Sunday, January 26, 2020

Natural Horsemanship, Kids and Safety

In 2019 the cumulative recorded miles ridden by our students and participants was just over 4,000 miles. To put that in perspective, that is a distance further than from Norfolk to Oslo, Norway. Not one inch of those miles was in a sandy arena. These miles were on trails in the woods and in woods where there were no trails.

The majority of our horses were either born wild or are just a generation or two from the wild.

Our safety record is impeccable. The number of horse related injuries received by our young riders is infinitesimal. The reasons are not obvious to an untrained eye.

Our horses live in herds or bands, with the exception of most of the stallions, who have their own paddocks. They do not eat sugar and few of them eat anything but grass, forbs, and hay. This lifestyle produces content horses who do not exist at the level of constant, low level stress that do those who live in stables. Our horses live outside 24/7.

In short, allowing the horses to live as close as possible to a natural state makes them much safer to be around.

Our students learn natural horsemanship. They learn to understand horses. They learn to use their bodies to effectively communicate with horses. They learn not to fear horses. They learn to train horses.

In short, allowing the students to learn to interact with horses in a manner that is most natural to the horses makes our students much safer to be around.

I am not a hand wringing, worrier, but I believe that I would be concerned about the safety of my child if that child were in a riding program that did not teach natural horsemanship.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

In Just One Week.....

We had additional Spanish goats born....

Boy Scouts and program participant and a few other volunteers cleared several acres of Jacob's Woods as we convert it to silvopasture.

We brought home two yearling Leicester ewes to go with our Hog Island Ram, Lincoln.

Arlo, our buff orpington drake. is no longer alone. Ella put an Indian Runner hen in with him.

Galen is taking her riding to the next level.....

And Pam worked hours on the record keeping and registration of horses in our program...and Brooke set up a very productive meeting with officials from our local school board to develop programs with their agriculture students...and, we got some great news on a grant proposal submitted last fall...and we developed two new vermicomposting sites using night crawlers instead of red wigglers...and Wendell developed what he termed a "free range" worm operation using "wild" worms, manure, and low spots on the soil,... and I was accepted in the Virginia Master Naturalist Program,... and I spent half of a day showing our regenerative agriculture programs to a young lady who will soon have her own pasture program to manage...and.....

Terry has been back to the horse lot and will be in the saddle very, very soon!

Monday, January 20, 2020

Time To De-Worm Your Horses and Worm Your Pastures

Earth worms, night crawlers, and composting worms are among the best companion animals for your horses. These worms work hard without strict supervision or micromanagement. Do not fall into the trap of treating a worm bin like a neo-natal intensive care unit. Though social media teaches other wise, worms get along just fine without humans wringing their hands over what the perfect bedding is for a worm bin.

Get a large container that will drain--fill it with manure that is not recently contaminated with ivermectin. Either dig your own or order worms--(I am very happy with the worms that I get from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm) Keep adding manure. Don't worry about constant turning like one would do with a regular compost program. In a vermiculture system the worms do the turning and churning.

The more different kinds of manure that you put in the bin the better--except that there is no reason to use dog manure or any other meat eater's manure.

Humans can pick up parasites from dog manure.

During the months that your worms are working for you, learn about compost teas. I use them some but find that simply injecting the vermicompost in shallow holes spaced across a pasture works great to spread the microbes into the soil provided that the soil is moist.

Parasitic worms cost us tremendous amounts of money annually, both in treating the worms and in the amount of extra hay that the horses must eat to feed themselves and their parasite loads. During the years that I raised only a handful of foals and nearly every horse in the herd was adult to middle aged, we had very little problem with parasites. Now our herd has aged and we are raising a lot of foals.

The result is a radical increase in parasites. Foals and old horses are worm factories. As one's pasture reaches full capacity of dung beetles, microbes and earth worms one will see a reduction in parasites.

Such a regimen, coupled with a complete refusal to use modern chemical fertilizers or other poisons on the soil, and a strict planting program that keeps winter annual grasses  growing will improve the health of your soil and your horses.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

On Building A Culture Of Givers

             "When I was younger, I had big visions of changing the world."---Rick Danko

The cynics and the self absorbed seek to divide us into a culture of what they have designated as a culture of "makers and takers." We are allowing our children to be raised in a nation that ignores reality and acts as if there are such things as "alternative facts." Character, honor, and integrity are simply not taught or valued. We treat them as forgotten relics of the past--the equivalent of an abacus--useful for its time, but of no significance today.

It need not be this way. There are no small kindnesses. There are no little contributions to a better world. There are no incremental changes. Such dismissive language masks efforts to "tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world," to use Robert Kennedy's adaptation of ancient Greek wisdom.

Every kindness is enormous. Every contribution is significant. And "incremental change" is still change. 

