Monday, May 29, 2017
Each had gotten a three year old thirteen hand, green broke pony for their tenth birthdays. Both girls were athletes and neither had any fear of their young horses. Experienced horse people urged their parents against getting such young horses for such young children, but for reasons of their own, the parents ignored that advice.
Each child showed incredible skill at riding and relating to their horse. Each girl rushed home from school every day, dropped their books on the kitchen table, changed clothes, and hustled out to see their horse.
One of the girls received first rate riding instruction that built on her natural skill as a rider. At age 11 she was winning at every local horse show she entered. By age twelve she was mopping up the competition at regional shows. She was alone in the ring, focused, confident, silent---and so very alone.
He future as a competitive rider could not be brighter.
The other girl was not drawn to competition. She sought out long, slow rides in the woods peppered with hard sprints around the edge of the field. She often rode alone, sometimes with other children, but most often with her parents as they joined in on the old horses that they had had for years. The solitary rides were silent, but for her occasional soliloquies to her horse regarding the challenges and successes of junior high school. Her rides with her parents were filled with long discussions about every facet of her life and how they faced challenges at her age.
After winning her first statewide competition one of the girls was told by her trainer, "You have outgrown this little pony. If you are going to be a serious competitor you will need a much bigger horse.--Time to leave him behind."
She remained stoic and did not cry until the trainer left. When no one else was around she threw her arms around her pony's neck and cried harder than she ever had, harder even than when she learned that her Grandmother died.
Exhaustion was the only thing that stopped the tears.
She tried to let her parents know that she did not want to sell her pony, but they were hard to talk to. She knew how happy her riding made them. They beamed with each trophy she won. Her mother recounted every step of the most recent shows to every one that she met that week. Her father let everyone know how much money the horse show life was costing him. Every penny spent was further proof of what a great father he must be.
He could not wait to tell his golfing buddies about the $25,000.00 check that he had just written. He and the trainer decided to surprise his daughter by simply putting the new acquisition in the old pony's paddock late one Friday night. Even better, they had found a wonderful, "forever" home for the little pony and while the daughter was at school that day the new owners came and picked the pony up.
When she got home she saw the stranger standing in her pony's paddock. She immediately understood. If she was going to be a serious competitor she needed a bigger horse. The night before when she went out to the paddock her pony ambled over to her and put his head on her shoulder.
That was the last time she ever saw him.
When the other girl was reaching her thirteenth year she started getting tall and gangling. Her friends wanted to know when she was going to get a big, beautiful, super expensive horse as her competitive friend had.
She was confused. She already had a horse. Why would she want another one?
When she was about seventeen she stopped getting taller. As she came closer to her adult weight more and more she found herself confronted by experienced horse people who told that she looked silly on a 13 hand pony and she needed a bigger horse.
She never argued with them. She knew that there was no use. Those people thought with a different part of their hearts than did she.
The hardest part about college was missing her pony. By her senior year she found a farm where he could stay only a few miles from her dorm. Her life was complete again.
And it was not long after college that she got married. Her husband loved her pony, and it was good for him that he did. She taught him how to ride. As their careers progressed they could afford a horse for her husband.
They took long, slow rides in the woods peppered with sprints around the fields. The rides were filled with long conversations about every aspect of their lives and how they were dealing with the challenges they faced.
She had to lay off of riding for a while. The doctor was not keen on the idea of a young women with her first pregnancy sprinting around the fields. A few months after her daughter was born she mounted back up. By the time her daughter was four the child could catch the old pony and saddle him herself. Her mother purchased another pony and the family of three set out on long slow rides in the woods, peppered with sprints around the fields. They talked about every aspect of their lives and how they were dealing with the challenges they faced.
And when the little girl was in the second grade her mother got a call to come to the school right away. It seems that the second grader had had an anger control episode. She not only smacked a larger boy, she pushed him down and kicked him over and over until she was pulled off of the cringing little mass of tears curled up on the pavement.
When her mother entered the principal's office the child was still angry. " I hit him , Momma, because he was teasing Carlton for riding the special bus and being in the special class. Momma, he called Carleton a 'retard.'"
She stood up and took her child by the hand, thanked the principal for handling the situation and assured her that she would take further action.
When they got in the car instead of going home, they drove straight over to Carleton's house. She introduced herself to Carlton' mother and sat down in the living room and had a long talk with her about their children.
She explained to Carlton's mother that she could only think of one thing to do. Carlton needed to come over to visit about two or three times every week. She told her that her daughter had an old thirteen hand pony that would be the perfect horse for Carlton to learn to ride on.
And Carlton learned. And Carlton rode. And Carlton laughed. An her daughter laughed with him. And Carlton joined them for long slow rides in the woods, peppered with sprints around the field. They talked about every aspect of their lives and how they were dealing with the challenges that they faced.
