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Thursday, December 30, 2021

Managing Riding Anxiety With 21st Century Science and Two Thousand Year Old Wisdom

Have you ever known anyone who had no problems with fear or anxiety in any other aspect of their lives, only when it comes to riding a horse? 

I have not. 

 Anxiety around horses is generally the tip of the iceberg. Deeper fears of everyday life experiences generally haunt such people. They may be good at hiding it. They may be not only functional, but successful. 

But they worry. They might mask the fear with alcohol. They might live their lives in full pursuit of "control", of making rules that somehow will take the risk out of risky situation. As they get older, they are more and more likely to fall into avoidance behaviors. They make the horrible mistake of labeling themselves as "introverts" or other convenient labels that explain their avoidance behaviors. and the inevitable social isolation that it produces. They procrastinate because making decisions is stressful.

Many people desperately want to ride but their fear holds them back. They need to ride, but their fear holds them back. They could achieve enormous personal breakthroughs, but their fear holds them back. 

Some people push through it. They admirably build the courage to ride and the more they ride the less anxiety they feel. They start to see improvements in other parts of their lives. But the monster of anxiety and its fellow traveler, depression, continue to dog them--though admittedly to a lesser degree. 

And here is where groundbreaking new understanding of the links between the body and the mind come into play. While learning to increase skill and confidence with horses, one can also take on the entire monster of anxiety. 

And I do not mean just with counselling and medication, although I am a strong supporter of both counselling and medication. There are other lifestyle changes that can bring peace and calmness to anxious, ruminating minds. 

Read all of this before you give up and decide that these steps could never help you.

The first step is to learn everything that one can about the workings of anxiety, its relation to past trauma and what fuels the fires of fear. Then be bold and look at the impact that avoidance behaviors have had on one's life. The only thing good about living in a prison cell that you constructed for yourself is that you can understand its design and can use that knowledge to burst free.

Nothing is better than working with a first-rate counselor. For various reasons that might not be possible for everyone. The good news is that there is some great science out there concerning how the brain works and how to make it work better that can be found from Andrew Huberman of Stanford University that is easily accessed on YouTube as are a great set of videos called Therapy in a Nutshell.

Studying Huberman's work will give one an understanding of how exercise and nutrition can be two of the biggest weapons that one has to overcome depression and anxiety. This is especially important as the world struggles with the virus and as we are just beginning to understand the incredible damage done to young minds by the dopamine flooding that results from video games, internet pornography, and the tyranny of social media. 

But humans do not face new problems. We only face new variations of old problems. As a child Harry Tuman thought about this and decided that all he would have to do is learn all of the history that has been written and it would give him all of the answers to vexing situations as they arose in his future. It was a profound, yet not practical, thought for a small child. 

We cannot read all of the history that has been written but we can read and learn from a handful of writers that made up the Stoic system of learning and we can see that their teachings directly apply to life in this century. It has been said that cognitive behavioral therapy is rooted in Stoic thought. Take a look at Ryan Holliday's great site, The Dailey Stoic and you will find some of the clearest direction for living an ethical, fearless and peaceful life that one will ever find.

It is sad that nearly everyone who rides horses goes through life without learning what the experience can truly do for them, mentally, physically, and even spiritually. Such people are like those who never learn the taste of an onion because they only eat the thin skin of the plant.

It does not have to be that way. 

You can change. And a horse can help you change.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

New Rules For 2022


In addition to the safety and conduct rules in the handbook, beginning on January 1 we will institute the following aspirational rules: 

1. When confronted with selfishness demonstrate generosity. 
2. When confronted with arrogance demonstrate humility. 
3. When confronted with fear demonstrate courage.
4. When confronted with ignorance demonstrate knowledge.
5. When confronted with foolishness demonstrate wisdom.
6. When confronted with hate demonstrate love. 

Every day at the horse lot gives you a chance to achieve two goals--to become a better horseperson...and to become a better person.


Friday, December 24, 2021

Why Teach Endurance Riding To Kids?

This year we are going to build an endurance riding team. We will have several in house events restricted to program participants and will do a few off site rides. I want the kids to learn to be part of a pit crew, how and why to do vet checks, how to condition the horses and themselves and to learn to compete against no one but the person that they were the day before.

Distance riding does great things for kids. My niece was seven years old when she set out on her first forty-four-mile ride. It was in the twenties when we tacked up but warmed up nicely for a great day of riding. Even when you are seven you know that it is a big deal to have forty-four miles under your belt.

Conditioning the horse takes time and time is what kids need to spend with horses. Long steady trots with friends and great horses are a great way to spend half a day. Conditioning requires a deep understanding of equine nutritional and emotional needs. The work that goes into conditioning the horse teaches patience and responsibility. 

It provides for competition with meaning. It is not a contest of a judge deciding which fat horse best meets the current fad in conformation. It is a competition in which the goal is to get one's horse in the best health that it can possibly be in. It is a competition in which the horse is never at fault and the inability to blame the horse helps kids to take responsibility for their role in caring for and conditioning the horse.

I do not know of any other kind of equine activity that can provide young people with as much exercise as long, steady, consistent training rides. Training rides through the woods are constant opportunities to view wildlife and to learn about the natural world all around them. It improves core strength and balance. And it can become a gateway into learning more about human nutrition and exercise benefits. 

Best of all, when we build our team, we are strengthening social bonds that have been frayed during the virus. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Lydia Dog: For Everything There Is A Season

Many years ago Emily and Lydia recognized that I had need of a dog after having kept a kennel of a dozen to thirty deerhounds for many years. They got me a wonderful little puppy, coon hound and boxer cross. I named her Lydia because she lacked arrogance and never caused me problems.

For many years she accompanied us on nearly all of the rides that we went on. She joined in on the long rides and did many twenty and forty mile rides. 

In later years she had to become a house dog because bikers were afraid of her. I wish she could have always roamed free as she did during the first half of her life.

She has been remarkably healthy up until about six weeks ago when she had her first seizure. We knew her time was coming soon, but we did not know when. 

It came today. 

She lived a happier and healthier life than any dog that I have known. She lived a long life, loved her family, and liked most strangers (unless they were riding bikes).

Sunday, December 19, 2021

He Grew Up With Us, Now He's Helping Us Grow

He began riding with our program as a child, the better part of a decade ago. Now Chris is grown and he has grown into a first rate horse trainer. Chris understands the mind of a horse. He is developing the skill to teach others what he knows.