This photo is of a group of Scouts, program participants and volunteers who worked tirelessly yesterday thinning the timber and building wildlife habitat on the silvopasture that we are developing by hand on about fifteen acres of fifty year old mixed timber.

Our program will benefit tremendously from the new silvopasture, but it is the kids in this picture who stand to benefit the most. None could afford to give such a large financial contribution that we could hire professionals to clear the land, but each could afford to give of their time and effort to get the job done.

As they get older they will be able to make more of an impact with their contributions to the effort to make gentle the life of this world.

We have no paid staff. Everyone is a volunteer. We have never turned a family away for inability  to pay program fees. Our business model and planning development models would appall any business school graduate. 

Our program is driven by experience, memories , and strong examples. Our business model is based on the fact that as Momma lay dying  of cancer, she made sure that there was food in the freezer that was on her porch so that anyone in the neighborhood who could not afford food for their family could simply stop by and get what they needed. 

"When we were young we thought we could save the world. Now we are here to help out in the neighborhood."-----Rick Danko

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Train Your Horse from the Ground Up. Build Your Pastures From the Ground Down.

Yesterday was a big day for our program. Today will be even bigger and it is days like yesterday and today that will give us tomorrows.

In a miserable wind yesterday,several families of kids spent the morning developing a new vermiculture site for the program. We used horse manure, poultry manure, rabbit manure, some old hay, and "wild" worms that are living in the soil here at the horse lot. We experimented by adding some commercial organic microbes to the mixture along with a bit of vermicompost from our largest worm program.

There will not be a lot happening until spring when the microbes are warm enough to take off growing, but then the mixture will quickly be converted to the "starter batch" that helps increase the amount of microbes in our pastures.

These microbes will fight soil compaction in the pastures. The best way that we can reduce soil compaction is to reduce the number of animal units per acre. That means either fewer animals or more land.

We opt for more land. 

Toward that end we are converting about fifteen acres of mixed forest into silvopasture. The land has not been cut since at least 1970. I am removing nearly everything but for large pines and some select large  hardwoods.  Looking to leave about 75 trees to the acre. In the process I am removing many thousands of wild blue berry shrubs that will sprout out in the spring providing additional forage.

For the first year we might have to simply allow the native grasses in the seed bank to take root but eventually it will be a strong mixture of wild life friendly grasses and forbs. The brush is being piled into lengthy brush piles for wild life habitat.

Today area Scouts will be out helping our program participants build that wild life habitat. In an hour the sun will be up enough for me to resume cutting.

We will be taking before and after pictures from today's efforts.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Rest, Residue , and Remainder of My Estate

I will not be able shape and protect our program when I am gone. I will be relying on the young people who have worked with me since they were children to continue making the program grow and continue to meet new needs, for horses and people. Eventually, the horses that I raised and trained will be gone too. It will not be in my control as to whether anyone continues to breed and train these horses and preserve the livestock that are part of my program.

All of that is uncertain, tentative, and speculative.

This blog is none of those things.

 What I have written here for over a decade will always be there. It is right now the same thing that it was when it began--a clarion call against the established horse world. It does not make apologies for any offense that members of that horse world may have taken over the years.

Though I am not a writer and have never considered my self a writer, these written words stand, and will continue to stand, as a road map to make better horses...and better people.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Proper Use of Old Men

Old men should be squeezed and wrung out until every drop of knowledge, every lesson learned, every mistake they made, and every success they achieved can drip out where others can use it.

Old women are vital sources of wisdom and the wisdom that they provide is every bit as vital as that  which can be learned from old men. From old women one can best learn the relationship between oneself and others. From old men one can best learn the relationship between one's self and time.

The most important lesson that one can learn from old men is how to prioritize one's life.The old man understands priorities because he is  aware that his time to achieve that which he must is limited and is more acutely aware of the existence of the ultimate deadline than are those who have walked the earth but a few decades.  The old man knows that there is a time for patience and a time for immediate action. The time for patience is when dealing with the shortcomings of others and the time for immediate action is when others need the old man's assistance.

The old man understands that there is a time for each phase of life to begin and a time for each phase of life to end. The old man understands that their is a time to be an infant, a time to be a toddler, a time to be an adolescent, and a time to be a child. But the old man understands that the time to be a child reaches its end before many children want it to. The old man understands that being a child cannot be a life goal and that the responsibilities of adulthood exist whether one wants to be a child or not.

The old man understands that labor is not punishment, but is, in fact, one of the greatest rewards that ever come into a human life. The old man understands that the most unproductive waste of time is worrying about having enough time instead of just getting the job done.

The old man understands that "good enough" is both good  and enough.

The old man understands that the only accurate answer to some of the most vexing questions that consume popular culture is, "It don't matter."

