Stephan Schwab

Software development and farm life

Archive for March 2010

Unwilling, stubborn or simply scared

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Not being long time horsemen can create some extra challenges. You think now you understood the creature that is supposed to serve you well but then the next day some new issue shows up. That’s how we are feeling at the moment.

Over the last few days the Peruvian mares – our city girls – learned that rivers and creeks will not swallow them or do them other harm. They do step into the water and have crossed a few shallow bodies of flowing water just fine.

It looked just perfect until yesterday afternoon when Diadema showed some strange behavior. Since we got her she had been a bit pushy, didn’t allow us to catch her in the corral and even turned her back to us indicating she is going to kick. That stopped after a few minutes of playing around and finally when tied to a post she accepts being saddled without any issues.

Yesterday afternoon started with the usual game. Then Luis sat up in the saddle and she refused to walk. With some convincing using his heels he got her to move a bit but then she intented to move into brushwood, rub him off on a tree and in general was simply fighting his command pulling the bit. They both got into a struggle of wills.

I did some reading and based on that it appears to me that Diadema might be scared and unwilling to perform. The other issue with her is that he doesn’t hold her gait. She can gait beautifully but when she is not in the mood for it she changes to a trot with all the usual bouncing up and down of the rider in the saddle.

Topacio on the other hand is the perfect lady. Her gait is very smooth. She walks, gaits, becomes faster and her gait turns into a very fast four beat staccato. When asked to go even faster she gallops so smooth that it is like flying. Yesterday while Luis and Diadema were trying to understand each other Topacio and I were doing eights and other shapes in limited space. She reacts to minimal touch with the legs or with minimal pull on the reins. Even voice commands are starting to work.

From day one on Topacio appeared as a shy mare while Diadema has been bully and pushy. As it turns out Topacio is a quick and eager learner while Diadema is either unwilling and stubborn or afraid of something.

Diadema acts a bit different with her caretaker Carlos who feeds the two mares. Carlos can walk up to her and catch her easily without any fuss. To me that indicates she might be scared. So we’ll try to have Carlos ride her next.

Written by Stephan Schwab

March 26, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Farm Life

City girls – too afraid of creeks

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It looks that our new Peruvian mares Diadema and Topacio are real city girls. They don’t want to step into water. That’s a big problem as around here there are many creeks and streams. Our farm has more than seven creeks and to get there one has to cross two real rivers. So they need to learn that water isn’t anything bad and walking through a river can be fun.

The same issue is with rough terrain. As “city horses” they have been used only to those types of ground found at horse events. They were born on a farm without much obstacles and probably never seen in their whole life a real river or a mountain creek. Much less places with lots of stones.

Our other horses, Pedron, Toby, Luzero, are from a poor neighborhood – so to say – and there is hardly anything that can surprise them. They have been wading through fast flowing water up to their bellies and without being able to see the ground, climb over rocks and go up and down steep slopes. They don’t go fast but are very secure.

For the city girls Diadema and Topacio this is all new. We need to expose them step by step to these things so that they can overcome their fears and learn that they can manage these situations. Our friend Carlos and his 6 years old horse Baby is helping us to achieve that goal.

In the picture you can see me on the right on Topacio and Carlos with Baby on the left. They all crossed the creek and Topacio even drank water from it. Something she would not have done a few days back. But then after crossing the creek she did not want to climb out over these rocks although Baby was showing her where and how to step.


So Carlos had to guide her on a rope which worked well. A bit later she crossed the same creek further upstream and had no issues. It was a bit easier though as there were less rocks. They all are learning and who knows maybe by the end of this week our pretty city girls will be used to rough country terrain.

After all they need to learn that because the farm isn’t exactly a show arena.

Written by Stephan Schwab

March 23, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Farm Life

Right of Possession and local authorities that fear to act

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Before I start let’s make this perfectly clear. I am not a lawyer and everything I’m going to say in the following sentences is in no way meant as legal advice and expresses purely my very own personal point of view and opinion based on personal experience. Take it for what it’s worth but if you intent to do a land deal in Panama use your own legal advisor.