 Chris will be taking on a major new role in our program. He will be in charge of our training team program. In late February, as the days get longer and we have a bit of sunlight after work, we will be doing focused sessions weekly. With the help of a few other experienced trainers Chris will be training horses and teaching those new to the round pen how a horse's mind works. 

 This is one of several major new efforts that will begin in 2022. We are ready to explode out of the virus and reach more people than ever.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

When I Look In The Mirror I See You

It really is not that I am a know it all. Nor am I domineering or controlling. Over the last 14 months I have made significant lifestyle changes that have had a more positive impact than I ever dreamed possible. If only I had understood how to do these things even as little as ten years ago my life would be radically different. 

It comes down to this--intense research and understanding of trauma, ketogenic eating, intermittent fasting, intense exercise, more sleep, immersing myself in Stoicism, purchase of, and heavy use of a home sauna and starting with cold showers and moving on to daily ice baths.

I have always rigidly refrained from giving advice to anyone over 30 unless they asked for it very clearly. I have never minded advising kids and, in fact, felt that was my duty to do so. Whenever I give unsolicited advice to very young adults I try to do it so subtly that they don't realize that some old man is sticking his nose in their business.

And that was a system that worked wonderfully for me for the past 20 years.

But over the past year I have been very seriously examining my life. I have found thought patterns and behaviors that have served me very poorly. Worst of all, I either did not notice them or if I did I simply believed that it was not in my power to change them. As this examination made things about myself clear to me it also made the same things about those around me very, very clear. 

When I see people that I care about being held hostage  by their own minds, it is not so easy to keep my mouth shut. I would love for everyone that I care about to learn how to stop being concerned about the ways things are and learn to control what they think about how those things impact them. 

So now and then I will cast bread upon the waters and anyone who might benefit from me doing so is free to make a great big sandwich from that bread.

So here is what I learned this morning. I slept poorly last night, very poorly--as I knew that I would. I needed to write a grant proposal and I had intended to do so before I went to bed. I did not and knew that I would have to jump on it early.

And hence the revelation. When ever I procrastinate about something important it produces a deep sense of dread. The more I procrastinate, the worse comes the dread. I have always focused on the fact that, "Hey, it has to be done, Shut up and get it done. And besides think how relieved you will be when it is completed."

The math never added up. When dread is a negative seven and relief is only a plus two. I am still at minus five after the job is done.

This morning was different. When I completed the budget for the grant I did not feel relieved. I felt proud. I thought about what an accomplishment that was. I had taken things that I don't enjoy (math and money) and did a great job of making something happen. As I was exercising I continued to think about what an accomplishment this was. I do not remember ever handling such a thing by myself. 

I mean, I really was pleased with what I had done. If my dread was a negative seven, my satisfaction was a plus fourteen. That is a big win instead of the close loss that relief  would have given me. 

And I will not forget this feeling. When I procrastinate again I will remember how good getting this done made me feel. Eventually I will begin having dread that is likely down to only a minus 2. And every success will make it easier to reduce future procrastination.

And all of this difference simply from taking a pause from being relieved and really  thinking about what an accomplishment it was. 

Do you see why it is so hard to keep from having a little talk with all the procrastinators that I care about?  

I sure would dread doing that.


Thursday, December 2, 2021

What Kind Of Place Is Mill Swamp Indian Horses?

What kind indeed? To describe it as a place where kids take riding lessons would be about as descriptive as referring to your child as a kid who lives in your house. As we climb out of the virus and continue to expand our programing we will be hosting an open house on Saturday December 4, from 2-4 at 9299 Moonlight Road, Smithfield Va 23430. Those who come out and learn about the new programs that we will begin and how we will continue the programs we currently have will understand we are so much more than a place to come and learn to ride.

Mill Swamp Indian Horses , of Gwaltney Frontier Farm, is a non-profit cultural and educational institution that provides a wide range of educational opportunities while working to preserve and promote several breeds of Heritage American Livestock, with its focus being on the Colonial Spanish Horses of the Southeast that serves the community by providing trauma informed programming both for people who have been affected by significant trauma and the professionals that work with them.

Our flagship educational program is the Homeschool Program that includes  in school students during the summer. That day of weekly programming focuses on teaching such varied topics as Colonial and Native American history, soil and water conservation, microbial pasture development, wild life habitat preservation and creation,  animal husbandry, clearing land and fence construction and repair, and a bit of horse training. During these programs we have had such special events as lard making, cinch weaving, knitting the wool from our sheep, a big display and discussion of artifacts recovered from the area ranging from from ancient Indian artifacts to coins and buttons from the 19th century. We practice and teach vermicomposting and use no herbicides or pesticides on our land. We have recently included bee hives as part of our plant growing program.

Our Heritage livestock conservation program includes Colonial Spanish Horses from several strains, Bankers from Corolla and Shackleford, Choctaws, remnants of the Grand Canyon horses, Marsh Tackys, Galiceno, and Spanish Mustang Registry horses, Spanish goats, Hog Island Sheep, Leichester sheep, Ossabaw hogs, Bourbon Red Turkey and Narragannsett turkeys, Mammoth Donkeys, Scottish Highland Cattle, and we even have a pet Kuni Kuni. 

Our horsemanship program teaches trail riding, natural horsemanship, hoof trimming, natural horse care, endurance riding,  and colt training. Our riding equines include a wonderful band of Mammoth and  Mammoth cross donkeys, a mule and a hinny. Even during the pandemic we have been able to conduct a month long series on Introduction to Natural Horsemanship and a three week session on Introduction to Donkey Training. I even went up to Pennsylvania in September and did a clinic on Natural Horsemanship and using horses horses to understand and combat the effects of trauma. Riding lessons include an introduction to collection and effective control of all parts of the horse's body. We document the number of cumulative miles ridden in our program. In 2019 we rode  (in cumulative miles) further than from Norfolk, Va to Oslo Norway.

Our music program teaching the performance of Roots and Americana music, all taught using only oral tradition includes performances on such varied instruments as banjo, guitar, mandolin, dobro, wash tub bass, fiddles, bouzouki, bodhrun, wash board, kazoo, and slide guitar. We practice weekly and as the virus breaks we are returning to the stage. On the morning of Saturday Dec 4 from 9-12 we will be performing at the Smithfield Farmers Market. Our  group, Pasture #3, is one of the largest traditional music programs for young people in the region.

