Category Archives: Gentle Horsemanship

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
now!

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

 

 

A May Bear(y) Encounter

This spring day in April of 2013, Doc was working Ann and Shelby, Suffolk Punch mares, hitched to a forecart, driving around tracks on the ranch near Eureka, Montana.

He noticed Shelby’s behavior was ‘off’: she was snorting, distracted, and not her usual calm self. We know  “horses think they always have a good reason for their behavior” so we look for what could be bothering them. While staying seated on the forecart, Doc looked for clues to her behavior:  on her bridle, on her harness, with her teammate, checking the hitch setup, but he saw nothing unusual. Cathi was nearby on the ground looking for photo opportunites while Doc worked the ‘Girls’.  She noticed the nice BIG BLACK BEAR grazing in the lush grass near Therriault Creek and pointed it out to Doc.  It became evident that the Bear was the object of Shelby’s attention.

Northwestern Montana has  abundant bear populations so both of these mares, actually all of our horses, have seen Black Bear and Grizzly Bear while grazing in their pastures, and paddocks.  Much less frequently have they seen them while they (the horses) are harnessed and working. We believe horses see every situation differently…so even though they had seen bears while grazing …not having seen them while they were harnessed and working was a new situation, and caused upset to at least one of the horses.

Shelby’s concern over the grazing bear gave Doc the opportunity to  remain a reasonable distance from the bear, and let both mares observe it grazing.  We have learned to zero in on cues from our horses that tell us they are concerned.  We always ask them to WHOA when we see this, so that stopping when concerned or worried becomes the response.  We give them the time it takes to figure out what is happening. Doc used the approach and retreat concept to get the team closer to the bear, then when relaxed, he would drive them away from the bear.  It is our goal to manage the  horses’ behavior for comfort and relaxation. Doc also remained calm,  and emotionally neutral.  He of course thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to see this beautiful bear, and the opportunity to help Shelby become more relaxed at seeing at least this bear. Desensitization worked here for both the horses, with time just standing and observing, and moving the team to different locations where they could still observe the bear’s activity allowed them to become comfortable with the sighting. Shelby’s teammate Ann, remained relaxed during this entire time.  Doc believes that Ann’s calmness contributed positivly to Shelby’s positive desensitization.

Cathy did not become completely desensitized to the bear sighting. Given that the bear was observed between the house and barn, Cathy chose to not walk, but rather drive her car to the barn and back in the several days following.

A Fine Team of Three

A Fine Team of Three

 

We visited with them as they were getting ready to leave, in the early Montana light. Here is  Bayln with his new team of Belgians,  a fine team of three. We have been fortunate to know Balyn for several years and were quite excited that he made an overnight stop to see Doc and I at Borderland Ranch to take an overnight break in his travels with his new team, Bruce and Bud, from eastern Montana to Western Washington.

Balyn is now working his own farm with his wife Ellie, in North West Washington. Please join us wishing them well as he puts these nice horses to work on their market farm growing organic veggies and berries in the Sequim, Washington area.

 

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

 

MAH044571a

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!

DSC08704

 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.

Mike-drving-team-on-Homesteader

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!

DSC05163a

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!

Doc

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. 

 



 

Doc Answers Questions about Issues when Bridling a Horse

“Bridling a Horse: It’s a Relationship Thing”

This student has generously given her permission to share her story of challenges and triumphs she is experiencing with her horse in hopes that it might benefit other people and their horses.

A bit of background:

Heather is one of our many very committed students and is incredibly dedicated to her horse and to using gentle/natural horsemanship techniques with her. It is very common for us to work with people who want alternatives to using force, pain, and physical punishment when working with their horses. These people seek our advice because they do not yet have enough effective and gentle “tools” to achieve their goals and deal with the many levels of challenges horses can and do present us with. Our student’s horse came to her owner with a long-standing issue with difficult bridling. Lucy is a wonderful horse, very gentle, generally a willing and cooperative mare; and has the dominance qualities of a lead mare. The mare has been responsive to the new techniques her owner is using, and has responded extremely well to the techniques of natural horsemanship compared to the more conventional style of harsher training from the horse’ past.

The text that follows is our students’ questions and concerns, Doc’s responses, and the students’ response to Doc’s statements.

