Sunday, January 31, 2021

What It Takes To Keep Our Program Growing

Mill Swamp Indian Horses is a program of Gwaltney Frontier Farm a non profit breed conservation program. We have no paid staff and everything that we do is done by volunteers. 

 In fact, we do so much that we document it so that others can understand what is possible. We record the number of miles each rider rides in a lesson and record the cumulative figures. In 2019 we rode further than from Norfolk to Oslo, Norway. Let that sink in for a moment. Here is what goes in in our program-- Gwaltney Frontier Farm Educational Foundation, Inc is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit that supports educational programs at Mill Swam Indian Horses, the program name of Gwaltney Frontier Farm. As is the rest of the nation, we are in a holding pattern for many of our programs and are looking forward to being able to get fully back into gear soon. Below I will set out a list of some of the services that have been provided until the virus suspended things and that will be resumed the moment that it is safe and legal to do so. We work to preserve and promote nearly extinct strains of historic heritage livestock, including Colonial Spanish Horses, particularly those whose lineage goes back to the Outer banks of North Carolina, the area around the Grand Canyon, Choctaw horses whose ancestors carried Native Americans on the Trail of Tears into what is now Oklahoma, Galicenos and Marsh Tackys, the horse of Colonial South Carolina. We also feature rare strains of Spanish goats and early Colonial Sheep and hogs and even raise Scottish Highland Cattle. 

We have recently begun to feature Mammoth donkeys of the type that George Washington used to develop larger, stronger mules. We teach children and adults to humanely gentle and train the horses to saddle and we teach riding lessons. We have never turned anyone away for inability to pay program fees. It is important to keep in mind that we have no paid staff. Everything that is done is done by volunteers. The program is on nearly sixty acres of land that the program uses at no charge. We hope to  return to having our Friday program in which children are taught soil and water conservation, microbial farming, pasture development, Natural Horsemanship, livestock care and handling, Colonial gardening techniques, composting and vermiculture. Perhaps most importantly, the kids learn to work on the farm and use problem solving skills and team work to take on very large projects, e.g. clearing brush and wood land for pasture conversion and fencing that land in for efficient, environmentally sound use. 

We have a program fee, but no family is ever turned away for inability to pay the fee. In order to make it easier for entire families to participate in our programs, those for which a fee is charged are charged on a per family basis. This makes it possible for large families to participate and encourages parents to participate right along with the children. Our educational program includes a free Old Time, folk, blues, gospel and American music lesson program. At no additional charge program participants who wish to do so gather weekly to learn to play and perform on stage. A few adults join in with up to a dozen or more kids and play such instruments as banjos, fiddles, mandolins, dulcimers, harmonicas, wash tub bass, dobro, tenor banjo, tenor guitar, bouzouki, kazoo, autoharp, and even a wash board. The kids have played many professional engagements. All of the performance payments are donated back to the program.

 Perhaps the most important aspect of what we do involves healing and helping people who have experienced extreme trauma in their lives. For over seven years, until the virus outbreak, we provided weekly programming to those who are in the in-patient PTSD program at the Hampton Veterans Hospital. We have never charged for this service. We provided monthly programming to Mid-Atlantic Teen Challenge, a substance abuse treatment facility at no charge. Although we are not a therapeutic riding facility, many people who suffered significant abuse as children or adults benefit tremendously from interaction with our horses. 

 We have provided, and look forward to providing more sessions to first responders, medical professionals, and other professions both in using techniques of natural horsemanship to more effectively communicate with traumatized people and to use the horses to deal with the trauma that they experience on the job. That is what has been going on at the horse lot for many years and I hope that we will be jumping back in with both feet soon. If you would like to be part of our program you may email me at Fess for riding lessons are $160.00 per family per month. 

And this is expensive. We seek grants for big ticket items like repairing the path to drive to the tack shed, construction of our artesian well water system, construction of the shaded area for our Veterans Programs, and posts for conversion of woodlots into silvopasture.

