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 If you would like to learn more simply send an email to 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.