Tuesday, March 31, 2020

It is Taney Town's Turn: Training My Marsh Tacky To Saddle

I do not have a current picture of our beautiful Marsh Tacky mare, Taney Town. This one is her as a yearling. Now she is all grown up and ready to learn.

Today I am going to begin a regular training routine with her. One on one work with this mare might provide a bit of relief .

Monday, March 30, 2020

Going Feral: Regenerative Agriculture

An animal that will eat anything can live anywhere. An animal whose survival often depends on the bonds that it has with other herd members can become the perfect herd member for humans. As we are using our micro grant from the Livestock Conservancy to convert a large pasture of formerly brush, a bit of fescue, and a lot of pine and sweet gum into multiple paddocks for rotational grazing our strains of formerly feral heritage livestock are doing their part.

Spring time weeds are delicacies for our Hog Island sheep. They love tender weeds as much as they love grass.

Our Scottish Highland cattle are not formerly feral but they bring many of the same attributes of feral livestock to the table. My bull, Seven Leagues, is enjoying fresh pine needles as the snow falls in this picture. This morning I moved the cattle into a fresh paddock and they immediately began taking the weeds down to the ground.

Our Spanish goats, particularly our San Clemente Island goats, are voracious brush busters, live outside 24/7 and have no problem delivering babies.

Ossabaw Island hogs are not to be confused with feral hogs that wreak havoc across the South. They likely trace back to early Spanish settlement of the southeast. This heritage line of gourmet pork producers are slow growers who love to graze and browse. They can bring privet thickets completely under control in short order .

Our herd of  Colonial Spanish horses, includes Corollas, Shacklefords, Marsh Tackeys, Choctaws, and high percentage Grand Canyons. Many of our horses were born wild. The result is a horse that has strong hooves, extraordinary endurance, and a deep need to bond with other herd members. They are the perfect family horses.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Real Endurance Potential--Do We Still Have It?

We were riding hard. My granddaughter was riding Naichi, a Chincoteague of powerful build. She was very impressed with his movement and stamina. I asked her if she thought he had real endurance potential.

The beauty of spending time with brilliant young people lies not just in the answers they give, or the questions that they ask, but even more so in the observations that they make.

When I asked Ariyanna about the Chincoteague horse that she was riding, Abigail pointed out that all that I ever seemed to want to know about a horse was whether it had real endurance potential.

I had not thought the matter through, but when she pointed that out I realized that sometime over the last several years I have lost the ability to be impressed by a horse's beautiful color. It's gracefulness as it glides along the pasture does not really catch my eye much now.

The only thing that matters to me now in evaluating a horse is whether or not the horse has real endurance potential. But I don't mean potential as a competitive endurance racing horse. I care nothing for competition of any sort. As I have gotten older I have come to understand that competition is the enemy of cooperation. It breeds selfishness and greed and by its very nature creates a handful of winners and a bucket full of losers.

What I look for in a horse is the potential to endure. Can the horse get the job done? Can it carry you further than you have strength to continue in the saddle? Can it carry you through knee deep swamps day in and day out? Can it graze happily on browse and brush? Can it carry you over deep sand or rough gravel for miles on end while experiencing no discomfort what so ever? Can it courageously carry you past the things that torment the minds of many horses--mail boxes, plastic bags, gnarled tree stumps and roots, wild turkeys flushing under foot, and bears that cross the trails ahead of you?

And can that horse rely on you as much as you rely on it? Can that horse endure because it trusts you to give it the care, direction, affection, and leadership that it must have to be happy?

Lido was born with cerebral palsy. His right arm was of no use to him and his right leg was small and drug along as he walked. By the time he was a teenager he had worked and pushed his body to the point that he could unload two fifty pound bags of feed at a time and could run five miles at a time.

He had real endurance.

I met my youngest daughter Ashley when she was seventeen. She was the victim in the worse case that I have ever prosecuted. She survived her teenage years in a Hell so bleak that as I sit here thinking about what to type I realize that I have no words to give a reader that would give a glimpse of what she lived though. She became part of our family and her legal adoption was finalized years ago. Now she works to help others claw their way out of their own traumatized pasts.

She has real endurance.

Brooke is an emergency room physician and a mother of three spectacular kids. She is in the middle of the scourge that we are facing. She goes out and works putting aside her own safety and comes home and gets her kids out to the horse lot and trains (along with her son, Jenner) two mammoth donkeys and has begun riding horses who have had very little time with a rider on their backs.

She has real endurance.

Our nation has always shown real endurance potential. We have over come hardships. We have striven, albeit too slowly, towards building a just society. I hope that we still have real endurance potential. There are many reasons to doubt that we do. We forfeited any claim to being a moral society when we allowed fear of others to be used to justify keeping children in cages for the crime of having parents who sought better lives for their families.

And now we face an enemy that will test our endurance potential. I find my optimism flagging.  Then I remember that real endurance is fueled by optimism. Optimism is not the same thing as faith. Faith has its role in helping us get through the fire. Its importance cannot be discounted.

