Saturday, June 29, 2019

Learning at Mill Swamp Indian Horses Is More Than Just Horsemanship

It's understanding the complex role that microbial enhancement plays in building healthy soils and livestock.

It's understanding  livestock instead of ridiculously anthropomorphizing them.

It's hands-on learning. Here Lydia is both teaching and learning as she demonstrates how to shear her first sheep, a rare Hog Island ram. Participants have been cleaning, carding,and making the wool into yarn since then.

It's learning to work together to solve problems and achieve goals.

It's inter generational learning. Cannon is learning about native planting practices and early colonial farming. Moments before doing so participants listened in as Daddy, age 82, one of the last men alive in our area who worked horses in the field in an actual farm operation talked, about how those horses were worked and cared for.

It is a chance to learn to play and perform Americana and Roots music on a variety of instruments.

It's learning the role of affection and communication in building real relationships with animals.

But most importantly, it's learning truths that are not otherwise self evident in the shallow, empty existence that this century presents to us. It's learning that putting the interests of others above the interests of oneself  is the first step to living an ethical life. It's learning that reality always matters and that appearance never does.

It's learning that the most obscene of all  four letter words is the word "mine."

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Our First 46 Mile Ride

It was probably 2008. I am not sure. Lido was still living. I do not remember a lot of the details. I remember that Swimmer had been under saddle for twenty days when she took this ride.

It was an all day affair. We rode at a very casual pace. It was not a race and we were not keeping time.

We were exploring, not the geography, but ourselves and our horses. We were finding out what we could do and what our horses could do. We found out that one 46 mile ride did wonders to teach horses to become safe and steady trail mounts.

Looking back over the history of our program, it might have been the most important ride that we ever took. We learned that our horses could go forever and little riders could go further than they thought, than their parents thought, and than the established horse world thought.

Modern, hover parenting steals something very important from children. It steals the opportunity to rack up successes from them. Our program constantly seeks to give opportunities for success to kids (and grown ups too). Real challenges, real successes where the reward is more than a strip of cloth.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Containing Pasture Runoff

America spends so much of its time licking the boots of the oil industry that our vision gets distorted when it comes to environmental-agricultural policies. The runoff that is lethal to our waterways comes primarily from the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Oil and chemical interests have been very successful at distracting us from what should be our goal, the radical decrease in the use of poisons in agriculture, and focusing on the removal of manure from pastures.

It has been an easy target for them. Manure is visible to the eye and obvious to the nose. Chemical fertilizers and herbicides that destroy microbial life under the ground carry on there carnage in complete darkness. We cannot see the beneficial microbes when they are alive so we cannot directly see when they are destroyed.

But we can see the results.

Modern chemical farming reduces dirt to simply being the equivalent of plant holders. Our field's only purpose is to hold, for a very brief period of time, the fertilizers and poisons that we put on the soil each spring. The microbial life, and the earthworms that can generate plant growth perpetually, without the addition of chemicals and poison, are destroyed.

That leaves us with  a barren desert beneath the surface.

Permaculture principles can reverse this carnage in less than a decade. By simply ceasing to use any chemicals on a pasture we can increase microbial life to the point that manure is quickly absorbed in to the soil and transformed into the nutrients that pastures require. Simply pushing up slight berms around the low spots in pastures, coupled with the judicious use of swales and water retention areas, along with keeping residue of ivermectin from pastures can nearly eliminate rain water runoff in pastures that are on flat land.

Those passive steps will yield tremendous benefits. When they are coupled with a more active approach to regenerative agriculture, the benefits multiply beyond what I ever imagined possible. Multi species grazing (including poultry), application of microbial fertilizer, application of vermicompost and colonization of composting worms along with management practices that reduce soil compaction will create super soil. Soil so biologically active it will quickly breakdown horse manure and convert it to useful plant nutrients is a gift that keeps on giving. With each growing season the pastures become stronger and more alive.

And near by water ways become cleaner. And manure breaks down in pastures so fast that it is often barely visible. And your horses will be healthier. And you will be taking carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it in the soil.

And you will become a steward of the land instead of continuing on as its primary enemy.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

So Stop Being A Novice

We do horses and people a tremendous disservice by pretending that natural horsemanship and riding are complex topics that take years to learn. Instructors in every field, from theology to fiddle playing.  often advance the myth that the subject matter is so complex that only the chosen few can understand.

The reality is that riding is simple. A person in good physical health can learn to ride in short order after they master the natural anxiety that riding brings on. One learns to ride by riding, and riding, and riding, and then riding more.

Natural horsemanship requires one to learn several counter intuitive concepts to understand a horse's thoughts and motivations. It is the concepts that matter, not the individual techniques. One could spend the rest of one's life  learning specific techniques and not remotely master natural horsemanship without the understanding of those basic concepts. On the other hand, one who understands the concepts can improvise and develop techniques.

Pressure and release, prey animal and predator, the need for security versus the need for autonomy--these simple concepts hold the key to having a relationship with a horse that is based on something other than fear and fairy tales

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Preserving and Promoting the Marsh Tacky

Our primary focus is on preserving the Bankers, a strain of Colonial Spanish Horse from the Outer Banks of North Carolina. However, we also work to preserve and promote the Marsh Tacky, the State Horse of South Carolina. Our program owns two Marsh Tacky mares and Andrew, pictured above with his colt, Pagan, owns a mare, a stallion, and this foal.

The Marsh Tacky is a horse of tremendous historical significance. Southern patriot militia and regular forces during the Revolution used these horses, among others, to slow down Cornwallis' march north and contributed to his ultimate surrender at Yorktown.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The First 1000 Miles

I once thought that it was the first one hundred miles that a horse is ridden that would essentially determine how great a trail horse he could be. I no longer think so.

