Thursday, February 23, 2017

Mill Swamp Indian Horses: An Educational, Breed Conservation Program

We are not a riding barn. (Although we ride more miles than most people could imagine our horses live freely and as naturally as possible and have never seen a barn or a stable)

We are not static. Our program is constantly growing and evolving. We stick to our central beliefs as we grow.

These include:
1. The best way to prevent the extinction of Colonial Spanish horses is to teach a person to ride one.
2. Natural horsemanship creates better horses, but more importantly it creates better people.
3. Working with horses helps solve tremendous emotional pain and can be a linchpin in fighting PTSD.
4. Learning should not merely be fun. It should be exhilarating.
5. A riding program should create a sense of community among its participants.

With those principles firmly in place we are launching into a more structured Friday program for home schooled kids. The response to the announcement has been mind boggling. It bodes equally well for the future that iin a few days we will have visitors from New Hampshire who will spend a week learning how our program works in order to see if they can incorporate some of what we do into their program.

And in November the Breeds Conservancy will be holding their national meeting in Williamsburg and we will be offering a program for participants on our unique model designed to preserve these horses.

Here is a note that I sent out to those who inquired about our home school program so they might understand a bit of what we do. Mill Swamp Indian Horses is the program name of Gwaltney Frontier Farm, Inc, a 501 (c) 5 non-profit breed conservation program.

"Our primary purpose is to work to prevent the extinction of several strains of nearly extinct Colonial Spanish Horses such as the Corollas, Shacklefords, Choctaws, Marsh Tackys, Grand Canyon influenced horses and Brislawn strain horses. These were among the original horses brought to America in the 1500's, some arriving nearly 100 years before the settlement of Jamestown. As the southern colonies developed, up until around 1700 these horses were the only horses found in the southeast and then on across the Mississippi. We seek to expose these horses to as many people as possible in order both to educate and to assist others who might want to own and become breeders of these horses.

Our program is unique. Next week we will have visitors from New Hampshire who are spending a week to learn how we do things in order to develop a program like ours. In order to place the horses in their proper historical context--to put a picture frame around them--we built a replicated 1650's era farm sight which is also stocked with historically appropriate goats, super rare Ossabaw colonial hogs, and colonial chickens. We are constantly on the look out for additional historically appropriate livestock and hope to add colonial cattle and maybe even sheep in the future.

We have a colonial garden and one of the tasks for participants in this program will be to assist in that garden.

We teach natural horsemanship which simply means that we train horses using modes of communication that they understand because it mimics how they naturally interact with each other. We teach natural horse care because it is healthy and humane for horses to be allowed to live as close to their natural state as possible. We even teach natural hoof care.

This spring and summer we will have several foals born. Program participants will learn how to, and actually have hands on opportunities to humanely tame and gentle horses. The focus of the Friday program is not riding. However, I hope to give some opportunity for riding as the program develops.

We are very interested in soil and water conservation and a major part of our program is the development of demonstration permaculture techniques. This is an important point to understand. Program participants learn and they work on various projects. One of the most important things that kids in our programs learn is the satisfaction that comes from hard work and the importance of team work. It is not at all unusual for kids to begin the program having no idea what they are capable of doing. It is very rewarding to see the pride in their faces as they learn to handle farm chores and work to improve the environment around them.

We also teach kids to have the confidence to communicate effectively. My riders not only learn how to tame and train horses, they learn how to do a complete clinic or demonstration while explaining to the audience every step of the process. (Not sure if it will be part of this program but we even teach kids with an interest in the matter how to perform ancient American songs on ancient instruments.)

Our program has several other facets that will not be part of the Home School program. I list them just for your information. We have weekly programming for in patient PTSD veterans from the Hampton Veterans Hospital. We conduct programming with the Rivermont School on the Peninsula. W encourage people who have been thorough severe trauma to participate in our programs. The Road to Repair sessions are difficult to explain in just a few words. Here is a link to a TV news story about that program ;

If you take a moment to look over that news story you will be glad that you did."

(The pictures above are from a program that Gene Gwaltney presents on the Indian artifacts that he has collected from the area over the last fifty years).

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Pasture Health Indicators

There remains a fortune to be made from those who are willing to settle for a second rate product provided that it is expensive and "is the way everyone does it."

In evaluating the health of a horse pasture we generally look at a very few factors--weed content, bare soil and mud, and fertilizer needs. The established agribusiness world had the answers for those problems: weeds--purchase expensive, dangerous chemicals, bare soil and mud---purchase expensive seed,and, of course, fertilizer needs---purchase extremely expensive fertilizer.

