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Friday, September 23, 2022

Applying Philosophy To Natural Horsemanship


“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not.” ~ (Epictetus). 

 We are about to begin the training and retraining of nearly a dozen horses and donkeys. It is a very exciting time for our program. It has been several years since I have introduced so many program participants to their first experience of training a horse from being completely unrideable to being a safe trail horse.

 This time we are truly going to begin at the beginning. Before ever stepping into the round pen program participants will be urged to deeply understand Epictetus' principal contribution to the understanding of human endeavors. We will learn to divide the challenges that we face with each horse into those things that are in our control and those things that are not in our control. Things in which we have no control over (e.g. whether a horse has a naturally calm temperament or is super reactive) are things that we will waste absolutely no mental energy over. Things that we have control over (e.g. how we can best calm and train a super reactive horse) will be the entire focus of our work.

 And here is the part that is hard for many people to understand. We will take responsibility for correctly doing the things over which we have control. We will not allow fear to get in the way of doing our job. We will not seek out excuses for dangerous behavior on the part of young horses. We will not seek to find some past event to blame for the horse' difficulty. Such blame leads to an excuse to not train the horse.

 We will learn to not apologize for giving the horse direction and correction. We will learn that whether we choose to be the leader that our horse needs us to be is entirely in our control. We will not pretend that allowing a horse to kick, bite, or run over us, is somehow a virtue. We will not pretend that we are unable to teach a horse that which it must learn because the horse has experienced some imagined abuse in the past.

  We will not allow cowardice to masquerade as compassion. 

We will learn that it is always in our control whether we express anger or frustration. We will learn that we control our actions. We will not seek to find ways to justify ineffective, abusive behavior. 

 We will learn philosophy as we learn natural horsemanship. We will learn the incredibly hard lesson that when it comes to building solid relationships with horses what we can learn from Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus, is just as important as what we can learn from Brannaman, Anderson, and Dorrence.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

The Slow, Steady Work of Promoting Colonial Spanish Horses


After nearly twenty years of working to prevent the extinction of the rarest strains of distinctly American horses one can notice that a pattern of promotional ideas are floated on social media and tend to show back up in a few years as new preservationists become involved in the effort. I am not going to list these ideas because I do not want to create the impression that I am critical of those who make a well meaning effort to preserve and promote these extraordinary horses. 

 Many of the efforts share one thing in common. They look to modern breed horse owners as not only the market, but the only hope for the salvation of the first great horses of America. It is hard to "convert" members of the established horse world and expect them to walk away from that which they have been taught since the first time they purchased boots. They have learned too much fiction for me to be able to replace it with fact. 

 I believe that the hope of these horses is not the current horse owner, but instead is the novice. A novice who dedicates himself hard to learning natural horsemanship for six months will have a much better understanding of the horse's mind than  a  causal horse owner can pick up in six years. 

Tim sits astride Manny, a complicated Choctaw horse who was not comfortable with a rider trying to mount up. Tim turned Manny into a great trail horse and rode over a thousand miles in a year.
Not just any year, He rode over 1000 miles his first year of being a rider. He and his wife Samantha have now acquired land and Choctaw horses for their own conservation program.  

At the close of the day yesterday we had a youth church group come out for an introduction to riding. How many such young people might end up owning a Colonial Spanish horse at some point in their life because they had the opportunity to be one of only a handful of people in this world who have had the privilege of riding a Colonial Spanish horse? Who knows!

But I do know this. Every child that I put on a Colonial Spanish horse has a chance to be this generation's next Bryant Rickman, Vickie Ives, or Stephanie Hayes.  I also know that whatever potential a child might have to grow up and become a significant preservationist will not happen unless someone teaches that child to ride a Colonial Spanish horse. 

Friday, September 9, 2022

Riding For Your Life

It is a two-sided question with but one answer. How can one best insure one's ability to ride deep into our life span? How can we make riding part of something that extends that life span? The answer is to do everything that we can to take care of our health span. 

Riding can be a very important part of extending one's health span. It builds strength, power, endurance and balance. Equally important is the understanding that activities that build strength, power, endurance, and balance make riding easier, more comfortable and much more enjoyable.

 Of course, it is much easier for a horse to carry a fit rider than one whose body is but the wreckage of a sedentary lifestyle. And I am not talking about weight. Regardless of the amount of weight on the horse's back, the ease in which the horse carries the rider depends on the rider's skill, endurance, power, strength and balance.

 Over the past year we have conducted a wide range of free educational programs that are open to the public. In October we will host a session on exercise programs for horse and human designed to extend the years of riding together for both horse and rider. Keep your eyes open for the date.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

A Fall And Winter Of Teaching, Learning , and Practicing Natural Horsemanship

There has never been a more exciting time to join our program. We will be training several spectacular horses to saddle, including the stunning Corolla stallion, The Black Drink and Quannah Parker, the son of Croatoan, and a modern Appaloosa mare. Bow season starts in three weeks and during hunting season we will spend a great deal of time learning riding basics and learning to gently and humanely train horses to saddle.

We have room for several more riding students. Our rate is only $160.00 per month per family. There are few experiences more meaningful than learning to communicate with a horse on the horse's terms. Some of these horses will be more challenging to teach than will the others. I hope to have our you tube channel filled with video of people and horses learning together.

We will also be training a donkey to help us remove trees from the woods and we will be expanding our livestock for 2022-2023. We will be teaching and practicing soil and water conservation and will be working on wildlife habitat development. Our music program will be performing more now that the virus is breaking. We have just completed a very successful summer of endurance riding conditioning and conducted an in house endurance event in which many of our riders rode over forty miles and two of our riders came in for the 50th mile. One of those horses was a nearly extinct Caspian and his rider, Kate Patterson, rode him exquisitely.

