Wednesday, July 28, 2021
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, July 25, 2021
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 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
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
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 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
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 email@example.com
Tuesday, July 13, 2021
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
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.
Monday, July 12, 2021
As I have aged one of the biggest changes that I saw in my health was a growing inability to tolerate heat. It was impacting the number of hours that I was spending in the saddle and it brought the amount of work that I could do outside nearly to a halt.
But all of that has changed and it changed within a week of implementing some important lifestyle changes. I began with cold showers and progressed to taking baths in ice water with large, frozen ice packs on my body.
We recently purchased a sauna and it is the best purchase that we have made in very many years. Unlike just about everything that one does to improve one's health, the results of sauna use and ice baths come nearly immediately.
The science is too detailed to explain here. Do the research. Learn what heat stress proteins can do for your health. Learn about the creation of brown fat.
While you are researching keep this point in mind. Very few animals evolved to sweat. Humans are capable of producing tremendous amounts of sweat daily. In the past 75 years air conditioning and central heat have allowed many Americans to live an entire year with out experiencing true cold or heat for any period of time.
We evolved to be mobile. Few things are more unhealthy than living a sedentary life. We evolved to sweat. I suspect that one day we will find out that a sweat free lifestyle is as unhealthy as sentencing one's body to lifetime confinement in a lounge chair.
I watched Abigail as she sat on top of Taney Town at the conclusion of a morning ride. There was a bit of time available and instead of wasting that time, she used it teach the horse. The mare did not want to put her foot on a plastic surface in front of the feed shed.
Abigail never got frustrated or angry. She simply continued to ride the horse closer and closer to the plastic, anticipated each time the horse would turn away and then brought her head back around toward the target. She maintained focus on where she wanted the horse to go.
Most importantly, she gave the horse only two options--touch the plastic now, or continue working to touch the plastic in a moment. Turning and leaving the plastic was never presented as an option for the horse.
She gave the horse a multiple choice test and "no" was not one of the choices.
When we teach that mastering natural horsemanship requires one to master the concepts behind the workings of a horse's mind instead of trying to memorize a series of techniques of training, this is what we mean.
Here is a picture from several years ago of Emily and Looking Glass. Emily was the first person to work with Legacy. In order to halter him for the first time she entered the round pen alone and continued to patiently work , applying principles of advance and retreat, until the colt stood calmly to take the halter.
She worked with him for five and a half hours to accomplish the task. Her success was a tribute to her patience, but it was even more so an example of taking "No" off of the table.
Taking "No" off of the table is one of the most important life concepts that one can learn from the round pen. When setting out to do a task such as training a horse one of the most important steps that the trainer can take is to remove "No" as an option for one's self. Determine to do the thing and then do that thing.
It is not too hot or too cold to train. It might be too hot or too cold to train for hours but the weather allows for some time with the horse. Procrastination never helped train a horse.
President Grant wrote that, like everyone else, he had certain habits and superstitions. He said that one of his peculiarities was that, as long as he could remember, when ever he set out on a trip he never allowed himself to take a step backwards from the destination that he had chosen.
Persistence breeds resilience and resilience breeds success--in the round pen and in life.
Sunday, July 11, 2021
“Black care rarely sits behind a rider whose pace is fast enough,” as he later phrased it.
I have always found that to be the soundest of advice. I viewed the hardest and longest ride as the best ride. In fact, at times, I felt it to be the only ride worth saddling up for.
But life changes and we change with it--at times we even change for the better. I am learning things in my sixties that I wish I could have understood in my forties. One of the things that I am learning is that riding to things can be as important as riding from things.
After Abigail finished getting Sparrow Hawk safe enough for Terry to ride she put in many hours getting Taney Town safe for me to ride. I plan to put the next two months into getting the Marsh Tacky mare used to me.
I am in better shape than I have been in twenty years. I will keep getting stronger on the ground and in the saddle. I am not yet who I will be and I am not who I was. Each morning it seems that I am introduced to a newer person wearing my shoes and lately every time I mount up a newer person sits on that saddle.
Friday, July 9, 2021
That will not be popular at first. People prefer cute pictures of kittens to meaningful works of art. Working one's way out of a shallow, vacuous existence into a life of meaning and service is simply not attractive to most people.
