Sunday, May 23, 2021

A Shackleford Summer: Preventing the Extinction Of the Banker Horse

This stunning young Shackleford stallion arrived Friday night. Cracker Jack is a straight Shackleford Island, via Cedar Island, Banker stallion. He will be spending some time here and we will breed him to several Corolla mares and a mare or two who are also Colonial Spanish horses, but of different strains. We are delighted that his owner, Cyndi Finch, recognizes the need to both keep this horse as a stallion and to make him available to breed conservation efforts. 

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

"Because I Am You": An Important Note For Parents And Grand Parents

She had just turned five years old when my granddaughter, Lucy, was out for a ride with me on her mule, Belle. The mule spooked and Lucy came off pretty hard, so hard that her boot left her foot and was lying a several feet from where Lucy landed. 

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

Rethinking How We Teach Riding

Optimism, confidence and hopefulness are not the same things, though I have often lumped them together without giving it further thought. 

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

The Sky Was Empty and The Land Was Dead

A warm spring day--not a cloud out, visibility for miles and miles. There were tractors breaking ground in field after field that we rode by. Perhaps the most tractors that I have seen in a day working at the same time in many years.

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

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Learned Optimism: A Chance To Succeed

Successes are the capitol used to buy actual happiness. If one wants a child to grow into a happy adult, it is vitally important for that child to be given repeated chances to succeed. 

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. 

And She Rode Him Just Under Five Hundred Miles In 2020

She spent countless hours volunteering with everything else that needs doing a the horse lot, including training other horses, yet she still made time to ride her corolla, Little Hawk, far enough to win the Horse of The Americas "National Pleasure Trail Horse of The Year Award" for 2020.

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

The Importance Of Social Media In Development Of Riding Programs

If in twenty years our program has grown by leaps and bounds, conserving more horses and other heritage livestock than we ever dreamed, reaching more people than we could have ever hoped for, bringing more light into dark worlds than anyone ever thought possible--to the degree that there would be no other program in the nation remotely achieving what our program does------then we will have totally failed.

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.