Hi Doc and Cathy,
I was hoping that you could help me with a problem I am having with Lucy. A horse-friend of mine has a great horse facility in this area, and lately he has invited me there to attend a monthly training session with a local trainer. She does English, Dressage, Western, and driving. He even trailers Lucy there and back. We have gone 3 times. I figure just trailering her anywhere is great for her, no matter the reason. She is still trailering pretty well I think. Anyway, I think these sessions have been generally beneficial to Lucy & I. Last Sunday, I asked for help with 2 basic problems that Lucy came to me with, bridling (you knew that one) and mounting. We really made great progress actually. We made progress on Sunday, and I have been able to repeat our success several times since then (success on every attempt). I have also seen Lucy every day since then. We had an absolutely awesome time together last night. She bridled perfectly, walked and stopped perfect when led, and mounted perfectly. I was on a cloud all day today because of it. Then tonight I went out to see her, just clean her stall & bridle her again, just because I thought that was a good idea. I expected success, we both seemed just the same as we were last night, she had finished her dinner just like last night, and for some reason it went terribly. I tried to bridle her for 45 minutes tonight, without success. I did exactly the same things that the trainer had shown me, which had worked perfectly at least 4 sessions in a row. I just don’t understand. I am so sad, upset, confused, and tired right now. I’m afraid it is going to be as bad or worse next time because we didn’t even get the bridle on tonight. Do you have any advice at all for me?
Sincerely,
Heather



Doc working with Lucy



Hi Heather,

Horses are our ultimate teachers, they make us soar and they humble us, teach us patience and persistence and constancy and the value of repetition and baby steps.

Hi Doug, Thank you for taking the time to send me your thoughtful reply today.


– Yes, they are the ultimate teachers… I am trying to do better with the consistency and the baby steps, I guess I’ll always be working on those things.

Most of all they teach us that relationship is about visualizing the best and accepting best efforts and best responses – no regrets, no judgments, no guilt, no shame, no blame.

– At least I had part of that right; I did visualize “the best”. … I know, there is no right…

Several times in your letter you mention variations of the words “success” “progress” and “perfectly”.You also mention the word “problems” and the phrase “…went terribly”.

– I knew that you would say something about that, too, but I didn’t know how else to say that everything had gone so well, and then so not-well.

As long as you give Lucy (or anyone else) the power to cause you to be “sad, upset, and confused” you will bounce between euphoria when you get what you want and sad, upset, and confused when she gets what she wants.

When we do this we set things up as a competition and in competitions someone wins and someone loses.

– It made me smile when you said that it is basically a bad idea to let anyone “make you feel happy, sad, or upset”. The funny thing is that I TOTALLY know that, I never let human people affect me that way, I just never thought of applying my thinking about this to animal people. Maybe that is why my sadness and upsetness (sic) was so profound, I’m just not accustomed to being affected like this, I have no practice (thank goodness). You also said that when I did this with Lucy, I set us up for being in competition. I know it is a very bad idea to be in competition with Lucy, there is no way I could ever win, and I do not want to go there!

Rather than spend 45 minutes trying to get her to do anything that is not working, evaluate in the first 10 to 30 seconds if she is resistant or receptive to what you are starting to ask for (accepting the bridle). If she is receptive proceed in baby steps and pause often to reward her cooperation.

– I knew I was in a death-spiral, but after I had missed that 10 – 30 second clue that this wasn’t going to work, I didn’t know I could stop asking her to accept that bridle. I wish I had figured that out then…

***If she is resistant: FIRST create a consequence for resisting and then SECOND immediately ask for (and reward when you get them) a series of other things you are pretty sure she will willingly let you do (back up, pick up a foot, disengage (move) her rear end to the side, disengage her front end to the side, put her head down, flex her head and nose to her side, etc.)

– O.K. – that gives me a game plan that was what I was missing (or at least an important thing that I was missing). That looks like a good plan. Even after last night’s “whatever-it-was”, there were still things she would still do willingly for me, and I will assume that she will still be willing to do some things with me today. Thank you, I felt lost, not having any idea where to go next.
I still can’t stop myself from wondering, though, how long it will be before she will accept the bridle after what I did last night, if I were her, I don’t know why I would ever accept it. I might not be able to ride her for months that would be sad. I will do what you suggested, and I’ll keep you posted.

Better yet test her out on a bunch of these things each time BEFORE you try to bridle her. If she won’t cooperate and do these small, easy things for you the chance of her accepting the bridle is low. Build a pattern of successful requests and responses before you ask for her to accept the bridle. However, if you meet inattentiveness, resistance, or refusal at any time you must create a soft, appropriate consequence or she will take advantage of the situation and increase her inborn tendency to have her own way – this is just a natural part of being a horse. Anna Twinney, an amazing horsewoman, explains it best, “If there is a leadership void somebody must fill it; the horse will if the human doesn’t.”

– Thank you. I need to remember this. Do you have a suggestion as to a appropriate consequence? I have one idea, but I’d guess that you have a better one. I am so happy that you got to meet her, so you have her & I in your mind as you think about this. I think I should be paying you for this much of your time.

How long did you work with her putting her head down for you before you went and got the bridle?

