Sunday, December 31, 2017

Use Social Media to Become Closer To Your Horse

The internet can be a tremendous source of useful information to learn first rate horsemanship. It can also spread misinformation like wild fire. How can a young person avoid jumping into that fire?
First of all , start with both feet on the ground. Social media is not the first place one should go to to begin to understand the mind of a horse. "The Soul of a Horse" by Joe Camp and "The Evolution of Natural Horsemanship", by Dr. Robert Miller are two great books that lay the foundation for understanding the mind of a horse. Understand the principles set out in these books before you decide to accept the advice of anonymous, self appointed experts on Facebook.
Is the information presented in a way that makes you feel good about horses or is the emphasis on being snarky? You can find an array of groups and websites whose purpose is to denigrate people and horses. Stay away from those groups and web pages. Solid information is not to be found in hate filled "rants".
Now here is a much harder one--Is the information given supported by objective facts or the consensus of those who adhere to a particular set of beliefs? This is a tremendous pitfall for all new horse people, but especially for young people. One of the hall marks of adolescence is the drive to "fit in" and be accepted. Be very careful of teachings that are supported by claims that "everyone knows..." instead of demonstrable facts and solid reasoning. That is one of the reasons that it is so important to be grounded in the reality of solid research before going to social media. For some people horsemanship consists of learning a set of "rules" and working vigorously to force others to accept both the "rules" and their status as "experts" because they know these "rules". It can be hard to refuse to simply follow the crowd, but you owe it to your horse to be willing to do what Manny, a wonderful Choctaw horse, is doing in this picture--hold your head up high and walk away from that crowd.
When you do find a source of solid knowledge on social media, pay close attention to what that source provides. Learn everything that you can. Study that source closely enough so that you understand not only what is being taught, but why it is being taught. Learn underlying principles, not merely techniques.
Lastly, constantly ask yourself, "is this information making it possible for me to get closer to horses"? Does the information drive a wedge between you and your horse because it teaches you that your horse is inferior because of its conformation, lack of registration, size, color, or pedigree? If it does those things, walk away.

Posts that tell a 12 year old to abandon his or her best friend and replace him with a stranger in order to win a strip of ribbon of a brighter color is information that will not bring you closer to your horse.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

You Seem Like You Would Be a Good Father For Daughters

That is something that Rebecca told me many years ago. She had not been married too long and it was way before she had any children of her own. It stuck in my mind because that is something that I worked hard at being. The successes that my three daughters have achieved are things that please me much more than anything that I have accomplished.

Though I cannot claim as much of the credit for the achievements of the girls and young women that have been in our program over the years, I am very proud of those achievements.

I refuse to make a list of those achievements because I can be assured of failing to list some of them. I wrote "And a Little Child Shall Lead Them: Learning from Wild Horses and Little Children" at break neck speed. I wanted to have it completed before Momma died so she could read it. It is loosely structured around various problems that kids overcame with horses. It was only after the book was printed that I realized that I had written an entire book and failed to even mention Rebecca or Lydia. To this day I have not read the full book again. Every time I even see the cover my only thought is the fact that it has such a glaring hole in it.

So I am not giving a complete list in this post! Just a few samples. When a violent wild Corolla stallion kept charging the team that was trying to provide veterinary help to a mare and foal I was told that it took "thirteen grown men to keep the stallion back." I really was not trying to be rude or flippant, but the words just shot out of my mouth, "You could use thirteen men or Ashley Neighbors." Ashley was about fourteen and that was the first thing that came to me as I visualized the scene--Yes she could have dealt with the stallion by herself while I checked on the others.

I will not forget a veterinarian telling me that my riders were not "like" other riding students they encountered--my riders were "all grown up even if they are ten years old." Nor will I forget the call from a vet's office advising that they were going to advertise for a vet tech position but first they wanted to see if any of my girls wanted the job before they advertised it to the public. Nor will I forget Jordan at about age nine telling her mother that she was going to bring her helmet out to a clinic on wild horse taming that I was doing,just in case I "needed some help if the horse got rough." Will likely always remember the look of shock on the face of an adult rider who asked me during a difficult and complicated movement of stallions and various bands to different pastures why we were moving the horses. I told him that I did not really know--Lydia thought it was something that we needed to do and I did not ask her why.

Or the young teen who, scoffing at the idea of me ever going into a nursing home said, "You won't do that. When you get old you can come live with me and whoever I grow up to marry."

And this morning I woke up to find this picture on my computer. Abigail and Tam--both around sixteen years old refreshing the training of a beautiful Colonial Spanish mustang stallion who had had very limited training in his life. And they did it completely controlling their emotions. And they did it completely controlling his emotions. And they did it correctly. And they did it so that the horse was relaxed. And they did it much better than I would have at their age.

And they made me very proud and truly happy.

And then I checked my e mail. The person who is doing research on historically appropriate tree species to plant around the settler's farm sent me a copy of her email to, and response from, the senior state forester in our region. She is going to develop a plan to determine what we should grow, how and when to plant, where to purchase the tree stock and any other points on soil requirements for the planting of the trees.

Audrey is eleven years old.

I have a tremendous amount of things that I should be doing right now. I had to set those things aside for a while. Couldn't really get much work done until I told you how proud I am of these girls.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Breeding Conservation Principles

Like many other strains of Colonial Spanish horses, the Grand Canyons appear to be gone as a pure strain. There are a handful of horses that have a significant amount of Grand Canyon dna left. Scoundrel, who was bred a Karma Farms is one of them. He is in our pastures now and is one of the most beautiful horses that I have ever encountered.

I can, and will, breed him to a significant number of mares of different strains. But what, if any thing, can I do to preserve his Grand Canyon-ness for the future.

Though experience should have taught me otherwise, I remain an optimist. Might there one day be found a small band of Grand Canyon horses on the ranch of some eccentric old guy who likes the kind of ponies that his granddaddy used to have? Not likely--but the Livestock Breeds Conservancy has made many such finds with other strains of Livestock over the years. If such a find is ever made I will have an unrelated, relatively high percentage Grand Canyon or two around that can be used to help resurrect these incredible little horses.