Last month was our most expensive month ever. Hay bills, feed bills, and veterinary bills exceeded $10,000.00 for the month. These are items not covered by grants. the amount of volunteer work that goes into our infrastructure is inspiring to see. Over the past several months construction of  a riding arena, a shelter for the Veterans program, an over haul of the path (still on going and soon to be completed) and land clearing for acres of new pasture, development of a training paddock on the New land have put us in a great position to explode in programming when the virus breaks.

Those kinds of volunteer hours are easy to see. Countless other hours go into daily feeding, computer work and on line sales, maintaining our riding log records and volunteer hours records, keeping registrations for horses current, program development, riding and music instruction, tack care and replacement, weekly hauling of trash to the dumpsters, purchase of feed, helping put out and roll out hay every single week, scheduling of programming, paying taxes and keeping all of our bills paid on time, sowing pastures, mowing pastures,  and a myriad of other contributions of time, work, and expertise. 

And it is worth it.

Horses, Sourwood and All Of The Things that We Do Not See

The horse notices everything and understands nearly nothing. The human notices nearly nothing and understands somethings. I will soon be sixty one years old. Between decades of hunting and many years in the saddle I have spent as much time in the woods as could be hoped for in this century.

While converting a large section of mature, mixed wood forest into silvopasture I encountered a strange bent tree that I was certain I had never seen before. Because of its rarity I decided to leave it to grow. As I cut through more of the forest I found several score of them. 

I began to notice this odd tree in mature hardwood forests every time I rode in the woods. Yet, I had never noticed it before.

And now for the real shock, I could not find anyone else who knew what it was either. I could not find anyone who had noticed such a tree before.

It is a sour wood tree. I was blind to it's existence all of my life.

The overwhelming majority of horse owners are in a similar boat. They have been exposed to horse behavior for decades and have never noticed or even remotely understood what they were observing. They interpret horse behavior through the prism of human or canine behaviors. 

A horse is not a human, and it certainly is not a human infant. A horse is not a dog. A horse deserves the respect of being treated as a horse. The horse deserves an owner who works to understand the mind of the horse. The horse deserves an owner who has the courage to reject the edicts of the established horse world and the intellectual curiosity to put the hours of solid research into understanding the mind of the horse. 

Friday, January 1, 2021

Leaven: Building a Program Like Ours

What a wonderful way to start the New Year! When I opened the computer I received a wonderful message from across the country from a person who is looking to develop a riding program using mustangs. She explained that she had been following our blog and was nearly finished with my book, "And a Little Child Shall lead Them" and she wanted to know what she could learn from our program. She might be coming out in a few weeks to see how we do things.

Three important points arise from this note:

1. The most important thing that we can do is to present a program whose strengths can be replicated in other programs across the country. We reach hundreds of people personally, but it is by using our program as the leaven that helps countless others make bread that we can have the greatest impact. I am always available to consult with anyone looking to build a program like ours. I will happily tell you every mistake that we made in the process and will share every insight gained. Of course, there would never be a charge for this assistance. It has been said that I can get a bit evangelical in my drive to help other programs grow. I plead guilty. Helping grow more programs like ours is the most important contribution that I can make to building a newer world.

2. What we do is not beyond the reach of any one who is willing to work hard to learn natural horsemanship and the impact of trauma on humans. The interplay between the two gives us the ability to shine lights into very dark worlds.

3. This contact learned of our program though our blog. We need to make sure that blog posts reach a wide audience. That means that by sharing blog posts on facebook, sending an email to friends recommending the blog, and signing up to get blog posts sent directly to your email you might be the spark that ends up inspiring someone to build a program like ours.  

It is so easy to do so. In the length of time that it will take us to feed up this morning each of you can reach thousands of people. Perhaps one of those thousands will start a program for veterans with PTSD. Perhaps one of those thousands will start a program to preserve and promote nearly extinct strains of Colonial Spanish horses. Perhaps one of those thousands will start a program teaching soil and water conservation and microbial pasture development to young people. Perhaps one of those thousands will begin a program assisting a local substance abuse facility for young people. Perhaps one of those thousands will begin a roots music instructional program for young people that instills an understanding of  sankofa in those kids.

All of that can happen simply because you pressed a button on a computer. It is such a little thing, but so is leaven.