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

We are located at 9299 Moonlight Road Smithfield Va 23430

Sunday, June 12, 2022


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.