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.