Optimism differs from faith in that it hinges on our understanding that, while we are not all powerful, neither are we powerless. We have the power to slow the spread of this contagion. We have the power to help others through this crisis. We have the power to reduce suffering. We have the power to support and encourage those around us.

And there is still a great part of me that is optimistic that we will exert that power.

Since we have no Churchill, we must become our own Churchills.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Beagles, The Band, And More Than Just Being

When I was a young teenager I ran with hounds after school several days a week. I do not mean that I rode to the hounds. I mean that I ran with my pack of beagles as they worked rabbits through brush, brambles and thick briers. It was likely the best physical condition that I have ever been in. Beagles bark when they smell a rabbit trail, providing a constant warning to the rabbit as to their location. As a result, it is the rarest of occasions that the dogs ever catch a rabbit. Instead they spend hours in pursuit of rabbits that mix hard sprints with leisurely bounces through thickets.

The dogs hunt by instinct and experience pure joy. I do not know of any animal that is happier than are beagles when running a rabbit.  When this picture was taken, this puppy and her sisters lived in a pen to protect them for coyotes. Now they are free of the pen and spend many hours each day running rabbits and the occasional deer. They come back to be fed, sleep for a while and then head back out into the woods.

And when I hear them running I feel a little bit of their joy, their zeal, and their fierce love of their "jobs."

I always felt that there were few things more undignified than movement while playing music on stage. I always looked to Maybelle Carter, whose body stood still and dignified while her hands coaxed beauty from the notes that were hiding in her guitar and her autoharp. I considered any movement that would not be properly exhibited at a funeral to be outrageous histrionics.

And then I started looking a films of The Band. At first I was repulsed by Rick Danko's movement and Robbie Robertson was even worse. Then I gradually came to understand how, just like a pack of beagles running hot on a rabbit, they were moving from the joy of the music. They were not moving to call attention to themselves. They were moving because the music moved them.

They were not just "being". They were "being" music.

Few things move me out of just "being"--but I am going to work hard to spend more time doing those things. I find sheer joy working with my Scottish Highland bull, Seven Leagues, though I find little time to do so. I find sheer joy simply looking at the variety of heritage breed livestock living happily at the horse lot. I find joy in pulling up to the tack shed to be greeted by ducks, turkeys, and chickens. Perhaps my greatest joy is riding with brilliant young people who pepper me with questions and offer up their own insights. And I find sheer joy in teaching little kids to ride. They way that our littlest riders learn is a slow process, but I am convinced that it is the best way to learn for little ones. First we learn to not be afraid. Then we learn to love being in the saddle. Then, gradually through a few hundred hours in the saddle we learn how to become riders who understand the horse's mind and body.

And it is spring. No time of the year is better suited for optimism than spring.

No time of the year is better suited for more than just being.

Monday, March 2, 2020

The Deadline

In twenty eight days participants in the Virginia Agritourism Conference will join us for a farm tour. We are heavily involved in preparing for that visit. Program participants and volunteers are doing a great job as we put in new fencing and work to put in new seating in the round pen area.

I have no doubt that visitors on March 30 will have a wonderful time and learn a lot about how our program works.

There is another deadline that plays much heavier on my mind. As much as I look forward to spring. I understand that its arrival brings a deadline with consequences. When it is time for the cold season forage to emerge I must have our pastures ready to welcome them.

That means getting hooves and mouths away from enough of the emergent plants to allow for great pasture growth. That means expanding microbes into areas of soil compaction. That means revving up our multi species grazing plans.

Yesterday, using a micro grant from the Livestock Conservancy to help fund the improvements, I went a long ways towards turning the New Land into five separate pastures to facilitate rotational grazing. Tomorrow, I will move all horses out of our must concentrated pasture to allow it to dry out and heal and will sow the last bit of ladino clover.

Then attention will be turned to the next step in our pasture development. We have worked hard over the winter turning Jacobs Woods, which has not been timbered since 1967 into functional silvopasture. I would have liked to have thinned more trees this winter from the plot but it will be a two winter conversion project instead of a one winter job. We will need to replace some gates, add many fence posts, and run hot wire around the perimeter.

We will then be able to move a large number of horses off of sprouting pastures into the woods where they can browse and eat hay for a few more weeks.

To the unknowing eye a pasture is simply a place to store horses when they are not being ridden. The only question in such analysis is whether there is "room" for the horses in a given pasture. The reality is much different.  Eventually all of our program participants will understand that what is going on below the surface is more important than the appearance of the surface.

Few people come to a riding program with any understanding of the role of the pasture in maximizing horse health. Their closest model is a homeowner's lawn. With that model in mind they are ready to graze horses on any grass that is as tall enough to be mowed, if it were a suburban lawn. Pastures need much more growth than we have been allowing before grazing them heavily.

And, in order to build our pastures to provide maximum benefit to our horses I will need to have Jacob's woods filled with livestock in a month.

That deadline plays heavy on my mind.