Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Current State Of Mill Swamp Indian Horse Program

We are alive. Our program still exists. Prudent use of funds and the dedication of program participants and volunteers, along with some very important and generous contributions, are keeping us above water.

In fact, in some ways we have grown. We have expanded our heritage sheep herd to include two more Hog Island sheep. Mandy did the leg work to arrange for the purchase from Mount Vernon. Now we have to shear them and market the wool. Shearing while maintaining social distancing is not without its complexities.

Thanks to the Teller family, especially Ella, we have two Buff Orpington ducks in one of the pasture ponds

Bella Note, who may be the highest percentage Grand Canyon mare left (readers, let me know if I am wrong abut this!) will be joining our program and Tam will do great things with her. They are going to make a wonderful team. She will arrive around the first of May.

Riding lessons have been cancelled for quite a while now. I hope to resume a regular lesson schedule in June with emphasis on extreme social distancing. That is hard with very little kids but if parents are diligent in helping out we can make it work.

In late summer we will have several foals born from the beautiful Choctaw stallion, Big Muddy, and we will have a Corolla foal born to Baton Rouge. Great work is being done on building a shaded seating area around our central round pen. It will be stunningly beautiful when all of the vines grow in to cover it.

We are getting a lot of great horse training done. Matoaka, a Corolla mare and one of the last wild foals from my Red Feather has taken to the woods wonderfully. Audrey has put a lot of miles on her. The girls are working to get our big Marsh Tacky mare, Taney Town, ready for me to ride. Curie has done a great job with Match Coor, a pure Banker stallion with a wild mother from Shackleford and a wild father from Corolla. Michelle and Peter have trained Rosie to the point that she is beginning to be ridden in the woods. Jenner has built a tremendous relationship with Sean and Jerry, two donkeys that he and his mother, Brooke,  now have under saddle. Jackie has gotten the colonial garden planted. Lilly is about ready to have her first ride in the woods.

Ann Bonny might have a little Highland calf out there one morning soon.

The time has not been without its disappointments. We are having the coldest, wettest spring that I remember. A grant from the Livestock Conservancy allowed us to divide the New Land into five paddocks, but grass is weeks behind schedule due to the weather. I reached the point of being worn out clearing the about 15 acres of Jacob's Woods way too soon. If I had spent about six more weeks cutting down trees instead of riding that silvopasture project would have advanced much further. We received a grant from Walmart that will help by allowing for the purchase of treated fence posts to replace the temporary posts that I made from the trunks of many of the trees that we cut down.

The courts in Virginia have been shut down for all but some cases that could not be continued and arraignments and bond hearings. Crime has not been suspended. New cases are steadily coming in to prosecute but our normal routine of trying cases has been derailed. That creates a constant level of tension that remains whether one is awake, asleep, eating, riding, or watching TV. The virus itself creates a constant level of tension. Little noises seem like much bigger bangs, and even small bangs seem like earth shattering explosions.

Hard to remember that there used to be a time that I enjoyed turning the computer on. Now it serves mainly as a conduit for crisis advisement. Seems that many more people are having difficult times than I have ever encountered.

Our program is being negatively impacted by my inability to manage everything out there, (and in the remainder of my life), the way that I had before this world wide crisis hit. While I have many things that I am keeping together very well at the horse lot, I have other things that I have abandoned. I simply find myself unable to do grant proposals or work on long term ideas for the program. I was taking a Master Naturalist course in order  to better run our environmental education programs. Those classes are suspended and at the moment I cannot find the intellectual energy to catch up with them on line. I hope that I do so. I was learning a lot in those classes. My biggest failure remains in my inability to help program participants understand how important it is to keep pastures from being over grazed and to develop the pastures into stronger living environments both above and below ground. Some program members have taken on the important job of  clearing brush from the New Land with pure zeal. What Matt has done out there is incredible.

Yesterday we created four new vericompost sites and began making about 200 gallons of liquid microbial fertilizer. It was a great opportunity to introduce new families into microbial farming and permaculture concepts.

It was actually fun. Not fun, but. Not fun, if only. 

Just pure, raw fun.

Seems like forever since the horse lot was a place of just pure, raw fun, but it will be fun again.

 Blaze Foley captured where we are in in the third verse of, If I Could Only Fly :

"The wind keeps blowing, somewhere, everyday
Tell me things get better, somewhere, up the way
Just dismal thinking on a dismal day
And sad songs for us to bear"

Friday, April 10, 2020

Understanding Which of These Is a Picture Of A Happy Horse Could Save A Loved One's Life

We are the first generation to be able to begin our horsemanship with an understanding of the implications of a horse being a prey animal and a person being a predator. We are also the first generation that is beginning to understand that severely traumatized people often take on prey animal characteristics in order to survive.

