The Wild Bunch

werner nokota 346We are Nokota horses. On hot summer days we graze out in the field all day, but when the bugs gets too annoying we take a siesta and hang out by the front porch at our barn, away from the sun, away from the bugs. We accumulate a lot of raw energy from all that resting and grazing. Late in the evening when the sun gets below the tree tops, or on any cloudy day like yesterday, we turn up the heat and show our real colors.

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This is five year old Bluebell Star, a full-blooded Traditional Nokota© Horse and she runs this outfit. Her first three years of her life she spent in North Dakota at the Kunz family ranches, where she learned a lot from her mother Black Spotted Socks and all the other Nokota horses. She is a proud blue roan and perfectly aware of her beauty.

werner nokota 384She is the calmest and most trusty of horses, steady as a rock but also a bit shy, but make no mistake; underneath that calm facade unimaginable powers lurks. When her face switches expression she takes the lead.

werner nokota 352To catch her picture with a camera is not easy, it takes a fast well-oiled shutter, patience and a truckload of luck. She seems to like the camera though, so she gives us many chances.

werner nokota 349Bluebell’s friend is the three-year-old red roan Windflower Dancer. She is also very cool as a typical Nokota horse and very self confident. Bluebell can be a bit jumpy at times, probably because her mother taught her to be careful and always look out.

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Windflower is a quiet horse and easy to work with and loves attention, but she demands respect. I am convinced she can read thoughts so one must keep ones mind quiet when working with Windflower and with the right approach she welcomes you to her world with a big Little Missouri badlands grin.

werner nokota 366Wild Prairie Rose is our youngest, she is two summers. She came to us as a small filly freshly weaned from her mother Lucky Dust who was born in the wild and removed from the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in 2003.

werner nokota 358Her beauty is impossible to catch in a photograph. She is a light blue roan, but her appearance bear witness of many fine ancestors in a colorful past. Because of her young age when she joined our family is very attached to us, but she is also a “teenager” and has a wild soul, able to switch temperament with the situation. A wonderful horse friend both competitive and safely calm.

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This was a summer postcard from the Werner family in Sweden, we hope you enjoy the look of these wild horses from the northern plains. The horses are here in Sweden to stay and in the future there will hopefully be many more. Together with their relatives in Linton North Dakota they make up an endangered breed of horses.

Visit The Nokota Horse Conservancy to read more about them and the work to save them.

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The Horse Dance

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Fragments of a legend since long forgotten tells of a sacred lodge, painted with pictures from a vision.

Four by four horses, in four different colors; blue roans in honor of the chinook, white horses for the icy northern winds, grey horses for the sunrise and red roans for the south.

A circle on the ground with two straight lines drawn across, one maiden in each direction holding sacred things; a bow and arrow, a holy pipe, healing herbs, a white goose feather and a flowering stick …

A dark cloud emerges from the west and all looks up in silence. A singer sends a voice to the spirits of the cloud. Then a blue roan pricks his ears, raises his tail and paws the earth, neighs long and loud to the west. All the other horses join in, then all horses in the village …

Lightnings and thunder comes from the cloud, strong winds sweeps over the lands. Hale and rain falling, only yonder but not near. The thunder spirits are joyful, has come to see the dance and hear the sacred songs …

The four maiden hold up the sacred things; offerings to the thunder spirits.  The grandfathers beat the drums and the dance begins, the horses prancing and rearing …

The sad are happy again –  the sick are healed.

Blackthorn

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When we first got here in 2006 this was an abandoned old bull pasture. The hill on which we were to build our house and stable was covered with an impervious blackthorn grove. Since it stood in the way of our human exploitation, we spent days chopping down and dragging away these bushes. The thorns made them tangle up like nothing else. The thorn needles themselves can easily penetrate any fabric and rubber boots are no exception. To chop down the bush trunks you must reach far in under the thorn covered branches and when all trunks are cut you must drag away all of it in one big heap of tangled up bushes.

We quickly decided to leave bushes that were not immediately blocking our construction project. The way these wild blackthorns resisted our relentless conquest not only saved them from local extinction, but they also taught us a lesson.

