Wednesday, October 27, 2021
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
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
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
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 email@example.com
Thursday, September 2, 2021
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.!"
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, August 24, 2021
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
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
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
" Four years ago I came to the horse lot for the Friday program, expecting something quite boring and had no interest in horses
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 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 email@example.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
'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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
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 email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.