For seven years, before the virus, we provided weekly programming with the horses for those in the in patient PTSD program at the Hampton Veterans Hospital. We did so for no charge and I am looking forward to being able to get that program going again. Over the years we have provided free training for law enforcement, prosecutors, probation officers, educators, counsellors, and others who can serve their students and clients better with the trauma informed communication information that they obtain from working with the horses. We have offered direct trauma programs for first responders who are dealing with the effects of the virus at no charge. We encourage those whose lives have been hampered by past trauma to participate in our programs. 

This summer and fall we offered a four session program, focused on young people, on applying the lessons of Natural Horsemanship to Life. And in November Dr. Samantha Shoemaker did a wonderful four session series on improving communication. We have begun an ongoing effort to film the different strains of Spanish horses in slow motion at all of their gaits. The final product should be of great value to those who are interested in the uniqueness of these horses. 

My top priorities for the year are to construct a storage area (library) for the tremendous amount of educational materials that we have on every topic that we teach.  We need a small settler's home and a smokehouse in order to build a living history/drama program for young people. Over the winter we need to fence in several paddocks of thicket for the use of the goats and sheep.

And we do all of this with no paid staff. Everyone who works in our program volunteers. Program fees are only $160.00 per family, per month but we have never turned anyone away for lack of ability to pay program fees.  

If you would like to see how we do things please come on out to our open house Saturday December 4 at 2:00 pm. 9299 Moonlight Road, Smithfield Va 23430


Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Great Training Success At Mill Swamp Indian Horses

Over the weekend Michelle rode her Colonial Spanish mare, Whisper, of Choctaw and Grand Canyon lineage for her first ride in the woods. Michelle and her father have done all of the training of this horse and their wonderful Corolla mare, Rosie. This came a day after Ariyanna rode Andrew's Marsh Tacky colt, Pagan, for the first time. (I have video of that great ride but I cannot get it on this page)
On day 87 of having Aristotle a wild BLM mustang with us, Curie took him on his first ride in the woods.
Tim has done a spectacular job of teaching Manny to slow down and relax with a rider.
Mandy has her 11 year old Galiceno under saddle and will be ready for the woods when hunting season is over.
Chris has been doing a great job retraining some of the older Choctaw mares to get them ready to head back into the woods.

All the while this has been going on we have been halter training yearlings, learning to trim hooves, clearing land, working on fencing and conducting an amazing number of educational programs. 

In short, we are up and running, and all of this is done with no paid staff.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The Best Thing That Our Program Has to Offer to Many People: Fear

Or perhaps to state it better, the opportunity to over come fear.  Anxiety disorders are at an all time high among young people. Avoidance behaviors are the norm for a large segment of our population.  Fear permeates every news cast, the morning's array of social media posts, and even tv commercials.

Too few people have been given the opportunity to achieve success by over coming fear and too many people have been given every opportunity to avoid the challenges that they face. We expect, actually expect, things to go our way in every case. In the winter we expect to wake up in a warm house, dress in warm clothes, go to a warm office, and unlike all of our ancestors in the past, spend nearly all of each winter  exposed only to warm temperatures. 

Summers are even worse, with air conditioning 24/7 and nearly no opportunity for our bodies to sweat. We refrain from going outside, primarily "because of the weather" , whether that weather be too hot, too cold, or too wet,  In the past 75 years we have created a culture that expects physical comfort day in, day out, year around. 

My brother Lido had cerebral palsy. He never moved with ease. He was the first person to get on most of my wild horses before we had a riding program. When he was thrown he got back on. 

He had no anxiety. He had no avoidance behaviors. He had accumulated a record of achievements that taught him that he could achieve. 

As serious as his disability was, it did not hamper him as much as anxiety disorders and depression hamper such a large proportion of teenagers today. 

Every day that people  spend at the horse lot provides opportunities to grow by doing things that they did not think they could do--riding a horse that was not the one that they felt safest on, moving herds from one pasture to another, learning to train horses, learning to trim hooves, and learning to work harder then they ever imagined that they could.

And adults have a chance to meet their fears head on too. They have a chance to learn to deal with the problem that actually worries them instead of creating distractionary problems upon which they can focus their worry. 

We work hard to understand the fears of horses. That helps us understand the impact of trauma on people and that makes it possible for us all to lead happier lives by confronting our fears

And that is the goal--not to create Spartan warriors, but to create happier, more compassionate, kinder people.  

Nothing makes us unhappier, more selfish, and more prone to hate, than fear. 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Reaching the 1000th Mile

It was not all that long ago that Curie was a novice. Now she is a first rate rider, a solid horse trainer, and a talented young farrier. Long Knife is her Corolla mare that she took the lead in training. 

In the past week she reached her 1000th mile on the trails on Long Knife. That is an extraordinary accomplishment. It really matters to the horse.

One of the most important facets of training is consistency. It can take a lot of miles before the horse fully understands its rider. It can take even more miles before a rider can understand the horse. 

She has broadened the horse's exposure with a recent trip out to a horse show in Suffolk, from whence comes this picture.

Long Knife is doing her part for the conservation and promotion of the nearly extinct horses of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Next summer she will be having a foal from Cracker jack, a beautiful Shackleford stallion. 

And a spectacular little Colonial Spanish horse that will be.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Getting Back On Track: The Worst Form Of Memory Loss

There are very few people that can fully appreciate how difficult it is to keep this program relevant and meaningful. Sometimes I come dangerously close to taking the path of least resistance. Our program would be much easier to administer if I stopped breeding endangered horses and if we reduced all of our livestock down to only keeping the horses and donkeys. 

I decided that was what I was going to do.  The idea was my own. No one had forced me into considering radical downsizing.

Doing so had strong appeal to me. yet at the same time I knew that doing so would be something that I would be deeply ashamed of...but it would be so much easier. Perhaps my life would have a bit of normalcy by scaling back.

Then I thought about what the limits of our program should be. The limits should only be two fold--my capacity to imagine and my capacity to work. 

I have reached neither limit.  Sunday Ashley came down to help me decide what the future of our program should be. She reminded me of what we do, and have done, over the years. Most of all, she reminded me who I am. 

I had forgotten that part. 

Our discussion that was intended (on my part) to consider how to roll back programming resulted (as it should have) with a decision to increase our programs over the next two years.