Monday, January 6, 2020

Explaining Our Veterans Program and Using Horses to Become Trauma Informed

Today I will be the presenter on the Veterans Affairs' monthly conference call among those who conduct programs in conjunction with Veterans Hospitals for patients with PTSD. We have been providing this weekly program now for a bit over seven years.

What we do is real. What we do works. And what we do is based entirely on my understanding of horses and trauma. My trauma education began at age five, when my parents took in the first of over 100 foster children. It extended over the past twenty years in which I handled the prosecution of child molestation cases, child abuse cases, and sexual assault cases. It has been capped off over the past five years with hours of classes on trauma and its impacts in professional educational classes.

But....I am merely a prosecutor with no letters behind my name to legitimize what we do. I have no certifications to stamp me as an expert. Our program has never been "peer reviewed." It has only been "people reviewed", often by people who explicitly tell me that working with the horses in our round pens saved their lives.

This morning a local vet had resposted this article to Facebook.

It is a great article. Our weekly sessions with patients From the Veterans Hospital really bear this out--horses often radically change their reaction and overall behaviors the moment the next person enters the ring. People who have been severely traumatized often react precisely the same way that horses do--the emotional sponge that they become is the same sponge that all large herd based prey animals exhibit. That is why it is so important for everyone whose life brings them into contact with severely traumatized people, from first responders, to teachers, to law enforcement, to guidance counselors, to Victim Witness Coordinators, to Social workers, to prosecutors, to medical admission staff and so many others to become trauma informed.

Natural horsemanship can lead not only to better understanding of horses, but to better understanding of people with PTSD

For those who are surviving PTSD, the understanding of their responses to stresses and predator body language is often a huge break through. Understanding their behavior can give the patient the ability to explain that behvior to family and friends. It can lead to trust. No treatment strategy can succeed unless the patient has some degree of trust in the treatment program and in those who are facilitating the trust.

it can lead to confidence. Coming to view oneself as being deserving of taking leadership of the horse and insisting on its compliance can lead to a boost in self esteem. Most importantly, it can lead to the complete understand of the absolute necessity of having security before achieving autonomy can give any real benefits.

And here is the lesson of the round pen boiled down into a few sentences.

Surviving horrific trauma often causes one to adopt the communication techniques, motivations, and fears of large, herd prey animals. Doing so makes it difficult to survive in a human world that is driven by the communication techniques, motivations, and fears of large Maximilian predators. The drive for autonomy is replaced by a need for security. The achievement of security allows one to derive enjoyment of steps that lead to the achievement of autonomy. The horse survives, in large part by trusting other herd members. People who trust no one can learn to trust horses and that can lead to trusting other humans.

But one does not live in a round pen. The round pen has a gate on it. Working horses in the round pen helps a severely traumatized person find that gate, walk through it, and successfully enter the next step in becoming stronger and happier.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Restoring Organic Matter To The Soil

There was a time that I thought it best to put my round bales in a metal ring or a hay net to "conserve" hay. Doing so did nothing but to conserve poor field fertility. Rolling out round bales, especially in winter, and most especially in pastures that are intentionally over stocked in order to maximize manure production, has done more to improve our soil than any other single step that we have taken in our soil and water conservation efforts.

The round bales weight 800-1000 pounds and this time of year we are using nearly 20 bales each week. It is a bit labor intensive to roll them out but it is worth it.

The horses do not loose as much neck and back muscle as they do standing still and eating a round bale at eye level. Eating a rolled out bale is more natural and mimics the muscles used in grazing grasses and forbs.

We end up with a light covering of organic material over nearly the entire surface of the area, leaving seed and a feast for microbes that the soil desperately needs. 

2020: When The First Trumpet Sounds

2019 has been our biggest year so far in terms of participation, heritage livestock production, wildlife habitat creation, and number of very young riding students. Most importantly, we have touched more lives in a deeper and more meaningful way than in any previous year. The music program has grown beyond anything that I ever imagined.

My biggest surprise remains how much the kids enjoy learning about permaculture and soil and water conservation. This year that interest will be put to the test as we complete the conversion of the New Land from brush and trees into multiple pastures. My body will be put to the test as we convert Jacobs Woods into silvopasture.

Perhaps this will be the year that we are able to obtain a tractor. if so we will construct swales on the low sides of the old land and choke off what little bit of runoff still occurs. I hope that we can expand our vermiculture operation.

And we shall ride. And we shall record our mileage. And the number of cumulative miles that we ride will continue to shock riding programs across the region. In 2019 our cumulative mileage that was recorded exceeded the distance from Norfolk to San Francisco.

We will have many foals born in 2020. Most of them will be Choctaws. We will expand the number of nearly extinct San Clemente goats in existence.

If you would like to have your family participate in our unique riding lesson program and become part of the entire Mill Swamp Indian Horses experience send me an email at