Category Archives: Driving Training

Be Your Horse’s Leader and Partner

Do You Dream of being the Leader and Partner Your Horse Needs You to Be?

 Turn Your Dream into Reality:

attend a Doc Hammill Horsemanship Workshop

at Borderland Ranch in 2021

  Would you like to learn to

        • develop Trust, Respect, and Leadership in your relationship with your horse?
        •  feel safe, comfortable, and relaxed while interacting with your horse?
        •  understand what your horse’s behavior is telling you?
        •  understand what your body language is telling your horse?
        •  harness, hitch, and drive horses?

Working in an 'out-door classroom' at Therriault Creek Ranch, home of Doc Hammill Horsemanship

Spend a week in Beautiful NW Montana Learning Doc Hammill’s Horsemanship  “Fundamentals”

Come, join us for a very special time at our Montana ranch and acquire the horsemanship skills you have been wanting to achieve. Reserve your spot now! Contact Doc or call him at 406-250-8252 for workshop and reservation details.

Woman driving a team of horses hitched to a forecart on a gravel road
Vee driving Suffolk Punch mares on a forecart

Become one of Doc’s many successful students!

We are currently booking for our 2021 Montana Workshops; We would love to put your name on our list of successful participants.

Doc Hammill Horsemanship helps people to understand and build relationships with their horses. We believe that YOU are your horse’s best trainer; we teach you to gently, safely and effectively communicate and train your horse and to harness, hitch, drive, and work your horses. Through demonstrations, lectures, and hands-on exercises with Doc and Cathy’s personal horses, you will explore and practice the same techniques that Doc uses in workshops literally all across the US, to build partnerships with horses. You will learn and practice how to create this same kind of relationship with YOUR OWN horse(s).

Man coaching woman driving a team of Norwegian Fjord horses hitched to a horse drawn hay rake and raking hay
Doc working with Julia and ‘The Boys’ as they rake hay

A Gentle Horsemanship Message from Doc


While doing springtime chores that prepare us for the 2021 Workshop season, we are thinking of what you might be interested in.

Man driving a single Norwegian Fjord horse hitched to a single plowthat a woman is handling

At Doc Hammill Horsemanship we help you to learn how to work with, drive, and teach horses in gentle, effective ways that make sense to horses!
Make 2021  the year that you advance your horsemanship skills by participating in one (or all !) of Doc’s many learning opportunities so that you understand and practice methods of interaction and communication that will change the relationship between you and your horse in amazing ways.

Contact DOC

To view our latest email as a pdf file, click the link below

A Gentle Horsemanship Message from Doc

Man ground driving a team of horses pulling a harrow



Do You Want the Perfect Horse?

Then Learn to Become the Leader and Partner Your Horse Needs You to Be by attending a

Doc Hammill Horsemanship Workshop in 2021!

          • Do you have the relationship you want with your horse?
          • Do you feel safe, comfortable and relaxed while interacting with your horse
          • How would you like to understand what your horse’s behavior and body language is telling you?
          • How would you like to develop Trust, Respect and leadership in your relationship with your horse?

Come join us for a very special time at one of our

Doc Hammill Horsemanship Workshops



and acquire the horsemanship skills you have been wanting to achieve.

We are booking for our2021 Workshops Now and would love to put your name on our list of successful participants!


 Throughout our workshops we will be teaching you how to communicate and interact with horses in gentle, safe, effective ways that they inherently understand and are comfortable with. A lot of hands-on time will be devoted to learning and practicing the principles, techniques, and details of harnessing, harness adjustment and collar fitting, hitching, and driving and working horses in harness. We will work primarily with single horses and teams of two, with the possibility of some time devoted to larger hitches.


For detailed information about specific Workshops at Doc’s and Cathy’s Borderland Ranch  just go to Doc’s Website and click on the  Workshops drop-down menu.

Hope we meet you at a Doc Hammill Driving Workshop soon!


Teaching Equines to Pull Loads

Horse Drawn Stone Boat

Good morning Doc,

I have a question related to a pony pulling in harness.
What would be the appropriate size of a stone boat for a pony that is approximately 12HH and 600 pounds?

Thanks,  Jeri

Hi Jeri,

Good to hear from you.


