Born in 1944 in Iowa, Doc Hammill spent his childhood dreaming of driving horses. His first horse was actually . . . a goat, which he tied to a small red wagon. His next driving horse was a Welsh pony that he and his brothers “trained” to drive with several close calls and mishaps.
After graduating from vet school at Iowa State University, Doc moved to Montana and joined a veterinary practice in Whitefish. While in Montana, Doc met up with Tom Triplett and Addy Funk, two master teamsters who also packed horses and mules for the US Forest Service. With their help and that of other old-time teamsters, Doc learned the real art of driving horses and working horses in harness.
During the 70s, Doc met Dr. Robert Miller, an prominent equine veterinarian who championed the cause of gentle horsemanship. With that inspiration, Doc began studying the great horsemen of the past and present to learn how to practice this “kinder, gentle” way of handling and communicating with equines.
In the late 80s, Doc sold his veterinary practice and started a horse consulting business to help folks in the horse industry be more successful with their breeding and showing programs. He also started Old West Adventures at a nearby resort. Old West Adventures carried folks by wagon or sleigh to an old west dinner, complete with musicians, old west stories, and a barbeque.
In 1995, he sold that venture and took some time off caretake at a remote ranch outside Glacier National Park, which eventually became his home.
Doc has written a draft horse and carriage driving column, “Ask a Teamster,” in Small Farmers Journal for many years. He is a regular presenter at Horse Progress Days as well as other draft horse events around the country. Doc has been described as a bridge between an almost lost generation of master teamsters and the current generation of horse people.
He has dedicated his life to bringing “gentle horsemanship” (his term for natural horsemanship) to people and especially the draft horse world through his writing, workshops, and clinics around the country.
What is gentle Horsemanship?
“What I have come to call Gentle Horsemanship is actually a set of principles, an ethical code, for interacting with horses. It is based upon commitment to using only non-confrontational and nonviolent techniques, and upon accepting personal responsibility for the comfort and behavior of our horses. Gentle Horsemanship professes that horses effectively mirror our actions, reactions, and behavior and that to change their behavior we must first reshape ours.
I have not always practiced Gentle Horsemanship. My early training, like most, was very conventional horsemanship. Regretfully, I know what it is like to have used force with horses. With the help of many good equine and human teachers, I learned to feel better feelings about myself and obtain superior results through a kinder, gentler approach. Consequently, I became passionate about sharing and teaching Gentle Horsemanship. Doing this has improved the quality of life of many horses and enriched my life in the process.
Passing on what I’ve been so fortunate to learn in over 45 years of working with horses is also a way of honoring my teachers.
Gentle Horsemanship involves communicating in the language of horses and using their logic, rather than expecting them to use ours. It respects their inherent nature as horses and adjusts to accommodate individual personalities and personal histories. Gentle Horsemanship presents horses with options and allows them to choose to be with us and cooperate rather than be forced. It takes commitment, self discipline, and time on the part of the trainer, but anyone can learn and apply these principles and techniques.
Gentle Horsemanship not only produces amazing results with horses but can be applied to any interpersonal relationships. In fact, I am increasingly asked to demonstrate Gentle Horsemanship to groups who have no intention of using the principles with horses, but rather as a model for human interactions.”
Gentle Horsemanship, it seems, promotes Gentle People.
Doug “Doc” Hammill D.V.M.