complete lack of success in training is proof that they are succeeding and letting the horse learn at its own pace,and that being happy with total failure to progress in the horse's training shows patience. All of this marketing gives the "trainers" a warm feeling of moral superiority to others who actually teach horses to become confident and secure.

But such techniques are labeled as natural horsemanship.

Failed training is not a virtue. Spoiling a horse and causing it to be a dangerous, unhappy, fearful creature is not natural horsemanship.

We train with 51% control and 49% affection. We do not try to teach horses to speak English. We teach people to use their bodies and minds to learn to speak horse. That is the beginning, middle and end of natural horsemanship.

We teach natural horsemanship to create better horses, but much more importantly, we teach natural horsemanship to create better people.

The picture above is Lloyd and Burns Red In The Sun. His father is the Bacca stallion, El Rosio. Before this picture was taken Lloyd spent some time moving the colt in the round pen, teaching him to respond to pressure from a lariat and eventually haltering him. The colt resisted every step in varying degrees. The end result is a colt who felt secure and completely safe in Lloyd's presence. Lloyd controlled the colt and rewarded him with a great deal of affection. That is natural horsemanship at its best.

 In fact, that is the only thing that actually is natural horsemanship.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Saddle Bags To Keep You In The Saddle

Anyone who has ridden with me knows that I am not a gifted rider with extraordinary balance. We ride in very rough terrain. I am fifty six years old and well over weight. I am in the saddle a lot, 1002 miles between January 1 and June 30 of 2016.

Yet, it is rare for me to hit the ground. I have come to realize that most of the times that a person falls from a horse it is because the rider was not strong enough to stay on.

Truly pounding the heavy bag increases, strength, power, quickness and coordination. When used as part of a tabata protocol it leads to significant increases in cardio vascular fitness.

If you want to ride very hard, especially if you have a bit of age on you, the heavy bag is the best saddle bag money can buy.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Riding Power

Most falls from a horse could be prevented simply by the rider working to increase power and strength (they are two different things). Of course, the best exercise for riding is to ride many hours each week, particularly while trotting.

However, strength and power of the core muscles can be developed at a fast rate by incorporating several weight training techniques. Do a bit of research on the Farmer's Walk. See how it is done. Use as much weight as possible for at least two days each week, with our doctor's approval. The serious rider has no better friend than the heavy bag. Solid, intense workouts pounding the heavy bag with correctly fitting gloves will increase power and reaction time and probably even helps with balance.

In less than 1.5 hours a week of intense bag work and Farmer's Walks you can expect to see results that will make staying in the saddle much easier, especially as you approach a fifty mile marker.