The size of the stone boat will not matter as much as the weight you put on it and the terrain/ground conditions on which it will be pulled.


We have a wooden stone boat about 3′ wide and 6′ long that Cathy’s pony (about the size of yours) can pull easily with 50 to 100 lbs. on it over a hard surface or grass. He can pull it with greater effort loaded with 150 lbs. for short distances with air/rest stops in between pulls. In conditions like loose dirt, sand, mud, up hill, etc. it would pull harder with whatever load was on it.


There are two very important considerations when asking any equine to pull a load: 

  • 1. What are they physically capable of pulling? 
  • 2. What are they psychologically capable of and comfortable pulling? In my experience most animals are physically capable of pulling more than they can handle psychologically.


However, if we train and manage them skillfully they will get better and better at pulling – if we don’t they will go the other way.


Always start with a very light load to test them out each time you work.Then gradually increase the amount they are asked to pull. In other words, warm them up and give them confidence before asking them for the heavier pulls.


The most common mistakes people make are to ask them to pull too much before they are ready, and to pull them too far without a stop for air and rest.

Repetition, repetition, repetition with gradually increasing loads is critical. 

If they get anxious or confused stop, calm them down, lighten the load (rather than removing it), and proceed when they are relaxed and comfortable. Lighten the load to a point where they can pull it and remain relaxed and comfortable as they work.  Add weight in small increments to keep the equine comfortable and working in a relaxed way.


Please contact me if you have more questions.


Take care, stay safe, and enjoy those horses, ponies, mules, and donkeys!


Jay Jay and Tom Triplett

Here is a photo of Tom Triplett and Cathy’s Welsh pony Jay Jay, approximately the size of the pony Jeri inquires about.  Jay Jay is a great cart pony and he also ‘pulls his share’  around the ranch by hauling loads that are suited to his size.  Here, he is dressed in the collar style work-harness Tom made for him (notice the antique wooden hames: some Tom’s father had used ranching in Montana in the 1900’s).   Smaller equines, like Jay Jay and Jeri’s pony, can make  great working contributions on your ranch or farm.  Smaller equines are well suited to get into (and out of) some of those tighter spaces that are trickier for our larger equine workers. 



Horse-Logging with Draft Horses: Natural Horsemanship in the Woods

Cathi and I love to work in the woods. It’s even better if we can work with our horses in the woods. On March 8 we had some fire wood logs ready to skid out and each of us took a horse to do the job. Here we have Kate and Ann, our Suffolk Punch Draft Horses.

Kate was very relaxed, comfortable, and interested as I prepared the first log to hook to her.

However, when she started off with the first small “warm up” log she became a bit anxious and was not very responsive to my attempts to calm her and slow her down. As so often happens, a training opportunity (not a problem) presented itself.

After stopping several times, letting her relax, and then attempting to start her again in a more relaxed and easy way I realized she was not able to control her anxiousness.

I was not willing to hold Kate back with the excessive force that would have been necessary I asked Cathi to bring Ann over and drive her in front of Kate – to set an example of a relaxed and comfortable working pace.
Not to mention creating a moving physical barrier as we each drove our respective horse down the skid trail.
Kate was not happy with the slower pace initially. However, once she realized she would not be allowed to go around (“pass”) Ann she started to relax and accept the job on my terms. We made it difficult for her to do the “wrong” thing and easy for her to do the “right” thing. Thanks to Cathi and Ann I was able to avoid heavy pressure and harshness on the bit in order to get the job started at a safe and comfortable pace. It doesn’t matter that Kate has done this type of pulling in a relaxed way many times before, what is important is that for whatever reason (and they always have a good reason as far as they are concerned) she became anxious on this particular day, in this particular location, at this particular job. Rather than fight with her we used some gentle “creative horsemanship”.

Thanks for checking up on us on our blog,


Introducing a horse to new implements

From Walt Barnard

Hello. Here is a brief description of how we introduced a particular horse to some new implements. The horse, Belle, is a Suffolk and there are some earlier posts about her training on this blog. Anyway, Kris and I had been working her up to actually pulling real farm implements by skidding a small tire for short periods.