There are very few educational opportunities like this available to young people.  And we have been doing this for over 15 years. And we have been doing this with no paid staff. Everything that we do is done by volunteers.We are a non-profit breed conservation program located outside Smithfield, Virginia. 

If you would like to join us please send me an email at msindianhorses@aol.com
 


Tweaking Your Riding Experience By Closely Monitoring Speed

When hunting season is not in several of us condition horses with five mile trot rides two mornings a week and we recently added in a 10 mile trot/canter ride on Wednesday mornings .My Garmin watch is worth more to me than are my boots for these training sessions. 

As the horse and rider become better conditioned both should become more relaxed and comfortable with the sessions. I find that the horses that I ride generally begin to move slightly faster at any gait. The Garmin tells me the slight changes that are occurring. the changes are often so subtle that, without an objective measure I would not be able to pick them up. The most significant difference that I found was that while cantering on Janie, a wonderful Colonial Spanish horse of Grand Canyon lineage, at a speed of 9.9 miles per hour my lower abdominals were barely engaged and certainly were not becoming fatigued. However, at a speed of 10.1 miles per hour my lower abdominal muscles were strongly engaged and that gait at that speed was significantly more taxing on my body than when the speed was ever so slightly reduced

. Of course, the watch lets you know exactly how far you have been and at exactly what speeds. These things matter to me not because I regularly complete in endurance events, but because I want to maximize my fitness levels and those of my horses. Few people despise technology as do I, but this is a piece of technology that can actually improve your riding experience.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Strength and Endurance to Stay in the Saddle--Power and Balance to Say Out of The Hospital


Physical training and sports physiology is a field in which more information comes in weekly. It is hard to stay on top of the latest science. Of course, the single best exercise for riders is to ride, and ride, and ride. But there are other things that can be done depending on the difficulty of one's riding goals. My goal is simple. When I am in my seventies, I still want to ride 800-1000 miles each year. The two main things that can keep me from achieving that goal are becoming turned off from riding because of chronic pain and weakness or succumbing to a riding injury that makes riding much more difficult.

 There is no way to completely control either unfortunate outcome, but I can increase my odds of still being in the saddle in my eighth decade by working hard to build a body that can do so. Planks and other forms of isometric exercises help build endurance in the muscles of the core that make riding a pleasant experience. Without muscular endurance rides become painful for me after about the 50th mile. Conventional weightlifting with several compound movements adds strength to that endurance. These exercises make me strong enough to better remain in the saddle. 

 However, it takes more than strength and endurance to stay on a horse that spooks sideways at full speed or stops and reverses direction in the blink of an eye. Power, (which is not the same thing as strength) allows my body to respond to such movements with a lightning-fast counter move that usually keeps me in the saddle. Kettle bells, and backwards weighted sled drags have given my riding muscles strength, power, and a great deal of endurance. 

 But power from those fast twitch muscles, by itself, often is not enough to keep from being slammed into the trail. One also needs balance. there are scores of exercises designed to increase one's balance but too many of them are very difficult for an older rider to master. I found, (from studying the practices of an exercise innovator who operates under the logo of, "Knees Over Toes Guy") a simple, progressive practice that has greatly increased my balance in the saddle. I walk backwards a few miles each week in the dark. I walk a few hours before the sun comes up in my driveway. I started very slowly and very carefully. I have not yet fallen down. I now move much faster with deep, long backwards strides. I balance the movement with my arms. These practices have made riding easier than it has been since I was a kid. 

Of course, don't try any exercise routing without your doctor's approval. I am not a doctor. I am just an old man who has trained his body to ride longer and harder than I could when I was a high school athlete.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Wendell's Best Idea


Our pastures used to produce two products--dust and mud. I knew as much about pasture management as the average owner of a few acres--soil test, lime the soil, apply 10-10-10 fertilizer and hope it rains. 

That is not a formula for success. 

Wendell was the first person that I knew that had knowledge of organic fertilizer. I was skeptical. It certainly never occurred to me that we could drill an artesian well and get sprinklers on our pastures. 

We raised the money for the well and Wendell made and purchased sprinklers. Before the virus we were rather religious in making sure that the sprinklers were moved so that we produced optimum forage, regardless of the rainfall. 

The end result is that in one of our pastures in particular, which is only a bit over an acres we can maintain up to five horses with minimal hay expenditures throughout the summer. Our soil is so biologically active, especially with earthworms and dung beetles,  the manure disappears into the soil very quickly. Instead of mud and runoff, we have nutritious grass for the horses.

Now that we are climbing out of the virus we need to get back into using the sprinklers to maintain as much healthy forage as our land can produce. 

Happy Birthday Wendell. 

Monday, June 20, 2022

Philosophy in Action

I am not a scholar of philosophy. I was a government and religion double major at William and Mary. I never took a philosophy class. I have no memory of ever reading a secular philosophical text. Within the last few years, I have come to understand that the people in my life who I admired the most were all practitioners of Stoicism. None of them knew it.  I doubt if a single one of them had heard of Seneca, Epictetus, or Aurelius. Yet their actions, not merely their words, constantly demonstrated courage, wisdom, justice, and temperance.

I try very hard to teach through action instead of mere words. It is not always easy to do so, but I have to admit that having the eyes of so many young people boring holes into me does keep me focused on working to live an ethical life.