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Most time of the year the Blackthorn (Prunus Spinosa) is a dull bush with strong pointy thorns, leafless in winter and plain green during summer. Its berries are bitter and seem useless. Then a few days in May the Blackthorns steals all attention from the landscape as its fragile white flowers completely covers the bushes. One heavy downpour of rain and the flowers are gone, but this year we have had several dry hot summerlike days and the flowers are thriving. The berries that come at the autumn are very similar to (European) blueberries, almost twice as big but not nearly half as sweet. The trick is to wait until the first night of frost, which magically enough transforms the astringent tannic acid to a sweet flavor. The tradition is to make sloe berry juice (slånbärssaft), but the uses are many; from sloe gin, tea and jelly to various medical uses, as well as ink made out of the sap. The hard wood is known to be used for teeth of rakes, walking sticks (i.e. for officers at The Royal Irish Regiment) and different works of turnery. A hedge of Blackthorn traditionally worked as a natural fence for critter. It is also said to be an excellent fire wood, if you have the patience to gather enough of it.

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The Blackthorn is widespread in Swedish coastal areas south of the 60th latitude, primarily in the open landscape at the edge of the forest. The usual name for Blackthorn is Sloe (Slån in Swedish) which sounds similar in most European languages and gives a hint about its ancient origin of use. It is known here at least since the Middle Ages, but sloe has been found in remarkable places like in the stomach contents of a 5,300-year-old human mummy nicknamed Ötzi, discovered in 1991 in the Alps along the Austrian-Italian border.
Sloe is native in Europe, northwest Africa and the Middle East but also appears locally at the North American east coast as well as in New Zealand. It is hardy and grows in most soils, preferably alkaline soils. Sloe is an important food source for butterfly caterpillars and the bees like the flowers. The roots are shallow but far reaching making it difficult to move or remove. We have noticed that several species of birds use the bushes for protection and nesting. The berries are a good late season food source for some of our wintering birds.

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So the lesson being; Blackthorn is actually a very important plant and it is well adapted within a complicated ecosystem, despite (and maybe even because) of its apparent recalcitrance. In our civilized ignorance we sometimes tear up and destroy whatever does not cooperate with our own immediate interests. Not unlike other wild flowers, the Blackthorn shares some of the characteristics of a Nokota horse; beautiful, important and a real survivor.

I conclude that it is by the most elusive of signs that the greatest of paths may be found and one step on that path must be to preserve the Nokota Horse by supporting The Nokota© Horse Conservancy.

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Nokota® Horse Facing Imminent Danger

The Nokota® Horse Conservancy is now in urgent need of donations for hay. Due to last years drought and an unusual long winter the rising prizes for hay is causing danger for the Nokota horses. With many weeks left until the pastures are ready for grazing a catastrophy may be closing in on the Nokota horses.

If funds for hay do not turn up soon it may come to the need of disposal of horses and many hard choices has to be made by the hard working people at the Nokota Horse Conservancy.

Please help, even small donations may do all the difference!

More information at The Nokota Horse Conservancy.

Monty Roberts clinic

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Last Saturday we took the opportunity to visit Monty Roberts clinic at Flyinge in southern Sweden. It was beyond doubt a great experience to see this seventy-eight-year-young legend in modern horsemanship and to listen to his wisdom.

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Monty returned for this clinic at Flyinge with its 350 years as horse breeding and training facility, formerly for the Royal Swedish Cavalry. He spoke about the importance of seeking improvement and not relying on tradition when it comes to horsemanship. He also gave Sweden credit for being a lead star when it comes to the non-violent ways of working with horses.

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He started out with a fresh two-year-old, pointing out that he had never before touched any of the horses he will be working with tonight, only given the opportunity to watch the horses while talking with the owners. The demonstration of his hallmark, the join-up and follow-up technique was awesome. The handsome young colt entered the stadium with a pounding hearth and was calmly walked into the round pen by a lead rope looking insecure and vulnerable, staring with big anxious eyes at the audience of almost 1500 people, as we were holding our breath in silence; a few others were applauding frenetically.

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Note that the photos show the five year old, not the young colt.

Monty set the horse free and made the young horse trot about five hundred yards in the roundpen “away from his herd”, about five laps in each direction, until the horse “asked” Monty to let him return to the herd; the horse lowered his head and began chewing lightly. Monty demonstrated how he could increase the speed of the horse by just holding up his hand and spreading his fingers, then as he closed his hand the horse slowed down. Monty then lowered his own closed hand and bent his arm in toward his body and lowering his head slightly turning away from the horse; the horse immediately stopped and turned towards Monty and slowly walked right up to Monty totally calm and relaxed. Magical!