Projecting our own feelings on to a dog is not as toxic to the dog as projecting our own feelings on to horses is for the horse. Like humans, dogs are predators and share our basic drive for autonomy, excitement, and risk taking. Horses do not have a fundamental drive for any of those things. Horses, like other large herd prey animals, are driven by a need for security, predictability, and social contact.

One can learn the details and implications of this dichotomy by searching this blog for several key words, e.g. "predator", "prey", "body language", etc.

All of that information is important for those who seek to build meaningful relationships with horses at any time. Understanding this dynamic during this time of extraordinary social stress could result in the prevention of violence and even suicide in  your home today.

For over seven years we have used the understanding that those who have been severely traumatized, and especially those who fit a full blown PTSD diagnosis, often unconsciously take on the characteristics of a prey animal. This insight is the basis of  our program with the local Veterans Hospital's PTSD program. We also incorporate this fundamental point in assisting survivors of sexual abuse. (Again, if one wants to learn more about this please search this blog for key words such as "PTSD", "trauma", "Ashley Edwards", "Road To Repair", "body language", etc).

At this time nearly everyone's sense of security, predictability, safety,  and ability to have social contact is diminished or erased entirely. That is horrible enough for everyone, but is particularly devastating to those who have been severely traumatized,  and especially those who have full blown PTSD.

Though it might be hard for others to understand, the current uncertainty that we all face can cause some people to relive past horrors in their lives. It can begin with simple irritability, progress into night mares, manifest itself in hyper vigilance, or, resumption of alcohol use in those who have not touched alcohol for years. 

The result is often violence.

I am a domestic abuse and juvenile crime prosecutor and have  been one for over twenty years. Anecdotally it seems that our domestic abuse case load is on a drastic up swing. When an extreme fight or flight response kicks in and stay at home requirements make flight impossible, violence will ensue.

The horse that cannot flee will fight.

Everyone needs to be alert and sensitive to  the changes that we feel in ourselves or see in our family members. There has not been a time in recent generations that we have faced such a need for counselling services. When jobs are lost medications that have helped  control depression  and anxiety can become affordable. Bills stack up.

Everything begins to unravel.

At that point there is no security. There is no peace.

When people come to believe that there is no way out of the crisis that they are in, many come to feel that, in fact, there is only one way out.

Get yourself or your family the mental health help that can prevent the taking of that one way out. Don't plan to wait until the virus has passed to do something. That may be too late.

If you do not yet understand, the beautiful grey horse is not exhibiting happiness in this picture. She is anxious, afraid, and uncertain. Something has agitated her.

Regardless of how beautiful she looks on the outside, at the moment this picture was taken she was not experiencing life as she needs it to be. 

The red horse could be viewed as bored, tired, or even sick.

He is none of those things. He has found security, peace, and predictability. That wonderful feeling of peace allows him to experience life as he needs it to be.

Take care of yourself and your family and do whatever it takes to allow those in your household to feel the peaceful joy that the red horse shows as we sail  through these very rough waters.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

How We Started Young Horses Years Ago

is still the same way that we do today.

The difference is that today I do not have Lido to help any more.

Lido was born with cerebral palsy and had nearly no use of his right arm and his right leg was weak. He worked hard and made the left half of his body stronger than most high school athletes. He understood horses and he understood how to encourage young people and adults to put their fears behind them and mount up.

When he and I picked up up this mare there was a teen age girl older than Lido there who expressed a desire to ride but was afraid to try. There was another horse there that was dead broke. I was not in on the conversation, but I later learned that Lido told her that if she would get on the tame horse he would get on this mare, who had never had a rider.

She got on the tame one and Lido got on this mare, bareback after calming her down.

Don't know when these pictures were taken. Lido was probably about 15. He died in a hunting accident when he was 17 and his legacy continues to encourage people to master their fears and mount up.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Making The Best Of It All

I can't complain. No, I mean I really can't complain. My family is going through nothing compared to what so many others are. In fact, it is only the uncertainty that has hammered me. Too many others are being hammered with certainty--the certainty of loss of jobs, loss of hope, loss of friends, and family members, and loss of life.

I have to spend less time looking at the news and more time training horses.

Although we can't get on stage, I have to spend more time playing music.

This might be a good time to rework a lot of my horses to make them gentler and more responsive

Might even be a good time to get on the computer and order some more riding clothes. Mine are about worn out.

Problem is that riding clothes that suit me well can be hard to fine. I despook my horses with monsters but if I dressed like this I would not expect a horse to let me come in close to mount up.

Of course, it would be easier if I had someone to give me a hand with all of these things. Ideally, it would be a kid who has been around horses and has ridden, trained, and played music since she was a very little girl. It would be even better if she knew how to cook everything the way I like it, (which is "now!"--that is how I like all my food prepared--"now!" and often sooner than that)

But where could I ever find a kid like that?