And when the pony was thirty four years old he laid down and did not get up. Carlton was grown now and worked over at the sheltered work shop. His mother picked him up from the job and took him over to the paddock.
The pony put his head in Carlton's lap, closed his eyes and died.
And that was the last time she ever saw him.
Sunday, May 21, 2017
"In parliamentary procedure, a motion to raise a question of privilege is a privileged motion that permits a request related to the rights and privileges of the assembly or any of its members to be brought up."
It is technical, often misused, and rarely understood, but there is a very good reason that in matters of parliamentary procedure a point of personal privilege takes precedence over nearly other motion that could be placed on the floor.
It is true in life also.
This morning I realized that it is time for me to rise to make a point of personal privilege regarding our program and my role in it.
I hit bottom around 5:30 yesterday. We have made some tremendous improvements in our program in recent months. The most significant is bringing our irrigation system on line while clearing nearly twenty acres of new pasture. We have worked hard to build a very special fence around much of the new land. We have developed significant soil and water conservation projects at the horse lot and formalized a home school program that is a unique educational opportunity for young people.
We will continue to grow and improve what we do, but for the first time we have reached the point of being instead of the point of becoming. We no longer will be, now we, finally, are.
And over the last seven months getting here has worn me out.
Clearing land, doing so much of the feeding and fence repair, writing for fundraising, and developing new programs and special events, with a pesky couple of broken ribs complicating matters, have caused me to spend less time in the saddle in the last half a year than any other such time period for the last fifteen years.
The result is predictable. My weight has skyrocketed. Movements that use to be mildly uncomfortable have become intensely painful. Two weeks ago I trotted for about nine miles and was absolutely worn out.
I did not expect for that to be the case until I was at least seventy.
I am only fifty seven.
As I left the horse lot yesterday I found a severed fitting on a hose that was causing water to spew through the woods. I need to walk back and turn the water off.
I could not do it. Had to go home, eat and rest for an hour before I could take care of that simple task.
This morning when I could not get all the way awake after drinking nearly a pot of coffee, I decided that it was time for me to rise to make a point of personal privilege.
And in accordance with said motion it is hereby resolved, in the strongest terms possible, that effective this date, I shall ride.
I will ride in the morning. I will ride on many nights,
I will ride in the heat of August. I will ride in the cold of February.
I will ride young, half broken horses. I will ride old, trail worn horses.
I will ride when the dust is heavy. I will ride when the mud is deep.
I will ride with small children. I will ride with adults.
I will ride when there is work to do. I will ride when all of the work is done.
I will ride when I have time to. I will ride when I do not have time to.
And be it further resolved that when I am not riding I will be playing music.
Monday, May 8, 2017
On occasion on Facebook I fall into reading posts on various "horse chat" sites. The experience is invariably painful. The persistent ignorance, arrogance, sycophancy, and the desperate clawing to discover whatever it is with which all good horse people should agree, has certainly taken years off of my life expectancy.
Facts are real. They do not change. They are not subject to referendum. They have no need to be supported by consensus. They do not need cheerleading by the loudest and most obnoxious voices in the crowd.
Facts are not, to use one of the most obnoxious terms of this century, "snarky."
Think how often one has seen a question on these boards along this line, "I am thinking of changing the de-wormer that I use--any thoughts on which brand is best?"
Now think how rare it is to ever see a question on these boards along this line, "I am thinking of changing the de-wormer that I use--any lists of peer reviewed research articles on the effectiveness of the various classes of drugs currently available to kill internal parasites?"
The opinions of ten thousand posters that the rotational worming schedule hyped in the late 1990's is the only way to go do not trump even one factual, unbiased, well researched study on the efficacy of various strategies for controlling worms.
And those who do not even know who these "experts" are place their horse's health in the hands of these self appointed arbiters of all things equine.
What does it say about the self esteem and over all mental health of those who post pictures of themselves or their horses and ask for a verdict from the internet jury on how well they ride, their horse's conformation, and whether or not they are too big for their horse? Why do these masochists invite the derision of equ-fascist commentators whose only skill and knowledge that can be proven from their comments is the skill to type on a keyboard and the knowledge to press the "enter" key?
The internet is a tremendous tool for spreading knowledge and solid information. It is an even stronger tool for spreading ignorance and falsehoods.
Everyone out there who puts a saddle on a horse owes to that horse the responsibility of acquiring every bit of solid knowledge about all things equine that one can possibly garner.
And the quest for knowledge should never end. No teacher should ever stop being a student.
Friday, May 5, 2017
This morning Holland showed us all something. With a 160 pound rider on him we set out for a five mile run. I was on Ta Sunka Witco, my SMR stallion whose grandfather was Choctaw Sundance. Holland was allowed to choose his own speed and gait. He completed the entire five mile run in 20:54 after waiting over 10 seconds for me to catch up at the 2.5 mile mark. I finished in 21:34. Holland had such a lead on me for most of the run that he was beyond shotgun range. At the 4 mile marker he lead me by 1/2 a mile.