Of course, that will mean that I will breed him to a close relative a time or two. Not the perfect option. When the perfect becomes the enemy of the good breed conservation is doomed to failure.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Music in 2018

The following post is the text of a note that I just sent out to participants in our music program. Our program at Mill Swamp Indian Horses is unique. To learn more about what we do and how it all fits together take a look at our blog

This spring we are ready to move into our own. We are going to have some requirements for participation in the music program. First of all everyone who participates has to agree to practice every week. There is no way to get better if you only play during our Monday night sessions. Very soon Pam and I will make a disk that you each can practice with.

My goal is to not have to sing the lead parts on any song. That means that you all will have to be ready to take different parts and do different songs on your own.

Dulcimer players and mandolin players will have to learn to play the melody on most of the songs that we do. Instruments are to be played loud enough with confidence--confidence comes from practicing.

Each week one person will be assigned a performer to give a presentation of about five minutes on. The presentation will include information such as personal background, their contribution to their type of music, influences on their style of playing, etc. I will be assigning you people that you often will not have heard of and you will have a week to become familiar with who they were and why they matter.

I plan to get us on stage more this spring with an eye toward having regular performances this summer.

We may have to find a larger place to have our Monday night practices if we continue to expand.

Keep this in mind about Monday night sessions. On Mondays I am in Juvenile court standing up trying cases for at least 1/2 the day. The Friday, Saturday and Sunday before that Monday night are generally taken up with a great deal of physical work and I get limited sleep on Sunday nights. When we get together on Monday nights I do not care if you are tired or have a headache or any other malady. It is simply irrelevant. Get yourself together, focus, and do a first rate job. That is an important part of growing up. When you are a toddler you can get away with anything if you "have not had your nap today." The older you get the less that is true.

The sooner you learn to get the job done whether you feel like it or not the happier you will be as an adult.

Lastly, I have been giving a lot of thought to what contributes to some people's ability to quickly learn to play various instruments. Some are beyond one's control. Some are genetic. If you are not genetically predisposed to music that cannot be used as an excuse--It just means that you have to work harder.

There are other important factors that you can control. In separate interviews conducted years apart Dale Jett, (A.P. Carter's grandson) and Mike Seeger, performer and musical preservationist, both mentioned one factor that I can really see in my life. Jett said that we "had the music around us very night when we went to bed and every morning when we woke up." Seeger says that to learn to play old time music one must listen to it, a lot. You tube and other computer resources make it possible for you all to access more authentic music in an afternoon than Seeger and Lomax and other great preservationists could access in months. Don't waste that opportunity.

I hold the minority view on this point but I do not believe that learning to play an instrument means learning to play it the way other people play it. One can play when one can make music that sounds good. Too often music has been considered good not because it sounded good, but because it looked difficult and was very hard to do. Modern bluegrass is filled with banjo licks and mandolin expositions that are nothing but very difficult noise to make. It takes a lot of skill and practice to make that noise. Most people cannot make that noise.

Why would anyone ever want to? Remember, the test of music is "does it sound good", not "does it look hard to do". Of what value would a banquet be if it tasted absolutely horrible but looked like it took a tremendous amount of work to put together?

Listen to the music. Listen to the words. Understand the social context that the music grew out of. Understand the difference between commercial success and artistic achievement. Old time is bluegrass with a heart. Americana is modern country music with a brain. Gospel is church music with a pulse and blues is hi-hop music with a soul.

The flower is the part of the plant that everyone sees but it is the root that keeps the plant alive trough the winter.

This spring we will build on what we have done musically.

And we will have fun.

Monday, December 25, 2017

A New Horse For Christmas-A New Corolla Breeder For The Future

Yesterday was an important day, both for Michelle and for the hopes of those of us working to prevent the extinction of the Corolla Colonial Spanish mustangs. Michelle learned that her parents had purchased Lefty for her for Christmas. Michelle has been riding with us for several months and she and her family have thrown themselves enthusiastically into our program. She is a good rider, a great singer, a talented young actress, and simply a first rate kid.

Lefty is Pancho's half sister--the grand daughter of Croatoan and the daughter of Tradewind, HOA 2011 National Pleasure Trail Horse of the Year. She is highly intelligent and powerfully built. Croatoan's body and mind in a beautiful little filly.

After Michelle got over the shock and surprise I talked briefly with her about which stallions, in years to come would be good to breed to Lefty. I have no doubt that Michelle will be carrying on the work of saving these horses for years to come. She will do her part and so will Lefty.

Any of you out there reading this who own a Corolla or Shackleford mare can do your part this spring and summer. There are only a handful of these horses domesticated left in this world. If you own a mare we have several stallions that are available at no cost for breeding. Don't worry if you would like to do your part but feel that you cannot afford to have another horse. We will accept the foal at weaning to use in the breeding program.

There are a lot of people who wish these horses well but there are only a few people who can
directly impact their survival. This summer we produced three foals for the breeding program. Each have now been purchased or claimed. My beautiful little colt, Tsenacommacah, will be going to Colorado next summer. We established another satellite breeding program a couple of hours north of here this fall with a mare who is bred and a unrelated weanling colt.

The candle is burning brighter. Do your part to keep it glowing.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Pasture Development: Learning From Last Years Mistakes

Last fall we began the process of clearing the brush and timber off of the nearly twenty acres that Beth and I purchased for the use of our program. As recently as 15 years ago most of it was open fescue and clover pasture. Hundreds of mimosa trees, thousands of ash and sweet gum trees joined about five acres of pines. Last fall I worked very hard and along with the work of our program volunteers we cut down thousands of small trees and used many of them to build a pole and rail fence .64 miles long.

In early spring I put about a dozen horses in the enclosure. The horses loved the tender weeds, browse, and fescue that popped up. They fattened and were about as happy as horses get. But when the weather got hotter and dryer the browse and weeds lost their appeal.

I purposely coppiced the hardwoods to create tender forage for the livestock. At the time I did not know mimosa to be anything but a prolific ornamental tree. I did not know it was a legume. Its nitrogen fixing properties created areas of super soil. In those areas the ground cover was lush and blue green. It was also home to the largest concentrations of woodcocks that I have ever seen.

At the time I did not know why the birds clustered there. Of course this super soil was loaded with earth worms which attracted the long beaked birds.

My mistake was in not running enough electric wire to puts the goats in with the horses. The goats would have managed the browse and erased the honey suckle. This week I hope to run enough hot wire to move the goats into the New Land.