This is a follow-up on an earlier blog post titled Analysis of legal problems with Right of Possession in which I explained the background of the problem we ran into with the seller of a farm in rural Panama.

It turned out that we did not only ran into a problem with the seller but also with the very authorities that are supposed to govern land use in rural Panama.

Since December 2009 when we first retained a lawyer reforma agraria – that’s the authority governing land use – has been dragging its feet. They have confirmed and certified in writing that the seller in fact did pass his right of possession to us but they refused to provide the all so important certificate of right of possession. That certificate is the most important document of all because it allows you to proof to any other authority that you are the entitled user of the land.

The fact that reforma agraria did not want to follow the legal process established by law has created a void which the other party has been taking advantage of so far. We can only speculate about why that authority doesn’t want to finish the job. They have not told anybody why they don’t want to issue the certificate of right of possession neither have they refused it or expressed any type of concern. The answer simply has been that they don’t want to get involved in a conflict.

So … If the authority governing land use doesn’t want to get involved in a conflict, then how can such conflicts be solved? And why does the authority decide to do nothing? As elsewhere Panama has rules that require any authority to respond within a certain timeframe in writing to any request presented to them. That timeframe is 30 days. It came and went and we got no answer.

About two weeks back the regional director of reforma agraria went personally with us to the farm in order to conduct – again – a visual inspection. Back in June 2009 under a different administration this visual inspection was already done and a proper report was filed. But as we learned recently it was never signed by the regional director of reforma agraria of that time. Who knows why?

We were positive that the new director will figure it all out and by seeing the farm with his own eyes the case will be quickly resolved. Way wrong!

The day for the inspection came. We set our alarm clocks at 4 AM (two hours before sunrise) and arrived at 8:30 AM sharp at the offices of reforma agraria in Chepo to pick up the director as agreed upon the day before. To our surprise he wasn’t really ready to leave. First there were other things to do – which we accepted. Then the case file could not be found anywhere. How’s that? He scheduled a trip to the farm with us to conduct an official visual inspection and then the file cannot be found. That’s strange at best. We saw the director standing on a chair searching everywhere in several file drawers in his office for the file. After a while the search was extended to other offices and suddenly the file appeared. One can only guess why this file was found outside of the file drawer located in the director’s office. There was no reason for it to be elsewhere.

You might think that after all that we were ready to leave. To our surprise others in the office recommended with many words and gestures to the director that he should not go with us to conduct that inspection. “Don’t go with them. What if the other guy is there and shoots at you” and “Wait for the other guy. Both parties need to be there” were among the recommendations given by the other office workers to the regional director of reforma agraria. In the end he left with us and after a short visit to see the district administrator we were on our way to the farm. We learned later from the district administrator that the director spoke with him about the case and told him that he won’t go to the farm.

Well … He went with us to the farm. Here is a picture of Ingeniero Diomedes Pineda, current regional director of reforma agraria in Chepo, next to our neighbor Didimo studying the case file. They are both standing at the end of the road we built in front of the Chuluganti river. The farm is located on the other side of the river.


Initially he did not want to step onto the land of the farm in question but apparently after one of the guys from the nearby village who had worked for us building the road asked the director when he will be able to work permanently for us he changed his mind. We were advised to stay with the car and Sr. Pineda left with Didimo to check out the farm. They did not find anybody there, the little shed was as before and it was obvious that nobody lives there.

They did see about 30 to 40 heads of cattle which belong to someone else. The seller had signed a lease with someone else sometime in January and that person brought his animals to the farm in February. Apart from the fact that the seller passed on his right of possession to us in June 2009 and the fact that he was told by reforma agraria and by the district administrator (they met coincidentally in the village) that he is no longer the legal user of the land it is strictly forbidden by article 31 of the codigo agrario, that’s the law governing land use, to rent out land held under right of possession.