In addition to what we do now, we will be working towards the following:

development of an endurance riding team 
initiation of a pod cast 
renewed efforts at soil and water conservation projects
creation of paddocks for goats and sheep on the New Land
development of a drama program culminating with living history educational programs
focus on doing more offsite clinics
formalizing and renewing efforts to teach training and taming of horses
expansion of our series on using the lessons learned from natural horsemanship to become better people
finding ways to encourage program participants to learn more about human health, nutrition and exercise
getting the stage constructed for the music program
buying or building a storage shed for our vast library of books to make them accessible to program participants

The virus has restricted participation  for so long that restricted participation seemed normal. The virus will not last forever and when we step out of its shadow we will be ready to grow with the same sense of of purpose that I once had. Our volunteers continue to put extraordinary hours into making the program work and as we expand we will attract more volunteers. 

We will be bigger and we will be better.






Thursday, September 9, 2021

Playing Past One's Prime: When One is Through Talking One Should Shut Up

It has been over twenty years but I once kept lot of deer hounds. Some of you might member when George Allen left from coaching the Rams and took over with the Red Skins. He traded for banged up veterans who had once been stars, but whom he felt still had a few good games left in them.

I used a similar practice with my hounds. I raised a lot of young dogs but also took on many formerly great hounds whose age put them past their best hunts. But they were great teachers for the young hounds and often their experience allowed them to bring a deer out of a thick, tangled  swamp that the young dogs would have never found.

But even Molly, even Fox, even Cajun reached a point that they could not pull it off any more. They stopped running deer. They simply shut up.

It is not age that has brought me to that same point. It is experience. Experience has taught me what I can bring out in people and what I can't. Sometime it has lead to a very unpleasant surprise. Gordon Lightfoot really put his finger on the worst difference between winning and loosing (Sometimes I think it is a sin when I feel like I'm winnin' when I'm loosin' again.")

And with that this blog ends. it has been around for along time and it has a search button on it. So if one, for whatever reason, would want to know what I think about an issue you look back at what I once thought, because what I once thought can generally be counted on as what I still think.

It occurs to me that if I don't have anything left to say for the blog then I don't have anything left for Facebook  and will be leaving that platform. If one must contact me I can be reached by email at msindianhorses@aol.com

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Instructors: Pay Attention To Your Communication Style


Riding instructors--study your communication style intensely. Study those of other instructors. Learn the best from every other one and work hard to make yours as effective as it can be. And always remember, there are many ways of communicating that are effective. There is more than one way to do it right. Over the weekend I watched as two young adults assisted me in showing some brand new riders how to tack up. As I watched how intently the kids listened to me I realized that the message that my tone taught is "This is important.!"
As I watched Chris, using nearly the same words that I used, the message that his tone taught was "This is easy!"
Abigail, who used the same words as did Chris and me, had a tone that taught, "This is fun!". 

 Each of those tones conveyed very important messages. One of the advantages of learning in our program is that new riders learn so much from experienced riders. 

And that is not mere happenstance.  I work hard to teach our riders how to ride, train, and talk.  It is one of the most important things that kids learn in our program. 

On Saturday I am heading up to Pennsylvania to do a lengthy session on round pen work, communication, and understanding the mind of the horse. And I am very proud to know that Chris and Abigail could do the sessions without me and teach the same lessons that I will work to get across. 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Taking the Show On The Road: Our First Clinic In Pennsylvania is Just Around The Corner



I am really looking forward to this session. It is going to be great fun and we will be discussing the most important aspect of the horse/human relationship. One could have spent a lifetime watching natural horsemanship demos and still walk away from this session with an entirely new perspective

If life works out as hoped for, I would love to travel one weekend a month to do these sessions everywhere I am invited. . 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Your Granddaddy Would Have Really Enjoyed Seeing all These Kids Back Here: Saving the Family Farm

That's what my uncle said once. He was right. Granddaddy Horace would be very happy seeing what is going on on his farm, the farm that was his Granddaddy's farm, the farm that has been in my family for over 100 years. And Momma would enjoy it too. She would be very pleased to know that we have never turned any one away for inability to pay program fees. Lido would be very happy to see so many kids learning to work as hard as he did, with so many different breeds of Heritage Livestock and he would love our music program.

Across this nation  small farmers are getting ready to bring in the crops and many of them are wondering if they will be able to hold on long enough to plant and harvest another year. They can't help but wonder if all of the work is worth it.

If you fall in that category, consider this. You can fence in a few acres of your land and build a riding and horse training program that will, bring life and bring it more abundantly, to young people all over the area. If you don't have the skill and experience to teach kids and horses, you can certainly find someone who does to administer the program. 

Also consider becoming a natural horse care boarding facility. This can be done with minimum investment. Read the great book, "Pasture Paradise" and learn everything that you can about natural horse care.  Get insurance to protect you in the event of an injury. 

You can become the person that gives a lot of kids a reason to get up in the morning. You can do something that will give your life meaning and purpose. You can actually have a positive impact on the lives of people who will be born after you are gone.

And think about this--you are getting older every day. The days that are gone are beyond your influence , but you can influence the days to come. A person that runs a natural horsemanship program will never die alone. You will always have young people that care around you.

You know how good it feels to watch corn that has been stunted from dry weather take off and grow beautiful when it gets enough rain. It feels much better to watch a kid who has been stunted from living in an emotional drought take off and grow that kid gets the attention and support that the kid deserves.

And we can help. You can come out and see how we do things and you can take what we do and apply the same ideas to a profit making enterprise. Yes, if you set out to do so you can make money from this model. 

Nothing would please us more than to be able to help others develop a program, for profit or not. No, we would never think of charging a consulting fee. Want to see more about what we do, see our web site www.millswampindianhorses.com and if you want more information send me an email at msindianhorses@aol.com

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Keeping Your Horse Healthy While Protecting Your Sanity

There are very few opportunities for self analysis better than owning or working with horses. If you will pay attention to what you are doing, the horse can tell you a lot about what you are doing to yourself.

But you have to be willing to listen to the horse and you have to be willing to constantly examine yourself and ask, as Marcus Aurelius, "is this necessary?" Is what you are doing to protect your horse's health achieving that purpose or does it merely give you a little hit of dopamine from believing that you just did something "nice" for your horse?

Look closely at all of the things that you "worry" about with your horse. Unless you can demonstrate an ability to improve your horse's health through "worry" ask yourself  what good all that worry does. Responsible horse owners work hard to stay current on research that actually affects the horse's well being. Such horse owners make up a very small proportion of horse owners. Very small indeed. 

Most horse owners are happy to be able to recite rules about how old a horse should be before it takes a rider, or how much weight a horse can carry, or whether "turn out" is worth the risk of injury. One can do nothing but pity the plight of horses whose owners are perfectly happy remaining ignorant, as long as their ignorance conforms to the ignorance of all of  other proud members of the established horse world. 