I occasionally would sit on the tire to add some weight and change the ‘feel’ of the pull for the horse, making sure to not overwhelm her with too much weight for too long. When we actually had some real work to do over the past few days, Kris drove one of our broke horses and I drove Belle along to investigate and later, if she was mentally ready, to participate. With each new implement, I first lead Belle to it to investigate, lead her along behind and to the left, right, and front of the implement as Kris and the broke horse worked, then ground drove her as I had lead her above. If she was mentally ready, I then hitched her to the implement and Kris lead her while I drove.

Kris gradually dropped back to Belle’s shoulder and then as all was well stepped aside to let Belle work by herself. I had the lead rope tied up to the hames so if Belle needed more mental ‘support,’ Kris could easily get control of her head with the halter.

Of note, I would not try this technique on a horse that didn’t have a solid foundation of training that Doug describes in his DVDs on starting colts. The horse has to accept you as their leader and be responsive to the halter. Even with a horse with a solid foundation as Belle has, we were very careful to make sure she was comfortable with each step in the process, and would have backed off if things escalated to where we were beginning to see signs of discomfort, fear, or flight potential.

Also, I would not try this by just leading the animal, someone needs to be on the lines. Here are a couple of pictures of Kris driving Jerry on the disc, while I drive Belle along with them. She did well with this introduction but, since the disc is a pretty heavy pull in our deeply tilled hoop house, I didn’t think she was ready to pull a load heavy as this.

A couple of days later we started Belle pulling a section of spring tooth harrow. This is a good starter implement, because you can vary the draft by adjusting the depth of the tines. I started her very light and gradually increased the draft to a moderate amount for a single horse. As I worked her, I changed the draft from time to time, to give a different ‘feel’ on the collar for her. As you can see we lead her initially, then dropped back. I also only worked her for about an hour with lots of standing time and praise.
Here is Belle’s first experience skidding logs. Kris is driving Ray, our grouchy yet excellent mare, skidding small poles to the wood pile. As you can see, I am leading, then driving Belle, getting her used to the sounds, visuals and smells of skidding, as well as the fact that the longer poles are a different experience than a shorter harrow and can kick up brush and debris in sudden and strange ways.

Later Kris and I hitched and successfully skidded some of the lighter wet Doug Fir.

Belle did well.

Here is Belle now working on the disc. We broadcast peas and oats in the hoop houses, then disc it in with the groffdale disc. If you don’t sit on the disc it pulls real light.

I did a lot of short pulls and Kris walked ahead for much of the time for support. She did not stand as well as I would like when facing the barn but overall, for her first time I was pretty happy. At one point, we were standing inside the green house. I was adjusting the lines and accidentally hit the top of the hoop house with my bamboo stick causing a loud noise and plastic movement over her head. She got pretty alarmed and jumped forward, but immediately stopped with whoa combined with line pressure (her bit is tied to her halter in such a way to minimize pressure on the bars, so it functions like a halter more than a bridle; a trick Doug showed us at a past workshop). After she stood for a while we kept discing but she was still a little worried, so we unhitched the disc and ground drove her back and fourth thru the hoop houses until she was calm again. Then we went back to discing in a relaxed manner.

These photos were taken after that.


A drive with Paige and Val

From Jane:
A friend of mine and I went out to visit the Woods and their horses on Friday. It was a gorgeous warm day and one of the highlights of our visit was a wagon ride with Val and Paige.

Steve hitched the mares up and drove us all over hill and dale around the farm. Paige was wonderful, and if I hadn’t known her history, I would have assumed she was just a part of his regular string. We went around the farm and down by the lake where the wagon hit a hidden stump or fallen limb and came to a very sudden and jarring stop. Steve told the ladies it was all under control and Paige didn’t even seem bothered.

Later we went out on the road. A couple of vehicles went roaring by, but again, the mares were calm and quiet about it all.

I continue to be amazed by Paige’s progress. Steve said she is progressing at a tremendous rate each day.

I apologize for the lack of photos. I didn’t even think to bring my camera with us. (I know, I know . . . ) Thanks for letting us come out and visit your beautiful farm, Steve! And thank you Cathy for the wonderful garden goodies!