The pictures above came from the mimosa grove as we recleared it on December 23. The super soil caused all of the coppiced stumps to grow beyond my imagination. Some of the new growth was over 15 feet tall.

We are pruning back last summer's growth and removing some of the logs from last years cutting. That that is not used for fencing will be firewood. A few of the brush piles will be left in place for wild life habitat. Most of it is being chipped on site. Those wood chips will be raked out in a very thin layer to bolster the soil's fertility.

Had I put the goats in last winter and if I had a chipper last summer I would not have to re do much of this work. That does not bother me as much as it might sound. I am learning as I go along.

Maybe some of you will be able to skip a mistake by reading about the mistakes that I have made.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Guest Post On Life At Mill Swamp Indian Horses

Five years or so now. It seems like another lifetime, one snowy February then-wife and mother in law had come up with the plan to get the kids riding they looked and looked for a place, finally found some place called Mill Swamp Indian Horses...supposedly five minutes from the house and "Guess what? Parents ride free with the kids!" Sigh...."ok....I guess I can get on one of the slow, stupid ones and tool around and watch the kids."
We showed up after hunting for the place in a snowstorm to find a bunch of people trying to cram some hogs in a small pickup. Most folks would have been a little put off, but here, at least, was familiar ground for me...I piled in and tried to hogs loaded. Bacon is important....
We started up in about April....the kids doing the lesson watching. That pasted all of a week or so...Little red horse was having some trouble and drew my interest. Baton Rouge is still one of my favorite horses...just enough independence of mind to be interesting...sweet enough not to bite. She had taken to persuading little girls to go bother somebody else. Now....I knew nothing of training horses...this end eats...that end poops...sit in the middle, facing the end that eats.
So....I sang to her....and walked up and touched her...I sang the same song, over and over..."You'll never Leave Harlan Alive...." Pretty soon, she was totally comfortable with me....she and I got down the trail ok. To this day, I can sing that for her, and she will perk up and come on.
Fast forward....One crazy mare showed up....Snow on Her....frumpy looking mare who had no concept of herd manners....I just started loving on return, she found her way into the herd...and taught me to think like a horse...she taught me how to understand any horse in the get in their understand what makes the equine mind tick..she taught me to be a trainer, and blossomed.
I told Steve several weeks later, that I wanted to get on her....he mumbled some thing that sounded alot like "your funeral...."
Alot of hoofprints have gone under the two of us....that grouchy old mare has given me alot of healing...still does....I have great hopes for the foal she is carrying right now.
We shall see.
I have not been present much lately, as badly as I wish things were different....I am going through some major changes in life....shocking changes, shocking, even to me, things I never imagined...but they are important...critical...if, often painful. But that is just part of growing into one's true self. I hope I am close to getting there.
I am not gone, just resting, I guess..focusing on a life I have not had....but I will be back, I just won't be the same person that I was. I will be better...happier...more content in my own skin. This is a new thing for me....and would never have been possible without all the days and hours spent down swamp....

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

So Who Are You Kin To?

Never understood the concept of getting on stage with strangers.  Music is too personal for me to feel comfortable doing such a thing.  Performing with family and the equivalent thereof is about as good as things get for me. If I have ever invited you to join me onstage you can be assured that I care a great deal for you.  
Merry Christmas!

(There would be more pictures but blogger says that I do not have room for all of you)

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Individual Results May Vary: Riding a Formerly Wild Corolla Stallion

Past blog posts have focused on the various physical and mental health advantages to riding hard and riding often. The advantages of such exercise are hard to exaggerate.

To my knowledge no studies have been conducted on the impact that riding Corollas can have on one's career.

 But it sure can't hurt.

Congratulations to Jae K. Davenport for being nominated to the post of Deputy Secretary of Public Safety for the Commonwealth of Virginia by Governor-Elect Ralph Northam. Jae K. is tremendously talented and will do a great job.

This is indeed a good day.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Enjoy This Christmas Season With Us

If you have never visited Smithfield Va you have no idea what you are missing--especially this time of the year. The history, the water, the architecture, the shopping--and now, on Thursday Dec 21 two free screenings of Krista Rutherford's great film, "America's Forgotten Horses."

Although she is not old enough to vote, Krista Rutherford has twice been recognized by the Horse of the Americas Registry for her work to promote and preserve the wild horses of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She is shown above in a shot from a few years ago with her adopted, formerly wild Corolla filly, Katalina. She has promoted these horses from the round pen to the halls of Congress.

This film focuses on the efforts to preserve several strains of nearly extinct Colonial Spanish horses. Beautifully filmed, informative, and inspiring--the film will be presented for two free viewings this Thursday December 21 at at 2:00 and 4:00 pm at the Smithfield Center 220 North Church Street, Smithfield Va 23430.

Come early, spend the day at our great shops and restaurants and join us for the screening.

For more information email me at

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Even Further Off Topic Than Normal

This blog has a problem with consistency. Not a problem with consistency of views, philosophy, or point of view. They have not changed in all of these years. I have not changed in all of these years. I still believe, every bit as much as I ever have, in natural horsemanship, natural horse care, natural hoof care, Colonial Spanish Horses,the runt of the litter and the stone that builders reject.

Still believe every bit as much as I ever have that the biggest problems horses face today come from mindless adherence to the edicts of the established horse world.

The consistency problem is in subject matter of posts over the years. This blog has touched on a lot of topics over the years. It is a fair criticism to point out that one who expects to find tips on horsemanship when they open a post might find a post on music, death, history, or whatever else is on my mind.

And now I face the simple reality that it is mid December. Time really does help with such things, but getting over the death of one who was among the closest to you is not a linear healing process. Things had really gotten better for the last two years but this year is different.

In my book, "And a Little Child Shall Lead Them", I referred to my youngest brother by his school name, Patrick, instead of calling him Lido. Lido was the first rider to get on most of the wild horses that he and I trained. This was when he was about 11 year old and had cerebral palsy. (There is a great deal about him that you can find in this blog using the search box and typing in Lido.)

On December 29 of 2008 I got a call at the office from one of my brothers telling me that Lido had just been killed in a hunting accident. Though there is no way to objectively measure such things, I have not handled it as well as I would like to have.

