Category Archives: Driving Training

Donkey Day

I will second Doc’s comment that we shared a Wonderful Day with Mary and her Donks. Mary has done such a great job exposing her donkies to all the activities and elements she could think of to make them good driving partners. She has worked with them in a deliberate and gentle way, and really used the information she learned at the Happ’s Workshop with John Erskine and Doc in 2007. She obviously has spent many hours ground driving each donkey individually and had put each to a single cart as well.

It was great to be there on the first day she put Thistle and Tumbleweed together on the wagon, the culmination of much work and a big dream. I am grateful to have been a part of that day! Mary’s determination to do her training the right way was evidenced by her use of a booklet she referred to as she worked to put the harness on correctly.

Mary has hitched the pair since and she emailed me this week to say she was thankful for the pictures we took that first day with the lines hooked correctly as Thistle had eaten the ‘lines’ page out of her booklet that afternoon! Gotta love those donkies.

Hello From Steve Woods

From Steve Wood, Elk River, MN:
Good Morning to all.

Doc, Thanks for starting this blog for us to peer into each others daily challenges as well as our triumphs! This will be fun!

Our farm is in east central Minnesota.The temperature this morning was 24 below zero during morning chores. The music on these cold still mornings is amazing. Ringo, the dog, talks urging me to be faster as we dress in our warmest footwear and coats, rawr rawr rawrlll. The excited murmur of the horses as they hear my footsteps squeaking on the, oh-so-cold snow outside the barn. They know the morning ration of food is near. The chickadees and cardinals and juncos flit, chirping and scolding, to and from the sunflower feeder collecting energy to fight the cold. The hawk floats over the barnyard hoping to see a squirrel away from his tree. The lever on the water hydrant squawks to life as we fill the water tanks. The bass drum sound of the frozen horse apples as the hit the wooden floor of the spreader. Then again the refrain of the squeaking snow as the team pulls the spreader out the end of the barn and out to the hayground to spread.

Now for the most magical of all the sounds we engage the spreader and ask the team to step out. This snow is not packed so the wheels float along silently. The beaters play a tune like you’ve never heard as they ping and tang against the frozen horse apples, flinging them into the air. The chains and levers working to power the stiff steel to do their work. The rythm is set by the pace of the horses, and as they slow to a stop for a much deserved break, all falls silent. The air is so clean! I know the deer are watching, They silently glance to each other, as they watch the human go through his morning routine. What more can a guy ask for?

Six student horses to work today. I think each lesson will be short as I will retreat to the warmth of the barn office to regain the feeling in the fingers. It’s a balmy 45 degrees above in there! Currently all of the horses seem to be progressing well. Each at their own level of ability.

Paige, a pony mare, has shown me she is much more comfortable working without blinds. She works on left and right side of the teams while pulling the stoneboat and is learning to relax while standing.

Missy, another pony mare, scoots along comfortably while driving single on her little cart. Her time with us is drawing to an end as she will be graduating and going home this coming weekend. She lives near Rochester, Minnesota.

C-C is a morgan mare who is just getting a good start on this job of driving. She currently ground drives single as well as pulls the small stoneboat with Val, our helper horse. Soon she will be on the big stoneboat with the tongue helping take wood ashes out to the fields adn bringing in new firewood.

Annie, Another Morgan mare is currently happy pulling the big stonebaot with Val. Her owner had her first chance to drive the big stoneboat this past weekend. We are getting close to pulling the sleigh. She just needs to show me she is ready and comfortable pushing on the tongue to turn the vehicle. Then we’ll be sleighriding.

Knight, a Paint cross with Arabian gelding, is showing huge improvements in courage. Last week his job was to pull the empty wood hauling wagon out to a new spot in the woods. This week he is working on a lighter cart and we are working on transitions from walk to trot and back to walk. We are working on weekends, with his owner, to get them familiar with each other. What a treat!

My Turn, A young halflinger stallion, has a bit of a challenge in developing his working attitude while harnessed. He would rather talk to all the horses he can see! He works fairly well with Big Jim, our Belgian gelding. He really thinks that he should not have to work on our current chore, no matter what it is, because at the moment he wants to chat with the rest of the farm’s occupants. He is improving so we just keep on slowly getting closer to our goal of being a single cart horse!

Good bye for now. I can feel my fingers again, so it’s time to go harness up. I’ll try to get photos up of each of the students real soon.

Mare having trouble standing during chores

Hello Doc,

I met you and Tom at Horse Progress Days last year in Illinois; I hope you are recovering from the fire. I have a 7-year-old Clydesdale mare that was broke as a 2 year old. I used her double for 3 years doing chores — mostly on the manure spreader. I recently lost the gelding, so have used the mare as a single for hauling out manure on a stone boat. She she stands great in the barn and at the shed but not good in the woods or the garden when I’m dumping the load or hooking to the harrow.

I have your fundamental tapes, but was wondering if I should go back to the round pen training or teaching the horse to drive. Any suggestions on which video would help?


CA in Missouri

Doc’s answer

Good to hear from you.

Are you aware of my new 3 disc video set, “Gentle Training – The Round Pen”? I believe there is a lot in it that would help with your mare.

My short answer to your question below is to start teaching her to stand in all those different places that she is having difficulty doing so by taking her there in the halter and doing it with her on a long lead.

Start where she will stand well (in barn and at shed) then go a few feet and work on it there, gradually increasing the distance into new adjacent areas. Because of her experience in harness I suggest doing it with the harness and bridle but on a lead not with lines from behind just yet.

Mix up the standing with short walks, asking her to back up, picking up feet, petting and scratching her (no patting or slapping), asking her to put her head down, rubbing her with a stick all over the body, etc. This will keep her from getting bored and break up asking for one thing too long at first. Try to ask her to move before she tries to move, but if she does move make her go in a circle on the long lead just like she was in a round pen until she becomes more cooperative.

Practice standing on the halter in front of the equipment you will be using but not hitched to it. Move the equipment to new locations from time to time to give her practice in front of it in different locations.

As she gets good about standing in a given location gradually increase the distance you are from her to teach her to stand when you are farther away, and eventually out of sight behind the blinders.

If she gets her head too far to the side or looks to the side too long she will move so when you are asking her to stand keep her head relatively straight forward without being too militant about it. Pet her and talk nice when she is doing well and reposition her or make her do some circles when she isn’t. Better to take a small success, reward it and move her a ways so as to not ask too much.

If she moves one of her feet, make her put it back where it was. If she steps forward and you put her feet back a time or two you should increase the message the next time by not just putting her feet back where they were but by making her back up a few steps and then stand there – she will be getting farther away from where she really wants to be and it will have a greater effect (in time).

Eventually, you can do all of this with the lines from behind her, reward her with a calm hand and petting on the rump, drive her in circles (but not in a direction she wants to go) as needed as a consequence of moving when not asked to do so, etc.

She may have stood well with a partner in various locations but she needs to learn that she must do so alone as well. Teaching even the simplest things in many different places and circumstances is called generalizing training and is very important.

The long version and much more detail can be found in my new DVDs.

You can see them on my website. If you decide to order them just email me and I will get them right off to you and you can send a check at your convenience.

Hope this helps. Let me know if you have questions along the way.


With appreciation,