Saturday, February 29, 2020

The Off Site Breed Conservation Program: Keeping Hope Alive

Abigail pointed out that when I talk to visitors to the horse lot about the program I do not discuss breed conservation as much as I once did. She was right--was not a conscious decision--just crept into my management projections. Perhaps, like most teachers I enjoy talking most about the subject that I am learning the most about at that time.

Soil and water conservation, microbial pasture development, using horses to understand trauma and PTSD are topics that I have learned a lot about in the last five years. I like teaching those subjects.

But the core purpose of Mill Swamp Indian Horses is to work to prevent the extinction of the Colonial Spanish Horse, with particular emphasis on the Corollas, Shacklefords, Marsh Tackys, Choctaws, and the remnant of the Grand Canyon strain.

This summer we will breed more mares than last summer. Edward Teach, Pancho, Matchcoor, Wanchese, and our other stallions will be bred to our mares, and also offered for breeding to outside mares.

We hope to create a mini explosion of foals for 2021.

That means that we also need to create an explosion of future horse owners and breeders for that time frame. Over the years we have bred slowly in order to never have more horses on hand than we could care for. We will continue to be prudent in our breeding and will continue to move toward providing trained trail horses in addition to foals.

Matchcoor will be available in the fall. He will be a beautiful young Colonial Spanish horse of the Banker strain, with a mother born wild on Shackleford and a father born wild on Corolla. He will only be available to sale to someone who will maintain him as a stallion and make him available for future breedings.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Riding and Managing With Focus

Yesterday I was working with Jenner as he was teaching one of the Mammoth Donkeys to drive. Jenner was doing spectacularly well. The donkey was doing great. I decided for us to go a route that I knew that the donkey did not like. It would take him away from the horse lot, but the horse lot would remain in his vision the entire time. This created an unbroken path of temptation to veer off course.

As we made a turn at a corner that took him directly away from the horse lot, the donkey balked. He wanted to turn off course. For the first time during this training session I was having significant difficulty keeping him on course. Nothing that I was doing was working. Then I did what one should always do in such situations. I turned the noise down, let the donkey pause for a moment, and I focused my eyes hard on a large pine tree in the direction in which I wanted to go. My eyes never came off of that tree. The donkey took a few missteps and then proceeded in a straight line towards the tree.

When I allowed his irritation and his confusion to cause me to loose focus he responded in a completely natural manner. He drifted, balked, and sought to turn back.

When  the demands of ordinary life cause me to loose focus on the growth and development of  our program the program will drift and turn back from its purpose. We all have demands of ordinary life that pull our attention away. Right now I am involved in the prosecution of a murder along with my normal case load of domestic violence, molestation and sexual assault. It is draining. The mind wears out before the body, but the body wears out much too soon.

It makes it harder to focus on what our program must be. We are not just a riding program or a breeding program. If so, I could never justify the effort that we put into what we do.

We are an educational institution.  We teach, and we learn, by word and by deed. Saturday some of the most important teaching deeds began. Our program was donated the tin from the top of two old barns and an out building, enough tin to save us a few thousand dollars over the next few years.

A wonderful crew of program participants and volunteers removed the tin. I helped for several hours and then went back to the horse lot to teach beginning riders. The crew worked hard to prevent this tin from being wasted.

The first micro lesson taught was that very hard work is a reward unto itself. The second micro lesson is that recycling is a duty that we owe to those who share our resources. The third micro lesson is that frugal use of our resources allows for program development and gives us an opportunity to reach more people. 

The fourth micro lesson is the hardest to teach and the hardest for modern young people to understand. Part, and one of the most important parts, of what we do as an educational institution is to teach in the atmosphere of a working agricultural operation. Working farms were used  and they looked very used.

And working farms reused everything that could be reused. Several years ago I was building a box to transport hogs. A friend of mine asked, only half jokingly, if I was going to buy new nails or pull old ones from broken boards, beat them out straight and then use them again.