Used to have such thoughts all the time, but it has been a long time since it flashed through my mind that I need to pick up Lido to help me with some heavy work. Now it shoots through my mind that I could clear this New Land in no time with Lido's help. Then it started flashing though my mind that I needed to pick up Lido when I finished court so we could get some of the limbs chipped. Then I remember why I can't do that--even after all of these years--still flashes through my mind.

A week ago I had an intense trial with the victim being a little girl with whom I had spent a lot of time getting her emotionally prepared to testify. The morning of the trial I woke up at 1:00 am. I woke up from a dream in which I could put my hand on Lido's face and he would be well for a while, I just had to keep doing it over and over to keep him ok.

And now for the point of this long ramble--This January will mark the twenty fifth year since I have consumed alcohol. Now things are not good right now, but could you imagine how bad they would be if I drank at all?

So don't be surprised when you hear me explaining to my little riders about the genetic components of substance abuse. Don't think it odd when I tell 10 year olds on the tack shed porch that, whether it becomes legal in a few years or not, they should stay away from marijuana. Understand why I explain to the little ones in our music program why we can't go see Gram Parsons or Townes Van Zandt.

And don't be confused about why I discuss the dangers of heroin with shiny faced, smiling, sheltered little kids. More people died from heroin in my county last year than from gun fire.

I expect that they were all once shiny faced and smiling.

Some of them were probably once sheltered too.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Key To Better Hooves

Years ago I spent a lot of time rubbing various treatments along the top of the hoof line of many of our horses. Sometimes the hooves seemed to improve. Usually they did not. I tried adding some supplements that were supposed to improve hoof quality. The only thing that I found that made an appreciable difference was black oil sunflower seeds.

Minerals matter and some horses do not get enough of certain minerals in their hay. Free choice, loose mineral in a Ca:P 2-1 ratio will take care of a horse's basic mineral needs.

Heredity matters. That is why various strains of horses that are only a few generations from the wild tend to have so much healthier hooves than modern breeds.

Footing matters. Horses whose feet never dry out for months at a time have difficulty maintaining enough moisture to remain supple. Ironic, but hoof dryness is more often caused by living in a wet environment than living in a dry environment. I am already seeing improvements in hoof health by simply rolling hay out in the pastures instead of having them standing in the same place eating stationary round bales. I know of nothing better for building thick soles than movement on round gravel.

Movement matters. The hoof is living and it depends on circulation of blood to remain so. Movement is necessary to get maximum blood flow through the hooves and lower legs.

The trim matters. As is true in most things, the simplest version of the wild horse type trim is the best to follow. Others have developed complex techniques rooted in natural hoof care, but for nearly all horses the simple model that allows maximum frog development, wide heels, and most importantly a "mustang roll" is sufficient. This keeps the weight of the horse on the portions of the hoof that are designed to be weight bearing instead of forcing the thin outer wall to take up that function.

Do a bit of research. Understand the simplicity of the mustang roll. If you still have questions send me a note. It has been years since I have applied anything to the coronet band of a hoof. In fact, I stopped having any need to do so within a year of using natural hoof care trims on our horses.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Will You Please Just Take it Easy? Learning Horses and Horsemanship

With Christmas approaching now is the time for families to come together and in the warmth of the holiday spirit many of you will have the opportunity to say something to your parents that should have been said years ago. Yes, now is the time to have a nice meal, sit around a fireplace and find out exactly why they decided to raise you to be a neurotic perfectionist.

The internet exposes us to more knowledge than I ever imagined possible. It also exposes us to more ignorance than I ever knew existed. For reasons that I will never understand, those with the most deeply ingrained ignorance feel the strongest need to establish rules and standards for others to live by.

Here is a simple test to see if your psychological makeup is getting in the way of you having a healthy relationship with your horse (and with everyone else around you). Close your eyes. Get ready to be honest with yourself (for some of you I know that this will take you into uncharted territory).

Now repeat to yourself the simple two word phrase "Good enough."

Now ask yourself what that phrase means to you. For way too many chronically unhappy people that phrase is translated, "Not good enough." When the phrase is used by such people it is generally uttered with a disapproving sigh, e.g "Well, I guess that is 'good enough'... for now"

A few of us who were lucky enough to be raised by parents who sought to produce confident, happy adults instead of another generation of hand wringing self-loathers understand that the term means that something is "good" and it is "enough". If a thing is "good" and "enough" then I am free to leave it alone and move on to another task.

Do you try to create an environment for your horse that is perfectly safe making any injury or mishap impossible? If you do you are doomed to failure. There are no such environments. Do you load your horse up with whatever supplements everyone else at your barn swears by? Horses need forage, water, air, exercise, and the ability to live in small bands.

When you provide them with those things you have done a good enough job of caring for the horse. If you do not provide them with those things no amount of money flushed away chasing the approval of the established horse world will be enough to make up for denying your horse what it actually needs.

If your relationship with your horse is not satisfactory don't waste time calling the vet out to examine the horse until you give yourself a simple examination. Ask yourself (and honestly answer yourself) was I raised by constantly disapproving parents? Was I raised by neurotic, hand wringing parents who showed how much they loved me by showing how much they constantly "worried" about me? Am I raising my children in either of these ways?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, and if you are not willing to work hard to change yourself, your relationship with a horse will be a source of constant disappointment. The good news is that it is never to late to make things better. You can change and your horse can help you change.

The first step is to recognize that perfectionism is not a virtue that produces solid results. It is simply an impediment to happiness and creativity and if you suffer from this horrible condition you cannot get better without working as hard to get well as others worked all of your life to make you this sick.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Soil Building:Biodiversity for Better Pastures

Spring butter cups are not forage that I want to produce. We use no herbicides or commercial fertilizer. Our management is through mowing and goat grazing. It is of limited utility. So far I have found only one thing that consistently erases the buttercups from the pastures---June. The plant has a short life span and as the weather warms up it dies out.

This year we will be experimenting with biological farming technique to keep the butter cups at bay. The idea is simple--heavy grass trumps most weeds so in order to have fewer weeds I want to produce more grass. We will over seed cool season grasses in this pasture in late February. Seed is only part of the equation. We will work hard to give those seeds a chance to flourish by experimenting with natural microbes to strengthen the soil.