Often it bears out. Saturday we had a big event scheduled at the horse lot that was to be highlighted by having a professional sheep shearer come in to shear the sheep with modern equipment. Friday night we found out that she would be  able to make it out, through absolutely no fault of her own. I was concerned about rescheduling because of the amount of wool that some of the sheep had on them--too much wool to face summer heat waves.

I decided that we would assemble the sheep and explain to our guest that we would not be shearing but would be doing a presentation on the heritage breed sheep and their role in Colonial America. That was not a good solution to a teenager who believed that we had work to do and simply had to get it done. She thought that Tractor supply sold hand shears, or that maybe we could find some that Lydia owned that we had done a bit of work with, or that she would get out her sewing scissors if that was the best that we could do.

Tractor Supply had one set left. They held it for us as we rushed into town. We returned and the kids caught a Hog Island/Leichester cross ewe and gently laid her down on the blanket. Audrey got the kids in to hold the ewe down and showed them how the hand shears worked. The older kids even took a hand at using the shears. It was a tremendous learning experience. It was fun. It was hard work. 

Marcus Aurelius taught that the obstructions that are in our way can be turned into more than just something to be avoided. They can be turned into the path itself. They can be used to improve the road. As he phrased it, "The obstacle becomes the way."

And that is what happened Saturday. Instead of setting aside an educational opportunity we created a better educational opportunity. 

And at its best, that is how our program works. And at their best, that is how my young people work.




Wednesday, June 15, 2022

A New Wednesday Night Program Starting June 22 (And You Are Invited)

Taking a walk in the country, seeing some of the nation's rarest heritage livestock, learning some local history that you likely have not heard--and maybe even a ghost story or two from Moonlight--a great way to spend a Wednesday Night. Stop in Smithfield and eat at of some of the best restaurants that any small town has to offer. 

Chris is wrapping up the wonderful series on horse training that he has been coordinating this spring and on June 22, at 6:00 guests are invited to come out and meet our heritage livestock and learn about how they fit into history.

Come out and meet our Choctaw horses  from the lines that carried the native people of the Southeast into exile  on the Trail of Tears. Meet the Marsh Tacky horse of South Carolina and learn about the role of horses in the American Revolution. See our Banker horses, some from Corolla and even some from Shackleford. Even wild mustangs from Nevada and Utah grace our pastures. Spanish goats, Valera, Baylis, and San Clemente strains are waiting out in the front pastures. Our Hog Island sheep came either directly from Mount Vernon or they are only a few generations away. Our Leicester sheep fill out our herd of small ungulates.  Highland Cattle, though not here in the Colonial era, played a vital role in the lives of Scottish herdsmen. You might even see some early colonial Ossabaw hogs or catch a glimpse of a Narragansett turkey.

Wear comfortable shoes. Bring some water and bring your family.

There is no charge to attend. However, to reserve a spot in these waking tours first send me an email at msindianhorses@aol.com.

We are located at 9299 Moonlight Road Smithfield Va 23430

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Unique?

Here is some of what went on at Mill Swamp Indian Horses in the last two weeks. Some of the young people from the music program performed at Victorian Station. We did three sets of riding lessons last Saturday. The Sunday afternoon hard ride was wonderful. Tuesday Audrey and I rode 80 miles on a string of four horses. Wednesday night Chris and Audrey conducted a clinic on horse training. Last night Jackie took out adult riders on a slow session through the woods. While that was going on we held a session for teens on improved communication skills and other techniques to increase confidence and resilience in order to fight off depression and anxiety. 

Wendell worked hard with care for the animals and hay distribution and Lisa did some extra feeding. Andrew and Daddy took out our new mower out and mowed pastures. Tim, Samantha, and Terry kept the morning, before going into the office rides, going. Mandy made arrangements to get our sheep shorn on the 18th. Adam worked out which lumber we would need to build our music stage and we used the gift certificate that Rachel donated to make that purchase.

Pam stayed on top of things with a grant that we are looking into. Horse herds were rotated into greener pastures. We worked hard to get the sprinklers in full use in pasture number 3 to maximize grass growth. Tam continued work on the early colonial pole hut that she is building and got the help of several other young riders who learned the use of colonial hand tools. Homeschoolers worked hard in the garden and Will continued planning for his class on orienteering that we will present after school is out. 

We spent a lot of time talking about the importance of courage as a basic Stoic value and how using horses can help us avoid avoidance behaviors. Audrey has done significant reading in Ryan Holliday's book on the matter. Mandy took beautiful graduation pictures at the horse lot. Our records show that we have ridden a cumulative 1,307.4 miles during the first six months of the year and have ridden 11,019 miles from 2019-2022. (The distance from Norfolk to San Francisco is only 2,968 miles). Kate continued with great work increasing Janie's confidence under saddle.

Liz was visiting Tidewater and she came and spent Friday with us. We had three families of visitors show up to discuss riding lessons. Work has begun on the music stage. We started filming our first episode for our new you tube channel. I was contacted by a literary agent about the rights to my book, "And a Litle child Shall Lead Them".

Amanda created a great form for riders to use to record their daily lifestyle improvements, including exercise, sleep, good nutrition, miles ridden, and time spent in study of natural horsemanship and philosophy.

And all of this was done entirely with volunteers. No paid staff.


Wednesday, June 8, 2022

So They Will Understand Who Their Big Sister Is

Kids listen to what we say but they learn more from what we do. Only those who have been in our program for years truly understand the importance of the role models that younger kids in our program are afforded. It has always been my big kids, the older teens and young adults who have been at the core of what we teach, because the reality is that they are the teachers.