Of all the people in the established horse world there are none more pitiful than the horsepochondriacs. They are obsessed with a fear of a health problem that must be determined, examined, treated, and medicated.  These treatments and medications often involve removing the horse from his band, isolating him, medicating him, keeping him from grass, and if stabled keeping him from sunlight.

Such people often view every behavioral and training problem as a medical problem. It is bizarre indeed to see so many answers on social media to those who are writing in with problems with their horses , only to be flooded with answers that first one needs to get the vet our to make sure that the horse does not have problem with ...blah ..blah ..blah

The irony could not be richer. A healthy horse remains healthy when living in his band, eating grasses, hay and forbs, taking in sunshine and most of all, being able to move. 

Does veterinary care have its place? Of course it does. We regularly have the vets out. Our horses get shots and receive very regular hoof care. But in between those visits we do not spend our time with the horses wringing our hands about what medicine, supplement, or thing that you heard about on social media we should give your horses. 

Instead we give them what they need--a forage based diet, intense physical affection, an opportunity to live in small bands with other horses, and heavy exercise. They spend no time in stables. They have positive human experiences. That means that they are exposed to people who have learned, or are learning, to understand the horse's mind. Most of all, it means that they are not exposed to human bullies or cowards. both ae devastating to the horse's ability to become secure and confident. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Communicating Confidence: Handling the Terrified Wild Horse For The First Time

This wild BLM mustang arrived at the horse lot around nine am and here he is taking a saddle about eight hours later. He has been with us for five days and loves to be handled and brushed and has had his first rider set on the saddle.

Many people would think it better to "let him get used to his surroundings" and ignore him for a significant period of time before handling him. With some horses one must do that because they are simply too dangerous to handle. But that should not be the general practice.

He arrived terrified. If I had left him alone for a week or two there would be absolutely no reason for his fear of people to reduce. In fact, he would only have had a period of extended fear. 

Instead, we nearly immediately began giving him the most important thing that one can give a horse in training--positive human experiences. The experiences must be positive from the horse's point of view.

That means that he needs to be given the kind of emotional security that he would have in a wild band with a lead horse in charge of movement, speed and direction of  band members. He also needs the warmth of physical contact that he would receive in a band of horses.

When we say that we train with 51% control and 49% affection, this  is what we mean. One cannot beat a horse into feeling secure, but one also cannot simply hug a horse into feeling secure. 

And that one word is the key to making progress with a horse --"security". As a prey animal  a horse wants nothing more than to simply be safe and secure. 

And without feeling secure there is no way a horse can ever feel confident. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Earning the Trust of a Wild BLM Mustang


One cannot teach what one does not know. One can not give away what one does not have. One who is without trust cannot teach a wild mustang to trust. And way too often one does not know what it is is that does  not know. 

For over seven years I have worked with those who are in the in patient PTSD program at our local Veterans Hospital.  The weekly programming that we did with the horses and our guests from the Veterans Hospital was deceptively simple--we brush horses and then we work them in the round pen. We explain how prey animals respond to various cues and situations and how that is precisely the same way that people who have been traumatized tend to respond. 

Participants learn self understanding, build self confidence, and work toward building trust in the animal with whom they are working. Like those who have been sufficiently traumatized, a horse seeks security as its primary emotional drive. 

And then we deal with the difficult issue of learning how to trust. 

This horse arrived at our horse lot from a BLM auction last Saturday. He was terrified and as wild as a deer. This picture was taken about thirty one hours later. Just before the picture was taken the horse stood peacefully as Curie mounted up on him. 

He had spent much of the day being patiently handled using techniques of natural horsemanship for much of the day. He is learning to trust people.

It is not an exaggeration to say that most of what I understand about myself I learned in the round pen. When one looks down at a silted in, undisturbed, mud puddle one cannot see anything that is under that silt. But when the water is whipped into a furious mix, leaves, twigs, and bark come up out of the silt and reveal themselves. For years I have looked into the silted puddle that was my core and could see nothing beneath the surface. But lately a storm has flooded that puddle and I see much that had sat silently under the mud. 

I realized that as well as I worked with terrified horses, I could do better if I could learn to trust. I came to realize that, though I defined the term very differently than do most people, I do not fully trust those of whom I care the most. I trust them to be honest with me, to care for me, to be reliable--to be everything that people normally think of as "trust worthy". 

It is just that  I do not trust them to live

Those who have been the closest to me all too often have died or moved on. On a certain level, since Lido died I have not really expected those in my life to be around over the long haul. In the big picture this chronic instability impacts most aspects of my life. In the smaller picture it radically impacts my effectiveness in training horses and teaching kids. 

Now that I I can see what is in the mud hole I am in a better position to filter out the parts of it that hurt. And that is what I shall work on doing. I expect that if I do find a solution I will find it in the round pen.

That is usually how such things work out. 


Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Here's What A Long Term Participant In our Home School Educational Program Has To Say About It

I get a lot of questions about the homeschool program so I asked one of my long time participants and helpers to write up her experiences with the home school program. She went from attending the home school program to becoming a solid rider, to becoming a very reliable horse trainer, all by the age of 14. Here is what she wrote about the program. 

 " Four years ago I came to the horse lot for the Friday program, expecting something quite boring and had no interest in horses
I quickly learned how to build a hugelkultur mound, run a horse in the round pen, put up a fence, run hot wire, shear a sheep, butcher a hog, how a worm farm made out of a hot tub works and to clear l acres of land without using heavy equipment. 

All things I thought I couldn’t do





Audrey and Matoaka, a horse born wild at Corolla that she trained. 


After a while a started riding and soon went on my first hard ride, then my first 50 mile ride and a 30 mile endurance race I doubted that I could do any of that but Friday’s taught me not to tell myself I couldn’t. 


 Audrey and some of the others  during a winter hog killing and processing of meat.



Audrey and a young Banker horse, one of the nearly extinct strains of  Colonial Spanish horses that we work to preserve and promote.

If you would like for your family to have the opportunities for growth and learning that Audrey has had send me an email at msindianhorses@aol.com. The cost of the program is $160.00 per family.

Mill Swamp Indian Horses is the program name of Gwaltney Frontier Farm. Inc, a 501 (c) 5 non-profit breed conservation program. We have no paid staff. Everything that we do gets done by volunteers.

