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

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