Perhaps nothing demonstrates this better than the popularity of various topics on this blog. The most significant posts on the most intense topics generally reach a much smaller audience than do those which are the moral equivalent of pictures of cute kittens.
But I despise selfishness. I did not allow my children to use the vilest of four letter words--"mine." Nothing would cause me more shame than to have something of value that I refused to share.
And I will not do so. It would be profoundly selfish to have reached the age that I have and to refrain from sharing that which I have learned.
The round pen is not a destination. It is a door that leads to a long hall that has many beautiful rooms attached to it. There might be a cute kitten or two in some of these rooms, and that is all right.
From now on this blog will work to open new doors, even those from which the sound of growling greets the turn of the knob.
Saturday, June 26, 2021
From Lyme's, to Spotted Fever, to conditions that make the consumption of red meat potentially fatal-- there are few creatures out on the trails more dangerous than ticks. I try to remember to apply a light touch of Deep Woods Off to my pants before going into the woods. I check myself for ticks as soon as I get home from being in the woods.
I often find a tick or two that has seized onto my skin and began to draw out my blood. To date I have been able to remove the ticks before I picked up any of the more serous tick related diseases.
But up until recently I have been greatly vexed by the rebound from the tick's bite, the swelling and itching that comes a day later and is especially annoying when ever sweat hits the bite area. It irritates me. It makes me mad. It makes me resent the bite much more than when the bite actually occurred.
It is this reaction, much as if the tick had bitten me all over again, that was the worst part of being bitten by a tick.
And I finally came to understand the obvious---The tick bit me once and I chose to be "re-bitten." I chose to allow my reaction to the event to be much more painful than the event. I chose to react, resent and re-live the bite.
And by doing so I gave a tick, that was barely large enough for my eye to see power over me.
I don't make that foolish decision anymore. The tick bites me. I remove it. I medicate the wound and I get on with life. I did not use to be that way. I am finally applying what I have learned in natural horsemanship to my sanity.
The round pen is not just for the horse. It should be the class room for the mind and the church pew for the soul of those who work hard to get the human benefits out of natural horsemanship.
The round pen is a place for reflection and it is a place to sort out reality from appearances. If a tick bites you remove it and treat the wound--and move on. If a fool insults you, recognize that you have no control over the fool. If you cannot control your reaction to the fool then you merely join him in his foolishness.
The only thing more foolish than trying to control the behavior of others is to fail to control the behavior of oneself. One decides how to react to the world.
Today I will go out into a world of ignorance and pettiness and the vast majority of people with whom I will interact will be self centered and selfish. That is the nature of human interaction.
But I will decide how I will act and how I will respond to this unwholesome environment. And I will not delegate to others the right to decide my happiness for the day. I will not allow the tick to continue to bite me.
What I have learned from the round pen has made it possible for me to start off the day reviewing Seneca, Epictetus, Aurelius, The Letter Of James and Ecclesiastes. It has made it possible for me to experience the physical peace that one feels after taking the hottest shower possible, followed by the coldest shower possible and concluded with fifteen minutes in a bath tub of ice, cold water, and large frozen ice packs.
What I have learned from the round pen has allowed me to understand that sugar and simple carbohydrates are as poisonous to my body as they are to a horses' and even more importantly, that they wreck my composure every bit as much as they wreck the composure of a horse.
I can take steps that will reduce the number of ticks that bite me the first time, but I am in absolute control of preventing the second bite, the reaction to adversity that is so often worse than the adversity itself.
Natural horsemanship makes better horses, but it makes much better people.
Wednesday, June 16, 2021
Eventually I did have security remove him. Within the hour he killed himself.
Humans are fragile, often much more fragile than they appear on the surface. Every human interaction is fraught with the possibility, however slim, that one sentence or even one word can cause unanticipated suffering.
The serious practice of natural horsemanship causes one to be aware of the horse's emotions at every moment of the interaction. It requires the most difficult of emotional leaps--requiring one to empathize with a creature as different from a human as one could possibly be, without projecting human emotions unto the animal.