In each case there are better ways to deal with the problem. The first step is in understanding that one rarely has a pasture problem without having a soil problem. If you want to see better grass above ground create an environment that produces more worms, fungi, and bacteria below ground. That means breaking up soil compaction, eliminating chemical poisons from the horse lot,and getting soil nutrients in, and on, the soil.

Killdeer inhabit healthy soils here in Tidewater. They have to. Healthy soils produce a lot of bugs and worms. There was a time when my pastures were over run with killdeer. In recent years they have become less common. That is an indicator of poor soil health and a sign that I have work to do.

We recently purchased nearly twenty acres of what was once pasture that has grown up in pine, mimosa, ash, and sweet gum. It has been nearly twenty years since it was lush pasture of fescue, alfalfa and clover. The mimosas took over perhaps as much as four acres of that land. They died out as the gums and ashes grew taller and shaded them to death. Perhaps a hundred remained.

The land was flush with rabbits, year after year. The ground vegetation around the mimosa trees was particularly vibrant and always carried the look of being heavily fertilized. The land is high in that area and the soil is sandy.

It always felt strange to walk among those mimosas. The ground was soft, light, and spongy. The strangest things were the wood cocks. Wood cocks are not plentiful in our area, especially in high sandy areas. The mimosa forest was a nursery for wood cocks, producing by far the greatest density of wood cooks that I have ever seen in Tidewater.

I often wondered about the cause of that population density.

I did not know that mimosas were legumes. I did not know that for all of those years they were fixing nitrogen in the soil. I never thought about the tremendous amount of nutrients that enter the soil as their leaves decay. Those conditions created perfect incubators for beneficial microbes and worms flourished as they consumed the microbes and it was this worm plantation that fed so many wood cocks.

The wood cocks have let me know where the best soil is on the new land. Now my job, over the remainder of my lifetime, is to use permaculture techniques to make the remainder of the land to be used as pasture as healthy as the former mimosa groves.

These techniques require less money than modern chemical farming. With that savings goes the requirement of more work. For anyone who has more time than money the preferred alternative is obvious.

But for anyone who cares about passing on a better environment to our great grandchildren, the preferred alternative is equally obvious.

Friday, February 10, 2017

If You Want To Preserve Heritage Livestock and Horses You Must

...learn some important lessons and it is best to understand them from the beginning.

1. Don't expect others to share your interest in the animals. Don't expect society at large to care that you are working to preserve something that you consider vital for future generations. Don't expect them to understand why what you are doing matters. Focus 100% of your energy in finding the handful of people who care and understand and give those people the opportunity to learn and to develop the same interest in the animals that you have.

2. Don't expect to get rich off of your hard work. In fact, you should expect to loose a fortune. If you are thinking about doing this to get rich, look elsewhere. This is a calling, a service to future generations, not a way to pad one's bank account.

3. Don't expect to be immortal. You are going to die and when you do it is important to know that you have created a fire in others to take up where you left off, both in the broader sense of willingness to carry on  the fight for preservation but in the the narrow sense of knowing, with certainty, who is going to feed the animals the morning after the funeral.

4. Don't begin this endeavor if you are a restless soul whose life has involved drifting from one thing to the next. It is easy to acquire a herd on a whim. it is nearly impossible to sell a herd on a whim.

5. Don't take on this task if you do not know who you are. If you crave the approval of everyone around you take on another venture. This is not a task for those who the wind blows from here to there. It is not even a task for those who are willing to sail into the wind. This is a job for people who realize that there will be times when they will simply have to cause the wind to blow all by themselves.

6. Don't take on this task if you think that you matter more than the preservation of the animals. If you are looking for fame, recognition and appreciation for your efforts at preservation your ego will cause you to be nothing but an impediment to preservationists who are trying to get the job done for the right reasons.

7. Don't be afraid to highlight the differences between the animals that you seek to preserve and other animals, but don't be a schismatic trouble maker who is as driven to prove the inferiority of other strains as you are to demonstrate the virtues of your strain of livestock or poultry.

8. Don't be divisive. There are only a handful of serious preservationists in this nation. They already have enough to do without having to work to put out the fires that you would create among them.

9. Don't be blind to math. No one should understand the importance of numbers more than a rare breeds preservationist. We need to increase our numbers, work together and become part of larger groups. Any fool can split off and go fail on their own. It takes wisdom to build coalitions and to work with others.

10. Don't get on social media when you are angry, misinformed or half informed. The computer is both our greatest tool to promote preservation and the greatest threat that we have to cooperative preservation.