So, while riding a horse for miles through the woods is great, I encourage anyone that gets the opportunity to drive out to the horse lot on a Friday morning to take that chance. Do everything you thought you couldn’t do and become a better rider and a better person.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

This Fall Could Have Been a Dangerous Train Wreck

'Lot of jumpiness going on--a few unusual circumstances and then BAM! my horse blew up on me. I stayed on for quite awhile. I would have been able to bring her down with a one rein stop but doing so would have put us in some heavy brush. I came off and rolled when I landed. 

I got up bloody from some scratches but no broken bones and minimal bruising. Being able to roll as I landed kept the contact injuries to a bare minimum. 

Please do not misunderstand the purpose of this post. It is not to boast. It is to show adults what is possible. Had this happened a year ago my chances of a serious injury would have been much higher. Very much higher.

But I am not the same person that I was a year ago. Ketogenic and intermittent fasting have allowed me to loose over forty pounds.  We purchased a small sauna. It cost about $2,000.00. I researched sauna use and muscular endurance for weeks before we made the purchase. We purchased a 110 gallon horse trough and use it for daily ice baths. I made that move after learning about Wym Hof's work in temperature extremes.  It has been years since I regularly rode a bicycle and I have come to love each morning's ride.

The best exercise for riders is to ride and ride, and ride. However, pounding the heavy bag with well padded gloves does great things for one's core strength. Walking while pumping heavy hand held weights does the same. Rucking (my version is to walk with a book bag filled with weight plates) is doing more for my abdominal strength than anything that I have done in years. Throwing in a bit  of fast walking caps off the rotating series of exercises that I do during the week.

Might sound like a lot but it is only about two hours a day, including the sauna and ice bath. During the 1/2 hour in the sauna one can read or get other work done.

But none of this would be possible had I not gotten a cpap machine several years ago to make it possible to sleep all night. It would not be possible had I not gone to the Good Foot Store and gotten arch supports that took the agony out of walking. 

And this will be the hardest part of people to understand. It would not have been possible had I not bumped into the serious study of Stoicism. It has given me an ability to focus on real priorities--not socially imposed priorities--real priorities that are actually life and death issues. 

Now let's cut through the subtly---what is real is that I am 61 years old, still twenty pounds over weight,  was never a great rider or great athlete (my only real athletic ability is that, like many of my family members, I have always been significantly stronger than most of my peers) By all rights I should be typing this from a hospital. Instead I am sitting here with a bit of discomfort from a bee sting but no discomfort whatsoever from the fall from my horse.

And my point is... you can make huge changes in your life that will result in huge changes in your health. I cannot lift as much as I could forty years ago but I genuinely believe that I am healthier than I was when I was in my twenties. 

Check with your doctor and get approval first then...Get a sauna. Get an ice bath. Get some tennis shoes. Get a bicycle. get some hand held weights. Eventually get you a heavy bag. 

And your life, and especially your life with horses, can radically improve 

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Learning Through The Ages: The Practice of Natural Horsemanship

In my twenties I sought information, power, and peace. 
I found information and power.

In my thirties I sought knowledge and peace.
I found knowledge.

In my forties I sought opportunities to serve and peace.
I found opportunities to serve.

In my fifties I sought opportunities to teach and peace.
I found opportunities to teach.

In my sixties I sought wisdom, good health,  and peace. 
I found wisdom, good health  and peace.

I got my first pony when I was two and he was one. The following year I rode him in the Christmas parade. Like many of us, during my adult years I was away from horses for a while but in coming back to them I found my world expanding. Over the years I have seen so many people begin to practice natural horsemanship and watch them as they expanded their musical and  artistic skills. I have seen so many young teens grow emotionally way beyond their years as they practice natural horsemanship. 

The practice of natural horsemanship  opens the door to a range of life enhancing experiences. Once  again we will offer our fall series "Introduction to Natural Horsemanship" from 4-6 pm on each Saturday in August. Come on out to Mill Swamp Indian Horses, 9299 Moonlight Road, Smithfield Va 23430 this Saturday and begin to expand your world. 

Monday, August 2, 2021

On Goals For A Perfect Colonial Spanish Horse Breeding Program

People have a lot of different ideas about how to breed the perfect horse. For my purposes I have often thought that if I could match the mind of a Corolla with the athleticism of an Arabian I would have the perfect horse. I now realize that if I could match the mind of a Corolla with the athleticism of an Arabian I would have ...an average Choctaw. 

 The various Colonial Spanish horse strains of the Southeast are known to but a few riders. These horses are nearly extinct. But the perfect family horse is to be found there.

 Bankers, Choctaws, Crackers, and Marsh Tackys have it all. A skeptic once asked me if I really thought these were Super Horses. I am as certain of it as I am that ice is cold and fire is hot. 

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Still Time to Sign Up For Special Late Summer Programs and Events

We are expanding programming as we approach the Fall. Check out what will be going on at Mill Swamp Indian Horses 9299 Moonlight Road, Smithfield, Virginia.

 Introduction To Natural Horsemanship: 
Four Sessions, From 4-6 pm, weather permitting, Aug 7, 14, 221 and 28--Come on out and learn how we gently tame and train wild horses and colts. Learn how a horse thinks and what motivates his every action. Learn how human body language can be repellant to horses and learn how to couch your communication in body language that a horse naturally understands. The cost for the entire series is only $25.00 per family. This program will not be back again until the spring. To register send email to msindianhorses@aol.com.

What Natural Horsemanship Teaches Us About Life:
Perhaps the most important program that we have ever offered. Directed towards teens and adults, the sessions focus on what we can learn from natural horsemanship to become better, happier people. Sessions cover how the lessons from the round pen can be used to reduce anxiety and combat depression and deal with trauma. There is no charge to attend. We have sessions each Friday (weather permitting) Sessions last from 6-7 pm. Don't be late. To register send an email to msindianhorses@aol.com.

Homeschool Program:
Lasting from 9-2 on Fridays, weather permitting, Focus is on Learning soil and water conservation, microbial pasture development, caring for Heritage Breed Livestock, horse training, learning to work together on projects ranging from expanding fencing to clearing land to expanding vermicomposting projects. Cost is $160.00 per month per family. However, we have never turned anyone away for inability to pay fees.

The Horse Is Out Of The Barn: 
Vicarious Trauma and PTSD discussion- free session for those that are community first response, essential workers and those who provide care to others in the community. These important sessions show how we can use horses to understand and deal with trauma. The next session is August 20, 2021 at 5:00. To register send email to msindianhorses@aol.com.

