Sunday, March 24, 2019

Hugelkulture, Ossabaw Hogs, And Wonderfully Hard Work

Yesterday was our first, free demo in our 2019 Mill Swamp Indian Horses series, "Teaching, Learning and Growing." We focused on our soil and water conservation projects including microbial pasture development, use of livestock to preserve land, vermicomposting and run off prevention.

We took a section of the brush windrows that Matt created as we cleared the remaining brushy sections of the New Land and built a hugelkulture mound and a huglekulture water retainer adjacent to it. We used freshly cut living wood, grass clippings, old wood, vermicompost from multi livestock manure sources, old hay, liquid microbial fertilizer that we produced on site, wood chips, night crawlers dug from adjacent land, and forest leaf mold recovered from a site about three hundred yards from the project.

The demo was hands on and participants joined in as the mound and retention area was constructed. Several tonnes of dirt and material was gathered and shoveled into the project.

While the demo was going on Andrew, Chris, Lydia, Jen and Elise moved most of our heritage breed Ossabaw Hogs over to the new wooded pen that we just completed.  Guests got a chance to see some of the rarest historic American horses, nearly extinct Colonial Spanish goats, and a band of happy Ossabaw hogs.

And they also got a chance to see what is possible when a group of dedicated volunteers come together to build something bigger than themselves.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

On Building Your Own Riding Program

Twice in recent weeks I have been asked for advice on how to build a riding instruction program that has meaning. I have been thinking of little else since then.

The answer will not flow easily. It is a field fraught with potential road blocks. It is easy to start a meaningless riding instruction program. All one has to do is look at the established horse world's template.

But building a program that creates better people and better horses is much more difficult. Today I will mention a few nuts and bolts things that matter for all riding programs, both those that seek meaning and those that merely seek the approval of those who view horses as fungible objects whose worth is only shown by their success in competition.

Future posts will focus on what I have learned in the twenty years that has gone into building our breed conservation and natural horsemanship program. For now let's just talk business.

Form a corporation. You can go to an online service to do so, but I would only trust something this important in protecting you from future law suits to a real lawyer that you can sit down and talk to about limiting your liability. The lawyer can advise you about your state's laws concerning releases and signs.

Get insurance. It will be difficult and confusing. Get an agent that you trust and begin the process of  preparing applications.

Get your tack safe and check on its safety often. Require helmets and boots for all riders. Wear them yourself.

Put all contracts for lessons in writing and fully set out in the contract the duties of both student and teacher.

The most important safety practice is one that insurance agents seem to know nothing about.  Knowledge of the horse's mind and understanding of the horse's behavior are the most important safety shields that a student can have. That is why our safety record is so stunning. Even with the extraordinary number of hours that our student's, in total, put on the horses over a year injuries that actually require medical attention are quite rare indeed.

That means that you must teach natural horsemanship every single day that you are with a student.

Future posts will be more specific and will deal with avoiding the perils of falling into the pattern of merely being a place where little rich girls learn to go ride horses in circles.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Trail Riding Lesson Program For Adults Who Have Been Out of The Saddle For a While

We introduce people to riding but over the years we have also reintroduced many people to riding. Jackie is the best example in our program of that reintroduction.  She wants to share that with others and we will have a new instructional class for people who have once ridden but have been out of the saddle for so long that they think that riding is only something that happened in the past.
Steve Edwards

"Over 10 years ago, my daughter asked if she could start riding again. The only thing was she did not want to ride in circles meaning no more lessons in a riding ring. I came across an article in the local paper about Mill Swamp Indian Horses. What caught my eye about this place was that kids were being taught to gentle and train Spanish Colonial Horses. In all of my years of riding, I never learned to train a horse. I was sure this would be a good experience for my daughter so we went to meet Steve Edwards. The place did not look anything like the English riding stables I was use to but something about it seemed very right. There were stallions sharing a pasture and pastures with geldings and mares that Steve could move with just a look.

We signed on that day.

As the years went by, I started to want to ride again. At the time, I was way over the weight most English stables considered over the limit for their horses. I thought I was too big to get on a horse's back. I worried that if I fell off on a trail I could not get back on and I would be too heavy for someone to give me a leg up. One day Steve talked about the differences in the structure of the Spanish Colonial Horses from that of modern horses. These horses were bred to carry riders great distances. Then he said the most important thing, his weight! Being a few pounds less, I no longer could make the excuse I was too big to ride. Therefore, I started riding again.

Riding later in life was not as easy as when I was in my teens. I had little leg and core strength. I was only able to mount a horse using a mounting block. I spent the first couple of years at a walk and trot. Now I lead rides and no longer worry about if I can get back on my horse on the trail. I enjoy riding at 58 years old as much as I did as a teenager. It is a great way to relax and exercise at the same time. I have ridden over 126 miles this year so far.

I want to help others get back into riding so I will be starting up an adult "back in the saddle" ride Saturdays at 1:00 pm and Thursdays at 6:00 pm. The first ride will be April 20. Riders can ride one or both rides. Rides will be at a walk and last an hour. If you have not been in the saddle for a long time or our new to the program please arrive about 30 minutes early. This is not a lesson program for novices, so riders should have some experience. We have other riding lesson program available for those who have never ridden.

Program fees will apply. Contact Steve Edwards at for pricing. Go to for more information on the programs offered at the farm. This ride is open to all adult program participants." 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

And I Really Don't Know Anyone Who Does The Job Better

We have two great young horse professionals in our program. Lydia Barr (the taller one in the picture above) is a first rate horse gentler. She knows how to explain horse behavior to her clients. It really does not matter if a trainer can get a horse to react wonderfully for the trainer. What matters is how it will act for the owner and Lydia understands that every horse with a problem has an owner that will need to be a part of the training process.