Have a goal that matters to you without being centered on you. It is best if that goal can be achieved in dark anonymity.

My goal is simple.

If 500 years from now some of the dust that a little girl brushes from the mane of her Colonial Spanish horse, of whatever strain, contains just a minute bit of my ashes, then it will all have been worth it.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Wild Horse Redemption

Yesterday I saw the documentary,"Wild Horse Redemption." It depicts the relationship that develops between prison inmates and the wild horses that they are training. Go pick it up from netflix or any other available venue.

Look at the impact that natural horsemanship has on improving the quality of the lives of the inmates. Now imagine its impact on people who have been severely traumatized. Think about what it can do for those with PTSD. Consider what it can do for those who are lonely and have suffered loss in their lives. How about those with depression and anxiety disorder? What kind of direction can it provide for teens who are merely suffering the angst of being a teenager?

And now think about how much it can improve the lives of those who are already experiencing happy, well balanced lives. Think hard about that.

Now you can understand why we have so many volunteers that work so hard in our program. What we do is not brain surgery and it can, and should, be replicated all over the country.

Now you can understand why a riding program operator would come from six hundred miles away just to spend a week to learn how we do things.

Natural horsemanship creates better horses, but more importantly it creates better people.

Saddles For Colonial Spanish Horses

Two points here--first--saddle fit. I am often asked which saddles I recommend for Colonial Spanish horses. People are hoping that I can recommend a brand name that will solve all of their saddle problems. They generally are not pleased with my answer.

The first question is "What is your saddle problem?"--do you even have a saddle problem? Many new owners of these horses already start out feeling nervous and guilty. All of their experienced horse friends have told them that their new horse is only a pony any way and that it is cruel to ride such a small creature. To compensate they seek out the magical saddle that perfectly fits their horse. Couple that pressure with well researched marketing techniques that appeal to the subliminal guilt that so many people feel over the act of riding (dominating) a horse and a market of hand wringing serial saddle buyers is created.

Nothing special about this--we live in a world of $300.00 little league baseball bats made for parents who "really care about their child's success on the field."

The reality is that most of our horses have not fallen prey to the modern breeding and horse care practices that produce flat backed, obese horses with spinal gutters. That means that we need narrower saddles.

Often one finds the best saddle for our horses to be those made fifty to one hundred years ago. At that time there was a clear difference between what a horse and a beach ball were supposed to look like. Well made narrow saddles were easy to find back then. The best fitting saddle that I have for one of my Corolla stallions, Tradewind, is over one hundred years old.

Ironically these ancient treasures can often be found at yard sale prices. It takes a good eye to note the difference between dry, cracked leather that can be restored and deteriorated leather that must be replaced.

Take a look at these two saddles shown above. Ha! fooled you-there is only one saddle there. Jackie put several hours of work into restoring the leather to create this highly functional work of art.

The end result--a restored saddle that fits many of our horses very well.

Second  point--and I am not as sure of this one yet--but it seems that practicing natural horsemanship has a completely unexpected side effect, at least with adults. I am seeing it too often for it to be a coincidence.

Building relationships with horses seems to unleash creative energies in adults. I have seen it in too many different forms to dismiss the connection--hide tanning, painting, music, construction of musical instruments, tack design and creation, writing, song writing and tool making are some of the forms that this creative energy has taken among my adult riders.

I shall leave an explanation of this transformational  aspect of practicing natural horsemanship to others

Monday, February 6, 2017

Chickasaw, Choctaws, Corollas and The Quarter Horse

It should come as no surprise that we find it impossible to agree on historical events when, as a species, we find it completely impossible to agree on current events.Over fifty years ago a registry was developed for the Chickasaw horse. The horse in the top picture was a foundation stallion for that organization.

The original Chickasaw horse probably shared its over all looks with Choctaw, Cherokee and other tribal horses of the Southeast. I suspect that  white settlers along the Tidewater regions of the southeast made no tribal distinctions when they labeled these horses. From the limited written record it appears that "Chickasaw" was a widely used term for the Colonial Spanish Horses owned by various tribes.

Regardless of the actual provenience of these horses, they certainly were a key component in the development of what eventually became known as the Quarter Horse. However, I strongly doubt that they looked as much like modern quarter horses as does the stallion pictured above.

Swimmer, shown in the bottom piture, is a pure Corolla mare. She is the tallest wild mare I have ever personally seen. In her great book, "Wild Horse Dilemma", Bonnie Gruenberg cites her as an example of the "Chickasaw" type lineage that was brought into the Outer Banks during the late Colonial and early Federal period.