The Other Equine: Life With Donkeys: 
Three sessions Sept 11, 18, and 25 from 2-4 pm. Learn about how to understand, and train what might be the safest riding mounts that an older person could ever have. Our donkeys include a half Poitou, two Mammoth jennies, and a BLM stock standard donkey. Fee is $25.00 per family for the entire series. To register send an email to msindianhorses@aol.com

Riding Lessons:

Of course our riding lesson programs are on going. Come out and learn to ride on some of the rarest, historic American horses. Beginner classes are at 10:00 am and 1:30 pm each Saturday (weather permitting) The fee is $160.00 per family, per month. We do not turn people away for inability to pay program fees. To register for riding lessons send an email to msindianhorses@aol.com.

Mill Swamp Indian Horses is the program name of Gwaltney Frontier Farm, a 501 (c) 5 breed conservation program. No one in our program gets paid. All of the work is done by volunteers. Check out our group facebook page and our website at www.millswampindianhorses.com


Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Donkeys and The Road Less Taken

Pleasant surprises are always good and nothing has pleasantly surprised me more than the vital, and growing, role in our program that the donkeys now have. Training a donkey is different than training a horse. Pressure and release is often the key to teaching a horse because of its extreme  preference of flight over fight. Donkeys, on the other hand, kill coyotes--evidence of their willingness to prefer fight over flight under the right circumstances. To further complicate matters, donkeys have such a high tolerance for pain that it is very difficult to successfully use coercion to train donkeys. 

I find them to be smarter than horses and are often more affectionate than horses. They are strong and tend to be fast walkers. Some have trots that not only does not hurt my back, the slight twisting gait often stretches and relaxes my back. They rarely panic and bolt. They generally do not buck as often as will a horse. 

If it sounds like I am describing a wonderful mount for an older rider or a younger rider who might have some physical complications that making riding a horse risky--that is exactly what I am saying. They give back more than they ask for. They often bond even closer to people than do Choctaw horses. 

They can get over weight very easily and need lower calorie forage and exercise, and exercise, and more exercise. They need to be ridden. 

I enjoy my occasional rides on the donkeys that are at Mill Swamp. I expect that as I get older I will enjoy those rides even more. Just because you can't ride a horse does not mean that your equine riding days must come to an end. 

Building a Riding Program: Am I Asking The Right Questions?

Each important step forward should occur only after a deep and honest look to the past.

How can one who is building a riding program make sure to ask the questions that truly matter? We pay a lot of attention to how well our riders balance in the saddle. We watch how they handle the reins. We  help them choose a well fitting saddle. 

But I am afraid that we do not ask ourselves  some of the most important questions about what we teach.  Do we teach our riders enough about protections from internet predators? Do we ignore the fact that many of our students are on track to acquire type two diabetes and many may already be insulin resistant? Do we provide examples in our own lives of how to live a life of kindness, generosity, courage and resilience? Do we work hard to turn the small embers that fuel desire to learn into raging fires?

Most of all, do we teach how to use horses to become better people?

We are climbing out of the virus and we are ready to become a better program than we have ever been. Our new Friday night sessions that teach how to apply the lessons learned from practicing natural horsemanship to living an ethical life are a solid step in that regard. The sessions are directed at young people and there is no charge to attend. Each session lasts an hour. This Friday we will use the lessons learned from a a wonderful Choctaw horse, Manny, as we explore how ACE scores affect human health and happiness. 

For more information on this program contact me by email at msindianhorses@aol.com



Sunday, July 25, 2021

How We Build A Stage For Music At Mill Swamp Indian Horses

First we cut down some trees. 

 An opportunity to look back into old traditions and skills is one of the best things that we can give to young people who are in our program. This oak pole has been drying out since the fall in Jacob's Woods. It will be part of the stage that we will use when our music program is practicing each week. 

It is going to take a while to get the stage built. It involves more than a trip to Lowe's.


It takes a while to scrape the bark off of these big pine slabs. We remove the bark with shovels. 

One day Mandy and Audrey will be grown and will be driving their kids back to the horse lot so they can ride and play music. I have no doubt that they will tell the story over and over of how we built the stage that they are getting ready to play music on.

Sankofa  rebuilds traditions and builds relationships across time. How much of an impact does it have on young people? I can only measure by the powerful, yet simple, terms of a note that I received from at 13 year old participant.

"Thank you for teaching me how to work hard and how to play music."

Friday, July 23, 2021

Exciting New Program For Young People Beginning At the Horse Lot at 6:00 pm Today

Tonight (June 23) at 6:00 we will begin a brand new program for young people. For many years we have taught the importance of taking the lessons learned from natural horsemanship and applying them to our lives outside the round pen. This aspect of what we do has been taught primarily by example with occasional group discussions. 

 Tonight we will begin to teach with more focus. To put it in its simplest terms, we will learn to become better people. The weekly sessions will focus on increasing confidence, building communication skills, dealing with anxiety, becoming more generous and caring, learning to build a sense of community, and perhaps most importantly, learning to understand ourselves. Eventually we will learn to apply lessons of healthy nutrition and exercise to ourselves as we seek to do with the horses.

 Of course, there is no charge to participate in this program. I hope to see it grow into quite a large group. As we have stressed for years, we practice natural horsemanship not only to make better horses, but to make better people. Everyone in the program from age eight on into young adult is invited to join us.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The Thing That Abigail Gave To Me

On this profoundly sad day I am deeply grateful for the wonderful thing that Abigail has given to me. Taney Town is a Marsh Tacky mare with a decidedly un-Marsh Tacky temperament. She was nervous to the degree that I decided that we would have to send her away. I could not ever see how she could fit into our program. 

When I told Abigail of my decision she demonstrated  a decidedly un-Abigail temperament and asked me if I "realized how insulting" that would be to her. 

There have been several occasions in which she and I have had different ideas about how to do things and, much like with Lydia, she has nearly always been right. I relented and Abigail has spent scores of hours training the mare. 

I have been on Taney Town a time or two but have not trotted her for any length. This morning I did. Her trot fits me perfectly. We mesh now and we will soon ride as one being. 

And it is because Abigail was right to not give up on the horse. More importantly she put her time and energy into what would be a mere hope for many other young people. 

Abigail turned Taney Town into a horse that I can ride on into my old age. She will join Janie as my main saddle horses. 

(The picture above is when she was around two years old after we obtained her from the Lowther herd.)

Sunday, July 18, 2021

As Long As...

As long as I believe more than I know. 
As long as I accept more than I understand,
As long as I have more faith than I have doubt,
As long as I build a Watch Tower beside every painfully sad memorial,
As long as I know that the Word as lived is more important than the Word as read,
As long as I know that those who are gone are not truly gone,

As long as I can believe--and accept--and build --and know...
I will always know that one day I will play music with Jesse again.