About a year and a half ago we buried a 450 gallon hot tub tank to be flush with the ground. By doing so we insulated the tank well below the freeze line in even our coldest of nights. The tank was filled with horse manure that had been sitting in our pastures for various periods of time. Only a minimal amount of the manure was fresh. Very small amounts of rotten wood and old hay was added over time. After several months I added a few thousand Red Wiggler worms. Occasional coffee grounds were added to the mix.

I turned the composting mass religiously with a pitch fork for months. The worms flourished and the manure completely broke down into soil, showing none of its former physical characteristics. It just looked like potting soil.

As the mound decreased into a flat layer we added more manure--likely over a ton, a few hundred pounds at a time. I put in more straw and old hay.

The worms went forth and multiplied.

A week ago today we put perhaps 750 pounds of very dry manure from the pastures on top of the completely broken down vermicompost. I covered that with the contents of a molded small square bale of hay. The weather has been warm over the past week. After four days I found no worm activity in the new manure that we had placed on top of the hot tub tank.

After six days the worms had permeated the top three inches of the manure, just under the molded hay layer. Without a doubt we have a tremendous renewable source of microbes brewing constantly in this mixture.

I suspect that bringing in additional forms of microbia will only enhance the mixture's soil building capacity. Chickens roam freely at the Little House. Rabbits are also raised there. The girls maintain a conventional compost pile outside and the chickens have access to it. They scratch though it and then go over to sections of the yard where they scratch and forage, carrying microbes on their beaks and feet.

The result amazes me. The soil where they scratch has become light and fluffy. Soil compaction is eliminated in those areas. Microbial action below the surface has worked wonders for that soil.

I will take five gallons of that soil and add it to the vermicompost. A year ago I began cutting down trees on the New Land. Many saplings and branches have been laying there since that time. I recently began chipping and shredding those trees. I will bring over a few buckets of ash and gum shredding and add those to the mix.

As the winter comes to an end I will experiment using both surface spreading of this mixture in some pastures and a tea mix spraying in others in order to see how to get our best advantage from all of this free fertilizer.

And at this moment, all across suburbia, people are having leaves removed from their yards, their lawns "winterized" in preparation for the spring's application of poison and fertilizer. One can drive out from suburbia into the country side to watch farmers mowing the remainder of their crop wastes and tilling them into the ground, leaving bare soil exposed all winter, also in preparation for the spring's application of poison and fertilizer.

And at this moment, all across America, people who spend their life worrying about being around "germs" are dying from cancer.

A lot of people make a lot of money from the production and sale of those poisons. A lot of people make a lot of money from the production and sale of those fertilizers.

And a few people make a lot of money from the production and sale of coffins and caskets.

And nobody makes a lot of money from growing good microbes.

Producing life is not as good for the economy as destroying it.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Use of a Rope Halter

When I was a kid everyone knew what to do with a horse that was difficult to control. You simply got a more severe bit. As the horse aged the matter even got worse. The next step was to never "give a horse his head." Eventually you had a horse with such a "hard mouth" that it could only be ridden by someone strong enough to inflict real pain on the horse to make it stop.

That really is how people thought a horse needed to be handled. That is how little horses were understood in the era prior to natural horsemanship being more widely understood.

Unfortunately, too many people still ride that way. A horse that is difficult to control is a horse that has not been taught pressure and release with absolute perfect consistency.

The horse that can't be controlled needs to start over with a weaker restraint--a rope halter with the trainer on the ground, not in the saddle. The rope halter allows the horse to feel the slightest pressure, but more importantly, allows the horse to feel the slightest release of pressure.

Key point--as soon as the horse begins to consider the possibility of perhaps yielding to the pressure the pressure must be instantly released every single time-every single time-every single time-100% of the time--instantly.

If the horse fails to follow through on yielding the trainer must instantly renew the pressure every single time--every single time--every single time--100% of the time--instantly.

Consistently-every single time--that is how a horse learns best and the horse has a right to expect perfect consistency out of you even if you have had a bad day.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Microbes and Red Wigglers--Some of Our Most Important Livestock

Our horses have a forage based diet. We do not put down any poisons or modern fertilizers. My excursions into permaculture, biological farming, soil creation, water conservation, and pasture enhancement are the most exciting intellectual exercise that I have been involved in in years.

With the number of horses that we have we have an inexhaustible supply of horse manure. Like most horse owners my only thoughts about manure was to work for manure removal. We have grown way past the baby steps of removal and are moving more and more into viewing the problem of removal as an opportunity for enhancement.

Our pastures used to produce two primary crops--mud and dust. The soil in the sacrifice pens contained a great amount of wet manure that was, on occasion, used for wind row composting. The resulting compost was better than nothing for soil enhancement, but it did not radically change the soil structure.

The vermicompost does make such changes. The microbes in the compost attract earth worms and better root development. These changes reduce soil compaction allowing rain water to go into the soil instead of running off or creating deep mud surface layers. Our irrigation system allows us to grow grass regardless of the weather.

Our deep vermicompost pit has been working for over a year. I have only used small amounts of it in direct application to the soil. Friday we added nearly 1000 pounds of manure that had been sitting out in the paddocks in stud piles. I will simply leave it alone for several months.

We have the capacity to produce vermicompost on a small scale commercial level. We might begin doing that. We might find that the best financial benefit from the vermicompost is to continue to apply it directly and in teas spread over the pastures to increase forage production and decrease our hay costs.

Such questions create great opportunities for learning--both for the kid in the program and me.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

And Miles To Go Before I Sleep

When I was 19 the test on my spinal fluid indicated that I had Lou Gehrigs disease. The part that did not make sense was that the numbers were so my body should have already been shrunken to nearly nothing. That was not the case. A few weeks later on expert on the disease said that he had no idea why my test numbers were so high, but the diagnosis was wrong.

I do not consider that a miraculous healing, though I have experienced events in my life that I am not embarrassed at all to describe as miracles. But in the interim between being hospitalized for all of the tests and then being sent out to see the expert I had plenty of time to think about dying. Greatest concern was that I had gotten so little done in 19 years. It put me in a hurry.

It is the silliest of things , but last week I dreamed that I was sixty and would die at age 62. (I am only 57) In the dream my two greatest concerns were that I did not leave enough of the mares in the off site breeding program bred and that the New Land had not been fully converted to lush pasture.