New tin would be nice to have. It would be easier to handle. It would likely even work better--but it would teach nothing.

 New tin has no history. It has no story to tell.

Saturday was a big day for our program's future. We saved a fortune and we acquired, at no financial cost, a functional teaching resource.

And we must always seek to bring out the teachings that are in our resources.

That takes focus.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

On Building a Riding Program: Attracting Dedicated Students

Ignore traditional business models. They will give you traditional results, bored little rich, white kids who are incapable of being part of a revolution. Reach out to find those who not only want to ride, but need to ride, whether they know it or not.

Open your mind to building something big. Read works that people do not often think of as business management works and apply the lessons that can be gleaned from them.

The Book of Luke is one such work:

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

The Parable of the Great Banquet
15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Projections, Reflections, and Rejections

The problem with some  little riders' eyes is not that they have poor vision. The problem is that they can see so well that they see things that are not even there. Their hearing is even more of a problem. They can hear another young rider decree that a given horse is "not smooth", "afraid of water", "always ready to kick", "pokey", or "stubborn", and by hearing, believing, and acting on these completely baseless opinions they harm a horse's reputation every bit as easily as they do on the play ground with other children.

The rider that does not work to get in sync with the horse's movement will certainly find that that horse is "not smooth". The rider who tenses up at the sight of wide water or deep mud passes that fear on to the horse. The rider who constantly eyes other horses who approach with near panic tells the horse that it is in a fight or flight situation. Without knowing it, that rider often holds on tight with the legs and puts pressure on the reins. A rider who refuses to make a horse move quickly produces a "stubborn" horse.

Good horsemanship begins with solid knowledge and and a positive attitude. Good horsemanship ends without those two things.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Trees That Help Horse Pasture Grow

Planting trees from seed is perhaps the best proof that one has achieved the patience that only comes with real maturity. Pasture development that includes growing trees is the ultimate long term project. We use no modern fertilizers or poisons on our pastures. We do not look for quick fixes.

Often maligned as invasive, mimosa trees have provided tremendous benefit to our soil. These  trees are legumes that fix nitrogen in the soil.

The New Land is a nearly twenty acre parcel that Beth and I acquired for the program's use several years ago. It had been used for row crops for over 100 years, used as pasture for about a decade, and volunteer trees had crept over the pastures for over twenty years. On a few acres mimosa trees grew to completely dominate the landscape.

Those few acres became a fascinating ecosystem all of its own. Forbs, primarily honey suckle, grew to a deep, lush green covering the ground under the trees. The soil was soft, nearly fluffy, under the trees. Rabbits flourished in the area. I saw more wood cocks there than any piece of land that I had ever walked on. Deer made great use of the honey suckle.

And I did not have any understanding of what was going on. I just knew that it was beautiful to see from a distance, with its pink flowers lighting up the sky and was even more beautiful to walk into on hot summer days.

Now I am beginning to understand what was happening and I am delighted to experience the long term effects that those trees are having as we seek to develop the area into first rate pasture. The nitrogen that the trees fixed help the honey suckle grow. The honey suckle roots and the mimosa roots provided a constant feast for microbes that further aided in the growth of the plants, which created more roots, which lead to more microbial life, which created vegetation with very high nutrition, which attracted wild life, which resulted in the infusion of more microbial species from the animal manure, all of which lead to an explosion of earth worms (hence the freakishly large concentration of wood cocks), all of which resulted in a radical reduction of soil compaction and increased water retention and reduced runnoff.

As we began clearing the New Land I coppiced most of the mimosas and left several intact. The livestock, including the horses loved the nutritious leaves and bark of the trees, especially those that had been coppiced and allowed to put out fresh shoots.

The living mimosa stand on the New Land is now decreased more than 95%. I am protecting many mimosas along the outside of our pastures.

And now it is a wet, ugly February about five years after I started taking down the large mimosas on that mimosa grove. yet the  trees that once flourished there are continuing to contribute to our soil development.