And the Circle Won't Be Broken

Thursday, July 15, 2021

What Can You Expect From A Mill Swamp Off Site Clinic

What makes a Mill Swamp Indian Horses Round Pen Clinic with Steve Edwards different from any old you tube video that is within reach of the nearest lap top? Simply put, at a Mill Swamp program one can begin to learn to understand horses.

Too many clinics focus on miracle cures for behavioral problems in horses that last about as long as it takes to trailer the horse back home. The audience merely gets entertained by what seems like a series of magic tricks and is left with the hope that by mastering specific techniques a real "relationship" with a horse can be built.

A Mill Swamp Round Pen Clinic teaches how to over come the fundamental conflict between a human's desire for autonomy and a horse's desire for security. These clinics show how human experience with trauma can either help strengthen or weaken one's relationship with a horse. Participants  learn to listen with their eyes so that they hear and understand every silent utterance that the horse makes. They learn to be as aware of their surroundings as is the horse. 

They learn to begin to see the world through a horse's eyes.

For over seven years we have provided sessions for veterans in the inpatient PTSD program at our local Veterans Hospital. We have provided training to first responders, educators, prosecutors, victim advocates, and other professionals who deal with people who have experienced trauma--using the horse as a model to understand how emotional pain effects human behavior. 

And those same lessons provide the inverse message that understanding human trauma responses allows us to understand horse behavior and to train the horse in accordance with its nature, instead of in opposition to its nature. 

But no message is of value if it is not heard and understood. Steve Edwards, author of "And a Little Child Shall Lead Them: Learning from Wild Horses and Small Children", has taught natural horsemanship for twenty years. For over twenty years he has prosecuted child molestation and sexual assault crimes. This unique blend of experience has provided for unique insights into the mind of the horse and a powerful ability to articulate those insights with enthusiasm. His blend of meaningful anecdotes and sharp humor drive these insights home in a way that no digital presentation can ever do. 

At Mill Swamp Indian Horses the message is clear--"We teach natural horsemanship not just to make better horses, but to make better people."

On Saturday, September 4, from 9-2 pm, Steve will be up in Pennsylvania presenting a great session at Harmony Hollow, 132 Hollow Road, Kirkwood, PA., sponsored by Noble Hill Horse Rescue. For further information on the session please email msindianhorses@aol.com

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

"And From Dust You Shall Return."

This portion of verse 3:19 from Genesis brought me back around to what we must do with our program as we come out of the virus. The concept of sankofa, a word  from the Akan people of Ghana, teaches that wisdom requires us to reach back and bring forward the things that are at risk of being left behind.

The things at risk of being left behind are the traditions and cross cultural practices that unify us as humans.  It is teaches  kids that by learning what we have in common with our ancestors a few hundred years ago, we are learning things that we have in common with those from different races and culture today.

And it is the dust, the soil and its care and nurturance of that soil to bring forth food that was a practice of the ancestors of all of us. Sankofa will mean bringing kids together to learn about soil and water conservation, environmental protection, and wildlife habitat enhancement, animal husbandry, and sowing, and reaping and shearing sheep and using who we were to make better the people that we will become. These are the principles that must become the focus of our program. 

And yes such small steps matter. When tired, sweaty white kids and tired, sweaty black kids sit down to cool off and admire the fence that they  built together this nation becomes a better and stronger country

Becoming A More Confident Rider

The bad news is that only you can make yourself a more confident rider. The good news is that you can make yourself into a more confident rider.

The catch is that as soon as I start setting out what one needs to become a more confident rider I know that the overwhelming majority of riders reading this will stop reading by the end of the next paragraph.

For those who are confident in their ability to learn and perform all it will take to become more confident is to gain experience in the saddle. That is what we mean when we say that for most people the best way to learn to ride is to ride, and ride, and ride.

For others, even those who love horses and want to feel confident in the saddle, experience dampens, but does not extinguish, riding anxiety.

And here is the simple truth, in order to become a more confident rider such people must become more confident in all aspects of their lives. Many live with full blown anxiety disorder. For others, life  is filled with  chronic fear and stress, without showing overt signs  of what are often referred to as panic attacks.

Adverse childhood experiences (If you do not know what this term means please see https://acestoohigh.com/    It could lead to tremendous insight into one's own behavior and the behavior of loved ones) can make gaining confidence harder, but even high ACE scores do not insure a lifetime of fear and anxiety. Confidence can be gained one step at a time.

However, that first step must be followed by a second step. And a third..and eventually a journey of many miles. One must be willing to break down barriers and recognize that the wall of security that you have created by all of the "rules" that you have that define all of the things that you do not do are more of a confining cell than a protective wall. 

These rules do not show one's independence. Instead they simply codify the avoidance behaviors that give short term relief by creating a world of shrunken challenges, shrunken opportunities, and extraordinarily shrunken happiness.

In order to become a more confident rider  one must break the chains that continue to restrict life opportunities. Every time one succeeds outside of one's comfort zone that comfort zone grows in size. So the first step is to break one's self imposed rules. 

Simply put, each and every day do something that you do not "want" to do. Start with something truly simple. The instant you wake up jump out of bed and get moving. Every day eat a bit of a food that you never eat, because you have "always hated ..." You don't have to eat a case of sardines for breakfast, but you can eat one. If you have not changed your hairstyle in years--change it now. Pleasantly greet the most unpleasant person you know when you see him each day. Begin to exercise and exercise until you simply cannot do another rep..and then do that rep. Challenge your phobias. If one fears height then climb--does not matter how far one climbs as long as one climbs high enough so that it is extremely difficult to tolerate--then climb one more inch.  Allow yourself to be hungry but postpone eating for a few hours. Take very cold showers. 

Ignore personal comfort and you will find yourself much more comfortable. Recognize every success. Think it over. Understand that you did things that you did not think you could do. Understand what that means. It means that you are crawling out of that jail cell that you spent so many years building. 

If it sounds like I am suggesting that eating octopus and hog chittlins, going rock climbing and wrapping up the week by expressing sincere but unpopular suggestions at a staff meeting at work will make you a better rider....

...that is exactly what I am saying--provided that you build on those challenges, and look for opportunities to prove yourself to yourself on a daily basis.

Of course, the ultimate practice that will reduce riding anxiety is to deeply study Greco-Roman Stoicism, but I know that you would rather eat hog chittlins than do that.