But December comes in tomorrow and inevitably when the December sky becomes the color of lead and gun smoke my mind turn to Dec 29, 2008 when I got the call that Lido had been killed in a hunting accident. Working hard this week clearing brush from about two score yards from where he died--yet I repeatedly found thoughts rushing though the back of my mind such as "If I finish court early tomorrow I'll pick up Lido and he and I can finish clearing these trees out before it gets dark"

That thought runs quickly and very, very softly through my mind. The responding thought, that Lido has been dead now for several years races in, and yells as loud as it can.

December distractions, cold wind, clouds, a packed church, Rebecca doing a song for Lido, the rest of us doing A.P. Carter's "Miss Me When I'm Gone", Joey walking up with the same expression Lido had every morning--neither Joey nor Lido ever come looking for something from me--just that resigned, yet satisfied, look that says "what we gonna get done today."

Now I neither consume alcohol nor smoke. People in my family who do not smoke and drink tend to live to be incredibly old. I have a pretty good shot at living forty more years, but I can't count on that. Things got to get done now--New Land Cleared,Stitch trained, videos made, field trips from schools--more foals, more breeding sites set up--need to write another book-scary just thinking about all of it-Hell I better live at least thirty more years at this rate

And the one thing that I want for myself--not commercial--just a few disks for friends and family--I want to make a cd of Carter songs with Ashley, Aryianna, and Lucy doing the singing and me playing five or six different instruments on each song--get that done and I will die a happy old man with a big grin on my face--and my circle won't be broken

Our First Pure San Clemente Island Goat Born

I love their look and I love their history of living wild for so long. W started out with a gift of two beautiful Baylis wethers. We obtained Spicer, the San Clemente buck shown above, and for years we have been breeding a line of San Clemente/Syfan crosses that have produced a lot of fast growing, easy handling, brush busters. We have found a ready market for those offspring.

Our San Clemente breeding will focus on marketing to other breeders. Of course, we need to maintain a significant herd here to keep browse in check on the New land and off of our fences.

And all of it goes back to our central focus of the conservation of the Banker strain of the Colonial Spanish Horse. The colonial goats, ossabaw hogs, southeastern strains of Colonial Spanish horses, and a replicated 1650's era farm make up a picture frame to put around the historic horses that we work to preserve and promote.

Another Off Site Corolla Breeding Program Established

And established the way that I like best. Breeding programs to conserve nearly extinct strains of horses should never be established on a whim. This new site is a about an hour and a half from us. The lady who has acquired these two horses has spent many hours at our horse lot learning how we handle these horses and seeing first hand the temperament, athletic ability, and beauty of the Corollas.

On Monday Jen and Elise delivered Swimmer, a Corolla mare, to her new home. Swimmer is bred to Tradewind, a formerly wild Corolla stallion and Horse of the Americas National Pleasure Trail Horse of the Year for 2011.

Matchcoor is a weanling. His mother is a formerly wild horse from Shackleford and his father is Cornstalk, a beautiful bay formerly wild stallion from Corolla. He will be a great future cross to Swimmer and if her upcoming foal is a filly she would be a great cross to Matchcoor also.

And best of all they are close enough so that future breedings could be to any of our stallions. I am really looking forward to breeding Matchcoor to some of our mares in future years. It is through this kind of careful breeding that we can preserve the incredible genetics of these historic horses.

This was a big day for the future of the Corollas. If we can establish a small breeding program like this one each year for the next decade The Banker strain of Colonial Spanish horses will not vanish from this earth.

Tradewind who is bred to Swimmer

Cornstalk, father of Match Coor

Persa, Matchcoor's mother

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

You Are Not Too Young To Matter

Whether you hope one day to save a horse or even an entire breed of horses you are not too young to begin to get to work on it. Young people have energy and ideas. Older people have experience and resources. And when it comes to saving horses it takes energy, ideas, experience and resources.

The best way to put all of those things togehter is to begin to work with others who share your love of horses. It is great fun to participate in forums and face book groups, but networking allows you to do more than just have fun. It allows you to join with others to work to save horses for the future.

The Livestock Breeds Conservancy is celebrating its fortieth year of working to prevent the extinction of a wide range of of breeds of historic farm animals, including horses. In November Mill Swamp Indian Horses in Smithfield, Virginia hosted a day of demonstrations and clinics for members of the Breed Conservancy. These sessions featured young people using their talents to help preserve nearly extinct strain of American horses including the Corollas and the Choctaws. Michelle is shown above riding Corn Stalk, a formerly wild Corolla stallion. She gave a first person living history performance depicting Betsy Dowdy, a young teenager who alerted the North Carolina militia that the British were about to invade their state.

Betsy Dowdy rode alone, over fifty miles on a cold December night to give the warning because she heard that the Red Coats were killing horses on the farms in their path. Her ride was much longer, and much more dangerous, than Paul Revere's ride, but she would not stand by and let horses be shot down by an invading army. She cared. She worked with others. She used her energy and ideas to get the word to North Carolina patriots who had the experience and the resources to fight the British.

Chris gave a great demonstration on how he trained Zee, a cream colored Choctaw mare, to be ridden. Chris began to learn natural horsemanship and horse training when he was about 12 years old. Now he teaches other young people how to train horses and ride. He did a great job explaining his techniques to members of the Breeds Conservancy. It turns out that Zee comes from very rare Cherokee lineage in addition to her Choctaw lineage. Dr. Phil Sponenberg, a leading expert both on preservation of nearly extinct livestock and Colonial Spanish Horses, was particularly impressed with Zee and contacts were made to have her bred to a very rare Cherokee influenced stallion in 2018.

Chris' demonstration made this contact possible.

And joining the Breeds Conservancy can expand your horizons even beyond horses. These turkeys are a very rare strain known as Bourbon Reds. They became part of the program at Mill Swamp Indian Horses after program participants learned about these turkeys through the Breeds Conservancy.

There is no need to wait to begin to help horses. You can start on that path regardless of how young you are.

To learn more about breed conservation visit

To learn more about Mill Swamp Indian Horses visit

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Very Special Volunteer Opportunity

Yesterday our crack team of mechanics and assemblers finished putting together a wood chipper. Goats, horses, guineas, turkeys, earthworms and microbes, kids to roll out hay bales, Wendell's brush buster, my chain saw and bladed weedeater, new wood chipper, and hopefully some community volunteers will finish the clearing of the new land this winter.