The serious practice of natural horsemanship causes one to be aware of every threat the the health and safety not only to one's self, but also to the horse. The serious practice of natural horsemanship often requires one to place the best interest of the horse above one's personal wishes. The serious practice of natural horsemanship requires one to control oneself before one can seek to control a horse.
Most importantly, the serious practice of natural horsemanship teaches that one only has total control over oneself and only has limited ability to effect the behavior of others. This is among the most important lessons from the round pen.
Monday, June 14, 2021
If you really want to be able to safely control your horse it is one thing that you must first master. It is your emotion---- your fear, your anger, and for many people it is your frustration. One who is not in control of oneself will never be in consistent control of a horse.
An angry, terrified, frustrated student cannot learn effectively. When in the presence of an angry, terrified, frustrated teacher that student cannot learn at all.
The rider who has not done the hard work to take control of themselves is a danger to himself and others astride a horse. One who cannot control a three ounce tongue cannot control an eight hundred pound horse.
Of course, it is entirely appropriate to seek counselling to learn how to stop giving in to every negative thought that crosses one's mind. There should never be any stigma against doing so. But one should take advantage of every resource available.
When he was only ten years old Harry Truman came to the realization that since humans had been around so long it was pretty much impossible for a person to face a problem that had never been encountered by a person before. He decided to learn everything that he could from history so that he would be prepared to face the problems that he would encounter as he grew older.
That was a wise approach.
The wisdom of the past can be of tremendous service to us today. If you cannot control your emotions you might very well find good instruction on doing so in the works of Seneca and Marcus Aurelius.
In terms of human experience and struggles the writer of Ecclesiastes had it right,
" What has been will be again,what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun."
Saturday, June 12, 2021
At age forty my memory was sharp and my mind was quick. I could routinely watch an episode of Jeopardy and get every question correct. Now I do not have a chance at any question that involves popular culture. (And even the questions that I do know I find that I can't answer as fast as the contestants).
I do not know as much as I once did, but I understand so much more than I would have ever thought possible. I have recently begun to absorb the teaching of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. This great Stoic philosopher has more to say to me about life in the 21st century than any modern thinker that I can find.
But when I was forty I would not have thought it so. I would have grown bored with his insights and would have quickly set his works aside. It is important to understand that the change is not merely something that comes with age. Were that true the world have fewer old fools.
No, two decades of practicing natural horsemanship is the key to this transformation. Intense practice of natural horsemanship has both a direct and an indirect impact on one's ability to learn and practice wisdom. It gives one an accurate perception of one's skills and talents and replaces the loud noise of society's definitions of oneself. It clears the mind to leave more room to notice everything that is going on around us. It increases patience. It teaches us to reject conformity and adherence to a set of rules and definitions that are imposed by the rest of the world and to find truth on our own.
The dedicated practice of natural horsemanship can be likened to to a prebiotic. It creates a mental, emotional, and spiritual environment that allows the probiotic of wisdom to flourish.
As we have taught for nearly two decades, we practice natural horsemanship not because it makes better horses, but because it makes better people.
Friday, June 4, 2021
This summer program participants will be allowed to compete for the opportunity to go on a off site trail ride with only a handful of experienced riders. It will be a very special ride. the kids will think that the ride is the reward, but the actual reward is the introduction to a healthy lifestyle that they can carry on throughout their lives. The rules are simple, from the first of June until the last day of August those who choose to be in the program will have to keep their own records and the high point competitors in various age divisions will get to go on the special fall trail rides.
Scoring is simple: twenty minutes very brisk walking with a weight in each hand, curling and pumping vigorously 1 point per day (if the session is completed before 7:00 am the participant gets 1.5 points per day) Posting on an inflatable exercise ball, twenty seconds on, ten seconds off, for four minutes three times per week 5 points--any thing less than three times per week 0 points Completion of a 20 mile or more ride; 10 points for each ride
Read " Hope Rising"
A practioner of natural horsemanship will find this program invigorating and rewarding. One trapped in the box that passes for education in the established horse world will never understand what this has to do with riding.
Sunday, May 23, 2021
The lack of genetic diversity among the Corollas is causing genetic collapse among some of these horses. I have some Corolla mares that cannot produce a foal when bred to another Corolla. There are four strains of matrilineal DNA found in Shackleford and only one among the Corollas. The Corollas have among the smallest number of alleles found in any distinct genetic grouping of horses.