Spring:Time to ease into work

From Theresa Burns:
This past weekend the weather was great for getting some manure hauled with the horses. Harley used his veteran team Tom and Charlie with one load on Wednesday and with two loads on Thursday.

I was there to help him on Friday. We took one load out and it is about a mile to the field and the road has a couple of hills on it. Harley asked the horses to stop on the crest of a hill on a flat spot so the horses would not need to hold the load.
They stood quietly and we could see that the respiration rates of the horses was quick and shallow. To see respiration watch in the flank area and you can see the in and out of the flank as the horse breathes. Not sure how long we stood there, but waited until the respiration rate slowed. We rested the horses again once we were in the field as we had some grades to pull up and down and we had full load of manure.

Once we got back to the barn and parked the spreader, we unhooked the horses and tied them to a post while we loaded the second load of manure. It is a tight area and thought it would be safer to not have the horses so close to the skid steer. Before we took this load out we offered the horses some water. They drank. Harley asked about them drinking water with the bit in their mouths. Horses will figure that out and it is better to offer water than to skip it.
So Saturday we went for a six mile tour with Harley’s Prairie Schooner along the Raccoon River Valley. The wagon weighs about 1600 pounds with us it using the same pair. I was in charge of applying the brake on the downgrades to make it easier for the horses. Here again we would stop after the horses had climbed a hill to let them breath. I could apply the brake so parking on the level was not as critical.

Tom is the more aggressive puller of the two horses and he seemed a bit upset with some of the noises of the wagon or brake and external noises. We need to work on some of that desensitization and refer back to Walt’s blog entry on January 12 about noises.

As we headed back to the farm, we had a very long grade. The question was do we let them rest half way up and will they be able to start the wagon again or do we wait until we have arrived at the top of the grade. We thought it would be safer and easier for them to continue to the top.

All the decisions that we make as we work horses depends on their attitude at that time and if they are acting normally and not over tired or stressed. The more you drive horses the more you know them. With ay to day work you get a good sense of what that horse can handle, because of how he handled previous work. But if you have not done the day to day progress then you should be more conservative. I would rather say at the end of the day that the horses did their work well than have to say I have pushed them too hard today.

For me each outing with the horses is an experience to learn from as you are always making decisions and always need to be paying attention and driving the horses. Driving in that you have rein contact and they know you are the leader. It is your responsibility to be aware of their physical and mental boundaries for that day and to build on those and improve.

It was a beautiful tour to see the trees and the forest floor and to see the river valley. Once we arrived back at the barn and unharnessed, we loaded both of the horses in the trailer and fed them hay. They need to get accustomed to the new trailer and the loading and unloading process. You can do that in small steps weeks before you want to haul them which will make the trailering a good experience for them.
What always assures me that the horses took the day okay is the fact that they are hungry and ate the hay aggressively at the barn. The more you work with them the more you know what is normal and what is not normal.

With the way Tom was acting on Saturday, Harley thought it would be a good idea to drive on Sunday also. We took a shorter ride that was less challenging. Tom seemed more settled and it was more relaxing for him. Harley and I talked about our weekend and the good points and the things we want to work on with the horses. We are looking forward to our future days with the team whether it is a tour with the wagon or some type of field work.

One horse in the team is too hot

From Zoe Bradbury
Hi Doc,

I’m in need of some advice about my gelding, Barney.

As you know, I grow a few acres of mixed vegetables and berries in Southwestern Oregon. This is my second season in business, and my second year of owning my team. Last year I used the horses mainly for discing, harrowing and rolling cover crops. I didn’t use them much on precision tasks like cultivation, but am hoping to do more of that this year as my skills improve and my relationship with my team deepens. I had a great first summer of working the horses – very quiet, smooth and steady. I felt like I had found my dream team (thanks to you!).

In the last few weeks as spring has unfolded, I’ve been harnessing up my team (Barney & Maude) a few times a week in order to start getting them in shape for the farm season. The first day I had them hitched, I ground drove and then hitched up to the forecart. We drove for a couple of hours and all was well. The second day we pulled a pasture harrow around the farm roads. Maude was as steady as could be, but I noticed that Barney was a little hot. He tended to want to break into a trot on the turns, and when we passed over a patch of gravel in the field that made the pasture harrow clatter, he jumped and actually kicked his hind legs up and to the outside of the traces.

