Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Donkeys and The Road Less Taken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information on this program contact me by email at

Sunday, July 25, 2021

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

First we cut down some trees. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 23, 2021

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The Thing That Abigail Gave To Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 18, 2021

As Long As...

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

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

And the Circle Won't Be Broken

Thursday, July 15, 2021

What Can You Expect From A Mill Swamp Off Site Clinic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

"And From Dust You Shall Return."

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

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

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

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

Becoming A More Confident Rider

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

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

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

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

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

Adverse childhood experiences (If you do not know what this term means please see    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

Dealing With The Heat Of Summer

How much heat and humidity can a horse safely handle on summer rides? If the horse is kept in a stable and is 200 pounds over weight don't expect him to be able to safely perform in elevated temperatures. If the horse lives outside 24/7 and is not forced to live with the consequences of obesity, chances are that he can handle the weather better then his rider can. 

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. 

Horse Training: Taking "No" Off Of The Table

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

Riding In A Different Direction

Theodore Roosevelt lost both his wife and his mother on the same day. The remainder of his life was an extension of that shock and grief. He viewed the darkness that fell upon him as what he termed "black care." He was succinct in how he dealt with the pain.

 “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

Saying More To Fewer Horse People

As we are emerging from the virus I find that I have undergone some significant changes in where I want our program to go and what I want my role to be in it. The primary goal will remain to be a cultural educational institution, but we will place more emphasis on providing opportunities for  emotional growth and character development than we have in the past. 

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.