Rebecca helped shape Lydia. Lydia helped shape Abigail, Mandy, and Chris.  Abigail, Mandy, Kate, and Chris helped shape Audrey. And now, at the age of fifteen, Audrey is helping to shape the entire future of our program. 

Audrey put a huge accomplishment in the books yesterday. In one day, she rode 80 miles with me, likely no more than 10 percent at a walk. We trotted and cantered and wore me out.

As we were coming in on a track that would put us over our 77th mile she asked me if I wanted to take another twenty mile circuit. I had had plenty of riding.  The last time that I rode over this distance in one day I was only 54 years old and that felt so very long ago. 

I suggested that we do one last ride that would take her to her house. She bubbled with excitement. When we got back to the tack shed my body changed my mind. I told her that I was not up for any more miles.

She betrayed no hint of disappointment, but I know my riders and I know that she wanted more. I got a fresh horse and we set out to her house to surprise her little sisters and brother. 

The kids were delighted and Audrey was proud. 

When we drove home to end the day's hard ride I told her how glad I was that we took the extra miles to her house. I told her that it was good for her siblings to see how tough she was. 

Audrey gave a very quick soft smile and then nodded in agreement. She said nothing, but I know that she understood why that final few miles mattered.

It was very important for the little ones to understand who their big sister is, and who they can become. 

Sunday, June 5, 2022

What Does A Ten Mile Canter/Trot Ride Feel Like?


It feels so good when it is done shortly after sunrise, on a Colonial Spanish horse, with people that you care about, on horses that you are watching get stronger with every training ride. We just began our 6:30 am 10 mile rides that we knock off before heading into the office.

This morning the ride was incredibly peaceful. I was on Joey, our fastest Choctaw. He changes gaits more often then most people would like, but he and I accept the eccentricates of the other. 

We walk when the footing requires it, otherwise we move out at a pretty steady clip. When I am in front with Joey we have our fastest set, though having other horses in the lead still gives a wonderfully brisk ride.

During hunting season I do not get into regular distance rides. When that happens I get a bit out of shape, as do the main horses that I ride. But that all seems like a distant memory now. Today's 10.4 ride was less taxing on me than a five mile trot with a bit of walking ride last January.




Sunday, May 29, 2022

And Then She Just Flat Out Did It!

We talked about challenges. We talked about resilience. We talked about confidence. We talked about expanding our horizons by doing difficult things. 

 When we finished up a few kids were asking me about which horses they would be riding over the weekend, what times the lessons were, etc. A new rider who has been in the saddle only a few times waited for the others to stop talking and then she said something to me. She is soft spoken, and I was worn out and as a result I was not listening as closely as I try to when kids talk to me. I only thought about what she meant the next day. 

 After all of our talk about building confidence, challenges, resilience, and expanding our horizons by doing difficult things, she had softly said to me, "I am ready to start trotting and riding faster next time."

 And yesterday Grace did it. She trotted. She trotted with confidence. She trotted on Trouble, a wonderful little Colonial Spanish horse of Belsky, Choctaw, and Bookcliff lineage. And in a few years, I have no doubt that I will overhear her talking to a new young rider who is a bit apprehensive about riding. I will hear her explain that she used to feel the same way, but that Trouble is a great horse to start trotting on. I will hear her offer to run along beside Trouble as he takes that child on its first trot.

And the Circle won't be Broken.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Keeping Score: Losses Record Themselves--You Must Record Your Victories

I wish everyone could come out of the pandemic as have I.  At age 62 I am the healthiest and happiest that I have ever been.  I am a better rider and trainer than I have ever been.

The exact path to better health is not the same for everyone but, if one's doctor agrees, I think that our scoring system that we will implement on June 1 will benefit most of us. I do not like journaling or record keeping but I am going to work hard to add my points up from June 1 to the day after Labor Day.

Here is the point system that we are using:

Check with your Doctor before participating.



each mile ridden--1 point
each ride over 10 miles-- 15 points
each ride over 20 miles --35 points
each 20 minute you tube video on natural horsemanship viewed --2 points


each day for which one does not eat any food with added sugar--3 points
each day for which one engages in meaningful strength training -2 points
each night for which one sleeps over 7 hours --2 points

each annual physical that includes lab work for adults--15 points
each annual physical for kids not including lab work--10 points

each session in a sauna for at least 20 mins--4 points
each cold shower (Or ice plunge)--2 points

each you tube/podcast of Dr. Andrew Huberman Viewed--5 points
each book on Stoicism read--7 points

There are many other wonderful things that one can do for one's health and I am not discouraging any of them. I do not know if any of you have any health problems that might make any of these actives dangerous so I stress once again to discuss this with your doctor before taking this on. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

New Sessions For Young People --Lessons From The Round Pen: Building Resilience and Confidence

We are just beginning to scratch the surface in terms of how horses can help us to become emotionally stronger and happier. As we understand more about how anxiety develops and how resilience can keep it in check, we are in a better position to use our knowledge of natural horsemanship to make that happen. 

 Beginning at 6:00 pm, Thursday, May,26 we will have our next session on this vitally important topic. The sessions last an hour and are directed at teens, parents and professionals who work with young people. They will be held at Mill Swamp Indian Horses, 9299 Moonlight Road, Smithfield, VA.

 There is no charge to attend. To Register please send an email to msindianhorses@aol.com

Sunday, May 22, 2022

We Can Choose Which World We Live In


It was hot yesterday, the first hot day of spring. By the time the sun came up I had worked out and walked about two more miles. I headed out to the horse lot and rounded up horses for my beginner riding lessons.