After World War I over six thousand wild Banker horses roamed the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Today there is a herd in Shackleford that is legally protected and a herd at Corolla that teeters on the brink of extinction as the land upon which they live is rapidly consumed by vacation homes.
These horses have the demeanor, smoothness of gait, and spectacular endurance that makes them the perfect family horse. They have been here since the 16th Century. We do not have the right to allow them to become extinct during our generation.
Saturday, May 15, 2021
She got up, retrieved her boot, and came over for me to put her back in the saddle. She never paused in expecting to remount. She never balked at the idea of getting back on. She never asked if she could just walk home.
I asked her why was she did not let the fear keep her on the ground.
"Because I am you Granddaddy," was her entire explanation of her thought process. Now and then kids listen to what you say but they always watch what you do.
And they must be able to count on you to do the things that you say your are going to do. Little things like keeping your commitments to do special things like go to a movie or a park and big things like saying that no matter what happens they can always count on you to listen to any problem that they are having.
When kids are taught that they cannot count on the adults in their lives to follow through on plans and committments they grow up to think that it is ok to fail to keep committments and even worse that the committments of others can never be relied on. This creates not merely chronic instability, but perpetual, unyielding instability.
They come to both not trust anyone to follow through on committments, but also that they must pretend to believe those who make committments, and (in order to keep peace in the family) to refrain from complaining or even pointing out that someone that they love has let them down again.
They grow up to expect and accept claims that, "I will never hit you again....I will never beat our kids like this again...I will never use meth again...I am going to change this time."
A child who is raised in such an environment becomes an adult who is trapped in that environment. A child who is raised to both keep their committments and to expect others to do so will not fall into that trap.
A while ago I told a rider that when a particular colt was born she could name it. We later had a change in horse naming policy and it applied to all of the colts born that year....except the one that I had previously told the rider that she could name. It was a very little thing to me. It was of more significance to the young person. It is very important to me that she understand that she has a right to expect people to keep up their committments.
Which brings us to the point of why I must ride 100 miles in a day at some point over the next few weeks. It has been seven years since I have ridden over 100 miles in a day and initially I decided to do so for my own benefit--to set a goal and achieve it regardless of my age. And then I ran into some heavy obstacles. Because of limited hay in the area we had to reduce hay consumption and replace those lost calories with feed. Feeding the horses horse feed while they are pastured together in very large paddocks can be dangerous. They often kick at each other and run each other away from the feed as it is being put out. I am not comfortable having young people handle that task. The time that I would have been conditioning myself and my horses was limited by the fact that feeding the horses was taking up nearly 1/2 an hour of my time before I had to head out into the office.
But there was a much more serious problem that came up. I have had chronic, off and on pain on my left shoulder caused by tendonitis, bursitis, and/or arthritis for decades. Over the fall it started to make it so that I could not exert my shoulder. The pain, upon exertion of that shoulder, grew to be the worst pain that I have ever had. I have been working with a doctor, physical therapist and have exercised the shoulder hard for about six months. I can use my arm well enough to stop a horse with the left rein. I have not fallen from a horse in about 50 days. My last fall was one of the easiest falls that I have ever had. I gently landed hands first and my should flexed to support me.
The pain nearly caused me to pass out. I became very nauseous and I have never had such difficulty remounting. Turkey season, a super heavy case load at the office and the slowly healing shoulder caused me to postpone the ride from March to early June. I will make some changes in my plan to make it safer. I will be accompanied on most of the 20 miles circuits through the woods with an experienced rider, in the event that I fall and cannot remount by myself. I have lost forty pounds since Labor Day so when I hit the ground I will not be doing so with as much force as I would have at 232 pounds.
A lot of the older teens and none of the adults understand why I have to make this ride. It is not a matter of showing how tough I am. I am not looking forward to riding 100 miles in a day but I must admit that I am looking forward to having ridden 100 miles in a day once again.
This ride matters so that my young riders will understand that when one makes a commitment one must follow through, and of even more importance, it is a step toward them understanding that they have an absolute right to expect people in their lives to do what they say they are going to do.
I don't want any of my riders growing up to pretend that they believe that this time, finally, he is going to stop getting high and stealing from the family and beating the kids.
