Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Annual Physical

Time for a check up.

Got to make sure that none of the rusty spots on my body are becoming too corroded to work. I don't usually delve into alternative medicine, but today I am going to set aside the most accurate measure of a man's health, a digestive and muscular stress test exam (Number of raw oysters that can be eaten in twenty minutes times the number of hand dug post holes that can be dug in one hour) and try a more New Age measure of health.

Recently I find myself in dire need of rest after sawing down trees for two hours. Today and tomorrow I plan to go on a woods clearing tear and cut down trees for at least ten hours over the two days while running fence during my rest breaks.

If my body can handle that, chances are I will last at least another year.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

What Are We Building Now?

We are building soil and I am loving doing it. Last summer I conditioned horses for an endurance race. There has to be a trade off when that happens. The trade off for me was that I did not have time to clear land and build soil. Things fell behind on pasture development. Pastures became over grazed, compacted and weeds infiltrated the New Land.

The New Land is a nearly twenty acre tract that Beth and I purchased for the use of the program. We cleared about 85% of the trees from land and built a fence of the poles that we cut from those trees. That fence lasted several years and we have nearly completed replacing that will wire fence. Doing so will allow more mixed livestock use of that pasture.

By the end of January I hope to have it very heavily stocked with horses, cattle, sheep and poultry  eating rolled round bales, putting down manure, spreading microbes, and getting the soil ready for plantings of cool season grasses and clovers by the end of February.

Over the last month we have taken on very heavy project in Jacobs Woods, which is about 15 acres of mature pine, maple, many oak pole trees, holly, and a sea of wild blueberry bushes. I am removing all but the largest trees to create both a silvopasture and a brush pile that is going to be about a third of a mile long for wildlife habitat.

If all goes well, on May 1, we will move a mixed herd in to Jacob's woods and will nearly eliminate grazing pressure on the New Land as the cool season grasses come into strong development. And we will be on the road to practicing effective rotational grazing. 

Our pastures on the Old Land will be able to rest, heal and grow during this rotation. This will be more work, and more work done by hand, and more work done by kids than most people would think possible.

But it matters. Not only does it cut our hay bills, it gives us a chance to teach kids how to build soil.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Penumbra

                                     Penumbra: a shadowy, indefinite, or marginal area.

Our reputations are penumbras of our characters and personalities. It is the penumbra that fills in the blanks when one is defined by others. In short, the existence of certain traits leads to the conscience and sub conscience assumption of the existence of other traits.

Many kids who come out for our programs do not know how to do hard physical work. It is not so much a matter of being lazy. It is that their computer game lifestyle has never given them the opportunity to test their physical limits.  That becomes even more obvious when they try to work together on projects.

They cannot fathom how the tree tops that I am cutting down from about 15 acres of woods can ever be removed from the forest floor and placed into brush piles hundreds of yards long that will create ideal wildlife habitat. Those who allow their minds to even get far enough to think of ways that it could be done invariably come to the "solution" that we need to buy some heavy equipment to get the job done or "just hire somebody."

It can take several weeks for the kids to learn to work together. It takes only a short time after that before nearly all of them learn to love working together. By that point they have learned to be proud of their work product. Yes, many of them even get excited about being given the chance to learn to work hard.

And we all want our children to grow up to be successful, happy adults. One of the best gifts that we can give kids is to give them the chance to learn to work together and to work hard and efficiently.

Please do not confuse the concept of being a hard worker with being a workaholic. A workaholic does not know how to work with others. A workaholic does not know how to be part of a team. And most of all, a workaholic does not know how to work efficiently. Workaholics waste time on perfectionism and never achieve the satisfaction of being able to look at their work and see it as good enough.

There are penumbras associated with being known as a hard worker. When we think of hard workers we think of them as honest people--reliable people--generous people--people who give of their time to others. In short, simply being known as a hard worker brings with it a host of  other assumptions of  good character.

When we began creating our program we made no effort to incorporate learning to work hard into what we do. It evolved as I watched kids in our program become older teens and even young adults.  Those who learned to work hard became more confident in all aspects of their lives.

A veterinarian once made a very important observation to me--"Your riders do not act like other riding students. They aren't haughty and condescending."

That is very true. They are not.

They have learned not to be that way and when we say that we are an educational institution it is this form of education that lies at the heart of everything else that we do.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Natural Horsemanship: Transitioning to A Trauma Informed Approach

For nearly seven years we have been conducting weekly programming in conjunction with the local Veterans Hospital at no charge. We have monthly programming with Mid-Atlantic Teen Challenge, a substance abuse program for teens. Our program has been on the forefront of using horses to teach better communication techniques to professionals who interact with severely traumatized people. These sessions have included everything from law enforcement to social workers, to teachers, to victim witness coordinators, to prosecutors, and parents. Ashley Edwards has conducted powerful Road To Repair programs on site.

If you are new to our program go to our website  and look under the tab "News" for some good back ground on how we have grown.

We have provided off site training programs to law enforcement professionals. This blog and our group Facebook page have often highlighted or provided links to important information on trauma and natural horsemanship. We do not have a separate riding program or natural horsemanship program for severely traumatized people because of our strong belief that the very same program that enriches the lives of those who have not suffered severe trauma does the same for even the most serious PTSD sufferer.

Our programs have never turned anyone away for inability to pay program fees.

So with all of that already going on what changes will we be looking to make?

First of all, we will work to do no harm. Participants will learn to understand that a severely traumatized person has much in common with large heard prey animals. The same body language that intimidates a horse intimidates a severely traumatized person. Large predatory mammals seek autonomy. Indeed, we often equate maturity with having become independent. The horse and the severely traumatized person seek security over autonomy.

So the first step in making our program more trauma informed is to work hard to make the horse lot a place where one can feel secure. Here is where we have to draw a distinct line between the approach that we will take and the stereotypical "safe" places where one can hide from stressors. Security does not come from merely having a place to hide. Horses can help one confront and conquer the fears whose bars made of anxiety imprison an increasing number of people each year.

For example, the person whose anxiety makes it difficult to mount up will be given support, encouragement, and taught the skills to successfully ride. They will neither be made to feel that they are weak for having that fear nor will they be made to feel that it is perfectly fine to allow that fear to permanently keep them in chains.

Providing security means that each participant will have to become acutely aware of the impact that their behavior has on others. No adult should allow expressions of anger to cause pain or fear in other participants. That simply cannot be tolerated.

Part and parcel of this transition is the requirement that program participants work to become trauma informed. Doing so benefits both the participant who has experienced extreme trauma and those who have not, but need to understand how those that have might react to a given situation. I was proud to see three of our Board members and three of our young adult and teen participants attending a local training on suicide prevention. The transition will include more formal training for program participants and leaders.

We will expand use of our group Facebook page to include more research on trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences. We will place more emphasis on teaching all program participants the lessons of the round pen so that they can truly understand the mind of the horse. Doing so provides insight, self awareness and a better understanding of trauma induced responses.

And most of all, we will emphasize healing--not merely accepting pain--but working hard to fight that pain and begin to heal.

Many people have  largely evaded the effects of trauma and have no one in their immediate life that would benefit from the lessons learned in a trauma informed approach to riding and horse training. Those people, whether they ever have to apply the lessons learned in our program or not, will simply become better people.

They will learn empathy and compassion.

Natural horsemanship makes good horses, but it makes better people.