                                                                 Our old Chickee.

We still have several educational structures to assemble including a Powhatan scare crow hut, a chickee, a large wooden Corral/round pen--Even if horses are not your thing you can still be a very important part of our program by being a regular volunteer on these projects--you can do a lot of good for a lot of people by putting in 8-10 hours of volunteer work--if you like being out doors, care about the environment, enjoy history, see the need for preservation of heritage livestock, or just want to spend some time with people committed to making a difference send me an email at

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Living History at Mill Swamp Indian Horses: Here is Your Chance To Help Out

Education and entertainment can and should happen at the same time. All the way through college and law school I worked at Jamestown. I was "in costume" for those teaching performances. Perhaps that is why I am so drawn to the power of living history presentations. The other reason is that all of my life history has been living all around me. I walk and ride where John Smith walked in 1608, near where Benedict Arnold and Bannister Tarleton rode during the Revolution, and in the county beside where Nat Turner killed and died, in what I believe to be one of the most important events leading up to the Civil War.

Every year on November 22 around lunch time I get a general feeling of unease as my mind wonders back to what I watched on television at the Little House in 1963. Last Sunday I visited Malvern Hill. On July 1, 1862 in a period of only four hours over 8,000 men were casualties in a wide open field of only a few hundred acres. Hard to describe how that made me feel. I was glad to leave that field but I could not help but keep thinking of the thousands of men who wanted to lave that field much more than I did, but never had that chance.

Our 1650's era replicated farm, our colonial livestock, and the sense of history that permeates the air of Tidewater Virginia create the perfect stage for Living history presentations. I would love to add a drama component to our program. We could do sessions on research to develop a historical character, costuming, acting, and writing along with hosting regular performances.

Herein lies both the opportunity and the problem. We have no paid staff. We are all volunteers. Everything that we do,from our riding program, our breeding program, our livestock husbandry, our music program, our PTSD program, our natural horsemanship program and our permaculture program is conducted by skilled and dedicate volunteers.

I need an additional set of skilled and dedicated volunteers in the Tidewater area to develop a living history program that will be able to host regular performances during the summer and fall and to teach the skills set out above to participants, particularly young participants.

So, Contact me now, at , if you would like to help develop this program. Don't put off contacting me until after the holidays. Things that get put off often never come to fruition. Are you active in Little Theater, children's drama, historic reenactment? Contact me now to help us develop one more incredible program.

I want to have a solid program plan in place by February 1, 2018


There is a serious problem with way to many equine discussion pages. The saddest part about it is that horses and the established horse world attract many people who want the power of being arbiters and rule makers/rule enforcers. The ultimate irony is that dedicated practice of natural horsemanship and, specifically, spending many hours in the round pen with wild horses, or unstarted colts, absolutely erase the desire to control the behavior and thoughts of other people.

Building a meaningful relationship with a horse is a liberating experience. It can never be based on accepting a mindless set of rules and the edicts of the loudest, shrillest voices.

Listen to the softer voices of Brannamen, Dorrence, Rashid, and the few other writers like them who understand horses, people and pain. People often speak of the spiritual aspect of horsemanship. I have always had difficulty with that discussion because the term "spiritual" is used so broadly that it is hard to give it any meaningful definition. With that said, I believe that a solid relationship with a horse leads to a deeper understanding of what the author of the Letter of James referred to as a pure religion.

It requires one to give the horse unconditional love. It teaches the concept of service to the horse and to others. It teaches the respect of each horse without regard to its price or lineage. It teaches one to be humble. It teaches that the purpose of acquiring power is to allow one to serve more people, not to control more people.

It teaches one to shut up and listen.

For one who wants to be a better horse person, and a better person--stay away from the negativism of the establishd horse world--read Brannaman, Dorrrence, Rashid--and the Letter of James.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Microbes, Vermiculture, and Old Hay Experiment

We are doing an experiment in our Homeschool program to test some applications for natural pasture enhancement. We use no commercial fertilizer or herbicides. I am learning more every day about compost, permaculture, and regenerative agriculture. I am particularly pleased with what I have learned through online classes with Simple Soil Solutions.

I was always puzzled at the waste layers that built up under round bales. They stayed very moist, were composed of layers of old hay and horse manure. To my very uneducated mind they appeared to be the perfect self creating compost pile. Except that it took forever for them to break down and often after they did they left beautiful, rich looking black soil upon which nothing grew for a couple of years and when it did grow the resulting vegetation looked no stronger than grass grown several feet away from the old piles.

I now understand the effects of compaction and lack of oxygen in those piles. We have a rather large vermiculture operation in which we add only coffee grounds, weed stems, horse manure and the occasional bit of old hay. We keep it in an old hot tub that we buried to ground level. It rarely has any problem with freezing. A year ago I set out 1000 red wigglers in the container. They have been fruitful and multiplied.

About four times a year we add around 500 pounds of manure from the pasture to the container.

I began to experiment with spreading the old layers of hay waste out in the pasture. As soon as some air could get to old hay that I was spreading it broke down super fast and grass took off. However, it is very hard work to rake and pitch fork these areas out. On the new land we had a build up of waste hay that was only a few months old. We used a post hole digger and laid out of grid of twelve postholes about a foot deep. We added compost from the vermicompost system. It was loaded with beneficial microbes. To my surprise the muddy area began to dry up rather quickly and the waste hay began to disappear.

In the pictures above we are doing an experiment. Audrey's pictures show two of these compacted waste hay areas. In one we use post hole diggers and covered the vermicompost in the holes that we set out in the waste area. (The waste areas had broken down so little in their extreme compaction that we found layers of horse manure that were still completely intact even though it had been buried for at least several months.) In the other we used an equal amount of Vermicompost and simply applied to to the surface of that waste pile.

Of course we hope that simply top dressing with our active vermicompost is going to provide results as good as injecting it under ground does. Would have been better to have done this experiment in the summer but we shoud still get results.

It would be a nice benefit to the horse owner with few horses and small acreage to simply drop a few ounces of active vermicompost on dry manure piles and have them break down in place

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Pastures, Trails, and Replicated Farm Site Of Milll Swamp Indian Horses

The farm belonged to my grand father's grand father. It is a Virginia Century Farm, meaning that it has been in our family for over 100 years. Our first white ancestors owned land about seven miles from here around 1650. Since that time I have had family living within a ten mile radius of the horse lot.