 This was her second time out. The first time she came out she told me that she always dreamed about riding a horse, but she never thought that it would actually happen. Turns out that that day was the day of our mounted Easter egg hunt. Kids always loved that event. She loved it more than the others.

Yesterday, we tacked up and she mounted up. She never ceased to smile from the moment we started to ride. I walked along in front and for the first time noticed how hot it was. I also noticed that my feet were beginning to bother me. 

 She immediately told me everything that she noticed. "It is so beautiful here from the ground, but it is more beautiful way up here on a horse...The breeze is so nice up here on this horse...everything in the woods is so pretty.... Today is wonderful fun...", She chattered as much as she smiled.

She would not let me stay in a world of heat and tired feet. She tugged me into her world of beauty and cool breezes. 

If I had resisted, I could have stayed in my world of heat and tired feet. But my kids teach me to do better. They teach me that when a door to happiness opens, I should walk through it. 

Even if I walk there through the heat, on tired feet. 

And as it turns out, everything in the woods was so pretty. And she was right, I had wonderful fun.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

It Is All in the 'Spectin'

This is Harley, an East/West Cross Colonial Spanish Horse from Tom Norush's breeding program, when was quite young in 2008. Jacob, his young rider and owner is seen here mounting up for the first time that Harley had a rider. Jacob rode him so long and hard, that Harley was our first National Champion Pleasure Trail horse of the year. 

With the passage of time he has taken to being a horse who feels that patience is much more important than speed. Audrey and I are planning a special ride and I suggested that she run him in her string on the ride.

She was concerned that he might slow us down. So this morning we gave him a check up. I got on Joey, our fasted Distance horse and told Audrey to keep up. We ran five miles in 28 minutes. 

When we reached the fourth mile I looked to my left to see him tearing out in an effort to pass Joey.  When he was given the opportunity to excel, along with an expectation that he would excel, he excelled.  

In a related event, last night we had a visitor out for our training clinic and he mentioned how "confident" our riders are.  That is not an unusual reaction. The first thing that people notice is that our horses and livestock are beautiful. The next thing that they notice is that the young people to not act like children. 

They are responsible, mature, dedicated, and yes, confident. 

Those attributes come from several sources. The most important is that young riders have wonderful role models when they look to our young adults and teen riders. 

Closely related is the fact that we teach responsibility and hard work. Kids, like horses, rise to the level to which they re asked to rise. It is a two part equation.

It is all in the 'spectin' . 

I ex-pect the kids to think and I re-spect their thoughts. Often when a kid comes to me with an idea and says "I think that we should have a program that does ..." the response that they generally get is  "present me with a plan, let me know what it will cost, and where we can get the needed supplies. " If a kid follows through we then work to see if the project can happen. Sometimes the best programs that we have come entirely from an idea that a young person brings to us.

Our kids are riders. Our kids are trainers. Our kids are researchers. Our kids are workers. Our kids are students. Our kids are teachers. 

Much is expected of our kids and they do not let me down.


Sunday, May 15, 2022

Your Vision On The Trail


We pay attention to our hands, legs, seat, and heels, but too few trail riders pay attention to their use of their eyes when riding on the trail.

If you want to learn more about vision, perception, and balance study the work of Dr. Andrew Huberman. If you are new to using the concept of visual focus to assist both in accurate perception of your environment and in relaxation during movement, you can start by noticing how your horse responds to the way that you respond  to what you are seeing while riding.

When I initiate a turn to either side, I first focus all of my attention on a spot the size of my thumbnail in the direction in which I want the horse to go. I look with the exact same intensity as if I were aiming a rifle at that spot. The intensity of my focus is such that I nearly completely loose the perception of anything except for that spot, until the horse begins its turn. When going through difficult terrain I look, with much less focus, about 10 yards ahead of me. Doing so helps the horse bring more attention to its footing. 

In difficult terrain I do not look at the area that is but a few inches from the horse's front feet. If I do that my horses tense up and loose much of their impulsion. 

When the horse is moving well my vision is diffuse so as to absorb the movements around me. Looking ahead, in the direction in which I want to go, without intensely focusing on a small spot, helps me notice potential dangers along the trail. In that mode I am more relaxed and my horse follows suit. 

Please understand that I am not suggesting that I could hop on a horse that did not know me and realistically expect it to respond to my body's response to how I employ my vision. But the horses that I ride as a regular course of action, especially if they are rarely ridden by others, are nearly as affected by my use of my vision as they are by my use of leg cues. 

Friday, May 13, 2022

Finding Meaning In an Equine Lifestyle



Woke up in time to work out for about an hour--go pick up Audrey and ride with Audrey, Tim, Sam, and Terry for a brisk five mile session before going to the office. As the work day winded to a close hustled out to the horse lot where Tam had brought a guest out, an experienced rider who had never ridden a Colonial Spanish horse (Tam fixed that problem!) Sushi supper with Tam and her guest--hustle back to the horse lot to meet a young lady from Kentucky who is doing a study on the wild horses of the Atlantic Islands. 

 They got detained a bit and were running behind schedule--As six pm rolled around we prepared for our final session on natural horsemanship and emotional health. In the mean time we moved a wild BLM mare into the round pen. She had not been handled in a while and eventually she let me slip a rope over her head and brush her and deworm her. She was terrified and hyper reactive. After about 1/2 an hour she settled in so sweetly that I put a pad and saddle on her and lunged her until time for class.