He was responding to pressure-release driving technique, but was definitely keeping me on my toes. I checked his harness and bridle multiple times to make sure nothing was making him uncomfortable, and as far as I could tell, things were normal. No rub or pinch spots that I could find, though I’ve since determined that his collar is too big, which means the line of draft might be a little low on his shoulders. Nonetheless, he hasn’t demonstrated any soreness on his shoulders in the past few weeks. I use a 7″ snaffle bit on him, which he seemed to respond well to last summer.

The third day we hitched to a disc to work in some rye/vetch cover crop. All was well for the first hour, but then, as you know, I had a run-away with them – which fortunately ended with no one getting hurt. That’s a whole story unto itself, but even after replaying and analyzing the experience with you and other teamsters, I realize I am still a bit shaken up by it.

I had some trepidation when I went to hitch them after the run-away, so I took it slow with harnessing, then ground driving, then hitching to the forecart. Again, it was a pretty smooth day with no signs of fear or concern from the horses. Barney was trying his trot maneuver on the turns again as I drove the farm roads around my fields, and definitely trying to move faster than Maude in general. Pressure release helped, but not enough to get him working as quietly as Maude.

Since then, I’ve been experimenting with hitching to a new straddle row cultivator I have, and even doing some single line cultivation of my asparagus. I very quickly learned that the Danish S Tine sweeps I have on the cultivator were digging too deep and making it a really hard pull for the horses. In response, they would try to power into the pull and move too quickly. Again, Barney was hot and Maude was mellow – but I was willing to attribute at least part of his behavior to the tough pull. Also, the farm roads are lush with grass right now, which I imagine might be a bit of a torment to a horse who’s been eating hay in the barn all winter.

I adjusted the depth of the cultivator and tried again the next day. It was better, but Barney was highly sensitive to my start command, and even with my best efforts to start them evenly, he would try to step out ahead of Maude and set a pace that was faster than I wanted. Again, he was also trying to trot when I turned them (particularly when he was on the outside of the turn). I would cultivate a row, and then do a lap around the field, practicing starts and stops, letting them settle, etc. They responded beautifully to a whoa and my stop command, but still Barney wanted to bounce into a trot from time to time.

It was frustrating b/c when he would begin bouncing or trotting, I was using every technique I’ve learned from you: pressure release (including, long firm see saw strokes, double pre-whoa pressure pumps (you know when you go “easy (pump with both hands), easy (pump with both hands), whoa”), making them stand, moving their heads side to side with my line pressure, etc. And, I drove them for hours, until dark (a very Doc Hammill-like thing to do!). But while I was in the field, I just couldn’t get him to quiet down to the place that I wanted him, and to the place where he was last summer.

At the end of our session that night (last friday), I decided to drive them home along the paved county road instead of through the field. Amazing thing: he was a quiet as could be. His head dropped, his energy went down, no attempts to trot, even when I turned them both directions. It got me wondering if somehow the field environment revs him up. Is it because it’s spring? Is it because of all the green grass? Is he associating being in the field with the run-away? Do you think he might just mellow out as summer comes on and he’s worked out his pent-up winter energy?

Some other observations I’ve made and things you should know:

  • It didn’t matter which direction we were headed (towards the barn or away) when driving in the field – he still would try his trot routine on me from time to time.
  • Certain spots in the field seemed more loaded energetically for him. None of them are where we had the run-away, but they do seem consistent – like he tries to break into a trot in the same place frequently.
  • It didn’t matter whether I had weight on his collar or not – he was the same whether pulling the cultivator or ground driving around the field.
  • Barney is the dominant horse. That said, I do my best to make every moment a training moment with them and assert my own dominance daily. He has very good ground manners.
  • One thing I’ve noticed when he tries to break into a trot: he tucks his head even tighter to his chest and lets out a little stifled squeal/snort. Sometimes he even tries to kick his heels up a little (not a buck – more like a little heel kick, sometimes to the side….he’s on the right, so he sends his back end out towards the right, away from the tongue).
  • When I was driving laps around the field, I would vary my pressure so as not to have them harden up on me. If Barney was trying to trot, I would use long, firm see saw strokes. When he quieted down I would reward him with less pressure and quieter, gentler strokes.