Speaking of codigo agrario. That whole right of possession thing is based on the social function the land should be used for. Article 30 states that for right of possession you need to meet one of the following criterias:

  • there has to be pasture and at least one cattle per two hectareas of land
  • 2/3 of the land has to be used for growing something
  • 2/3 of the land has to be occupied by trees suitable for commercial logging

The land in question did not had any cattle nor any kind of other agriculture going on when we were shown it first. According to the people in the village the seller had abandoned the land years ago. So based on the law the first visual inspection in June 2009 wasn’t done right either. The guy who went there with us would have had to report that the land in question is abandoned and hence reforma agria would have had to invalidate any certificate of right of possession in the seller’s name. That would have freed the land so that it can be assigned to anyone willing to work it as the law states.

We did not know these details back then and as we know today the authority would not have acted anyhow. As you know by now they don’t want to get involved into any conflict.

After a while Didimo and Sr. Pinela returned. That day we were positive that this time we had met an upright gentleman who will execute the law as it is written and our problem will be solved shortly. After all he took off his shoes to cross the river and wanted to see for himself the land and what’s going on there.


On the way back to the village we got a flat tire and had to change it in the middle of our new road. Sr. Pinela is apparently enjoying his trip to the jungle with us.


After a long day we took him back to the offices of reforma agraria and he told us that he will now sign the documents related to the visual inspection. He didn’t want to say anything else but assured us that he will finish the rest with our lawyer.

We drove home the usual 3 hours with good hopes that shortly we will be able to start working the land and realize all the projects we had planned for so long.

Well … After a few days our lawyer met with Sr. Pinela in his office and to our surprise he was not presented the certificate of right of possession in our name. He wasn’t told either as to why Sr. Pinela did not want to issue that certificate. According to our lawyer there is nothing in the case file that would support this non-action. Our lawyer did, however, convince Sr. Pinela to provide him authenticated copies of those documents in which the former user of the land transfers his right of possession (we don’t care about the issue of abandoned land at this point) to us. Together with these documents he received a certificate of right transfer (that’s how it may be called in English) as proof that the transfer is correct, valid and legally binding.

It looked very well at this point. Not exactly the end of the story but at least we had something in our hands that we can use at the corregiduria to request an order to the police to protect our rights. Based on the advice from our lawyer and with those documents we went first to the district administrator, who can act as a judge or advisor to the official at the corregiduria, to show him the documents. He studied them, concluded they were good, although not perfect, and sent us to the corregiduria in Canitas. There we requested that anybody occupying our land be removed and our rights be protected. The official studied the documents for a while and explained to us that she would have to review the contract between us and the seller again and decide whether she can issue such an order. Wait a minute … The same lady had refused before to act based on the contract because it exceeds the $250 case value limit. Now with all those documents signed by the regional director of reforma agraria she wants to go back to the contract and review the case. We explained to her that those documents represent a decision and all she has to do it act upon it. In the end she insisted to speak the regional director of reforma agraria – apparently to verify that he in fact did sign the documents we presented. Sometime late in the afternoon we called her to learn what she had done.

What a surprise! The regional director of reforma agraria, Sr. Pinela, explained to her on the phone that he did sign those documents but they weren’t valid and not meant for such an action as we had requested. So she decided to not act at all and the person occupying and renting out our land is allowed again to take advantage of the void created by the authorities.

As you can imagine our lawyer went ballistic after learning what Sr. Pinela told the corregidora.

By now our case has been presented to the national director of reforma agraria. This is two steps away from the president of the Republic of Panama.

To Panama direct foreign investment is very important and the current administration is not getting tired from talking about that in public. We learned from the newspaper that in another province (Veraguas) a lot of people have been evicted from land sold to foreign investors and President Martinelli himself ordered the eviction. The article in the newspaper did not provide any background details so we can only assume. From the context and based on comments by readers (the website of La Prensa allows readers to comment on news articles) it seems possible that there have been cases similar to ours as one commenter mentions that people have sold their right of possession and then erected shacks to pretend they were living there so that the other party cannot execute the right sold to them.