And I want all of my riders to know that if they grow up and ever say that they are going to put down a bottle and leave it down that they will have absolutely no choice but to do so.
Thursday, May 13, 2021
Our teaching model has always been driven by teaching skills and confidence. I am learning that confidence is a component of hopefulness but that the two are not synonymous.
This is not just some word play game. I am learning about the science of hope and how it can be effectively taught. So far it seems deceptively simple.
I am currently reading Hope Rising, by Casey Gwinn and Chan Hellman. I learned of this field of study when, of all places, I was taking an intense study of the prosecution of strangulation cases. I am very hopeful that it will help us teach a more effective road to riding/living.
Saturday, May 8, 2021
And there was not a single sea gull devouring the worms in the broken soil. Seagulls use to flock by the hundreds to eat the bugs and worms that the plows and cultivators would deliver to the surface. Not now. The feast is gone.
Modern fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides have turned living soil into sterile death beds. With an altered and nearly non existent subsoil biome the only way that we can grow crops on such land is to force feed more poison into the soil. Farmland no longer consists of soil in much of our nation. Farmland is merely an enormous pot that holds the seed and poisons that must be replaced annually if the seed is to grow.
And then on the way back from the ride an even more chilling sight struck me. First I noticed that the cotton stalks had not rotted although we had had one of the wettest and warmest winters of my life. As we went by a cornfield I saw that the lower ten inches of each dead cornstalk was still standing.
Then I looked between the corn rows. Much of the remainder of the stalks were simply laying there. They had actually lay there, in contact with the soil, since last fall yet they had not decomposed and returned their nutrients to the soil.
The soil was so poisoned that decompositional microbes did not exist in sufficient numbers to rot the fibrous, pithy corn stalks.
We use no poisons on our land. The picture above is of land that we slowly transformed into silvo pasture from mixed pine and hardwood growth. We did it by hand and much of the work was accomplished by using multispecies grazing to strengthen the soil. We practice and teach soil and water conservation, microbial pasture development, and wild life habitat production. I have been delighted (and surprised) at how much young children love to learn about the importance of a diverse and healthy biome beneath the soil if we are to produce healthy life above it.
Our program is multifaceted from music, to horse training, to riding, to heritage breed livestock preservation, to alleviating the effects of trauma--but teaching kids that poisoning the earth upon which they walk is a bad thing to do might be the most important aspect of what we do.
If you want your child to be a part of our program send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, May 4, 2021
Yes, each of those chances to succeed is also a chance to fail. That is what makes them so important.
Success in the face of failure is an achievement. The alternative is to allow the child to forfeit, to loose the chance of achieving because there is a risk that the child might fail. Barring physical or sexual abuse, I do not know of anything that one could do to a child that will insure a life of unhappiness more than encouraging the child to go with the instinct to give up on the chance of achievement. If one wants to insure that an anxiety disorder sets in deeply in the mind of a young person, all one must do is to encourage fear and passivity in the face of a challenge.
Suppose you were only nine years old. Suppose that you had been riding for a very short time. Suppose that you had been learning fast and were invited to join in on a ride with more advanced riders. Suppose that you ride over fifteen miles on your first advanced ride. Suppose that you were joined on that ride by your Grandfather, who himself had limited time in the saddle. Suppose that you rode your mustang though deep mud, briers, standing water, and rugged terrain. Suppose that you were surrounded by people encouraging you to ride on.
There she is in the picture above . She earned the achievement of completing that ride. She was encouraged every step of the way by a supportive team of riders who understood the import of this ride.
The teenagers who do not apply for a scholarship because they "probably would not get it anyway" become the adults who do not seek a promotion at work because the "they probably have someone else in mind for the promotion anyway". And later in life, when the doctor tells them that the "test came back badly but that with surgery and treatment there is an 80% chance of full recovery" only hears that regardless of what is done there is a 2 in 10 chance of death.
And it all goes back to never being encouraged to take on opportunities to achieve. Teach your child to learn what the child can do. Don't teach your child to believe that the child can do nothing.
There have been many pleasant surprises in the years spent developing our program. We can offer things that I never planned for. One of the most important things that we offer for young children is something that I did not anticipate. We give young kids a chance to be around first rate role models and mentors and Abigail is one of the best examples that any kid could find to look up to.