Holland is a Shackleford, the closest relatives to the Corollas. Shacklefords and Corollas make up what is left of the Banker ponies of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Their beauty is enough reason to save them. Their history is enough reason to save them. For those who do not care about history or beauty, go run your horse five miles. Then you can appreciate the athleticism of these horses who gave rise to many modern American breeds. When one watches Holland pull away it is easy to understand how these horses, crossed with the "spotted race horse", Janus in the 1720's provided much of the foundation of the modern Quarter Horse.
When one watches Manteo, my Corolla stallion pull away from the pack, one can see the root of all of the gaited American breeds in his swishing hips.
They are too good to throw away.
This is Holland when I first met him a few years ago wearing his rough Shackleford winter attire.
When one of you reads this particular post it will be the 300,000th view of our blog. I intended to write a deep reflective post on how the subtle changes in the tone of the blog over the years have reflected the change and growth in our program.
And perhaps one day I shall do so. But for now I am satisfied to celebrate the 300000th view by simply presenting my favorite picture from the horse lot.
It's raining and the rain is getting worse as the minutes pass. I just left Lydia, Jen, Abigail and Wendell at the horse lot. They are loading Manny and Holland to go to Biltmore in Ashville, North Carolina for an endurance race.
Jen won't be racing in this one. And I am proud of her for that.
I have little good to say about nearly all forms of equine competition. All too often the interest of the horse falls in way behind the interest, or even the whims, of the rider.
Jen is not letting that happen.
Her horse is the great granddaughter of Choctaw Sundance. Looks Up, the daughter of my horse, Ta Sunka Witco, and Star Dust, a BLM stock mare belongs to Jen. Looks Up is a super athlete. Jen has brought her into peak cardio vascular conditioning. Last spring we did a little "in house" 25 mile race. Looks up was in such solid shape that when it came time for the vet check her heart rate had dropped to sufficient levels with no break but for being walked the last 200 yards in.
But a few weeks ago she got a very minor strain or muscle pull. She is a ball of energy and often zips around the pasture for no reason that the human eye can see.
Her very minor injury remained very minor but was not all the way healed as of two weeks ago. Jen made the decision to pull her from the race. We have several other horses that she could have ridden in this race. All were conditioned enough to have made the run safely, but none were in peak condition. Holland, a Shackleford, and Manny, a Choctaw, are in perfect shape. Jen knows why we enter such events--to promote the talent of these nearly extinct horses in the hopes that more people will breed them.
If Jen had ridden another one of our horses who was not in top cardiovascular shape the likely result is that it would have lead to slower times for Manny and Holland.
So Jen made the painful, and very mature decision, to be the horse hauler and to be part of the pit crew for Manny and Holland.
Lydia has worked very hard to get Manny's mind and body ready for this event. She would not have been able to do that without Jen.
You see, Manny was not quite green broke when he came to us. It was Jen who gave him his earliest training. That is her on board Manny in those early days. Her skills put him on the rode to being refined by Lydia.
Yes, Jen made a hard, mature choice, keeping only the interest of the horses in mind.
I am not be surprised.
Yes, she is one of my big girls, but on days like this I am reminded that she is also a grown women.
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
North Carolina's state horse is the Colonial Spanish Mustang of the Outer Banks. Holland, shown above as I began to set out on a big ride at 3:00 am, is from Shackleford Island. He was born wild and born tough. The biggest surprise about this blocky little horse has both explosive short distance speed and endless endurance..
He has been carrying me at around 220 pounds for several years now. When we went to our only other endurance race the mass of riders on their Arabs and Anglo-Arabs were confused as to why we had a shaggy little pony entered in the race. We carried five horses to that race, three Choctaws, a high percentage Choctaw/BLM cross, and Holland--13.2 hands of barrel, heavy bone, and muscle. We won four of the top ten spots in that race. Jen rode Holland on that ride and I was on Joey,one of my Choctaws.
Holland could have won the entire 30 mile race but for his resistance to having a vet take his pulse.
On May 6 Abigail will be aboard Holland and Lydia will join her on Manny, a Choctaw. That is Abigail above doing a little jumping on my wife's horses.
The desire to compete against anyone but myself left me years ago. I am not predicting that our team will win this thirty mile race. I am not predicting that these two young ladies will swamp all of the experienced riders in this race. I am not predicting that they will bring home trophies and laurels.
As he prepared to enter the ring surrounded by a despondent group of trainers and corner men before the "Rumble in The Jungle" with George Foreman, Muhammad Ali brought life to his entourage by simply repeating "We gone dance. We gone dance. Oh yeah, we gone dance."
I am predicting with a great deal of certainty that when this race begins Lydia, Abigail, Manny and Holland well...they gone dance. They gone dance. Oh yeah, they gone dance..