 My wife, Beth and granddaughter arrived.  In the final session of this series on horses and mental health we wrapped things up by reviewing prey animal world view, communication, and moved into what Stoicism and cognitive behavioral therapy teaches about the impact of our thoughts, our words, our actions and our relationships with time. These messages were hammered home with repeated illustrations of how our relationships with horses can give us insight into each of these dynamics. 

 Toward the end of the session our guests from Kentucky arrived. Audrey and I showed them around with special attention to distinguishing the differences between our strains of Colonial Spanish horses--Banker (Corolla and Shackleford), Choctaw, Marsh Tacky,  high percentage Grand Canyon, Galiceno, and what are sometimes called Brislawn horses. The young lady had done her homework. She knew a lot about the horses before she got here, but as darkness was beginning to fall I learned that she had never ridden a Colonial Spanish horse, much less a formerly wild Corolla. Certainly could not have her leaving the horse lot with such a void in her life experiences. We saddled up Samson, our only Corolla who exhibits a strong running-walk gait. She went from being a student of these extraordinary horses to being a rider of them.

 If one's life is empty, go fill it. Bringing horsemanship into the lives of others is the best way to bring meaning into one's life that I have found.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

A Competition to Take Our Riding and Our Lives To The Next Level

Mill Swamp Indian Horses is not a place to come and learn how to ride a horse around a sandy arena. We teach natural horsemanship, natural hoof care, riding, soil and water conservation, wildlife habitat development, Roots and Americana music, Heritage livestock conservation and promotion, direct trauma informed programing and educational and training programs for professionals who work with severely traumatized people, microbial pasture development, and a host of special sessions open to the public on horse training and breed conservation.
We teach and practice working together on projects as big as clearing nearly twenty acres of trees, brambles and brush into a beautiful and highly functional pasture.

And starting June 1, 2022 we will begin a new competitive program for adults and young people. The only form of competition that is uniformly produces winners is that in which one competes against oneself. This special competition fits that bill. Every who takes advantage of this competition will be a winner.

This is a competition that involves exercise and exertion and everyone should check with their doctor before joining in. Minors will need their parent's permission to participate.

Each participant will have to keep their own score sheets and they will be submitted the day after Labor Day.

Activities are broken down into several categories:  

1. Activities to Increase Strength, Balance and Flexibility
2. Activities to Increase Stability in the Saddle
3. Activities to Increase Knowledge of the role of nutrition, sleep, and exercise for better riding
4. Activities to Increase the Ability to set and achieve goals


Activities will be set out in a comprehensive list with a point designation for each activity. Parents are encouraged to make this a family activity and to support young riders in this effort to build stronger bodies, minds and characters. 

The Activities list will be out within a week. This is a great way to come out of this pandemic stronger, healthier and happier than we were when we went into it. 


My Riding Has Taken a Huge Step Backwards


"Knees Over Toes Guy"--odd moniker for a man as innovative as he is, has done more to increase my enjoyment of riding than any lifestyle change that I have yet tried. I am not going to try to summarize any of his theories or practices. You can look up his content for that. 

I have incorporated two of his training techniques into my morning sessions. They have increased my aerobic capacity, quadricep strength, and perhaps most importantly, my balance more than I thought possible.

My driveway is precisely a twentieth of a mile long and has an asphalt surface. Each morning I walk between half a mile to a mile backwards, in the dark, on that driveway. In addition, I pull a homemade, weighted wooden sled backwards and then drag it forwards until I am worn out.

This week I returned to harder riding after my first round of prolotherapy injections and it is as if I have borrowed someone else's body.  I hesitate to say that it makes me feel younger, because I never moved with such ease whether younger or not. 

Friday, May 6, 2022

Chris' Dobro: The Courage to Find Your Own Path

A.P. Carter kept the story in the old songs. He built on the melody with Sara's strong lead voice and Maybelle's, beautiful, simple, guitar work. There was no flash, no glare, no sequins, no rhinestones, no cowboy hats--just reality--plain, unadorned reality. 

That is what draws me the most to the Carter Family. When Chris began playing dobro I did not tell him how I wanted it done. i did not show him the "correct" way to play. I asked him to find the melody with his thumb and find the timing with his finger. 

And now he has built his own style of dobro playing. Like Maybelle Carter's guitar work it is beautiful, and simple

Southern parents have  raised a lot of drunken poets over the years. The beautiful, simple, lyrics that they put together can easily be over shadowed by flashy instrumentals and drunks in the audience yelling "play it faster." .

It takes a bit of courage to find your own path the way A.P. Carter did and the way that Chris has.

The path of conformity must be a very easy road, lest we would not have so many people taking that road.  


Wednesday, May 4, 2022

A Choctaw Spring Ride

How can things not be looking up? 

This morning we set out on five Choctaws for a five mile run. We saw more rabbits than I have seen in a single day in many years. The false azaleas were perfectly fragrant-- a  strong scent and a bright  flower--the air was cool and clear. The horses moved gracefully under us.

Five miles--no walking--Monique cantered nearly every step. Mozelle, Zee, and Manny primarily trotted at a very brisk pace. Joey was under me, constantly shifting from his long trot, to his shuffling gaiting, to his three beat canter--we moved, not at all the fastest that we have done five miles but the best that I have done in several months.

Five miles in 28 minutes and 45 seconds. Yesterday I cantered out in front on Ta Sunka Witco for the same five mile run. Even though he cantered the distance we wrapped it up in a bit over 34 minutes. 