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The horse now had all his attention to Monty. The power of relief a horse gets when we turns away from him is very strong. A predator that approaches and then walks away can’t be dangerous, it makes the horse feel very relieved. He had been convinced that the safest place in the round pen, and in the entire stadium, was by Monty.

Monty Roberts then worked the horse with a Dually halter, talking about picnic; positive instant consequences, negative instant consequences, while building confidence and trust. Finally the horse was ready for a saddle pad and a saddle, again he made the horse walk and trot a few laps around the pen letting the horse finding out that it was alright. Then followed a demonstration of lunging with the Dually halter working as a kind of side-pull learning the horse to turn easily almost without resistance.

After that it was time for the Irish assistant Adrian. The first time a horse is mounted it is done in three steps. First the rider is lifted up to hang over the saddle a short moment to let the horse feel the weight. Then the same procedure, but Monty now leads the horse to take a few steps. The final step the above is repeated and then the rider puts his foot in the stirrup and sits up. He walks a short ride around the pen and then quietly dismounts. This first session took less than an hour and the young horse surprisingly calml left the arena looking confident and proud.

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Mr Roberts then went on to work with different horses. A small pony very afraid of practically everything especially plastic bags, a five year old horse who had thrown off every rider who had ever tried to ride him and a horse who refused to be loaded. Monty effectively solved all problems without any violence or discomfort, leaving all horses calm and settled. The last horse was equipped with a device to measure the heart rate which was displayed on a screen. Even if there were some technical problems, it nevertheless showed that the hearth rate slowed down as Monty made the join-up and then worked the horse with the Dually halter, contrary to what critics has suggested.

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Monty Roberts way of first getting the horses fully attention and then building confidence and trust is the whole trick, after that is established the rest of the job seemed easy. It looks simple and it really works. With some talent and hard persistent work it only takes about half a century to get the hang of it. Monty Roberts is not the only one using a similar technique, gentlemen like Ray Hunt and Buck Brannaman and many others following the same path has set a standard of non violence that is now the prevailing way of working with horses. Monty Roberts has a personality that not only makes horses trust him, he is a one of a kind, down to earth superstar and it is a privilege to have met him. After the show he promised to remain at the signing stand until somebody asks him to leave. In spite of the somewhat commercial touch of the whole event Monty gives a true impression. Compared to other shows by various famous performers and sports stars I must say an evening like this is well worth its price. Aside from being a good show the audience learns something that can make a difference for many horses.

When we walked back to the truck for the three hour drive back home to our Nokota Horses I could not help thinking about how different the reality is for Leo and Frank Kuntz and all the volunteers that put their lives into preserving the Nokota horses; just as skilled horsemen and horsewomen, but no glory and no fortune, just hard work for the love of wild horses. (Of course that also goes for many other wild horse volunteers on different locations, like The Pryor Mountains, etcetera.) The earnings from just one show like the one we saw tonight would support the horses of The Nokota Horse Conservancy for a pretty long time. It struck me that it was the charity part, in favor of horses in need, which was missing from an otherwise perfect show.

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Wonderful April

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Just a few days ago, March 28th, the North Dakota House of Representatives voted “YES” to Resoulution 4011, “a concurrent resolution urging the National Park Service to recognize the historical value of the Nokota Horse and provide for its appropriate management in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.” A great victory for the Nokota Horse and the NHC! So now the Nokota Horse is at least officially recognized which gives the NPS both responsibilities and rights to keep Nokota Horses as Nokota Horses, not just a mixed herd of anonymous feral horses. Maybe it opens up for a future reintroduction?

Well done NHC!

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We must take the opportunity to thank the bloggers Serenity/Heather-Joan and BlueFairyPipeDreams/Eira for awarding us with the Versatile Blogger Award 🙂 We should return to that in a proper blog post.

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It is nice to be able to groom and look after horses who doesn’t need to be tied up, but feels relaxed and assured that some humans are a lot like horses. No need to chase these horses around the field, just bring the halter and they come walking, knowing it is nice to chat with humans and get the latest news over an apple and a bucket of cold fresh water.

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