Training a horse with perfect consistency for the first hundred miles is a great step, but continued perfect consistency in riding cues and reactions to the horse's behavior, whether that behavior be positive or negative, over the first 1000 miles in the saddle is more important. By then, a horse that has been both consistently ridden and ridden with consistency will be locked in as a perfect trail partner.

Janie is moving toward her first 1000 miles of being ridden and with each ride I am riding a stronger, more confident horse.

Half Arabian?

No, he is not. He is Half Corolla, one quarter BLM mustang and one quarter Chincoteague. In the 20th Century some Arabian blood went into the wild herd at Chincoteague. In fact, he can only be a very small fraction Arabian.

But look how much that small percentage came through!

He is a spectacular horse, one of the best that I have ever ridden. However, he illustrates why we have to be very careful in our breeding in the Corolla offsite breeding program. In order to maintain true Colonial Spanish type no horse outside of that breed is included in our breeding program. There are so few Corollas left that they face genetic collapse if other, non-Corolla, genetics are not carefully introduced into the breeding program. We breed Corollas to a small, select group of strains of Colonial Spanish horses that are historically, genetically, or phenotypcally in line with the Corollas and those offspring are bred back to straight Corollas or Shackelfords.

Among the Chincoteagues one can find some beautiful examples of what a Spanish horse should look like. But those beautiful horses are likely to produce foals that do not carry  any of these Colonial Spanish traits.

I continue to believe that Chincoteagues are the most under rated horses in the nation. It is not that they are not "good" enough to be part of the off site breeding program. It simply is that they include the blood of modern horses. 

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Pasture #3's Biggest Show

It was a little more than 33 years ago, just after our family performed at the first of the Smithfield  Summer Concerts.  As I was packing up the instruments in front of the Smithfield Times an old man shyly walked over. Though I took him to be nearly 80 years old he walked with just the slightest stoop. His face was creased deeply. His skin was stained brown from years of working in the fields. He reached a calloused hand out to me and shook my hand firmly.

When I looked up I saw the tear slowly making its way down his face.

"Momma loved that old Carter Family song that you all did. Seemed like she would sing or hum parts of it the whole time that she was working in the garden. Ain't heard that song since Momma died. Didn't  know that anybody still knew that song", he said in a matter of fact tone.

He went to speak one more time but all that came out was  a bit of a quivering sound. He stood silent for a moment, turned his head away and simply said , "Thank you."

The old music matters because the old man mattered. The hard work that gave him his slight stoop, deep wrinkles and strong hands mattered.

Understanding who we are as a nation is impossible until one understands who we were as a nation, both good and bad. And nothing better explains who we were as a nation than the songs that were passed down through the generations. It is the music of working folks, the music of poor folks, the music of praying folks, the music of gambling folks, the music of killing folks, and most of all the music of loving folks that teach us who we were.

Pasture #3 is our effort to teach who we were. Every Monday night kids and a smattering of adults from the Mill Swamp Indian Horses program gather to learn to play ancient songs on even older instruments. Fiddles, banjos, guitars, mandolins, ukuleles, autoharps, wooden banjos, dobros, wooden drums, wash boards, wash tub bass, harmonicas--and even a kazoo all join in songs that go to the heart of rural America. Songs like, "Ain't No Grave", "I'll Fly Away," "Bear Creek Blues" and "Down To the River To Pray" rise up as the kids play a song or two and then switch over and play different instruments.

They share their instruments as they share their songs.

The banjo player might pass the tenor banjo off to another kid to play while she picks up a ukulele. The mandolin player might set her mandolin down and move over to the wooden drum while the dobro player hops up to do a few songs on the wash tub bass.

How they learn to play is nearly as important as are the songs themselves. No one reads music. In fact, it is rare for even lyrics to be read. All teaching and all learning is done in the oral tradition, the same way poor folks learned to play music since the first time a man began to beat a rhythm out of a hollow log with a stick.

On June 21 at 8:00 we will be back on the stage on Main Street in Front of the Smithfield Times. Come on out, bring a lawn chair.

Thirty three years since the old man learned that someone still knew the words to the song that his Momma sang while working in the garden, The circle will remain unbroken.

 "Bye and bye Lord, bye and bye."

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Pivoting Back to The Saddle

In the past two years I have put a tremendous amount of time, research, and difficult work into the study, practice and teaching of microbial pasture development. I have loved every minute of it, but each of those minutes came with a price tag--every minute that I spent building soil was a minute that I did not spend in the saddle.

A few years ago I rode 1002 miles in six months and five years ago I rode 109 miles in 17 hours. For the past year and a half I have spent comparably little time in the saddle. Now I am sitting back firmly in the saddle.

I began about three weeks ago.

It was not pretty to start with. I floundered about in the saddle and tired way too fast. I started to wonder if I had reached an age that would make heavy mileage impossible. Riding was work. It was not fun and I was not confident that I could pull things back together.

But Tabata is miraculous. Four minutes of intense work punching the heavy bag, walking while curling twenty pound bar bells, or posting on an exercise ball,coupled with longer work with dirt skis have put me in good enough shape to begin to take on heavy mileage once again.

Janie, a spectacular Colonial Spanish mare with a great deal of Grand Canyon genetics, is the primary beneficiary of my rejuvenation. Since the day that she arrived here from the Simms family in Texas I knew that she would be a great horse. Over the last few weeks I have been riding her nearly daily. She is going to be a super horse.