Jenn Hill is a farrier. She has both a great deal of practical experience and also has professional training in Oklahoma. Jenn understands natural horsemanship and she knows how to humanely get a horse to relax and respond well to trimming. She is the best barefoot trimmer that I know of. She keeps the horses in our program well trimmed.

When I was five Daddy went off to Tennessee to spend the summer learning to shoe horses. He trimmed area horses for over fifty years. I trimmed horses that were particularly difficult to handle from high school until I was about forty years old. I gentled and trained horses from about age twelve.

I know what good trimming and good training look like.

If you want to see what good trimming and good training look like get in touch with Jenn Hill and Lydia Barr.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

To Mongolia With Love

Over the years we have had horse people come from quite a distance to spend a little time with our program to learn how we do things. Last week was different from all of those visits. Dashka Otgon, who grew up in a nomadic herding family in Mongolia came down to share her culture, and her culture's horsemanship, with my riders.

She is a brilliant young lady. She teaches English in Mongolia. She wants to bring American tourists to Mongolia to experience the lifestyle of one of the few horse cultures that still exists on this planet. The nomadic herdsman of Mongolia must rank among the most accomplished riders in the world. However, such great riders do not require well trained, gentled horses.

Dashka had never seen horses as gentle as ours. She had never seen horses that had such a strong need to be with people.

She had never seen natural horsemanship in action.

She watched as we despooked nervous horses and got in the round pen with Ta Sunka Witco, our great Colonial Spanish horse of Karma Farms breeding who is the grandson of Choctaw Sundance. She is excited to share what she saw with her brother who has about sixty horses.

She stumbled onto something that will make her plans of a tourist experience for Americans easier to achieve. She saw how much safer natural horsemanship training can make horses.

This caught me by complete surprise. When we arranged for Dashka to visit I thought about all of the things that our program participants could learn from her. I never envisioned her bringing something as important as natural horsemanship home to Mongolia.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Feeding the Soil (At No Cost)

As well as red wiggler worms do on a diet of horse manure, they seem to do even better on diet of mixed manures with the majority coming from cattle. Daddy is over eighty years old and he said that this is the wettest stretch of time that he ever recalls. I am nearly 60 and I have no doubt that it is the wettest series of seasons that I have ever seen. For several years microbial pasture development had reduced our mud to a nearly unnotiticable level. That is not true now.

In addition, changes in traffic patterns, as a result of that mud, have given us horrible problems of soil compaction. Of course, the mere existance  of the mud and constant rain has raised the level of soil compaction from horses to an unnacceptable level.

We will likely use a sub soiling plow blade to help with compaction, but the only long term solution to soil compaction, (which leads to large bare spots of soil or a weed covered surface) is to make the soil more porous with earth worms and night crawlers.

Simply adding earth worms to a dead soil is of little value. Creating a soil loaded with microbial life, both fungal and bacterial, give priceless results. The soil will fill with beneficial worms whose tunnels allow water to go into the soil instead of staying on the surface. The fertility of the soil sky rockets. The pastures can then grow a healthy mixture of grasses, forbs and browse. The horses will have their perfect natural diet and hay bills plummet.

The ultimate irony is that manure removal has been the goal of those who thought that they were promoting soil and water conservation for decades. Gradually, we are learning better science.

Let's learn before it is too late.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Coming Out of The Shadows:Using Horses To Fight Anxiety Disorder

Left unchecked, anxiety disorder can become a progressive health problem that leads to withdrawing from aspects of life that might cause stress. Of course, few aspects of healthy living do not cause stress. Anxiety disorder is running epidemic among young people today. There are a host of causes of this boom in suffering but  chief among them is our culture's enabling of behaviors that enhance the control of the disorder over the lives of those who have it.

Parents who allow their children to stay in their rooms and play with their phones instead of going out to face the world are guilty of neglect--plain and simple. Parents who, from the time a toddler can move around, do nothing expand the child's confidence and courage are guilty of neglect--plain and simple.

Too often we hear  excuses made  for those  who lock themselves away from society by mindlessly chiming in that it is ok because  they are "introverts". Those who do so are working to keep that person locked up every bit as much as does a jailer.

I do not suggest the opposite of this approach. It would be equally bad to berate the sufferer. It will only drive them deeper into the darkness. Parents, friends and society at large needs to take the more difficult road. We have to encourage, support, and patiently work to help those we care about fight the darkness. We have to encourage without suggesting that "this is all your fault and if you would just ....blah, blah, blah"

That approach will achieve nothing positive

We have to encourage fighting back instead of hiding. It is that simple. Enabling hiding is poisonous. A child who falls off of a horse and  fears mounting up who has a parent that  allows that child to hide by staying away from horses does no service to that child. Friends who allow others to make decisions based on whether or not an action might cause stress are making it easier for  more pain to enter the person's life.

These are not easy issues. I have no doubt that the worse thing that I can do for young people that I care about is to encourage them to hide from stress instead of fighting anxiety.  And that is the correct term to use. If one is fighting anxiety or depression one is winning. As long as the fight goes on the fighter is a winner--no matter how difficult the challenge.

It is only when one gives up and gives in to depression or anxiety that the fight is lost. It is much easier to give in. It is much easier to allow people that you care about to give in instead of fighting to become an encouraging , supportive, voice of love. If you just leave them alone, just leave them "their space,"  they will be let you know what a good friend you are being.

"Get some rest" will nearly always be better received than, "it's time to get up." It is a horrible thing to allow one that one care's about to miss all that is good in life because they are busy hiding from all that is bad in life.