I have to agree. The stallion shown shows a radically different phenotype than other known Colonial Spanish horses of the southeast. I currently have her in a pasture with two Marsh Tacky mares. One would be hard pressed to pick the Corolla out among the three of them. She could pass equally well for a Choctaw.

(Duane White sent me a link to the article in an old Western Horseman magazine that contained this great picture of the stallion. I love receiving old articles and pictures like this. When you come across one send it over.)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Hugelkulture, Horses, and Cleaner Waterways

We experiment. We practice and we teach. I am convinced that permaculture is the best route for horse owners to follow to use their pastures to improve the environment.

Mud,muck, manure and runoff have been the primary characteristics of too many pastures for too many years. Removal and containment have been the only solutions offered to horse owners. We have fallen prey to the belief that the only solution to what appears to be soil saturation is to ditch and drain the pasture.

We are beginning to realize that the problem, and the solution, to waste management is much deeper than the surface. Soil compaction makes it impossible for water to percolate down where it is needed. Soils devoid of beneficial microbes do not incorporate the nutrients that manure provides.

We are working to encourage water and manure to go into the soil instead of standing on the surface or running off into nearby water ways. We employ a multitude of strategies to get that done,subsoiling,use of forbs and weeds whose roots aerate the soil, encouragement of dung beetle and earth worm proliferation and some wind row composting.

Swales and hugelkulture barriers might become a big part of our environmental improvement strategies. In the picture above the kids are beginning a hugelulture demonstration project. Wood, straw, manure. compost and a bit of molasses will go into the shallow pit and will continue to build up above ground until the mound is about four feet tall. It will then be capped with top soil.

The mound will be hyper fertile. Vegetation growing on and around it will absorb water and nutrients from the surrounding soil. The interior of the mounds will serve as sponges to pull surface water underground and store it for the use of all vegetation whose roots reach it.

Eventually I would like to have the lower ends of our pastures lined with hugelkulture mounds that will be a barrier between the horses and the streams and ditches. That will take several years to accomplish.

Building good soil--growing dirt-- takes time but long journeys begin with short steps.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Really Looking Forward To This Foal

Scoundrel Days, the beautiful stallion shown above is of Grand Canyon lineage. He carries no modern breed blood. I chose to include him in the foundation herd of our Corolla offsite breeding program because of phenotype. Barbwire, one of the few pure Grand Canyons in the HOA Registry looked so much like a Corolla that I would not be able to distinguish him from many Corolla stallions that I have seen.

Black Elk is  straight Corolla mare. We got her at age 11 and she has turned into a fine riding horse.  Her movement in the round pen is more elegant than any Corolla I have ever seen.  Her foal from Scoundrel will be born this summer. Its sales price will be $1,500.00 at weaning age and more as it ages and receives training.

Grand Canyon endurance, Corolla gentleness, and the special elegance of this pair should produce an incredible family horse. This foal can be reserved with a deposit.

For more information on our efforts to prevent the extinction of the Corolla Colonial Spanish mustang and on how you can own one of these historic, nearly extinct, horses send an email to

Feb 4, 2017 Your Chance To Help Our Program Grow

In November Beth and I purchased nearly twenty acres of land adjacent to the horse lot for the use of our program. Once it was a pasture but it has grown up in gum, pine, wild cherry, mimosa, and ash trees. The land will be used primarily as pasture for the horses but will also be the home to our Ossabaw hogs, Spanish colonial livestock and poultry. Plans include the construction of several native American structures that are linked to the history of our horses, such as a Choctaw Chickee, a Tidewater North Carolina Scare Crow Hut and a Wickiup.

The pasture will be developed and enhanced using principles of permaculture and we will likely build a wooden round pen and seating area in the shade of the large pine trees for our natural horsemanship demonstrations.

Mill Swamp Indian Horses is the program name of Gwaltney Frontier Farm, Inc, a 501(c)5 breed conservation non-profit. We have no paid staff. We are all volunteers. In addition to working to breed, preserve and promote nearly extinct strains of colonial Spanish horses we have a wide range of riding and educational programs. We also provide, at no charge, weekly programing for in patient PTSD veterans from the Hampton VA.

For more information on this unique program please see our website at

On Saturday February 4 beginning at 9:00 am we will be working all day clearing the land and constructing a .64 mile pole and post fence as seen above. Everyone is invited out to give us a hand. You only need to wear some gloves and warm clothes.

We are located at 9299 Moonlight Road Smithfield VA 23430. If you would like to join us send me an email at

The path to our tack shed is suffering from mid winter deep potholes. If you drive in proceed very slowly and carefully.