The Little House is on Moonlight Road. It is the house that my mother was born in. Beth and I purchased it about ten years ago. The land that it stands on was then added to the long strip of land that ran from the highway to just across an old abandoned railroad bed. The addition of the app. four acres of land that went with the Little House was then added to the app, 38 acres of open land and woods that my mother gave to me before she died.

A year ago Beth and I purchased the nearly 20 acres adjacent to these two strips of land. We purchased it for the use of our program. That is the part of the picture above that bulges out on the left side of the picture.

Around 2001 Daddy and I fenced in eight acres and built a shelter to conform to the standards required by the Bureau of Land Management in order to adopt a pair of mustangs. We built our first round pen. The other half of the open land was planted in oats and we grew oat hay which was bound in small square bales. The farmer who baled the hay got half of the bales, leaving me with over three hundred bales. I could not imagine how long it would take for the horses to eat such a vast amount of hay. (Now that supply would last us less than a month!)

As we got more horses and I started having riding students we fenced in more land and stopped growing our own hay. Soon the pastures were divided into several big pens. using about 1.2 miles of wire. All of the post holes were dug by hand primarily by Daddy and I with occasional help from my brothers. It would take Lido too long to describe which pen he was referring to so he numbered the pens 1-5 and designated each with a number.

While sitting in my wife's family's home and thinking about replica historical farm sites across the nation it occurred to me that our Colonial Spanish Horses of the Southeast could best be understood in their historical perspective if placed in a setting that served as a picture frame around them. I began thinking about building a replicated farm to symbolize the time frame that the Corollas and Shacklefords represented. It was expensive but Beth and I had such a farm site built. First the Smokehouse, then the settlers one room home, Corn Crib and Tobacco barn. We added in Colonial livestock over the years--Spanish goats, Dominique chickens, and now Ossabaw hogs. We developed a limited living history program.

All the while our riding program was growing by leaps and bounds. Other programs were added. For a few years Kay Kerr ran a wonderful art program teaching little riders to paint.Their paintings were sold at the Corolla Wild Horse Fund's museum to benefit the Fund. Linda Hurst wrote two children's books about one of our horses, "Red Feather." Kay Kerr's great book "Sand Horse Beach:Croatoan's Memoirs" was named bet "Illustrated Children's Book" at the Equus Film Festival and tomorrow her film based on the book will have its debut at the Equus Film Festival in New York. At the annual meeting of the Livestock Breeds Conservancy I saw the debut of Krista Rutherford's great documentary "America's Forgotten Horses", which focused on efforts to preserve the Colonial Spanish Horse.

Kay has impacted our program in other ways. She developed our veteran's program. Every week those who are in the in patient treatment program for PTSD at the Hampton VA hospital come out and work horses in the round pen. Ashley Edwards turned my mind more to using these nearly extinct horses to help nearly destroyed humans than it had been before. (There is a search feature to this blog--if you do not know all about Ashley search her name in that little search box and read the posts about her. You will be glad that you did)Our website has a great list of links to tv and newspaper stories about our program--

Richard Blaney donated Nimo, a Galiceno, to our program. Vickie Ives of Karma Farms sent some of the Grand Canyon line here through Scoundrel and Queen Jane along with our colonial Spanish goats of the Syfan strain. Monique Henry asked us to accept our first two Choctaws, Manny and Joey, who are mainstays of our program. And my very special little mare, Janie, came all the way up from Texas from Lothlarien Farms. We purchased several Marsh Tackys. Pam Yahn gave us our first ossabaw hogs. Wendy Dean gave us two Baylis Spanish Goats.

I am quite certain that I have failed to mention the accomplishments of many of our riders, the awards that they have won, the honors that our program has received, and the tremendous amount of work that volunteers have put into our program. I did so on purpose. Were I to list the physical and financial contributions that volunteers and supporters have put into this program the post wold go on for many pages.

And we have no paid staff. And we have never turned anyone away for lack of ability to pay program fees.

The most important contribution that I have made to our program is that I have constantly stuck to one principle --one two word goal--More and Better. We do not get the hate mail that we once did. Early on we did and much of it was vicious. I understood that More and Better would require us to utterly ignore the pronouncements of the established horse world, to do absolutely nothing to compromise our program's values and our horse's health by moving away from natural horse care, natural hoof care and natural horsemanship. I understood that More and Better would require us to push on past well meaning advisors who said that we should just focus on riding and not spread ourselves too thin. I understood that More and Better meant that we would best serve the horses and people by working to become a cultural and educational institution instead of becoming a riding barn. Most importantly, I understood that More and Better required us to absolutely ignore appearances and put 100% of our focus on reality. I understood that we could attract Ellie Mae or Mrs. Drysdale, but not both of them. In a note urging me to "quit breeding worthless crap with no market value" I was further informed that the "entire horse world" was laughing at what we were doing. The note went on to suggest some steps that I could take to learn the error of my ways and how to conform to the expectations of that horse world.

I declined to do so.

The major contribution that I have made to the development of our program is not what I have done. It is what I have refused to do. For nearly two decades we have rejected the siren song that bid us to become just another place for little rich white girls to play with ponies.

Which brings us to where we are today.

That red line is a trial that rims the land that Beth and I own. It is 1.82 miles. It is not completed. I have several more links to cut into this trail. Though I always am leery of citing the contributions of any adults in our program for fear of creating the appearance of slighting the contributions of others, this trail would not be possible but for the hard work that Wendell put into developing it, using the brush buster that he purchased himself for this purpose.

And last Friday members of the Livestock Breed Conservancy got a chance to see how we do things. I think it fair to say that they all left feeling better for the experience.

The sun will be up in an hour. I am going to go fire up my chain saw and work on clearing more of the new land. Kids in the home school program will be arriving in about three hours. We need to separate Matchcoor from his mother so that he and Swimmer can be taken to a farm a few hours north of here to create yet another Corolla offsite breeding program. We have nearly 10,000 pounds of hay in round bales to roll out to help microbe development in our pastures (Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that we practice and teach permaculture practices for soil and water conservation)

And I think that Sally will be having an incredibly well bred Colonial Spanish foal in February. And we will be adding a Colonial era heifer to our program in short order.

Tonight some of us will be playing music at a local church.

More and Better