Yesterday I begin turning over manure piles in different parts of the large pasture. I was delighted to find earth worms colonizing the piles. It was the area where the mimosas once flourished that provided the most shocking evidence of their worth. Manure piles in those areas were loaded with earth worms! More strong, vital worms than I had encountered any where except under a rabbit warren at the Little House which abuts the New Land.

Most horse owners have never heard of the concept of soil compaction and have no idea what it does to create mud and dust in a horse pasture. Soil compaction can be fought on many fronts, but microbes and earthworms are an effective part of the strategy that we use to fight compaction. Most horse owners only view horse manure as a problem that must be removed from the pasture instead of understanding that the manure is part of the solution when it is allowed to become part of the soil instead being taken from the soil that needs it so badly.

Future posts will focus on the development of the New Land pasture. We turning a wood lot of about fifteen acres into silvopasture and will be documenting the development of that project on these pages. If topics like this interest you go over the button on the side of the side of this post to click on it and receive these posts in your email.

You can learn more about Mill Swamp Indian Horses by visiting our web site

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Twice As Hard: Riding and Working by the Book

What can our program get done in January--usually our slowest, wettest, muddiest, and ugliest month of the year?

We can ride. We can work. We can teach. We can learn.

We can have great fun.

One of the reasons that we record statistics is to remind ourselves of where we have been and to focus more on where we are going.

In January of 2020 we worked a cumulative total of 364.08 hours--all volunteer--no paid staff. That is how we get done all of the things that we get done.

And we rode. And we rode and we rode. We rode a commutative total of 226.97 hours for a cumulative distance of 685.75 miles !

All that hard work and hard riding will make you feel like you are seeing double.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Tell Me About The Mill Swamp Indian Horse Riding Program

In one version or another I get this request on a constant basis. It takes while to go through everything that we do at the horse lot and often by the time I finish describing all of our programs the questioner is left confused.

This picture was waiting for me when I turned on the computer this morning. Without saying a word it gives a great explanation of how our program works.

Jenner is riding Porter, a formerly wild Corolla Spanish mustang, who was captured because of  an injury that needed medical attention. He was trained here, by young people, using the techniques of natural horsemanship that program participants learn.

Jenner is riding Porter in this shot. Jenner prefers working with donkeys and is the best that I have ever seen at patiently communicating with these animals who are both so much like horses, yet so very different. Jenner is a teacher of donkeys and is a student himself and each week his knowledge grows.  Because of Jenner, our heritage livestock program now includes Mammoth Donkeys.

The bridge that he is riding on was a Boy Scout Eagle project. Over the years the surface boards came to need repair and Jenner's family replaced them and made the bridge safe and secure. They did so at their own cost. We have no paid staff here and everything that we do is done by volunteers.

The plaques on the bridge commemorate the Corolla horses whose extinction we seek to prevent. And they commemorate the life and death of my youngest brother, Lido, who died in a hunting accident at age 17.

One of the plaques reads, "If I can do it, why can't you?" This is not a taunt. This is the encouraging phrase that Lido used to help children and adults become comfortable in the saddle and more confident in themselves.

Before I had a riding program, Lido, at around age 10, was the first person to get on most of the wild horses that he and I trained. Lido was born with cerebral palsy. His right arm was of nearly no use to him and his right leg was much weaker than his left. Yet he learned to ride and to ride long and hard. He learned to understand horses and he learned to understand suffering in other people.

After he died, I learned that it was his encouragement, much more than mine. that meant the most to many of our adult riders who were learning to ride later in life.

So that is what we do in our program--right there--what you see in that picture--student rider/trainers--learning and teaching--families working together--volunteers seeking to build better lives for other people--heritage livestock being preserved and promoted--some volunteers, like the Scouts who built the bridge, from outside of our program helping us grow.

If you want to learn more about our program see our website at and our two face book pages, both our group and our "business" page.