Saturday, May 1, 2021
If in twenty years there are hundreds of programs across the nation that do what we do, then, and only then, will we have built a successful program. This is not brain surgery. What we do can, and should, be duplicated in every corner of the country. We are always willing to work hard with fledgling programs and assist them at no charge.
There is one simple catch to all of this--in order to build a program like ours one must first know what is possible. That is where this blog and our group facebook page come into play. Following our program on either or both allows the reader to see what is possible.
So use every tool that you have to get this blog and our social media before the eyes of the most people possible. When one considers how much work goes into what we do, solely by volunteers, with no paid staff at all--it is not much to ask that everyone do their part simply by pressing a share button.
Friday, April 30, 2021
We are a multi faceted cultural and educational non-profit organization. We have no paid employees. Everything that we do is done with volunteer hands. We now have a wonderful half mile drive back to the tack shed that will do more to make our program work than anything since the development and implementation of our deep well and water system.
My mind is often drawn towards major infrastructure improvements. And for everything there is a season. We must continue the progress on converting Jacob's Woods, a 15 acre mixed forest woodlot, into productive silvo pasture. We must construct the stage for our music program and we must continue to enhance the shelter for the Veteran's Programs. I wanted to rebuild our Settlers Farm and it was one of my top priorities for the summer.
But that priority has changed. Take a look at the picture above. That is Bonnie Gruenberg, who wrote the greatest work that will ever be written about the wild horses of the east coast, "Wild Horse Dilemma" standing with two beautiful Banker yearlings that we bred. We will soon be receiving an influx of pure Banker horses and half Corolla horses that we will train. The pure Bankers will be a center piece of our breed conservation program for years to come. The half Bankers will become part of our riding program.
I did not anticipate this influx of horses. It came as quite a surprise. I was concerned that their training would disrupt my priorities. Over the past week I remembered that I am a grown up and I do not have to live my life according to the priorities of others and I reminded myself that resilience depends on flexibility. Our program has achieved what it has because we have been flexible and have made adjustments as needed.
The best summer that our program ever had involved the training of many colts and a young donkey. If memory serves we trained six horses and a donkey to the degree that each could be ridden in the woods with my oldest training assistant being fourteen years old. it was the work of a handful of young girls and me. We not only trained those animals we did so without having a single one of them buck, even once.
This summer is going to be special. We are returning to our roots of teaching and practicing natural horsemanship. there has never been a better time to become part of our program. Program fees are only $160.00 per month per family. If you want to become part of this amazing equine experience send an email to me at email@example.com and get registered right away.
Saturday, April 24, 2021
Everyone time one goes to make significant improvements in one's health one will quickly hear from nay sayers who will tell you that it will not work, that it is unhealthy, that it is a gimmick, etc. Forget those people. Some are jealous, most are ignorant, and all of them are stumbling blocks. Research it hard--talk to your doctor, and unless there is a great health reason not to do so--go for it--it is one of the best things that you can do for your horse--not because he will be carrying less weight, but because you will be putting many more miles on him that you ever could in your present condition.
Thursday, April 15, 2021
To my surprise I don't see that much difference in how the horses carry me now compared to how they carried me forty pounds ago. When I set my horses in for a long trot of several miles I let them pick their speed. I measure that speed with my gps watch. Each of my main horses only goes at a self selected speed that is slightly above the speed that they used to carry me.
However, riding is much easier for me now. I have much more riding endurance. I suspect that when we get up around miles 25 and more I am easier for the horse to carry, not merely because I am lighter, but because a conditioned rider is much easier for the horse to balance.
Monday, April 12, 2021
Sunday, April 11, 2021
Holland was born wild on the southern Outer Banks of North Carolina. He is one of the greatest horses that I will ever ride. He goes through whatever I ask him to, whenever I ask him to, in whatever weather I ask him to, and for as many miles as I ask him to.
And to my eye calling him unattractive would be an extreme compliment. His feet appear pretty. That is about it for my assessment of his appearance. Many people cannot understand how I can admire a horse so much, while recognizing him to be ugly.