And things will get better and likely faster. In two hours I will be going in for a procedure that may give me use to my left shoulder again. 

If it does not help I will rider harder. If it does work I will ride much, much harder.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

My Young People Are Not Like Other Young People

This beautiful little calf is a wonderful addition to our program and I was delighted to find the calf nursing in the pasture this morning. But things like this calf are not what makes our program so special
.


This is a better example of  what makes our program so special. Tam noticed a ramshackle half-barrel on the tack shed porch. She offered to fix it. I assumed that she meant that she would carry it home, get together the right tools and shape up a stave to replace the missing one.

That is not what she meant. Her plan was to take whatever was at hand, shape up a stave and re-assemble the half barrel. She used an old fence board, a hand saw, a hammer, and a machete to split the fence board into half of its thickness before her skilled hands shaped it to fit in perfectly.



Or Audrey, at age 15, swimming in the February James River (42 degrees) with me after spending  four days in professional training about teaching the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences. Or Mandy trimming hooves, or Chris training horses, or Ella helping the new riders with tack and catching horses, or Olivia, watching the older kids and learning to be like them, or Kate doing a great training demo and handling questions from the audience flawlessly. 

And it has been like this for years. Fifteen years ago visitors were amazed at the quality of work and maturity that the kids demonstrated. Veterinarians have always been impressed at the way the young people in our program handle the horses. 

A few months ago I was escorting some guests through the pastures when Chris, Audrey,  and Ella moved on out in front of us, caught and held a ewe as Ella caught the lamb. In the blink of an eye Audrey had banded the lamb's tail and set him down to reunite with his mother. 

One of  our guests said, "Your kids are just so....competent."

That they are. And it is contagious. On  a recent ride I listened as I heard Rory expertly explaining to a newer rider how to manage the horses as we slipped through a deeply mudded forest. By the time that some of these kids get too old to order off of the children's menu they will be showing the same kind of maturity, reliability and sense of responsibility 




Sunday, April 10, 2022

The Race Goes Not To the Swiftest...

And that is why endurance events and the work and preparation leading up to them are the only form of equine competition in which the horse is the winner.

Yesterday we had our first in house endurance event since the virus hit. It was a fifteen mile "scrimmage game". The beauty of endurance events is that the event does not end when the finish line is crossed. One's final time is recorded after the finish line is crossed and after the horse's heart rate has dropped below a certain number of beats per minute. 

Being pushed to be the swiftest--being pushed to cross the finish line and then collapse does not produce a winner. The race goes to the horse who is swift and conditioned to a level that allows the horse to be at maximum good health. That good health does not come in a drug or a supplement. It does not come in an expensive piece of equipment or an expensive accessory. It does not come from hiring an expensive trainer.

That good health is not purchased. It is earned.

I could not have been more pleased with our riders, especially two of the youngest who rode long and hard and pushed themselves beyond anything that they had done in the saddle before.

A blm mare, Choctaws, Bankers, two half Chincoteagues, a half Banker, a Caspian, a high percentage Grand Canyon, an SMR, and even a Tennessee Walking Horse were among the thirteen horses that set out for the event.

Rosa is Samantha's blm mare. Since hunting season went out Samantha has been trotting her for five mile rides morning after morning during the week and has ridden her on longer rides during the weekends. Over the past two weeks I noticed a change in the horse. Her normally lean body was even leaner and harder. She has taken on the look of a horse from a 19th century Russell painting. There is no waste in her look. Every thing that you see in her seems predisposed to motion.  She has picked up a longer, cleaner trot. It is a much faster trot than what she was doing four months ago. In short, Samantha has turned a very solid horse into a rock hard horse. In doing so she has developed an even closer relationship with the mouse colored, dun mare. 

And the work mattered. Even though her group made a slight miscalculation and rode an extra mile, Rosa crossed the finish line and her heart rate dropped quickly enough to come out on top of every other horse. 

A horse is what one makes of it. 

A person can be made by that same horse.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

So What Is A Week Like At Mill Swamp Indian Horses?


Mill Swamp Indian Horses, located in Smithfield, Virginia, is a non-profit breed conservation program where nearly extinct strains of Colonial Spanish horses and other breeds of heritage livestock, including Narragansett turkeys, Spanish Goats, Hog Island sheep, Scottish Highland cattle and Ossabaw hogs are preserved and promoted. We teach riding, natural horsemanship, natural horse care, hoof care and trimming, roots and Americana music, wildlife habitat creation, soil and water conservation, and host a wide range of trauma informed programs using natural horsemanship as a springboard to understanding trauma, anxiety, and depression.

And all of this is accomplished with no paid staff. All of the work is done by volunteers and program participants.

I can't say that this week has been a typical week. Every week brings its own special flavor to the year. Here is a quick rundown of what happened this week.

Those whose schedules allow get in a quick ride through the woods Tuesday-Thursday at 7:00 am before heading into work. We are building additional paddocks for our Choctaw colts and our smaller livestock so some of us worked on building fences in the morning instead of riding.

 This was a big week for Tim. Although he only began riding a year ago, the completed his 1000th mile in the saddle for that first year this week. 

Tuesday's are our normal nights for our music program to get together to play guitars, fiddles, banjos, dulcimers, dobros autoharps, wash boards, mandolins, a bouzouki, and recently even  a didgeridoo, but we held off of music for a week so that we could put that time into building fence before the poison ivy grew in.

Wednesday night at 6:00 we held our free sessions on natural horsemanship in which trainers and students had a chance to observe, and put into practice, safe, humane horse training techniques. 