When I fed them today (Sunday) I noticed that he had little dry skin tags at either corner of his mouth (not scabs or sores), but just flakes of skin that came off – maybe from all the bit rubbing on Friday? It didn’t look sore or raw, but it concerned me. I don’t want to have to put that kind of pressure on him, and it also wears me out! Farming is tiring enough as it is!

I don’t know what to do to break through this behavior in a gentle effective way and would love your insight. I plan to get a smaller collar for him, and maybe try a fat, smooth bar bit on him instead of the snaffle. Someone suggested I should put him on a heavy load and just let him burn it off, but I am hesitant to work him too hard when he’s still soft from winter.

Would driving him single help? Round pen work (I don’t have a round pen, but maybe could improvise with portable fencing)? More of the same? I’ll admit that I am reluctant & afraid to put him on something like a disc or plow right now – after my run-away experience, and given his energy of late. The tough thing is that I’ve got LOTS of that kind of work on the farm right now. I want to do it with the horses, but I want to do it safely. I don’t know what Barney is trying to tell me, and until I understand it better, I’m stuck with the stinky loud tractor to get the jobs done.

I’m looking forward to your insight.

With much gratitude,


Light, relaxed contact on the reins…

I get an email newsletter called “Horse Sense” written by Jessica Jahiel (pronounced ya-hell). She is a talented rider and excellent teacher. Her background and primary interest is ridden dressage, but she advises readers on a huge variety of other topics. I came across this thought-provoking quote in one of her articles that I think applies to driving every bit as much as riding:

“…riders who make a deliberate effort to let the reins sag and flop, with the idea that they will take up contact only when they “need” it, generally make their horses very uncomfortable and apprehensive because the horses can’t rely on the riders to provide instant quiet communication through the reins.

“The ideal is a light, steady, relaxed contact that lets the horse’s mouth feel every tiny movement of the rider’s hands (and vice versa). What too many horses are given – sadly, by riders who believe they are being “gentle” – is periods of NO contact (“Horse, you’re on your own!”) alternating with sudden jolts when contact is imposed abruptly.

“This is unpleasant and causes horses to worry and become hesitant. Some horses will even move hesitantly or with shorter strides; most, though, will shorten, tighten, and arch their necks and go “behind the bit” so that their riders’ sudden grabs at their mouths will be less painful and less surprising.

“Like a person walking fearfully on an ice-covered pavement, a horse in that situation will be extra-careful and tentative, always worried, always afraid, always ready for something painful and sudden to happen. It’s not a nice way to travel….”

Although Jessica is talking about riding, I think her words are also relevant to people learning to drive, especially if they are coming from a riding background.

Many of us who ride Western on a loose rein think the normal pressure on the driving lines is far too heavy. Many people incorrectly trained in English riding think the contact on the reins should be heavy and unyielding, because the horse has to be held in a “frame”.

It’s clear from your words and from Jessica’s that neither approach is right, but it is difficult for a new rider or driver find the appropriate middle ground of “just enough pressure”. This problem is compounded by the fact that “just enough” will vary depending on the horse and the situation.

I remember ground driving my mare Sissel and feeling how she wandered and became anxious without contact and tended to ignore steady, heavy contact after awhile. She responded the best to appropriate pressure-and-release contact. Sometimes the “appropriate pressure” was pretty firm, and sometimes it was a lovely elastic give-and-take.

The “instant quiet communication” and “light, steady, relaxed contact” on the reins that Jessica talks about seems similar to the pressure and release you have been teaching us to use. It occurred to me that Jessica’s way of explaining things might be useful for riders learning to drive.


More information about Jessica Jahiel:

Jessica Jahiel’s HORSE-SENSE Newsletter
Copyright © 1995-2009. Jessica Jahiel, Holistic Horsemanship®

Materials from Jessica Jahiel’s HORSE-SENSE Newsletter may be distributed and copied for personal, non-commercial use provided that all authorship and copyright information, including this notice, is retained. Materials may not be republished in any form without express permission of the author.