The weakness and shallowness in our culture jumps to the forefront when shocked people exclaim, " How can you say that he is ugly? He is a great horse."
Think about the implications of that knee jerk reaction. It says everything about what we value as a culture. It glorifies appearance over reality.
For the overwhelming majority of people, and for nearly all of the established horse world, it is appearance that matters most. Think how often one hears, "That is a fine looking horse", or "That horse looks beautiful."
Our obsession with appearance creates a culture in which reality does not matter. When reality does not matter, truth does not matter.
This toxic perversion of the concept of beauty saps our culture of virtue while at the same time directly harming individuals, particularely adolescents who come to believe that society's approval of their appearance is the measuring rod for their worth. Physical anthropologists tend to agree that certain concepts of beauty are cross cultural and that we are hardwired to be attracted to those with physical traits that that seem to be associated with strong immune systems and a tendency toward passing on healthy genetics.
In short, what we came biologically to define as appearing strong and vital is, in reality, an indication of strength and vitality. Instead of teaching practices that cause young people to actually become stronger, healthier and more vital, we live in a world that only insists that they take steps to appear that way.
We do not teach young people to seek the extraordinary, life improving benefits of exercise and healthy consumption of food, but we do send them off into to life with a fierce drive to find the ultimate life improving device--jeans that do not make their butts look fat.
Like the slaves chained in the cave of Plato's great parable, most people only see how things appear with no understanding, and no drive to understand, the realty of how things are.
When we have guests visit this time of the year their utterances generally announce loudly and very clearly if they remain in the Cave or if they can perceive reality . There is a world of difference between those who look at the variety of livestock and natural life around them and enthusiastically exclaim, "This place looks beautiful!", and the more thoughtful minority that look upon the same sights and exclaim, "This place is beautiful!".
Friday, April 9, 2021
Like humans, most modern horses are fed perhaps the most unnatural of caloric sources, sugar. (This is a slow poison, plainly and simply and anyone who cannot understand that just as well stop reading right now.) I am keeping my eyes open to another possiblity right now--that it might not only matter what they eat, but when they eat.
I have always adhered to the strong belief that due to the horse's small stomach a horse is best served when provided a free choice source of fiberous nutrition around the clock. I believed that doing so mimics the horses' natural dietary situation.
But is that true?
Unless the supply of grass is infinite, a wild band will consume calories until the grasses are reduced. They might be run off from the lush grass by a more aggressive band. Dry weather will reduce the caloric and nutritional value of the grass. Spring and fall grass will likely be higher in carbohydrates than midsummer forage. Winter forage will have fewer calories.
In short, there are constant changes in caloric content in the forage of most wild bands. Yet the wild herd at Corolla maintains its weight even when eating the bleak forage of an Outer Banks winter. I had always attributed that to a low parasite load becuase some much of the forage consumed by the wild herd grows well above the ground and consumption is of forage that is at a distance from the parsite eggs left in the manure at ground level.
Now I am considering another possiblity.
A quick note--Of course I am totally opposed to the intellectual weakness that underlies the projection of human feelings, desires, and health needs onto horses. For that reason I am not ready to endorse the hypothosis set out below yet. A further note, I have recently put contless hours into studying the efeects of what is popularely called "intermittent fasting" on humans. I have been following this health regimen for about six weeks and the positive impact that it is having on my physical and mental health has shocked me. I have never bumped into such a positive set of health changes. But that does not mean that I think that everyone should immediately begin to use that model to care for horses. I am not remotely suggesting that. I am suggesting that it might more accurelty mimic nutritional life in the wild than we might expect.)
But here is the caloric kicker that really has my curiosity up. Our horses consume an average of 12,000 pounds of hay per week in the winter months. Our hay supplier has run into a shortage and to extend the hay into the spring we began putting out about half as much hay as we normally do. In addition to the hay we are providing all of the horses with a moderate amount of 12% protein feed with minimal sugar in its make up. The horses are given this feed every day.
Hay arrives on Tuesday and the round bales are placed in the different paddocks. They hay has been generally eaten up by Sunday. Tuesday through Saturday the horses recieve many more calories than they were used to becuase they have all of the hay that they can eat in addition to the added feed. They also eat the most nutitious, least weathered hay first. Sunday and Monday they recieve fewer calories than they were used to because they recieve only the feed.