– I did almost not at all. She had been accepting the bridle with my barely doing it for maybe 2 times previous.

The mere sight of the bridle is a concern to a horse that has issues with it. We can’t expect to hide it from them but if we get cooperation on some other exercises and get them relaxed and comfortable and cooperative first we sometimes have a better chance with the thing that concerns them.

– I watch for her reactions when she sees brushes, saddle/blanket, harness, halter, & bridle. She has a reaction to all of these, but only an acknowledgement that she sees them, not an upset or uncomfortable reaction. She doesn’t even react if I place the bridle along the front of her face. If I get a reaction, it isn’t until the bit touches her lips, and then she first wiggles her lips to keep the bit out, then throws her head if I persist.

I’m working with  mare here at the ranch on bridling issues and some days we never get to the bridle because she does not become completely comfortable and cooperative with the preliminary test things I ask of her – so we work on them that day.

– That is good to know.

If you approach next time with the fear of failure you are expressing you will be going backward and doing her a great disservice. You did not fail, she did not fail, she did not win, you did not win. There is no win or lose, there are no problems when playing/working with horses only learning and relationship building OPPORTUNITIES.

The goals of gentle/natural horsemanship are – 100% trust, 100% respect, and 0% fear.This goes for the horse and human alike as far as I’m concerned. You cannot fail with her, give up your goal, success, and judgment based thinking, beliefs, and fears; have fun and learn with and from your time with this horse. You trust her and she trusts you. Work on her respecting you. Eliminate your fears and concerns (completely and at all times) and hers will evaporate.

Become emotionally neutral when with her – there is/are no right or wrong, good or bad, problems or perfection – everything just is and we accept it and move either forward or backward which doesn’t matter because there is no forward or backward either. We just move on to whatever we think of to move on to.

– So much Zen… It is so weird. I don’t know why this work/play/learning with Lucy affects me so strongly, I am NOT normally like this. I am reading your words and thinking about them and crying for some reason and I don’t even know why. Weird.

You are doing just fine, relax, breathe, and smile – especially when she won’t accept the bridle.

– … And laughing now, too….

Thank you for seeking help. Let me know your thoughts about this please.

– I profoundly thank you for your help. I added my responses and emphases’ to your words above.


I appreciate the opportunities I’ve had to spend time with you and Lucy, and enjoy sharing things I hope are of value to both of you.

Doc

– I am grateful, and you know I think these thoughts of yours are valuable.


– Heather



Heather, in the photo above, observes Doc working with Lucy


Dear Doc,

I have been thinking about all of this “Lucy & I” stuff non-stop. I’m sure something must be gelling in my sub-conscious; we’ll see how long it takes to make it into my unconscious mind.
I just wanted to give you an update. I went out to see Lucy after work today, with Aaron for moral support. Lucy & I worked on leading & stopping (she has been doing willingly, something we have developed lately), then I decided to try the bridle. I took baby steps again, lowering her head, touching her lips, putting my thumb in her mouth, putting the bridle up to her face, no resistance. She gave me a small clue that there might or might not be resistance to bridling when we got to that, so I decided to see if she would let me. I went back to the way I held the bridle before, which was easier for me (I’m not so coordinated sometimes, so making this easier for me was a good idea). She gave me just a touch of attitude, just on principal, but she allowed me to bridle her. So, I took a breath, petted her, and then just led her to where I tie her. I picked her hooves, then unbridled her and put her back in her stall, where she likes to be. I feel much better now, I was worried about how long that would take after my “whatever it was” the other night.

Thank you for your help, patience, & support.


-Heather

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,

Doc

Teachable Moments with Horses

Recently I was watching as Doc worked Kate, one of our Suffolk mares. As he helped her through an anxious moment, I was struck by how easily Doc was able to help her through this time of concern, and actually use it to help build Kate’s confidence. How often do we miss these opportunities with our horses? I thought I would share what I observed here on
Doc’s Blog.
While ground driving, Doc noticed that Katey reacted fearfully in a familiar area. She had been through the area many times in the past, however, Doc knew she had not seen or been in the area covered with snow, and she had never seen the newly installed snow-covered sign at the side of the gate. Kate’s fearful reaction to this sign told Doc what he and Kate needed to focus on in that moment.

 

 

This photo shows Doc encouraging Kate to examine the sign. He gave her the consideration to gather her own information about this sign. Doc lets her see and smell the object that caused her to worry. Rather than force her to approach the object or ignore her concerns (which could create more fear or greater concern for the horse), Doc allowed Kate the choice to check it out, take a closer look and gain understanding.

Giving our horses the opportunity to check out a worrisome object, helps their understanding that this thing need not be feared, therefore building the horse’s confidence and trust.