The national director of reforma agraria has studied law and is a person prepared for such a job. The regional directors get their job based on political party membership and because their profession is somehow related to the topic but these people do not necessarily know the law. Personally I think that’s a huge weakness of how Panama does business. A government institution such as reforma agraria exists to govern land use and to make sure that the law gets applied. That includes solving conflicts. How can the leader of such an institution be someone who doesn’t have no experience in applying laws? It is to be expected that conflicts arise and the people are expected to have them solved by the authorities and not take matters in their own hands.

We all hope that this case will get solved now. There is a number of Panamanian workers waiting for the project to get started. They have been doing some light stuff but if this drags along further, they will be without a job soon and others won’t get a job because we cannot start farming. As it stands the inability of the local authorities to act has caused problems for the very people they should protect and serve. Foreign investors can easily take their money elsewhere. The locals cannot easily look for jobs elsewhere.

Written by Stephan Schwab

March 17, 2010 at 11:40 pm

Posted in Farm Life

Building a temporary horse stable

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Fine horses need good housing conditions or else they will become sick easily. Therefore we have built a temporary stable inside the corral of our friend Carlos where the two Peruvian mares are staying temporarily.

The stable is a simple shed with metal roof. It’s made in a way that we can disassemble it quickly and move it elsewhere on our trailer.


For now this will serve us for a while as horse shelter. Later on this segment and another of equal size will become an outdoor workshop on the farm.


Diadema and Topacio got fresh water and swazy hay and as you can see in the picture they are both happily feeding themselves.

However we noticed some interesting behavior and hopefully this will not turn out to be trouble. The smaller Topacio (on the right) is kind of afraid of the larger Diadema. The larger one doesn’t like the smaller Topacio next to her when feeding. So Topacio quickly shys away and waits for Diadema to finish – and she does so with some submissive body expression. We observed that before and therefore put hay left and right of the water tank so that both mares can feed at the same time without pulling rank on eachother.

For the real stable this means that we have to build boxes with doors for each horse. Other issues might arise and it appears that one needs a way to keep horses separate from eachother for while. I think for cold blooded horses that’s not really necessary – I’ve never seen that anywhere here in Panama – but for hot blooded horses it’s probably a good idea.

Maybe some fellow horseman can comment on that. I’d appreciate that.

Written by Stephan Schwab

March 10, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Posted in Farm Life

30 km and different food can have a dramatic effect on a horse’s health

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Earlier this week our fine Peruvian mares started to show loss of hair and a strange pattern on their bodies. Diadama is more affected than Topacio. Here is how this looks like on the head


and lower body


The quality of these pictures is not very good. They were taken with the internal camera of a BlackBerry phone.


But you can clearly see how the hair is missing. They both try to rub and scratch. Either on some object or – and I find that quite interesting – helping eachother.


After they were transported to their new temporary home in Bajo del Rio, which is about 30 km from the place they used to live but with cooler nights, they got horse food instead of the grass they could feed on before. Either the change in microclimate or the horse food causes that allergy. We have now stopped giving them industrial horse food and provided Swazy hay. To stop the effects of the allergy they are given injections for five days. We are now at day 3 and the spread of the visual effect on their bodies has stopped. They liked the Swazy hay and are now staying mostly in the corral where that food and fresh water is provided to them.

Over the next few days we will erect our new portable horse stable right there in the corral. The idea is to provide them good shelter, food and water supply in a controlled environment. Animals are much more fragile to environment changes than humans.

Written by Stephan Schwab

March 7, 2010 at 11:18 pm

Posted in Farm Life

Fine Peruvian Horses

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What would a farm be without good horses. Last weekend we picked up two fine Peruavian gaited horses. They provide a smooth ride without all the up and down bouncing known from regular horses. You can go faster without all that suffering. The following pictures are from Criadero Correa in Punta Barco.

Topacio and Diadema are both mares. Diadema is the taller one. We’ll have them close us for a while so that we can see and ride them daily before they get transferred to the farm. Our infrastructure there isn’t yet ready for them but soon will.

Enjoy the pictures. No more words today.


Written by Stephan Schwab

March 1, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Posted in Farm Life


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