The result has greatly surprised me. All of the horse's but three have shown an increase in muscle mass with out appearing to have increased fat levels significantly. The horses have not shown the negative psycological effects of eating commercial feed that one normally finds in horses who are forced to survive in a world of stables, sugar, and shoes.
Could the change merely be the result of a net increase in protein consumption as compared to past winters? I think that is most likely. I would not suggest trying this feeding pattern on horses who live in stables, without the solace of herd members, and without freedom to move around in paddocks large enough to accomadate them. Doing so would surely result in ulcers and increased develpment of sterotypical behaviors.
But I think that maybe, just maybe, that roller coastering caloric intake, while maintaining a constant supply of salt, might be the healthiest way to take a horse though the winter.
Sunday, April 4, 2021
These pictures make it clear that time marches on. I expect that I will march on for perhaps another decade or two, maybe more, maybe less. In any event, when the marching stops I will know that we have built a program that saves horses and people. I doubt that enough other people will have seen first hand what can be done with an all volunteer staff who come together to simply make things better.
But it struck me that the recipe for our program will always be around in this blog. One can search key terms and see what has been done and what is possible.
Thursday, March 25, 2021
Which brings us to my upcoming 100 mile in a day ride.
Seven years ago Terry and I rode 109 miles in seventeen hours. I am now sixty one. My health slipped during the pandemic. For the first time my semi annual checkup produced bad numbers in my blood work. As I have always done when I have needed to bolster my health, whether physical or emotional, I planned to set a difficult goal, work hard for it, achieve the goal, and then put one more success down in the books. By mid December I was getting in fairly good shape from a steady exercise regimen. I was looking forward to the end of deer season so I could condition my body and my horses to the degree that I could push myself through a 100 mile in a day ride.
Then the complications started. We had to stretch our hay by adding commercial livestock feed for all of our horses every day. I had some great help, but for most of the mornings I have spent time that I would have spent in the saddle feeding horses. Then came the biggest problem.
My left should has had flair ups of what might be bursitis, or tendonitis, the effects of arthritis, or maybe some damage to the joint itself. In years past I got a shot in my arm and it became functional again. I am in physical therapy and the pain is reducing and I can get some use out of the joint without it causing pain. It is getting better but it is not good.
As I have began to get serious about doing the 100 mile ride I chose a date about six weeks after my original date of late March. I have dropped at least 25 pounds and am getting the rest of my body in tolerable shape. Very well intentioned people, who have only my best interest at heart, have urged me to change it into a 100 mile in three days ride, or to postpone it until fall.
I can't allow myself to give serious consideration to either idea. I teach kids about riding, music, soil and water conservation, heritage breed livestock preservation, natural horsemanship, wild life habitat development, history, and microbial pasture development. But what really matters is that I teach kids to do things that they do not think can possibly be done. I teach kids to exceed everyone's, including their own, expectations.
Were I to make adjustments to the ride to accommodate my shoulder, my age, or my weight, it would not matter how eloquently I could urge them to take on the challenges that life throws them. They would have no choice but to look at me and know that I would have no place "In the Arena" that Theodore Roosevelt spoke so eloquently of.
Finishing the ride will not be a "manly" thing to do.
It is particularly disappointing that some might consider this to be a "macho" act of an old man trying to prove that he is still a man. The four virtues have no gender. Resilience is not merely a masculine affectation, it is, in fact, the most important of the virtues because resilience makes it possible for one to get up every morning, day in and day out, and do that which is right. .
If I begin the ride and cannot finish, the kids will know that I tried. If I begin the ride and injure myself, the kids will know that I tried. If the weather changes and a driving rain makes it impossible, the kids will know that I will try on another day--very soon.
But if I don't try, because my shoulder hurts, or I really did not have time to get in hard riding shape or whatever excuse one could come up with, the kids will know that I did not try. And some of them who face what might seem to be insurmountable problems will remember that I did not try. And some of them who have been taught by life that they just are not quite good enough will know that I did not try.
I really appreciate the concern expressed by those urging me to postpone or modify the ride. I spend a lot of my time telling kids to "try." That time will be wasted if I do not also show them how to try.