Our homeschool program, which focuses on learning to work together, along with a wide range of educational opportunities, began the morning by repairing heavy rain damage to our path, followed up by planting the spring garden, and ended the day with a short field trip to observe a local farm that practices cultivation of native grasses for wildlife habitat and does controlled burning to create even better habitat for small game. We followed up with  a visit to a beaver dam that just went into construction and we ended the day with a trip out to see an enormous eagle's nest.

Rain lead to the cancellation of one of the most important programs that we have. Our Friday night sessions at the round pen for young people teach the application of the lessons of natural horsemanship  to human life. These trauma informed sessions deal with issues of communication, stress management, anxiety, depression, and exercise and nutrition.

And we will end this week with our first in house endurance ride of the year. This ride will be an introduction to endurance riding and participants will learn more about vet checks, being part of pit crews, riding in the events, and the necessary conditioning, both for horse and rider, to make these events a great experience for both.

And that is what this week will have encompassed. And all of these programs are currently provided for only $160.00 per family per month. See our web site at www.millswampindianhorses.com. If you would like to learn more simply send an email to msindianhorses@aol.com after April 15. I am about to head out of town for training and I won't be looking at emails until then. 

And no, I don't carry a smart phone. 

That is one of the reasons that I have time to keep all of these programs cranking.

Friday, April 8, 2022

One Thousand Miles in His First Year In The Saddle

It would be a great accomplishment for anyone--a thousand miles in the saddle in just a year, but when one considers that it was Tim's  first year in the saddle it is even more impressive. During the  year he rode 21 different horses and three donkeys, but most of his miles were accomplished on Choctaws or horses that were high percentage Choctaw.  Tim and his wife, Samantha, even have a Choctaw long yearling of their own, Achukma, shown below with our Choctaw, Joey.



 He  has ridden and worked with several horses that were not regularly ridden. He took the "problem" out of several "problem" horses.

He lost forty pounds over the year of hard riding and has been able to spend the vast majority of these miles accompanied by his wife, Samantha, on her BLM mare.

And a year ago he was a novice. 

And that is the most important part of this story for those who are working to prevent the extinction the  Colonial Spanish  horse. The established horse world offers no hope for these horses. Their hope is found in families that learn to ride, learn natural horsemanship, and learn natural horse care. 

The best way to save America's first horse is to teach people to ride them. 

 

Thursday, April 7, 2022

What Success Looks Like

Staying in one's comfort zone leads to being imprisoned in one's comfort zone. Gram is a bourbon red turkey of significant age. He has no affection for Audrey. Over the years Audrey has avoided him with the greatest of vigor. Audrey has worked hard to find her limits and to push beyond those limits.

 Last month she swam in the James River with me although the water temperature was forty-two degrees. How can holding a turkey or swimming in frigid water make one a better rider? A horse's sense of security depends on several factors and one of the most important factors is the confidence of the rider. Everything that increases one's sense of confidence without promoting fool hardiness makes one a better rider.

And Audrey has become a very good rider.

Friday, April 1, 2022

How Much Is That Horse Worth?

He is worth a lot more to me and Lydia than he is to the established horse world. His father is a formerly wild Banker horse from Shackleford Island and his mother is a formerly wild Banker horse from Corolla. His ancestors came to this part of the planet around 1520, eighty-seven years before John Smith came to Jamestown. 

Had one come to our horse lot in 1635 when my family first came here, one would have found no other horses but these elegantly moving Spanish horses. In the 1920's over five thousand of these horses roamed the Outer Banks of North Carolina. 

Now there are a couple of hundred of these horses left on the Outer Banks.

Only a few dozen Banker horses are trained to ride. It is likely that everyone alive today who has ridden a Banker horse even a thousand miles would fit in my living room. It is likely that everyone alive today who has ridden Banker horses five-thousand miles would fit on my sofa. 

Lydia and I are among the handful of people alive today who have had the privilege of taming, training, and riding these extraordinary horses for hours on end. 

We understand how important it is to preserve these horses for future generations.

 That kid deserves the best that horses have to offer.


Thursday, March 17, 2022

The First Step: The Connection


Or maybe not. Perhaps the first step is to understand the mind and motivations of the horse. Perhaps the first step is to truly understand that the horse is not a person and that treating it as if it were human does the horse a tremendous disservice.

Tam understands. Tam builds real connections with horses.

You can too.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Quite Simply The Most Important Program That I Have Ever Developed


Beginning Friday March 18, from 6-7 pm, at the round pen at Mill Swamp Indian Horses, located at 9299 Moonlight Road, Smithfield Va 23430 we will begin another set of our sessions, targeting young people, on how to apply the lessons learned from the horses to life in this world. Psychiatric hospitalizations for young people have skyrocketed in recent years. Anxiety and depression are at higher rates for young people than have ever been measured. Metabolic disorder, diabetes, and a range of other lifestyle related health problems are at all time highs for young people in our nation. 

Young people deserve better. We can do better for them. 

For over twenty years I have prosecuted crimes against children, child molestation and sexual assault crimes. For nearly the same length of time I have been teaching young people to ride, tame and train wild horses and young domestic horses. I have studied the effects of trauma, adverse child hood experiences, and the crippling effect of avoidance behaviors in formal setting and on my own for two decades. For seven years (before the virus) I worked on a weekly basis, (weather permitting) with those who were in the in patient PTSD program at the Hampton VA. 

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.

And those outside of our program are urges to join us. Again, there is no charge to participate. To register please send an email to msindianhorses@aol.com